I think that most people have heard of fat skinny by now. But is everyone familiar with what that means? It refers to people who are thin and perhaps “in shape” but have a lot of visceral fat (internal), which happens to be far more unhealthy than subcutaneous fat (right under the surface of the skin). Visceral fat is linked to all kinds of health problems from metabolic disease, cardio vascular disease, premature death, etc. It has more recently been associate with hormonal problems.
Visceral fat is very interesting in that we need it to survive. As a matter of fact, if a woman has too little of it she will become infertile (also possible with too much). It is needed to protect our organs as well. Men have lower levels than women do and thus there are different goals to aim for percentage wise. Back to its health implications however, I was reading than some professionals, very controversially, think that it could be considered an organ! It is a necessary part of the body and more recently has been seen to have functions including storage and release of certain hormones. Lipid soluble vitamins are also stored in the fat.
So now you know how important it is, and also how important it is to keep it in a healthy range. I underwent body fat analysis twice this summer through an electrical measurement which releases a small electrical current into your body and can tell how much fat you have by the speed at which it travels through you. This method is highly criticized as you can get different readings at different times of the day depending on hydration levels, etc. It does however actually attempt to measure visceral fat directly which the skin fold measure cannot do.
It is not nearly as valid of a measure as other devised methods, however they require special equipment and facilities and are not feasible for most of us. Anyhow, my body fat percentage was through the roof! As a matter of fact it said I was obese! How could I, 115lb 5’3″ be obese? I practice yoga and run multiple times a week, I have a better diet than anyone else I know how could this be!? Well it can be and it was. I started watching how much I was eating (because too much of a good thing can be a bad thing) and a month later my percentage had dropped a few points. Granted I still have a few pounds more of muscle to gain and fat to loose before I get in my target zone <25% but I am getting there.
I just wanted to write this to share with you the dangers and benefits of body fat and how one can be deceivingly unhealthy beneath their layers of muscle and size 2 pants. On a side note, I just wanted to say please don’t fret about numbers such as BMI or lbs. Body fat percentage is more important. If someone is highly muscular or has large healthy bones that will increase your BMI and lbs. Below you will find a handy chart from the American Council on Exercise, and here is a link from Harvard for you to read more about the subject.
One of the things that even the healthiest people struggle with in their appearance is subcutaneous fat. This is the fat that is deposited under the skin and above the muscles. It is very stubborn as difficult to get rid of. A little bit of subcutaneous fat is not hazardous to your health and may even have health benefits, however if it is not evenly dispersed and is settled in one area it may appear unsightly. Please remember that although it does not correlate with health concerns, being thin and having low little of this kind of fat does not mean that you do not have fat deposits.
Visceral fat is the kind that surrounds your organs and carries the highest health risks. If someone is naturally thin and has substantial muscle tone, Visceral fat may be there undiscovered. That is why a healthy diet is just as important as a healthy lifestyle. In other words working out does not equate a free pass to eat garbage.
For those of you who do have a little bit of remaining stubborn fat there is hope. Research presented in 2011 from the Iranian Journal of Health and Physical Activity demonstrated how massage can decrease fat deposits. The reasoning behind this is that fat is stored energy and to be utilized but be able to travel via the bloodstream. Subcutaneous fat has very little blood flow and massage can increase blood flow the increasing the likelihood of stored energy being released.
I also wrote a post of exercising for fat burn which will be useful in targeting the use of fat as energy during exercise, but increasing blood flow to the area is crucial. As a matter of fact the next time you work out notice how warm your body feels. Then place a hand on your fat deposit and notice how cool it feels. That is due to lack of blood flow to that area. If you are interested in learning the specifics, check out the article here.
If you are trying to burn fat when is the best time to exercise? Well until recently most experts say there is no right time but new research does confirm that the morning is indeed the best time. As a matter of fact the study found that you can burn as much as 20% more fat. This only works if it is before eating breakfast however. If you are not looking to burn fat and just looking to build muscle and endurance then the time does not really matter. So this is for all of you out there who are looking to burn off that extra stubborn fat!
If you have very low blood sugar in the morning I would advise to have a small portion of whole rolled oats prior to working out. It will help to level out your blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar is too low you may further lower it through morning exercise and become weak, lightheaded and potential injure yourself. The source that the body would normally use to raise your blood sugar will instead be converted into energy for exercise. So by all means if you have very low blood sugar have a little bit of plain whole oats in the morning, it is an excellent food in that you do not need a lot to feel satiated and it will slowly raise your blood sugar and contains amino acids to support your muscles during exercise.
When you exercise, your body first burns through your storage of glycogen. Glycogen if derived from glucose in carbohydrates and stored in your liver for energy. It is then broken down into glucose from which it came, and burns quickly allowing you to do demanding exercise. Fat burns slowly and is only used after your glycogen levels run out. Your glycogen levels are lowest in the morning after your fast overnight, and you will burn through it more quickly and then target fat burning.
Fat gives off energy slower than glycogen so do not be alarmed if you can not keep up the pace you normally do. Moderate exercise for a longer period of time will target fat burning. The researchers from Northumbria University in England released the research earlier this year. They also addressed common concerns such as if exercising in the morning increases hunger during the day and in turn raises calorie consumption over the course of the day. They found this to be false. People actually did not consume more calories and found that they even had more energy throughout the day. So if you want to burn fat, unfortunately you will have to set that alarm for even earlier. Hopefully the extra energy you gain from an early morning workout will balance out the extra sleep you lose!