The Healthy Executive

Lose Fat, Add Muscle? 4 Week Self-Experiment

Reading time: 2.0 minutes (1200 words @ 600 wpm[1])

Are you wasting your time working out at the gym or on the trail?

Did you know that being a few pounds overweight cancels out your fitness efforts?

Extra fat undermines the benefits extra muscle (below I explain this in detail).

Nobody can afford to waste their time, especially busy executives.

Here’s what you can do:


Body Recomposition: An Impossible Dream?

Can you get more muscular and leaner at the same time?

Body recomposition is the practice of:

  • Maximizing:
    • protein synthesis (anabolism)
    • lipolysis (fat burning)
  • Minimizing:
    • protein breakdown (catabolism)
    • lipogenesis (fat storage)

Research by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and others clearly shows that:

Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss.

But do these lab results and nutritional theory apply to stressed executives who live in the real world?

I decided to find out whether it is possible or not.

My 4 Week Self-Experiment

For one month I ran an experiment to see if it was possible to simultaneously lose fat and gain muscle.

Several factors were working against me:

  • Stress
    • Stress raises cortisol levels which triggers fat storage.
    • In turn, body fat itself generates de novo cortisol.
    • This creates a self-amplifying negative feedback loop.
  • Time
    • I run my own business.
    • I travel extensively.
  • Adaptation
    • As you get closer to ideal body composition, it becomes harder to lose fat.
    • This is due to dual adaptions:
      • You become more efficient at exercise and your metabolism downshifts.

You Can’t Out-Train Bad Nutrition

The more fat you carry, the less of a benefit fitness seems to have.
— study author Peter Nordström, Ph.D.

If you carry a few too many extra pounds around your middle, cardio and strength training might not be enough to save you. It’s more dangerous to be obese than it is to be inactive, a new study from Sweden suggests.

To answer the question of whether fitness can offset the risks of being fat, the researchers measured the body mass indexes (BMIs) and aerobic fitness levels of more than 1.3 million men. They considered VO2 max—the maximum volume of oxygen that your body can take in and use during intense exercise—as measured during a cycling test as the marker of how aerobically “fit” the men were.

They then tracked the number of deaths that occurred over the next 29 years.

The researchers discovered that guys with the lowest levels of aerobic fitness who maintained a normal BMI—between 18.5 and 24.9—were actually 30 percent less likely to die during that time than obese men—BMI of 30 or greater—with the highest levels of aerobic fitness were.

It’s not quite clear why extra weight blunts the positive effects of fitness. The link that the researchers found here is likely due to a high body-fat percentage, not muscle, causing the extra weight.

Inflammation caused by fat tissue may override the anti-inflammatory hormones produced by exercise.

It’s probably due to the inflammatory hormones circulated by fat tissue, says Kevin Davy, Ph.D., director of the Fralin Translational Obesity Research Center at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

More fat tissue means more inflammation, which is linked to the development of several serious conditions, like heart disease and depression, he adds.

That’s not to say that exercise doesn’t help. In fact, when the study looked at men overall, they found that those with highest levels of aerobic fitness were less than half as likely to die of any cause than men with the lowest.

Simply exercising is not always enough. You need to reduce your visceral fat—the type most linked to serious health issues—with a workout program that builds lean body mass (muscle), and pick a nutrition plan that helps you cut unnecessary pounds.[2]

My Results After 4 Weeks

4 weeks is a relatively short amount of time in when trying to alter one’s appearance.

So I’m not expecting to gain 30 lbs of muscle (that’s Tim Ferris bullshit) or lose 30 lbs of fat (more Ferriss crap).

I’m looking for directional confirmation.

Namely: is body recomposition working as validated by the numbers (see below).

Executive Summary

Changes to my nutrition (see below) resulted in an immediate weight loss of almost 3 lbs. But this is actually pretty normal at the start of any new program due to:

  • Glycogen depletion (from cardio)
    • Each glucose molecule holds 4X it’s weight in water
  • Water loss
    • Due to salt and sugar restrictions.
    • Just a few grams of salt causes your body to retain a lb of water, similarly for sugar.

Its important to know this because it messes with your psychology when you seems to get great results at the beginning that taper off or even stop after a couple of weeks (see my psych tips here).

Based on mistakes I made during lean bulking, I modified my exercise as follows:

  • Added 20-minute cardio sessions
    • These were performed at Lactate Threshold (80% V02 Max) instead of High Intensity (120% V02 Max)
    • My average daily step count went from 7,500 steps (3 miles) to 12,000 steps (5 miles)
      • The national average for most people is 5,000 steps a day (according to FitBit)
  • Reduced my strength training 50%
    • TO: 1x a week for maintenance, FROM: 2X a week for growth
    • Tip: If you keep your weights the same (intensity), you will keep 100% of your strength, even if your reduce your training frequenting or volume by 50%.

Lessons Learned:

  • Strength training after cardio is miserable (due to deleted glycogen levels)
  • Cardio after strength training burns off triglycerides from liposis (fat) instead of allowing it redeposit.

My Body Recomposition Data

After 4 weeks, you can see I managed to lose some fat and gain a little muscle.

At this stage I am happy with the directional change = +muscle -fat.

Further improvements will continue to compound over time.

 Weight
WaistLean Muscle
Mass
Body FatBody Fat
Start178.2 lbs
(80.7 kgs)
35.8"
(90.9 cm)

158.1 lbs
(71.6 kg)
11.4%20.3 lbs
(9.2 kg)
Finish176.6 lbs
(80.0 kgs)
34.8"
(88.4 cm)

158.6 lbs
(71.8 kg)
10.2%18.0 lbs
(8.2 kg)
Change-1.6 lbs
(-1.0%)
-1"
(-2.8%)
+ .5 lbs
(+3.2%)
-1.2%-2.3 lbs
(-1.1kg)

My Strength Before & After

My squat and bench strength showed continued improvements.

This is consistent with (slightly) increased lean muscle mass.

My Recomposition Nutrition

Body recomposition doesn’t require a special diet, just adaptations to your existing food preferences.

The ‘best diet’ that works long term is based on foods you prefer: just increase the amount of healthy foods you prefer and cut back on the unhealthy foods.

  • To Add Muscle:
    • Eat 1g of protein per lb per day
  • To Lose Fat:
    • Reduce carbs to under 150 g per day (ideally 100)
  • Energy Balance:
    • Increase nutrition by 100-200 cals/day to support muscle maintenance/growth
    • Increase exercise by 200-400 cals/day to promote fat loss

You can see below I cut back my carbs about 50g which lowered my daily calories from my lean bulk program.

ObjectiveFood Energy
(cal / day)
Protein
(g)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Exercise
(cal / day)
Add Muscle2,29218414698264
Lose Fat1,98217610191506
Delta-310 cal-8g-45g-7g+242

How You Can Do It

You can body recomposition is you are motivated to eat right and exercise. Here are my best tips:

  1. Are you motivated?
  2. Do you have a program to build muscle?
  3. Is your nutrition under control?

But please don’t take my word for it. See for yourself exactly how my clients get results.

Here’s Your Next Step…

You can lead stronger and lead longer, but only if you take action.

Learn how by getting your free monthly updates that contain practical and actionable executive health tips: 


Also published on Medium.

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