How to Lose the Muffin Top
Muffin top, love handles, belly fat. No matter what you call it, we don’t want it.
If there’s one thing EVERYONE does want, it is to have lean abdominals
Can it be done?
Yes, it can, but only if you adopt a well-orchestrated and holistic approach to fat loss.
Over my many years in this game, one thing I’ve seen time after time is gym goers who, despite all their efforts, just can’t seem to lose body fat around the middle at the same rate as the rest of their body.
This is particularly true of people who exercise regularly and work in high-stress jobs.
The amount of fat we hold onto in our midsection is as a result of how well we manage and modulate stress.
Stress comes in many forms:
One of the most prevalent issues in everyday life, and often reflected in gym environments, are overtraining, under recovering and a heap of work stress to boot.
This will often manifest with a “spinning of the wheels” effect where the prospect of losing that last little bit around the middle can be impossible as our levels of cortisol (a powerful stress hormone) are continuously heightened.
Dropping calories further won’t help either as it only increases production and circulation of cortisol.
There is an enzyme called 11B-HSD (11β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase) that will increase during times of stress and, among other things, convert circulating cortisone, back into cortisol.
While cortisol is positive for many important physiological mechanisms, elevated levels for extended periods are not ideal.
The over-production of cortisol will almost always lead to the proliferation of fat around the midsection, even among those who are training hard and often.
It is very common to see people who are competing in ultra-endurance type activities (marathon, triathlon etc) with a podgy midsection. You would think that with the sheer amount of energy output required for these exercises, they would be melting fat off the midsection.
Sometimes they will due largely to superior genetics and sound recovery/nutritional strategies.
Problem is though that when you work for long periods of time above 70% of your VO2 Max (a measure of aerobic output), cortisol becomes chronically elevated.
This has an effect on fuel partitioning and will often lead to more blood sugar and muscle glycogen being burned than fat stores.
What to do?
First and foremost we need to identify and manage stress.
One of my favourite sayings is that overtraining is less of an issue than under-recovering.
To be able to sustain the training load required to lose body fat, we also need to ensure we get a full eight hours of sleep.
Other activities for stress reduction may include:
- Yoga or stretching/breathing practices.
- Easy aerobic activity like walking, light swimming or cycling.
- Meditation (your thoughts are powerful enough of their own to create a stress response).
- Time in nature.
- Anything easy that disconnects you from the main stresses of your life.
Resistance training and shorter sharper sessions are good due to acute increases in testosterone and growth hormone.
Both of these compounds have been shown to have an effect that nullifies the action of cortisol.
Steady state cardio can also be a valid option, especially at a Perceived Rate of Exertion (PRE) below about 6-7 out of 10.
- We need to ensure that a good nutritional structure is in place. Although I’m not a fan of super low carbohydrate diets, I do like to use what I call ‘carb controlled diets’. This will usually focus on carbohydrates contributing 25-30% of total calories (this can easily be tracked throughout the day on one of the many apps available).
- Liquorice root. Liquorice has an effect on inhibiting 11B-HD and preventing the conversion of cortisone into cortisol. Liquorice root tea is easy to drink and is inexpensive to buy.
- Citrus flavonoids found in grapeseed extract and other citrus fruits are also helpful in blocking this enzyme. So in saying this, more fruits and vegetables in your diet are a good idea (and come with many other health benefits).
- Supplements and products that help glucose enter the cell (Insulin sensitivity) are also of great use. This includes B vitamins, magnesium and alpha lipoic acid.
While training hard and restricting calories to a point of deficit is the basis of any fat loss program, there is more to it. We not only have to train with sufficient intensity and volume but also recover with intent.
Do this for a long enough period of time and for sure, fat loss will occur. If you get yourself to a state of being otherwise lean throughout the rest of your body (but the tummy isn’t losing it at the same rate), then you need to cover your other bases.
Our nutritional equation needs to include a conservative and slight calorie deficit for long-term fat loss, but also an abundance of micronutrients that will help with optimal health.
Fat accumulation in certain areas will usually be a result of suboptimal nutritional practices.
Creating a strong, fit and lean physique requires you to be healthy, not just on the right side of a negative energy balance, as many people believe.