Your wish list includes ridding the body of excess fat and losing weight, getting strong with unlimited energy, and improving sports performance while getting healthier—it’s about time.
JB came to my clinic with a dilemma, having worked out regularly, while keeping calories in check for over a year. Yet, body fat would not budge, muscles felt weak, and mental and physical energy levels were low. After an extensive physical evaluation and dietary analysis, the remedy seemed simple: slow down, avoid junk food, stay off the scale, and eat healthy fats. JB was game. Within two weeks, JB felt like a new person. Longstanding hunger was gone, food was enjoyable again, and workouts were fun and exhilarating. Within a month, friends were asking whether weight was reduced. “Don’t know, I’m not supposed to get on the scale,” JB said—a comment that got some strange looks. But when clothes clearly began fitting more loosely, JB just had to take a peek at the scale—no weight loss! Having called my clinic in a panic, I explained how the loss of body fat resulted in leanness: Because more body fat was being burned—resulting in increased energy—both fatigue and hunger dissolved. While workouts seemed easy, muscles strengthened. The combination of a slight increase in muscle, whose mass added a few pounds of weight, and body fat loss, which doesn’t weigh much but takes up more space, scale weight evened out. JB finally understood what was going on, happily declaring, “It’s about time.”
Humans are among the most amazing endurance animals on earth. One reason is our built-in ability to have almost unlimited energy for nearly fatigue-free long-term physical activity. This comes from our capacity to use stored body fat for fueling our movements. Even the leanest among us has sufficient body fat to travel on foot for hundreds of miles. This aerobic system also helps with stable blood sugar, reducing hunger, balancing hormones, and ensuring better brain function. Fully developing and properly feeding the aerobic system is the key to achieving optimal human performance.
When this most human of systems is not developed, aerobic deficiency follows.
Most people think they know what aerobic means, (or so they say). Many associate it with breathing or oxygen, confuse it with “cardio,” aerobic dance or other popular classes. In fact, the workout term aerobics is not even a half-century old, although humans have been doing it for millions of years. In the late 1960s, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, an exercise physiologist for the San Antonio Air Force Hospital in Texas, coined the term “aerobics” to describe the system of exercise that he devised to help prevent coronary artery disease that included jogging, running, walking and biking. His book Aerobics came out in 1968 and became an immediate national bestseller.
But since that time, the number of overweight people has significantly increased: obesity has more than doubled, while 75 percent of people have become overfat. There are also millions who are run down, injured and unhealthy. Not even athletes are immune.
Cooper’s aerobic revolution was successful on paper, but it failed in practice for two reasons. Many people fell into overtraining through anaerobic workouts that neglected the aerobic system. In addition, the wrong foods were eaten to excess—foods that not only don’t fuel the aerobic body but actually suppress fat burning.
Any workout can become anaerobic when the intensity of running, biking, dance and other workouts is too high. While these efforts may burn more sugar calories, the process does not train the body to burn more stored fat calories.
For generations, calorie counting was the way to prevent excess accumulation of body fat, and has been the foundation for almost all weight-loss programs. No only do most people know this has been a spectacular failure, scientists know too: Calorie counting reduces metabolism, meaning that a lot of the weight is lost from muscle, not fat. Less muscle means lower metabolism and reduced fat burning.
In a recent review of 31 published weight loss studies, UCLA researcher Dr. Traci Mann and colleagues found that over a period of two to five years, the majority of people regained all the weight lost, plus more. She stated that “diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”
Another study by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School at Tufts University, concludes on a similar note: “Our findings suggest we should not only emphasise specific protein-rich foods like fish, nuts and yogurt to prevent weight gain, but also focus on avoiding refined grains, starches and sugars in order to maximize the benefits of these healthful protein-rich foods, [and] create new benefits for other foods like eggs and cheese.”
The myth of calorie counting has contributed to the overconsumption of refined carbohydrates, mostly in the form of flour and sugar, in an attempt to reduce body fat. But up to half of the “fat-free” calories we consume are quickly converted to fat and stored in the body.
It’s time to stop the calorie-counting game. Instead, let’s live a healthy life, get more fit, and burn off body fat by developing the aerobic system.
The New Aerobic Revolution
It’s time for another fitness revolution—one that’s easier to implement, more practical, and with a rapid return of physical, biochemical and mental-emotional benefits. I have been implementing this type of approach with athletes and other patients for almost 40 years.
While most people know a little bit about the muscle, hormonal, skeletal and various other systems of the body, the full strength of the aerobic system is very rarely discussed even though it significantly influences all the others.
A powerful aerobic muscle system is a key feature of any healthy individual. The same goes for all high-performance athletes—those involved in endurance rely on it for competitive success, and strength-based athletes depend upon aerobic function to help power muscles.
Aerobic muscle fibers are the muscle cells associated with fatigue-free, fat-burning activities. They are the primary form of physical support for our joints, bones, other muscles, and essentially the entire body. Aerobic fibers are mixed into virtually all our muscles alongside smaller numbers of anaerobic fibers, which are involved in very short-term strength activity.
The function of the aerobic system also affects (and is affected by) the body’s natural stress response. When the workout gets intense enough, our body secretes stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to increase our heart rate and allow the anaerobic mechanism to kick in. This means that when the aerobic system is underdeveloped, the body has to rely on the anaerobic system and sugar-burning to keep us functioning in the day-to-day. The result is that we are constantly stressed, and can’t seem to relax.
Too much anaerobic exercise creates excessive muscle damage. A recent review article in The Scientific World Journal argued that running economy was significantly reduced after eccentric muscle activity—the kind that helps decelerate your body and limbs, such as stopping abruptly in soccer or keeping yourself aligned at the bottom of a squat. Only a small amount of your training should be spent doing these movements; the rest should be spent developing aerobic function.
We are aerobic beings. This is how our bodies should work. Unfortunately, problematic social trends such as “no pain, no gain” and the popularity of junk food (especially food full of refined carbohydrates), have impaired aerobic function in far too many people.
The result of these common habits has been a serious, ongoing epidemic called aerobic deficiency syndrome, which affects millions of people.
The Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome (ADS)
This condition can be devastating for athletes, since it contributes to reduced endurance. It is often associated with quickened fatigue, loss of aerobic speed, and overtraining. A variety of chronic conditions that we think of as problems themselves are sometimes important signs and symptoms of ADS.
The first and most obvious of these is chronic fatigue. While sometimes caused by other conditions, chronic fatigue is typically due to the lack of aerobic power, resulting in greater reliance on sugar for energy—not just during a workout but at all other times of day and night.
Another symptom of ADS is increased body fat: because fatigue reduces fat-burning activity, less fat is used for energy and more remains stored throughout the body.
Increased body fat is strongly associated with chronic inflammation. As discussed in another article [LINK: INFLAMMATION], inflammation can also trigger pain, various injuries, ill health and even disease.
Because the structural muscles that support the body are primarily aerobic, the lack of good aerobic muscle function is a common cause of injury. The most frequently injured areas include the low back, knee, ankle and foot.
Aerobic deficiency means that the anaerobic system is working harder. This typically means that heart rates are elevated, resulting in high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In turn, this can lead to reductions in hormones including estrogen and testosterone in both men and women, and imbalances in various others. These imbalances can impair water and electrolyte regulation, adversely affect muscles, bones and sexual function, and cause premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms in women.
Dietary problems are often associated with ADS, especially in those who consume refined carbohydrates or have low intakes of fat and protein. Sometimes, existing nutritional imbalance can worsen ADS, while other imbalances—such as those from vitamin D, iron, and other vitamins and nutrients—can contribute to its cause.
Real Aerobic Activity
Certain types of easy exercise—aerobic workouts—will provide benefits that will build the aerobic system in the long term. Activities, such as running, biking, swimming and walking can accomplish this as long as the intensity of these workouts is not too high.
Decades ago I discovered that it is necessary to take a period of three to six months to specifically develop the aerobic system. A heart rate monitor can be an excellent tool to monitor aerobic development, as I discuss in The MAF 180-Formula.
Your heart rate is an accurate indicator of intensity—lower heart rate exercise tends to be aerobic while performing the same workout with a higher heart rate would be anaerobic. This does not mean you will always be slow: building the aerobic system allows the body to move faster over time. A runner, for example, will get faster over time with the same heart rate and level of effort. In order to figure out if you are exercising aerobically, follow the 180-Formula and complete the MAF Test.
This is where the issues get more complicated. Done in the short-term, almost any activity—even very hard efforts—can help build the aerobic muscles. But continue these kinds of exercise routines for too long and your body will begin to break down. You’ll become injured, fatigued, and your health will suffer. You’ll become a casualty—part of the “fit but unhealthy” crowd. Instead, the best approach is to first build a great aerobic system.
The key is to be able to differentiate an aerobic exercise program from an anaerobic one. For a workout to be truly aerobic, you should be able to exercise the same way for many weeks and months, experiencing continued benefits. When you’ve finished each workout, you should feel great—not tired or sore, and certainly not ready to collapse on the couch. Nor should you crave sugar or other carbohydrates: aerobic workouts program your body to burn stored fat, not sugar. Craving sugar during or after a workout means it’s anaerobic.
If you’re not getting the benefits you want from working out, it’s possible that your aerobic system is not being developed.