Many of my patients are over the age of 40 and have put on a few pounds – especially around the middle. This is common with getting older and can occur from several things – inactivity, poor sleeping habits, metabolism slowdown and decrease in ability to use insulin efficiently, too high sugar/carbohydrate diets. All these things can cause you to store fat rather than burn it for energy. But, with a little effort it’s a syndrome that you can beat. Here’s how.
Over 40 – Lose Fat, Not Muscle
As people get older, hormones start changing in both men and women. One of the biggest side effects of this is weight gain – more accurately fat gain especially around the middle. This can be as a result of metabolic syndrome – the inability to process carbohydrates efficiently that results in fat gain and can lead to diabetes and other complications. In an attempt to lose that belly fat, many people go on low fat diets and start doing more aerobic exercise. Although the fat is lower, these diets are still too high in the real culprit – carbohydrates/sugar – and weight loss is difficult to achieve.
Two professors, Jeffrey S. Volek, and Stephen Phinney, from the University of Connecticut and UCLA Davis [The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable], explain why people, especially those with metabolic syndrome, become much healthier, on a higher fat, lower carbohydrate, adequate protein diet. Their blood sugars and insulin production normalize and they’re finally able to stop storing, and start burning, fat.
Also, many people often don’t eat enough protein or spend much time weight training, if at all. As a result, when they do lose weight it often is muscle loss. In the absence of adequate protein intake, your muscles will catabolize (eat) themselves for protein. This results in weaker muscles and sagging skin. In fact, “frailty syndrome” is becoming a real problem in older adults. Recent studies out of the University of Turku, Finland, Department of Medicine, [Resistance Training is an Effective Tool Against Metabolic and Frailty Syndromes], show that resistance (weight) training helps fight both metabolic and frailty syndrome.
To both lose fat and keep muscle, I think the following strategies are helpful:
- High fiber/low glycemic/sugar carbs: Choose whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley, cannellini beans, garbanzo beans, etc. All these have 0 to 1 gram of sugar per serving and high fiber content.
- Portion control: Just because a carb may be low glycemic, if you eat too much at one time, it will still cause your blood sugar to spike and your body to go into fat storing, rather than burning, mode.
- Carb cycle: Cycle higher carb days with lower carb days. Every 2 days, eat a little more low glycemic carbs. On these days, do muscle building, weights. On the lower carb days, eat a little less low glycemic carbs and do lighter aerobic exercise training (see schedule below). Although our strategies differ somewhat, fitness trainer Charles Remington in his article, Keys To Losing Fat Without Losing Muscle, also advocates carb cycling to burn more fat yet preserve muscle.
- Eat more protein: Eat 0.8 to 0.75 gram per pound of body weight. This means if you weigh 180 lbs, you should be eating about 124 to 135 grams protein per day. Choose protein sources wisely though, eat more fish than red meat (2-3 times a week) and poultry. Also protein powder shakes can be used but use 0 sugar milks like almond and coconut. Real milk has 11 grams of sugar in 1 serving! The grains mentioned above also contain protein. Read labels and add up your protein for the day.
- Eat more good fats. Decreasing carbohydrates you can increase your intake of fats. Make them good fats, though, like olive, avocado, coconut oils, Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Forego the USDA’s food pyramid. The recommended high intake of carbs from grains, between 6-11 servings a day, is a recipe for developing type 2 diabetes and fat gain.
- Sleep more. Recent research out of the University of Chicago, Sleep Loss Limits Fat Loss, showed that of the participants in the study who were trying to lose weight, those that slept less had reduced fat loss by 55%. In addition, of the weight loss they did achieve, only 1/4th of it was fat loss.
It is more difficult to lose body fat and keep muscles strong with healthy mass as you get older. However, it’s not impossible. If you pay more attention to the amount and types of carbohydrates you put in your body, add weight training to your exercise regimen, eat enough protein, you should be able to lose that fat while preserving your muscle mass and strength.
Sleep Loss Limits Fat Loss, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101004211637.htm
Keys to Losing FAT without losing muscle, http://healing.about.com/cs/uc_directory/a/fatlosscoach_2.htm
How Much Protein Should I Eat in A Day,
Resistance training is an effective tool against metabolic and frailty syndromes, http://www.hindawi.com/journals/apm/2011/984683/