Another Look at Metabolic Damage

Originally I was going to do a full writeup of the recent study making the rounds suggesting that both low- and high-repetition training generate the same muscle growth but I’m going to save that until next week; this topic makes more logical sense given last week’s video on BMI and weighing frequency.  It was also stimulated by a private message I got on FB regarding the topic.

That topic, of course is the idea of metabolic damage, something I have written about on the site previously.  But rather than write something new, I just got permission from Alan Aragon to reproduce an interview I originally did for his (highly recommended) research review.  It’s only $10 a month and chock full (that’s right, CHOCK!) of the most current research on diet and training along with interviews with top current coaches and feature articles on all topics big and small.  Go subscribe, subscribe now.

Ok, so what exactly are we talking about here?  As originally claimed, metabolic damage referred to a phenomenon wherby dieters (typically females) who had been on low calories and performing a large amount of cardio (i.e. typical physique sport contest prep)

  1. Stopped losing fat despite maintained low calories/high activity
  2. Started regaining fat despite those same maintained low calories/high activity

Hence their metabolism was damaged.  I’m mainly bringing this up as the original concept has been somewhat, err let’s be nice and say, “modified” from the original (now being called metabolic adaptation, a concept I’ve been personally writing about for over a decade in pretty much all of my books).

And with that out of the way I reprint my original interview with Alan Aragon (did I mention that you should subscribe to his research review).   Everything in bold is Alan, the other dense walls of texts are me.


A time-efficient reduction of fat mass in 4 days with exercise and caloric restriction – Research Review

Calbet, JA et. al.  A time-efficient reduction of fat mass in 4 days with exercise and caloric restriction. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2014 Mar 6. doi: 10.1111/sms.12194. [Epub ahead of print]

To determine whether a fast reduction in fat mass can be achieved in 4 days by combining caloric restriction (CR: 3.2 kcal/kg body weight per day) with exercise (8-h walking + 45-min arm cranking per day) to induce an energy deficit of ∼5000 kcal/day, 15 overweight men underwent five experimental phases: pretest, exercise + CR for 4 days (WCR), control diet + reduced exercise for 3 days (DIET), and follow-up 4 weeks (POST1) and 1 year later (POST2). During WCR, the diet consisted solely of whey protein (n = 8) or sucrose (n = 7) (0.8 g/kg body weight per day). After WCR, DIET, POST1, and POST2, fat mass was reduced by a mean of 2.1, 2.8, 3.8, and 1.9 kg (P < 0.05), with two thirds of this loss from the trunk; and lean mass by 2.8, 1.0, 0.5, and 0.4 kg, respectively. After WCR, serum glucose, insulin, homeostatic model assessment, total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides were reduced, and free fatty acid and cortisol increased. Serum leptin was reduced by 64%, 50%, and 33% following WCR, DIET, and POST1, respectively (P < 0.05). The effects were similar in both groups. In conclusion, a clinically relevant reduction in fat mass can be achieved in overweight men in just 4 days by combining prolonged exercise with CR.



I’ve discussed the impact (or rather, the often non-impact) of exercise on weight/fat loss a number of times on the site under most circumstances.  The reality being (as most studies show) that the types of realistically achievable amounts of exercise by the average obese individual is simply too low to massively impact on energy balance or total weight/fat loss.  Certainly there is some effect (that is enhanced when it is combined with caloric restriction) but it’s rarely massive with most research showing that the primary role of exercise being improved weight maintenance.


Training the Obese Beginner: Part 6

So my meticulously planned schedule managed to get messed up which is why this is a day late and you’ll have to wait for my next video until next week.  So it goes.  In any case, today I’m going to finish up the republication of this series (with a couple of added sections).  And this piece if very long for which I apologize, when I originally wrote this I was forced into 6 parts for some reason.

In Training the Obese Beginner: Part 5, I made a case for the inclusion of both weight training and cardiovascular training for the obese beginner, despite having listed some initial limitations to both in earlier parts of the series.  I also gave a general overview of what I did in the first session with those clients.

Today I want to look specifically at how I approached that first day/weeks of training (again noting that there are obviously more ways to approach the situation than just this one).  I’ll also look a bit at some things I might do differently now as well as talking about progressions, variation, etc. to keep the obese beginner moving towards their goals in the longer term.

So as a reminder, we’re in the first session with an obese beginner.  The first 25-30 minutes has been spent going through basic intake paperwork.  Depending on the specifics, body weight, tape measurements and maybe skinfolds have been taken (refer to the last part for more discussing on this topic).  Since this is an hour session, that leaves around 25-30 minutes for the actual workout.  Here’s what I generally did.

Part 1: Cardio

Pretty much without exception, Id start the client with some form of cardio.   Usually I’d use the treadmill and I choose this for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, everybody knows how to walk (at least one study showed that, for the same intensity, people burn more calories on the treadmill since it’s a movement pattern they are efficient at).  Second, the intensity can be easily controlled by adjusting pace and incline which is critical for ensuring that the first workout isn’t too difficult.


Training the Obese Beginner: Part 5

Ok, almost to the end.  Continuing from Training the Obese Beginner: Part 4 today I want to start start to bring together everything I’ve talked about in this series.  First I want to address why I think the inclusion of both weight training and cardiovascular/aerobic training of some sort is important for the obese beginner along with why I think both should be done from Day 1 of the training program.

Then, I’m going to describe how I personally approached the first workout with the obese (and usually the non-obese) beginner in terms of structure along with talking about some generalities of training.  I’ll finish up in Part 6 (next week) and talk about progressions in the weight room, on the cardio deck, etc.

Let me note up front that some of what I’m going to write simply represents what I did/found to work in this population when I was working as a personal trainer all those years ago; some of it will be more what I would do now were I still working with that population.  You’ll note that nothing really would change now except in degree (e.g. I might do things a touch differently in the weight room in terms of rep ranges or total volume).  Someone on the support forum asked me about stretching (mainly to address the issues that tend to come along with our modern life) and I’ll try to touch on that at some point as well.

With that out-of-the-way, I first want to look at what I feel are benefits of getting the obese beginner into weight training from Day 1 (when I originally wrote this series, I had apparently gotten some comments that had misunderstood what I wrote in earlier parts of the series).

As I mentioned in Training the Obese Beginner: Part 2, an under-appreciated fact is that the obese frequently gain muscle mass in the process of becoming obese.  So while weight training can still play several important roles, putting an enormous amount of time and energy into it is, as I argued previously, somewhat misplaced.   You should do some, but you don’t really need tons of it in this population.

So what are some of the benefits of including weight training in the training of the obese beginner?


Training the Obese Beginner: Part 4

In Training the Obese Beginner: Part 3 I basically summarized everything to date to conclude that the best approach to target all of the various issues going in this population on was a combination of progressive volume higher rep weight training (to deplete muscle glycogen) along with dietary modifications (both carbohydrate and/or calorie reductions).

This would ideally be combined with progressive amounts of cardio as fitness improves to both burn of fatty acids directly and start to retool mitochondria to overcome that defect.   Which is all well and good but doesn’t provide much in the way of practical guidance.

And, make no mistake, I’m going to talk about those very things in the last two parts of the series (again, remember this is all leading into a brand spanking new video at the end of this mess).  Today, I want to take a slightly different approach to the topic by looking at of how not to go about training the obese beginner.


Breaking them In without Breaking Them: Part 1

As I noted in Training the Obese Beginner: Part 2 and talked about in the Beginning Weight Training series (in a different context), most beginning trainees have a low tolerance for training.  And at least one goal of the initial phases of working out is (or at least should be), to get them in shape to be able to actually train.

I realize that this sounds illogical but trust me it isn’t.

Now, as most will hopefully readily accept probably the single most important facet of improving any aspect of your life (including fitness and health) is consistency.   As the old joke goes “Showing up is half the battle” and the simple fact is that getting many people to simply show up in the first place is often the problem.  That means getting folks into the habit of performing regular activity.