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The Bodyfat Blueprint
The Bodyfat Blueprint
Regional Body Fat Storage and the Hormonal Implications Thereof
Part I: Practical Applications
by Marc McDougal
Sometimes in the world of exercise science, we are forced to come full circle with our discoveries. At first we scoff at an idea, mocking those who embrace it, citing references and theories, and generally low-browing the inferior neophytes who make these awful suggestions. Then years go by, more research is done, more anecdotal experience is had, and we are obligated to eat crow. The newest crow-flavored delicacy at the Physiology Café is called "Spot Reduction, a la carte". Who's hungry?
In the past, exercise physiologists have espoused the idea that body fat is lost systemically and uniformly depending on "where the body decides" to take it from first. Fairly recently however, some innovative strength coaches have progressed past these theories and realized that with careful manipulation of certain hormones in the body, we truly do have the power to choose where fat is lost from! First and foremost, I would like to credit Charles Poliquin for coming up with his well publicized methods of regional bodyfat manipulation which he calls "Biosignature Modulation". Other strength coaches have followed suit and are starting to tailor client's diets and training based on where they store their body fat.
When I first read about these theories, I must admit, I claimed voodoo. The black arts have no place in my arsenal of adipose destruction. Nonetheless, I found the ideas intriguing, so I did a bit more research, and decided to use some of my clients as lab rats (not to worry, my clients love to be used...in many, many ways). My results were nothing less than astounding. Monthly measurements were truly shocking, for myself and my rats/clients. After continuing to experiment with hundreds of subjects, I have been able to come up with plans of attack that allow me to do two things that I have never been able to do before:
Predict with great accuracy the 2 (of 7) highest skinfold measurements on a client after only a verbal consultation.
Pick the 2 spots that the client wants to reduce first and successfully target their loss to a far more rapid pace than other sites.
Poliquin and others have set out some great tips and strategies pertaining to this issue, but I found them somewhat incomplete. I needed more, as I'm sure many of you do as well. I have also previously found there to be a lack of citation for real research backing up these views. In Part I, I'm going to tailor to the ADD in all of you, and get right to the good stuff. You can walk away from this and start applying tips to your diet, supplementation, and workouts immediately. Next month, I will indulge the science minded folks and delve deep into the true physiological mechanisms, complete with all of the research you could ever hope for.
As it turns out, the body has quite a slew of hormones circulating at any given time, all with their own optimal levels. When certain hormones get too high or too low, they can cause excess fat storage at certain sites. Key players include:
Lifestyle choices, diet, exercise, genetics, etc. can all play a role in the deviation of these hormones to suboptimal levels. By listening to your body, you can straighten these out and take them back to normal or better.
First off, you will need to have the results from a qualified coach for a seven site body fat caliper test including:
Bicep (Taken vertically halfway between the crease of the elbow and the acromion process, slightly medial. Client should relax the arm to his/her side with the palm up)
Tricep (Taken vertically halfway between the elbow and the tip of the posterior aspect of the shoulder. Client should relax arm)
Subscapular (Taken diagonally along the angle of the scapula, just below the bone)
Mid-axillary (Taken vertically just below the lower crease of the armpit, just south of where the deodorant cakes up)
Supra-iliac (Taken diagonally just above the peak of the iliac crest, in line with the armpit.)
Umbilical (Taken vertically just laterally of the belly button.)
Quadricep (Taken vertically halfway between the iliac crest and the patella)
Note: It is extremely important that these measurements be taken at the exact same spot with every follow up. Even a slight shift in location can largely affect the reading.
Find the two sites with the highest mm readings. These should be your initial focus when trying to decrease overall body composition. However, you could very well decrease other less problematic sites as well depending on your preference. I know this is what John Romaniello does with his abdominal measurement so that he can wear his crop-top shirts out to the clubs on the weekends. Now if we could just get him to shave his belly...
This chart will give you the tools to learn how to manage the hormones and watch your sites drop. As I said, this is all based off of hundreds of trials, as well as many published studies.
This measurement should be used as a reference point to develop a ratio with the tricep. Males should shoot for a 1:1 with a 1:2 being the ceiling. Females should shoot for a 1:2 with a 1:3 being the ceiling. If the tricep shows at higher than these ratios, this can be an indication of circulating progesterone levels being elevated (you sissy).
Again, this is an indication that your progesterone and possibly other estrogen metabolites are too high. When you raise your arms up, does it look like you are wearing a cape? Bat wings, lunch-lady arms, mud flaps etc-- here's how to fix 'em. Females should pay close attention to any hormones they are using. Many forms of birth control can immediately cause women to increase their fat storage in this area (as well as quadriceps). Countless times I have seen women lose significant tricep adipose tissue simply by discontinuing use of birth control, or switching to a form that can be better tolerated. However, getting pregnant is decidedly not an efficient way to lose body fat either, so either cover your bases, or be forced to name your kid after me.
Males have quite a few options for eliminating those excess estrogen metabolites including:
Stop shopping at Gap
Cut back on "Lifetime" movies
Quit vacuuming in your girlfriend's underwear
Both males and females can target this area in a few other ways. Try to eliminate
"xenoestrogens", i.e. environmental estrogens that can end up in your blood stream. Here are some common ones:
Phthalates- found in plastics, exacerbated when heated. (Hint hint--don't microwave plastics!!)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)- found in waxes, glues, and flame retardants. Please don't superglue your Haz-Mat suit on your body.
Parabeans- Perfumes, colognes, aerosol air fresheners, etc. Try to find those without this nasty chemical. Score another one for Axe body spray-- no parabeans! You can eat that stuff, I swear.
Pesticides/Insecticides- Wash your produce; wipe the paws of your outdoor pets when they come inside, keep field grazing to a "special treat".
Many others exist as well, some very hard to avoid. These truly can have a significant impact on the hormones in your body and are nothing to jeer at. Taking an anti-estrogen/progesterone is a good idea for those who tend to store fat in the tricep/quad region. Here are some options:
High Lignan Flax Oil: Lignans are a type of fiber that can remove excess estrogen metabolites from the blood stream. This gives you the added benefit of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Vitex Agnus Castus (chasteberry): Most research on this compound focuses on its ability to lessen symptoms of PMS, although it does show the declination of the implicated hormones. This would be a good product for women, but is questionable for men as some research shows it to be an anti-androgen.
Calcium D-Glucarate: Great for reduction in the implicated hormones, as well as significant effects on promoting liver health, anti-cancer, and lipid lowering.
Clomiphene (Clomid): A prescription LH booster, as well as an anti-estrogen.
Tamoxifen (Nolvadex): Another prescription anti-estrogen, however I would not recommend this due to recent research displaying some dangerous properties to this drug.
And finally, stop smoking pot you damn hippies, as that can cause elevation of estrogen metabolites as well.
Depends on who you ask! Some coaches implicate this measurement with high free testosterone levels, while others relate it to degree of insulin sensitivity. I'll discuss this more in depth in Part II to cover what the research really says about subscapular body fat storage. Until then, we are going to group this one with insulin management. (See "Supra-Iliac")
Time to take care of your thyroid!
Gugglesterones: Help boost natural thyroid output, as well as being anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory, and exhibiting cholesterol lowering effects.
Coleus forskohlii: Thyroid booster
Cytomel: Prescription synthetic thyroid hormone
Those who store excess body fat in the upper hip region tend to have a degree of insulin resistance, as well as sub-optimal growth hormone (GH) levels. This hormonal pair makes absolute sense, as elevated insulin can impede the pulsatile release of GH. Insulin resistance means that your body isn't using glucose efficiently, which causes a host of insulin related problems ultimately leading to decreased energy, increased fat storage, decreased cognitive function, etc. How to solve it:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fish oil or flax oil, depending on which suits your needs to a greater extent. If you store high fat in the quadricep and tricep regions as well, go with the flax for some fat loss multitasking (just make sure it's high lignan). Take at least 3,000mg of combined EPA/DHA per day, up to about 9,000mg. Dosage depends on total fat intake, lean body mass, and omega 3 content in the existing diet. If you use Flax oil, be sure not to use it while you have any caffeine in your system as it can interfere with your body's conversion of alpha linolenic acid into eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (the active compounds in the omega 3 fatty acid responsible for the positive effects on insulin mediated glucose transport).
Decrease/Eliminate Trans Fatty Acids: Avoid cooking with oils, anything with hydrogenated fats (regular peanut butter, frozen waffles, margarine, etc.).
R-Alpha Lipoic Acid: Take this about 20-30 minutes before meals for an increase in insulin sensitivity. This is a great compound that has proven very effective in research as well as real world, especially for those that have a degree of insulin resistance. Dosage should range from 100-300mg depending on amount of carbohydrates in the meal.
Decrease Carbs: Your total carb intake should be no more than .75xLBM while repairing your insulin sensitivity, with most of these carbs coming during and after your workout (when insulin sensitivity will be temporarily elevated). The rest of your carbs should be from low Glycemic Index, low Insulin Index foods such as green vegetables, yams, whole oats, fibrous fruits, and beans.
Fiber: As long as your carbs are coming from the right sources, this shouldn't be a problem. Try to make sure you are getting between 25-40g/day depending on LBM and total calories.
Increase Workout Frequency: Workout everyday if possible. This means decreasing your total volume per workout, and repeating more often. Each bout in the weight room causes a significant increase in insulin sensitivity, with frequent workouts you can achieve an around the clock elevation in the way your body handles glucose and insulin. Avoid training to failure at all costs, train hard but always make your last rep look like your first. A good place to start is 5 days with weight training and 3 days with cardio.
Eliminate Stimulants: Time to loose the caffeine, ephedrine, etc. These compounds have a negative impact on insulin sensitivity, and need to be avoided until you improve your body's tolerance. Switch to Green Tea, which can have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity. You may also want to consider some nootropic compounds to keep the mental edge if you are used to stimulants to keep you going. Click here for a rundown on these cognitive enhancing compounds.
Alright fat bellies, listen up. First off quit drinking the beer, as it somehow takes a one-way route right to the belly in every man, woman and child. Sack up and drink some chilled vodka-- if it's good enough for the Russians, its good enough...wait, well, it's better for you; let's leave it at that.
Cortisol, testosterone, and even growth hormone play a role in this region. First we'll tackle cortisol, as it is the most common culprit of abdominal fat storage.
Cortisol Reduction Methods:
Quit your job: You're obviously too stressed at work. Get a nice hobby. Kidding aside, stress is the number one factor in elevated cortisol, so it's time to relax and take a few deep breaths. Come on your life doesn't suck that bad.
Sleep: Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep every night, uninterrupted. Waking up to quickly drain the hose isn't a bad thing, but continuous breaks of more than a few minutes during the sleep cycle will surely disturb the process. Those of you that "feel fine" after only 5 hours per night, take a good look at your belly and keep telling yourself how fine you feel.
Eliminate NSAIDS: Over the counter pain killers are nothing but evil. Not only do they negatively affect cortisol, but they decrease protein synthesis rates making everything you do in the gym more arduous. Stick to fish oils for their anti-inflammatory properties, and get your injuries fixed!
Fish Oils: They do everything. Get used to it. Take them. Lots. Enjoy the taste.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's): Two options here, take your LBM in kg and multiply it by .4, consume this in liquid form during your workout, heavily diluted in water. Option two; consume 5g mixed BCAAs between each meal, in about 16oz water. I recommend ICE made by Xtreme Formulations. This protocol has shown to cause a significant reduction in abdominal body fat storage, while preserving lean mass (LBM) while in a caloric restriction.
Phosphatidylserine: Studies have shown that 800mg/day can significantly suppress cortisol. This can get expensive, which is why I don't recommend it as a blanket performance supplement, just to those with indications of high cortisol levels.
Bacopa: This is a nootropic agent with some cortisol suppressing properties. All the more reason to take an 800mg capsule of this every day upon rising (you'll be smarter and thinner!). A very cheap and effective supplement.
5-HTP: Take 50mg between meals. This can cause significant mood elevation and sense of well being for those of you with heightened stress levels. It also suppresses carbohydrate cravings through the elevation of serotonin, which can be handy when dieting.
Yohimbine: Men have alpha-2 adrenoreceptors in the abdominal region, and oral or transdermal yohimbine has been shown to directly target these receptors to aid in fat loss. Avoid this compound if you have any blood pressure issues, otherwise take between 3-8mg between meals 3x/day.
Kill the Cardio: Long duration cardio can cause an elevation in cortisol, so stick to short interval sessions. I usually recommend 20 minutes total, 2 or 3 times per week max. Perform 30 second "sprints" (all out, hard as you can) followed by 90 second recovery phases.
Post Workout: Ensure that you have an adequate post workout shake immediately after you finish. Cortisol is elevated during your workout, and proper nutrition is vital to bring it back down and start the recovery process. Take 250mg Vitamin C with 400 I.U. Vitamin E along with a good post workout shake such as Relentless (which has a good dose of phosphatidylserine already in it).
The harder I lift and the more I eat, the better my genetics seem to get.