Working out, but not seeing the fat loss desired? A big deal according to many human performance researchers is, of course, diet: it doesn't matter how much time is spent on a treadmill, if we consume more calories than we spend. Unused calories get stored, mainly as fat.
Nutrition is critical in no small part because we're electro-chemical systems, and different nutrients, with their different chemical profiles cause different reactions. There are three supplements that are getting a lot of research attention (a) to help rev up metabolism and thus get fat burning boosted and (b) to help utilize fat stores more efficiently. In the month run up to the holidays, you might want to check these out.
In the metabolism revving category, it's green tea. Yes, that simple beverage has huge benefits. In the fat utilization category, it's (purified) fish oil, no. 1, with CLA, a type of naturally occurring fat, coming in a good second. You may be asking yourself "fat to help burn fat? Green tea to impact metabolism?" Yes and Yes.
Over the next four weeks, along with my regular diet and workouts, i'm going to be adding in the recommended doses that research has shown to have fat utilization effects, and see what happens. The following goes through some of the details on why i'm giving this a shot.
Fish Oil, Green Tea, CLA. Let's take them one at a time.
Fish Oil. You may have heard of "good fats" like Omega 3's. Fish Oil is a great source of Omega 3's. One reason that fish oil may help fat get utilized more is that its particular construction, one study suggests that the fish oil helps keep insulin levels in check. According to David McEvoy, reporting on a study in the Journal of Obesity Studies, "insulin reduces the use of fat for fuel, while also promoting fat storage in the presence of excess calories. Insulin inhibits the action of hormone sensitive lipase, which is responsible for breaking down stored fat and preparing it for use as energy."
So, a natural way to supplement our diets with these fats is to eat fish regularly. There have been concerns expressed over the past couple of years about eating too much fish - not because fish itself is bad (far from it) but because of the stuff that's in the environment that gets caught up in fish.
Pollution. So purified fish oil is a good idea. But as with anything, not all fish oil is created equal. Check the label for the size of the capsule and the amount of EPA and DHA (the acids in omega 3's that make it work). Unless you want to take a mitt full of pills daily, higher levels relative to the size of the capsule are better. In the UK, one supplier i've found that seems to have a good ratio Nature's Best, with High Potency Fish Oil. Check out the ratios of fish oil to DHA/EPA: high enough to take only one capsule 3x's a day (best to take with food). This isn't an endorsement - it's a find - if you find other brands that look like they have good ratios and good purification processes, please post.
Note note note that fish oil is not a fat loss magic bullet: it's just one more "every little helps" as it were as part of a proper diet and exercise plan. Try this supplement without good diet and exercise, and it's benefits will be nullified.
CLA. Conjugated Linoleic Acid. Of Mice and Men...
CLA lives in the Omega 6 space. There's more debate about the value of CLA than of fish oil, but there's a growing number of studies - including in humans - that shows that this acid is another helper in the quest to keep fat motivated to burn. THe reason there's increasing interest is that studies seem to show that it helps reduce adipose tissue (belly fat) - at least so far in mice. Har! But there's at least one newer study out there showing that in general while BMI remained the same, over four weeks, body fat went down. Anecdotally, a lot of folks in the human performance space are saying that CLA is effective. The does again is about 3400mg of pure CLA a day (slightly less than a heaping teaspoon of the stuff - again, check out sources online for doses and serving types that suit you - powder or tablet or capsule - remember to look at the label carefully for amounts).
Green Tea, Thermogenesis and EGCG
Thermogenesis is the body creating heat - burning energy - by raising the metabolic rate above normal. Green tea has been shown to be good at this - safely.
So that's one good thing about green tea for health and diet. Another is that it's a powerful anti-oxidant, and that is supposed to be a good thing in the battle with aging/free radicals/heart disease and possibly some cancers. The thermogenic and anti oxidant effect is largely courtesy of epigallocatechin gallate found a bit in chocolate and in other tea types, but highest concentrations are in green tea. A 99 study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition claimed 43% increase in thermogenesis in adults with 90mg dose of per day.
It would take drinking about a liter of green tea a day to get these kinds of doses, hence getting supplements can be an effective approach. Also, some green tea supplements take care to get the caffeine out of the mix, too - and that is a good thing. As with fish oil, lots of companies make concentrated supplements: look around for the one that meets the concentrations and processes that look good for you. For instance, Nature's best tablet has ample For two pounds less, there's a product from Bodykind. Another interesting source of that green tea goodness may be a product from Tea Tech Jackie Chan is delightfully fronting: Tea Tech Green Tea, tea with a kick. This is 'instant' tea with a difference: it contains 100mg of those ECGCs which is equivalent to 8 cups (or 64oz) of brewed tea. So there's your thermogenic effect right there. If you're traveling to the states over the holidays, think of picking some up.
Putting 'Em all together
A product that combines green tea with CLA has been studied at UofToronto over 12 weeks, and been shown to support weight loss (total daily intake of 3,400mg CLA and 270mg EGCG.) This result is with folks who had waist lines of 34+ inches - well into the obese zone. Also, according to John Berardi's review, "some research (Blankson et al 2000) has shown that 12 weeks of CLA supplementation (at doses above 3.4g/day) can increase LBM [lean body mass] and decrease fat mass vs. olive oil. While the olive oil group gained 1.5 lbs of fat and no lean body mass, the CLA group lost 4.5 lbs of fat and gained 3 lbs of LBM." John Berardi is the founder of Precision Nutrition (reviewed here) and his "10 habits" approach to nutrition recommends fish oil and green tea as part of healthy daily eating.
While some products have started putting together combinations of these three ingredients (biotest's flameout puts together EPA/DHA and CLA; abs+ puts together green tea and CLA), it seems it is possible to "roll your own" from individual supplements. At least this is what i'm going to be doing.
Now, my initial four week investigation is not particularly scientific: there are many variables that could impact this stint with supplements, and i'm not particularly invested in being rigorous in my control of them. That said, i'm also not planning to change my routine particularly in the next four weeks: the workout routine will be pretty much the same as this past month, as will the diet i use currently (based on PN). So, in that weak way i should at least get a sense of whether or not the approach makes a difference. Will report back.