Karl Henry: Getting a handle on fat
Reducing your body fat is crucial to your health plan, but the ratio between muscle and fat is key to your overall goal. Our fitness expert has four tips on how to beat the bulge, and build muscle
Published 25/11/2015 | 02:30
Which is heavier? One pound of muscle or one pound of fat? The answer is that they are actually both the same weight. And although they weigh the same, they are actually totally different.
Muscle is denser than fat and takes up far less space on the body than fat does. The body has to work much harder to keep muscle on the body than fat, up to 40pc harder, reviving up your metabolism along the way.
We want muscle and we want to reduce fat. The key message here though, is that it's not what you weigh, it's the ratio between muscle and fat that is key.
If weight is something that you use as a key indicator of health, you need to dig a little deeper. It's your body fat, visceral fat and general amount of fat that you really want to look for. By getting this down, you are healthier, firmer and in better shape generally.
So just how can you measure it?
1 You can get assessed using a callipers, where a trained professional will pinch different parts of your body and give you a percentage readout. It's very accurate but difficult to do yourself.
2 You can use a tape measure: While a tape measure doesn't really give you body fat, it will give you an indication of what results are happening to your body and it's incredibly simply to take.You can buy a tape measure for less than €2 and take different body parts and measure them on a bi-weekly basis.
3 You can go to a sports performance centre in a local university. These are fascinating and will lead to a number of different aspects of health being assessed such as your VO2 Max (maximal oxygen consumption).
Your body fat will be measured by using a bodpod, a small pod that you step into. Incredibly accurate and generally costs between €100 and €200.
4 You can get a digital body composition analyser scales. These are quite cool, just like your regular scales but more in-depth. The very cheap ones don't work, so don't buy them.
Brands such as Fitbit and Withings both have great digital wireless scales that we have found to be relatively accurate when compared to our €3,000 scales that we have in our gym.
Now that you know how to measure your body fat and you know that it's crucial, what else can you eat and do in your training sessions to help get your body fat down?
You need to train hard, but also train properly. Most people head straight for the treadmill or cross trainer but actually the best form of exercise to do is resistance, combined with some high-intensity cardio exercise.
Resistance training helps to increase your lean tissue, your shape, your tone and has numerous other benefits, but increasing your lean tissue is key; getting more of this on your body will force your body to work harder and to keep it there.
Pick an exercise, do 15 reps, aiming to find the last two reps of each set tough. Once it gets a little easier then add more weight or change the exercise, as you need to keep the workout challenging to get the very best results.
In terms of cardiovascular exercise, there are two real options. The first is moderate intensity, where you are slightly out of breath at a constant speed. It's easy to do, comfortable and will suit most people. Always aim to get slightly out of breath for the best benefits.
The second is HIIT (high intensity interval training). This is harder, uses two different speeds, one very easy and one very hard. This has been shown to be the most effective way to burn fat but can scare a lot of people away from exercise as it's hard to do. Both of these will yield benefits, you just need to see which one is going to get the best benefits for you.
Now that you have your training sorted, let's look at your food and when I say food, I don't mean your fat intake.
Don't aim to cut out fat, it's actually crucial for you and your body fat levels.
Reduce the trans (hydrogenated) fats but keep the good fats, such as rapeseed/coconut oil, nuts and avocados. But don't start buying fat-free foods.
Secondly begin to shop cleanly. Buy products with short shelf lives, few ingredients on the label and foods that you have to cook yourself.
This will begin to reduce your sugar intake naturally and get you cooking healthier.
Thirdly, always aim for a lean protein with at least two or three of your meals each day along with plenty of coloured vegetables. If you like spices and chillies, then keep adding them as we know they are great for you.
Fourthly, in terms of fluid, drink water and nothing else. For hot drinks, aim for green and herbal teas.
These simple tips, in terms of fat, will make a big difference to your muscle to fat ratio.
They are simple but work, you can find lots of other, faster, ways but we know the quick fixes don't last in the long run, so aim for simple tips that will last longer.