The most common question I get as a trainer is "how do I lose belly fat?". It doesn't matter what the goal is, to be healthy, to gain muscle mass, to be more athletic, to be leaner, all goals are followed by "oh and I want to lose belly fat".
The good news is that with a basic understanding of physiology, losing belly fat becomes easy. Loosing belly fat is a little more complicated than simple nutrition and exercise recommendations that you will hear everywhere.
Scroll down to the conclusion if you want a quick recap skipping all the sciency things, The major points will be all outlined down there.
Read on if you want a deeper understanding of how you can lose belly fat.
Before we touch on anything to do with belly fat, let me remind you of the most important rule about body composition: Caloric Balance.
This refers to the amount of calories you eat versus the calories you use. Calories come from the three macro nutrient groups: protein, fats and carbohydrates (carbs).
When the amount of calories you eat is lower than the amount of calories you burn, your body will lose weight. When the amount of calories you eat is greater than the amount of calories you burn, your body will gain weight.
It is impossible to lose belly fat in a caloric surplus. Period.
Now that we have this cleared, let's move on to the more specific details about belly fat and why it's so tough to get rid of.
Your fat cells in your body are not all the same. One factor that differentiates them is their ratio of adrenergic receptors. In order to get the fat out of the fat cells, your body sends norepinephrine (a hormone) that has to attach itself to the fat cells. Think of the adrenergic receptors as velcro for the norepinephrine to attach on.
There are two main types of adrenergic receptors on your fat cells: beta and alpha receptors. Beta receptors make it easy for norepinephrine to attach to the fat cells and alpha receptors make it harder. Some fat cells have more beta receptors, and some fat cells have more alpha receptors. Cells that have more beta receptors release fat more easily. Cells that have more alpha receptors hang on to their fat more.
As you guessed it by now, belly fat cells have more alpha receptors.
What does this mean for us? Belly fat is harder to get rid off than other areas. Harder, but very doable when we are smart about it.
As a trainer, I see a lot of people focused on one aspect of fat loss: burning more fat. This is great, but most people completely forget about the other part that I think is equally important: limiting fat storage!
Let's talk a little more about these two processes.
You can burn fat two different ways:
1. By exercising
2. By increasing you basal metabolic rate (more on that in a bit)
Exercise and burning fat
Burning fat happens when your body needs energy for a prolonged amount of time. When you exercise, one of the ways you body gets energy is by breaking down fat cells. This process is best when you exercise at lower intensities like 45% - 65% of your maximal exercise potential.
This type of exercise happens when you go to fitness classes, do cardio work, and go to the gym.
Basal metabolic rate and burning fat