Is A Bigger Muscle A Stronger Muscle? Why Are We Even Still Debating This?

One thing I love about my training crew is we get to discuss the trends in the industry and throw back and forth ideas and what we’ve found as far as our research goes.

Seems lately – as with most industries – the hot topics are ones that have been thrown around for decades now. Almost to the point I can’t still believe we are discussing them. Every new generation of trainers think they’re reinventing the wheel when it comes to training ideas and discovering the science behind lifting.

As I mentioned to a colleague earlier today, it’s like the whole “machine weights vs free weights, which one is better?” headlines all over again. Haven’t we already had these discussions enough?

The biggest one that always pokes the bear is the notion that you have to get stronger to get bigger.

At best this is an oversimplification of the idea of progressive overload, at worst its complete ignorance of the science behind strength training.

So, is it possible to get stronger without getting bigger??

If so, what are the training effects that actually take place

In Part 1, we will talk about the different effects that a training stimulus can have.

Subsequent parts in the series will discuss each in more detail.

Right off the bat, the answer to the first question is obviously yes.  You should know, at least anecdotally, that you can get stronger without “bulking”.

After all, isn’t that exactly what we tried to achieve for so many years? To convince females to strength train and show them it won’t bulk them up?

Lift weights we said. You won’t get too big. You’ll just get stronger.

And now what? We tell everyone the only way to get bigger is to get stronger?? Seriously.

So what’s the science have to say?

As most of you know, I’m a visual learner, and like nothing better than a good flow chart.

Outlined below is a simplified version, taken from Mel Siff’s awesome book on strength training – Supertraining.

Training S

It summarises each of the subsequent training effects that take place as a result of applying a training stimulus. For example…lifting a weight.

In truth, there are 3 main training effects that occur in response to a training stimulus:

  1. The Structural Effect – Or the one most of us know as “getting bigger”. This is the muscle hypertrophy that can accompany the training stimulus
  2. The Functional Effect – which further breaks down in to
      1. Inter muscular Coordination
      2. Intra muscular Coordination
      3. Reflexive Changes
  3. The Motor Learning Effect

Take a good look at the chart again, and notice the small tiny part of the overall table that is taken up by the word “hypertrophy”. Now pay attention to ALL of the other ways in which your body can adapt and increase strength WITHOUT increasing muscular size.

And not only that, you will find there are in fact 2 different types of hypertrophy. One that coincides with an increase in strength – what is termed FUNCTIONAL HYPERTROPHY and another where you can get an increase in size WITHOUT a subsequent increase in strength. This is termed NON FUNCTIONAL HYPERTROPHY.

This idea will be explored in more detail in Part 2. Along with discussing in more detail the other ways your can improve strength without increasing size.

Does Stretching Even Do Anything?

It’s been so ingrained in to our psyche over the years. You have to stretch!!

People will always tell you they need to stretch more. But no one ever asks the important questions. Like, does it even work?

Seriously. Is stretching even good at improving flexibility? And more importantly, does being more “flexible” actually help you prevent injury?

Obviously, I’m mainly referring to static stretching here, which involves holding a stretch for a certain period of time. The more traditional form of stretching we are all used to.

I remember reading years ago – in the awesome book Supertraining by Mel Siff – that static stretching affects the passive Parallel Elastic Component. Whereas the part of the muscle responsible for contraction is actually referred to the Series Elastic Component, which is affected more by dynamic stretching and lengthening under tension. Even back then I remember thinking, “why the hell do people make such a fuss about static stretching if it is only affecting the parts of the muscle that aren’t even responsible for contracting? Wouldn’t it make sense to focus on the Series Elastic Component instead?”

What does that mean in English? Well, the times when you actually NEED to be flexible is usually when you’re DOING an activity right? So, static stretching, which stretches the passive structures, seems like it would be a total waste of time.

Well, let’s find out…

Firstly, people usually think they need to stretch to be more “flexible”. Being more flexible helps prevent injury after all. Doesn’t it?

Well, here’s some awesome information from Stuart McGill, world renowned back expert, on the science of flexibility. (taken from Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, 2009)

“Blindly increasing ROM rationalised by the belief that it is beneficial is problematic”

“There is no relationship between static joint flexibility and dynamic performance”

“There is a documented NEGATIVE correlation with more flexibility in the back and higher subsequent back problems”

“Stretching, to many individuals, is done to lengthen muscle in a passive sense yet there is little evidence that this occurs”

So basically, static flexibility doesn’t help you when you’re actually doing something active. Plus there’s little evidence that even static stretches are that effective at even stretching the muscle!

What are you really stretching anyway?

Most people would probably say it’s all about lengthening the muscles, but this isn’t entirely true.

The are multiple factors that contribute to your flexibility.

1) Obviously the muscles around the joint are one of the structures involved, but more than one muscle will have an influence

2) Passive tissue restrictions, such as joint capsules, ligaments, bony surfaces, etc

3) Neuromuscular modulation of length and tension. Or, in English, the nerves in the region play a role.

4) Pain threshold of an individual. If you have a high pain threshold, you’ll be able to push the range of motion further.

Basically, your muscles, joints and nerves. And how you handle pain.

In a nutshell, static stretching doesn’t even increase your range of movement in the dynamic context you’re after. And not only that, you’re not even lengthening the “muscle” the way you thought you were!

So what do you do?

What’s the best way to gain range of movement?

“More evidence favours stretching to modify the neuromuscular processes…the evidence suggests that modifying the neuromuscular process has the most effect on the functional range of motion, but these changes are short lived and must be challenged daily

“The concept of active flexibility is more important for performance”

Dynamic warm up techniques and stretching techniques such as PNF work to address these areas and are much more beneficial in that sense than just holding a stretch.

In a nutshell:

  • Don’t try and be more flexible just for the sake of it
  • Be specific to the activity you are trying to improve
  • Use different range gaining methods and approaches to target passive tissues together with the neuromuscular components
  • Slow twitch fibres may require longer stretches. Sustained static stretches may be indicated here. This may be important for a specific athlete. It may not be important for you
  • Use both static and dynamic stretches for both the series and parallel elastic components.
  • All directions are important
  • Don’t try and make yourself flexible just for the sake of it. You need a functional range of movement that is specific to the activities you do.

Still confused?

  • Static stretching doesn’t stretch the dynamic structures and doesn’t help with your dynamic flexibility.
  • Being more flexible for the sake of it doesn’t lower your risk of injury.
  • Keep your warm up SPECIFIC to the activity you are about to do. Warm up sets along with some dynamic flexibility work.
  • Passive stretching, if at all indicated, comes AFTER the workout.
  • Consistent daily work if you want improvement.

There may be neural factors affecting your flexibility and holding you back. You may need to incorporate neural glides, loaded stretching, PNF, foam roller work, etc. to work on all different aspects.

Range of movement is not about lengthening your muscles and being more flexible just for the sake of it. It’s a co ordinated control of the muscles, joints and nerves to control movement in conjunction with controlling the stability of the movement within the range of motion.

Make sure you come and see me if you are unsure as to what’s the best method for you and your situation.

Why “Good Technique” is Not Enough

On the surface it seems strange, how can you have good technique and yet your technique can still suck?

The simple reason is that good technique is more than just achieving what looks like good alignment.

The timing and sequencing of muscle activation patterns play not only a huge role in power production but also also how the body’s tissues distribute the forces and load.

In achieving good technique, you need to be aware of 2 things:

1) Alignment

2) Muscle activation patterns


Obviously this is an area where books can be written, but as it isn’t the main focus of the article, I won’t go in to great detail here.

There is no one perfect alignment. No one size fits all. It’s always a trade off. If you change technique to take pressure off one area, it will be distributed to an adjacent area. Sometimes this is exactly what we are after though. An example of this is adjusting someones technique so the load is distributed more to the hips rather than the lower back.

As a general rule:

– aim for symmetrical alignment i.e. left to right

– pay attention to weight distribution as this can determine where the force gets distributed i.e. weight through the heels and mid foot while squatting as drifting on to the toes can cause people to place more pressure on their backs than their hips

– neutral joint position of critical joints such as the vertebrae of your spine

Muscle activation patterning:

This obviously still coincides with alignment, but is also the main reason why someone can seemingly have “good” technique on the surface, but – because of poor muscle activation and neural sequencing – still have quite bad technique and leave themselves open to injury.

It really boils down to 2 key aspects:

1) How well you “control” your aligment

2) Where and how you develop your force production

Both of these aspects are controlled by 3 key groups of muscles, your:

Local Stabilisers vs Global Stabilisers vs Global Mobilisers

Local Stabilisers:

Think of different muscles as having different roles. There are some muscles that are quite small and literally are the only muscles that may cross certain joints. When they contract, they don’t actually cause any movement, but actually increase “segmental stiffness” (this is a good thing). By doing this, they contribute to the stability of the system. If these muscle don’t work (which can happen sometimes in response to pain), the stability of the system is severely compromised, which greatly increases your risk of injury.

Global Stabilisers:

As you start working your way outwards, you come across muscles that provide control – especially rotational control – to the system. These muscle should be efficient in shortening to their full inner range, controlling the lengthening and decelerating under load and also isometrically “holding” things in place when needed. Your Glut Med is a good example of this in pelvic / hip / and lower back stability.

Global Mobilisers:

Their main role is actually cause the movement. These are the ones that usually get the whole focus when we are doing an exercise. But, as you can see, they don’t contribute the stability of the system. Rather, they are reliant upon the other muscles to do their role to stabilise in order for them to be effective in producing the movement. By just focusing on these, we can sometimes miss the importance of the other two. Until it’s too late and we hurt ourselves.

I have been quoted in the past with regards to fixing someone’s technique along the lines of “keep doing what you’re doing, just do it differently”.

While they initially laughed, it is actually true. Sometimes there isn’t just an “exercise” you can do to fix a problem. It’s learning how to correct the neural motor pattern IN that movement that is more important.

It’s not WHAT you are doing, it’s HOW you are doing it.

The activation patterns. The timing. The sequencing. One good example most people are familiar with this is the timing of the Glut Max in power production and sequencing in the context of the whole Posterior Chain.

All of these muscle groups, the Local Stabilisers, the Global Stabilisers and Global Mobilisers, are just as – if not more important – than just the alignment.

If you think you are having issues with your technique, need help with pain while lifting, or would like to learn if you are in fact doing your exercises correctly, contact me for an initial consult to run through everything in more detail.

Why “Energy In Energy Out” Doesn’t Tell You If You Will Get Fat

The laws that govern whether or not you lose or gain fat is more than just an energy equation.

When it comes to storing and losing fat: It’s not just about a calorie surplus. It’s not just about calorie deficit.

Still, to this day, even so many so called experts can’t seem to get their head around this concept.

And still. Still, so many seemingly educated people will try and have you believe the only way you can lose fat is with a calorie deficit and the only way you can gain fat is with a calorie surplus.

Even though I’ve tried to explain this concept in detail over the years, it seems like people still don’t seem to “get it”. They think that as soon as you mention this, you somehow don’t believe in the laws of thermodynamics and conservation of energy. Or they think you peddle pseudo science like “you can eat as much fat as you like as long as you get rid of sugar”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hopefully, this chart can simplify the whole picture (yeah right) and break it down to be less confusing.

I’ve always been a visual learner. The whole process is obviously extremely complex. But I always find it easier to break things down into its simplest principle. This flow chart breaks everything down and summarises the whole process as simply as possible. It’s not comprehensive, but it will hopefully give you the overall picture. Sometimes it’s good to adopt a top down approach so you don’t miss the “forest for the trees”.


There are 3 Possible Pathways for the energy you ingest:

It’s an inescapable law of physics, the law of thermodynamics, you can’t create or destroy energy, it can only be converted in to one form or another. The energy of the system, therefore, has to ALWAYS be conserved.
When it comes to the human body, there are 3 possible pathways this “energy” can go down.

The food you eat can be converted to one of the 3 following energy forms:

  1. Kinetic
  2. Thermogenic
  3. Potential

Kinetic energy means it gets used to cause movement

Thermogenic means some of it gets lost as heat during normal cellular processes, maintaining body temperature and also during exercise.

Potential means some of it can get stored, either as structural material or for later use i.e. stored glycogen, stored fat.

Now. Look at these pathways closely again. And look at the “stored fat” pathway. The most important thing to wrap your head around is that the pathway that any “calorie” can go down is not fixed. It is a constantly fluid and shifting process that is influenced by a number of factors. NOT just whether or not there is an excess of energy in the system.

The main factors that influence which pathway any food can flow down is:

  • The type of macronutrient – not all macronutrients are capable of going down all of the pathways i.e. Carbohydrates do not serve any structural role. Protein has the highest Thermic Effect of Feeding.
  • The amount you eat influences the pathway – the amount of food definitely does matter, but it is not the only influence on which pathway a macronutrient will ultimately travel down
  • The hormonal environment influences the pathway – I have written about this extensively before in my Science of Fat Loss series, so I won’t go over it again here. Needless to say, the hormonal environment will influence which pathway the macronutrient is most likely to go down.
  • The hormonal environment is influenced by a number of factors including exercise, macro type and amount, recovery and wellness state (illness) of the organism. The whole system works off a feedback system and a complex interaction between all of these factors. Nothing happens in isolation!
  • Off the back of that, your “energy in” influences your “energy out”. People talk about metabolism all the time with little to no understanding what it actually means. People seem to accept that you can increase your metabolism by eating more food, but don’t understand how it works. This chart hopefully helps.
  • Just because you have an energy surplus DOESN’T automatically mean it will get stored as fat. Just because you have a deficit does not mean it will automatically get pulled from your fat stores. – don’t you think it’s possible that maybe, just maybe you can influence the system to put those extra calories to good use? Or pull that energy deficit from the right places and not muscle? Isn’t that also what calorie counters do anyway? Yes it is. And the very fact they do it also means it’s not just about how many calories they had that day.


What the calorie theory gets right:

The laws of thermodynamics, also known as conservation of energy, is an unbreakable law of our physical universe. You can’t create or destroy energy. It can only be transformed in to one form or another. What they don’t get is, you can have conservation of energy of the system. That’s not what we’re actually talking about.

What we’re really talking about is your fat cells specifically. What makes them bigger, what makes them smaller. As you can see by the chart below, for any “energy” to be stored as fat it has to go down a specific pathway. Whether or not a macronutrient goes down this pathway is determined by a number of factors, not just whether or not there is an “energy surplus”.

Problems with the calories theory:

All calories are definitely not created equally. Proteins are processed differently than carbs, which are processed differently than fats. They have different metabolic and hormonal effects and also different thermogenic effects. So, a calorie from carbs is never the same as a calorie from protein.

What the subject should be about is what are the circumstances that cause fat cells to get bigger, what causes them to get smaller. Energy in is NOT the sole determinant for this process to occur

Your Fat Is Not Just A Storage Dump For Excess Calories!

The main concept need to get out of your head is that fat is just a storage dump for extra calories or energy. Your fat cells are in fact an endocrine organ. Which means they release hormones. These influence metabolism and hunger amongst other things. Your fat cells also react to hormones.

Fat cells are under regulatory control. This control is actually exerted by hormones. Not calories. And while it’s true the energy you ingest influences your fat cells. They are not solely governed by it.

But, doesn’t this chart just proves it’s all about energy in energy out?

It’s easy after the event to look back and say “see, when we account for TEF, TEE, NEAT, change in potential energy, etc, we can show what happened” so it must be calories.

The very fact the calorie theory has had to change and adapt over the years every time it has been proven wrong shows it’s actually NOT just about the calories. Concepts such as NEAT (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) have had to enter in to account for areas that didn’t add up. Not to mention that NEAT is influenced itself by the “calories in”.

It’s very easy to look at the system AFTER the fact and say “well see, we used this much for activity, their metabolism increased because of this, their spontaneous activity went up, they stored this much as muscle tissue and this much as muscular glycogen. So, subtract the remainder and…see!!! It’s still just about energy in energy out”.

But that’s like reading stock charts. Everything makes sense AFTER the event. (for anyone who doesn’t get predicting stocks on charts, it’s the finance world version of fortune telling) It does nothing to tell you about the fundamentals of the company. I just realised people would probably get a finance analogy less than a nutrition one, soooooo….

It does NOTHING to influence which pathway these “calories” can go down on the way in. And, again, it shows that just by having a surplus DOESN’T mean it will get stored as fat. Yeah, you can calculate it AFTER the event show where it went. Doesn’t mean you had complete control over it just by counting it on the way in. Which is EXACTLY what the calorie theory is based on.

You can still have conservation of energy. You can still abide by the laws of physics. They’re not the questions we should be asking. What you want to know is what influences your fat levels. And what you can see is that storing body fat is only a small fraction of an overall massive puzzle.

The main thing we are concerned with is dropping stored fat. Take a good look at the diagram closely and see what a tiny fraction of that whole equation it is.

Same when it comes to storing fat. Look at all the possible pathways and also look at all of the regulatory hormones that influence that pathway beyond just a simple “calorie” excess.

Don’t you think maybe. Just maybe the laws of thermodynamics can be adhered to and you can influence body fat levels on not just an energy in / energy out basis?

Having said that, what the hell should you be counting then? Well, only worry about the things you have control over.

Get your macros right. The amount and the quality. Measure them. Count them.

Then measure and assess the results. Adjustments should be made based on the results not just for the sake of having to drop calories.

Whenever you read anything or listen to anything from now on, keep this chart in mind. If they try and make you believe you can somehow circumvent any of these pathways or talk to you in absolutes, you can kindly now scientifically understand how they are simply full of crap.


Calories Don't CountBen Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooksAmazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.

TCC The Science of Fat Loss Series Part 9 – Can You Spot Reduce Fat?

Is Spot Reduction Real??


People who do 1000 crunches a day in the quest for a glimpse of a line on the stomach may tell you otherwise, but most should know by now that spot reduction of body fat is one of the great urban myths of our time.

Or is it?

1000’s of fitness girls doing leg kick backs on the stepping machine can’t be wrong surely!?!

It also doesn’t stop some “internet gurus” from espousing absolute crap online either (Click on it later, if you feel the need to lose 5 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. Well, 10, if you include reading this article)

With so many people acknowledging that spot reduction doesn’t work – and yet so many people doing everything like it actually exists – the real question then becomes

Is there any science to back it up?

Is spot reduction actually possible?

Well. I’m here to tell you spot reduction is real!! Just not in the way you think.

Doing endless crunches is definitely not going to strip fat off your stomach. But there are other ways you can influence this.

In covering this, I’ll probably answer another even bigger question for some of you who have had some success in getting reasonably lean,

How do you get rid of that last little bit of stubborn body fat?

Do you just “cut more calories bro” or is there something more to it than that?

So, how is spot reduction actually possible? Because your body “spot stores” fat. If it stores fat in a regional bias, theoretically, you can spot reduce.

Remember how enzyme activation sparks the fat loss or fat storing process? And hormones in turn control the enzymes. And also remember, it’s not just a question of how much hormone is present in your blood. It’s also a question of how receptive you are to it.

I’ve already talked a little about this in the context of insulin sensitivity. Making your body more receptive to a hormone can change the effect of it at a low concentration. If you’re more receptive to insulin, you need less of it to get the desired effect. In the role of fat loss, this is a good thing.

Your sensitivity to the other hormones besides insulin can also influence how fat gets stored and lost. And it turns out, there are regions of the body that are more receptive to certain hormones than others.

Your thighs and butt, for example, have a higher affinity for the hormone estrogen. Your triceps and chest as well. This is one of the main reasons why females tend to carry more body fat around these areas, as they generally have a higher level of estrogen than males.

This is what scientists call the “topographical distribution of body fat”. And if your body stores fat in a topographical region influenced way. It makes sense if you influence these hormones, you can also affect the loss of fat in that region.

In each of these sections, I will present some of the science, then I’ll summarise what it means in plain English.


If you can recall, Insulin has more than one little hidden easter egg in it’s fat storage arsenal, it:

1) Stimulates glucose transport and fatty acid synthesis

2) Promotes fat storage through stimulation of LPL

3) Inhibits fat breakdown in mature fat cells

The unfortunate thing is, it takes a larger concentration of insulin to promote glucose uptake in to the fat cell. Whereas, the inhibition of fat breakdown happens at a lower concentration.

If you are insulin resistant, it will take a greater amount of insulin to stimulate glucose uptake, BUT the inhibition of fat loss is NOT affected. This makes it harder to lose fat when you are insulin resistant.

Insulin also acts directly on the fat cell and has a favouring role on cortisol induced LPL activity.

What’s this got to do with region specific fat burning? Abdominal fat shows a higher glucocorticoid receptor density (more cortisol receptors).

What all that means in English:

•Insulin only needs to be present in small amounts to have a large effect on stopping fat burning, especially if you are insulin resistant.

•If you are insulin resistant, it is harder for you to lose fat. Chin up if you are on the plump side with some insulin resistance. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. You just have to spend some extra time reversing the metabolic processes.

•”Wonder twin powers activate!” If you got that reference, you and I are way too old. It basically means Insulin and Cortisol are bad on their own, but when they team up…whoooo. Therefore, increased insulin and cortisol results in a greater amount of increased body fat around the stomach. In Aussie English: Too much stress and crap make your guts fat.

•Insulin is the main regulator of your fat cells ANYWHERE in the body. So this is always the main focus point on influencing fat cell levels. Whether you cut calories, blah, blah, or whatever, this is the physiological process you are influencing and should always be the MAIN focus.

Catecholamines (Adrenalin and Nor Adrenalin):

As for some of the other hormones, your fat cells have different receptors for these. And these receptors are in different concentrations in different areas of the body.

The catecholamines – Adrenalin and Nor Adrenalin – may specifically activate four of these receptors called B1, B2, B3 and A2. You don’t have to remember any of these, just get the gist of what’s going down.

A2 is an inhibitory receptor and may regulate fat loss during the resting phase. B receptors regulate fat loss during exercise. B1 is sensitive at low concentrations and more acute effects. B3 needs higher levels.

Females have more A2 receptors from gluteal fat cells (butt and thighs) than males.

Males have a higher visceral fat cell volume, which seems to be associated with a decrease in A2 receptors and an increase in B3 receptor function.

There is a different regional sensitivity to both Adrenalin and Insulin action.

In both males and females, subcutaneous abdominal fat cells have a higher B1 and B2 density and sensitivity and a reduced A2 receptor affinity and number than the femoral and gluteal fat cells. Therefore, femoral and gluteal depots show a lower fat burning response to adrenalin than subcutaneous fat cells.

Fat around your organs is equally sensitive to adrenalin and nor adrenalin induced fat loss and inhibition of fat loss. But they don’t get affected as much by the inhibition of fat loss effect of insulin when compared to subcutaneous abdominal or femoral fat cells.

What all that means in English:

•Females have more fat around the butt and thighs

•Males have larger visceral fat cell volume (fat around the internal organs) aka beer gut.

•Adrenalin and Nor Adrenalin affect more abdominal subcutaneous fat cells (the fat just under your skin). This means you will lose more fat off your stomach than off your butt when it comes to doing high intensity exercise and controlling insulin.

•High insulin levels stops fat loss on the abs and thighs more than they stop fat loss around your internal organs.

Glucocorticoids (Cortisol):

I’ve written a fair bit about cortisol, but a couple of other interesting points.

Cortisol stimulates fat loss in peripheral tissues and also protein breakdown.

It actually helps to protect glycogen stores and delays glycogen depletion.

Resistance training (especially the eccentric part of the lift i.e. lowering the weight in a bench press) for repeated bouts decreases tissue breakdown via a modification of cortisol receptor content. In English, lifting weights helps to protect your muscles from breakdown.

The cortisol effect on LPL in human fat cells is dependent on insulin. Abdominal adipose tissue shows a higher expression of cortisol induced LPL. Increased insulin and cortisol increase fat deposition, with more congregating around the abs.

What all that means in English:

•Again, higher insulin and stress makes you fatter on your stomach. This fat is also highly correlated with about a million lifestyle diseases. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, etc.

•If you have high insulin and high cortisol it will negate any fat burning effects of adrenalin and nor adrenalin. It will make exercise less effective. Yes, once you are obese and insulin resistant, you are really pushing sh#t up hill for a while. Again, stick with it, you CAN change your metabolism.


Androgens (in this case let’s talk mainly Growth Hormone and Testosterone) not only stimulate breakdown of fat tissue but also stop the uptake of Free Fatty Acids.

They mainly stop the FFA uptake in abdominal but not subcutaneous fat. i.e. inner fat around your organs, not the ones just underneath the skin. This is because the receptors are more abundant in preadipocytes from abdominal rather than subcutaneous fat deposits.

Testosterone and Growth Hormone decrease LPL activity. (they stop fat from being stored)

Growth Hormone presence largely contributes to developing the full androgen reduction in food intake and normalisation of obesity syndrome.

Dietary amount and composition of macronutrients influence resting concentrations of Testosterone, but not cortisol. A low calorie / low fat diet may exacerbate the down regulation in resting Testosterone concentrations.

What it means in English:

– Growth Hormone (get enough sleep, don’t over do carbs, high intensity exercise) helps to stop you getting fat around your stomach organs. You NEED this if you are already fat. You need this if you aren’t fat and want to get leaner, stay lean…you just need this.

– Testosterone and Growth Hormone not only stimulate fat burning but also decrease fat being stored.

– Don’t go low calorie / low fat. If you are on a lower calorie diet, make sure you get enough essential fats and overall fat content, otherwise Testosterone production will be depressed.

There are certain disease states that highlight some of these hormonal effects. Cushings disease, for example, is a problem with your adrenal glands where there is too much cortisol production. This is highlighted by an increase in abdominal body fat and a decrease in fat on your limbs.

The bottom line, if you want a leaner stomach:

– Decrease Cortisol

– Decrease Insulin

– Increase Adrenalin

– Increase Testosterone

– Increase Growth Hormone


This one is a bit of a special one. Obesity can also be considered a condition of increased estrogen production, since estrogen production rate significantly correlates with body weight and the amount of fat in the body.

Remember how your fat cells aren’t just stored energy? But also behave as an endocrine organ?

Your fat cells are responsible for some of the aromatase activity in your body that converts androgens in to oestrogen’s. As you get fatter, your body converts more testosterone in to estrogen. Ever wonder how guys get boobs as they get fatter?

The fatter you get, the more estrogen your body produces. So, you get fatter. And the fatter you get, the more estrogen you produce, so you get fatter…

If you want fat off your butt and thighs:

– Increase GH

– Decrease Estrogen

– Decrease overall Insulin response

And guys, if you want to get rid of those man boobs:

– Decrease Estrogen

– Increase Testosterone

Can supplements help?

Are there any other natural remedies that can assist in affecting these hormones? Based on the billion dollar industry that is the supplement industry, the answer is “of course!”

Truth is, jury is still out on a lot of them. There are some that have been kind of proven to show some improvement. Tribulus and ZMA have shown in some studies to boosts testosterone levels. There has been some hype over DIM and Resveratrol over their anti estrogen effects. The Growth Hormone stack of arginine, ornithine, lysine and methionine showed some promise, but unfortunately not when taken orally (only intravenously).

Unfortunately, there’s nothing that’s going to make all the difference for you in the way you are probably thinking.


It is possible to spot reduce?

In a word YES.

Just not in the sense we originally thought. How much of an effect can you do naturally?? The reality is, not that much. Unless you want to take the other non legal “supplemented” rout. Which for various reasons, I obviously don’t recommend.

When it’s all said and done, what does it comes down to again?

Eat right. Lift weights. Sleep well. Learn to de stress.

Besides that, just thank your mum and dad.

As I’ve hinted at repeatedly. It is as complex as all of that, and as simple as all that.

Out of all the complex interactions and metabolic processes I have covered throughout this whole series, these 4 things are the ONLY things that keep cropping up that you have control over.

And, as you know. You should only ever worry about the things you have control over.

And maybe, just maybe, I might be completely wrong about those yoga moves stripping belly fat after all. Isn’t yoga supposed to “de stress” you? Maybe this mad genius is on to something. Maybe he knew all along it was about cortisol management. Maybe he is the one who has been right all along!

Or maybe he’s just full of sh!t…

Calories Don't CountBen Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooksAmazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.

TCC The Science of Fat Loss Series Part 8 – How To Strip Fat

How do you go about creating the ultimate fat loss environment?

If you remember last week, overeating on fats and carbs (especially simple sugars that elevate insulin) as well as stressing and not sleeping, was a one way ticket to Fatsville. Think middle aged person, white collar, high pressure job with kids. They may eat out at corporate lunches a lot and also drink alcohol.

Stress. No sleep. Lots of bad food. That’s the perfect crap storm for depressing all the good hormones and peaking on all the bad ones right there! I don’t care if calories are over or under your maintenance, no one looks good on that kind of lifestyle.

So, as discussed last week, you need to limit all of the things that make you fat.

Conversely to that, what are the most effective things you can do that are going to strip fat the quickest? You know, besides avoiding the above. Or better yet, what should you be doing instead??

Remember how the “Fasting State” was kind of good for fat loss? But there was also some bad stuff too?


Fed State

Fasted State

Insulin Glucagon
Lipoprotein Lipase Hormone Sensitive Lipase
Increased Leptin Decreased Leptin
Decreased Ghrelin Increased Ghrelin
Increases Thyroid Decreases Thyroid
Decreased Growth Hormone Increased Growth Hormone
Increased Serotonin Decreased Serotonin


And when it came to stress?


Chronic Stress

Acute Stress (Exercise)

Increased Cortisol Increased Adrenalin
Increased Adrenalin (chronic)
Decreased Growth Hormone Increased Growth Hormone
Decreased Testosterone Increased Testosterone
Increased Ghrelin


What is the ideal fat loss hormone scenario? As usual, control the bad, enhance the good.

  • Control Insulin and Stimulate HSL
  • Promote Short Term Adrenalin
  • Keep Thyroid Stimulated
  • Increase Testosterone
  • Increase Growth Hormone
  • Optimise Melatonin and Serotonin
  • Increase Leptin and Decrease Grehlin
  • Control Cortisol

What are the optimal hormones to maximise fat loss? And how do you eat to create this? Not only that, what other lifestyle factors can you focus on to make sure you are stripping your fat to your bodies fullest potential?

Bear in mind, we are discussing the above factors mainly in terms of how they influence your fat cells. Not necessarily some of the other important biological functions and effects these have on your physiology.

We will touch on a few other important factors in this discussion too. Factors such as: stimulating Muscle Protein Synthesis, Thermic Effect of Feeding, micronutrient make up, etc. As I’ve tried to make clear from the start, this whole process is anything but simple. Everything is extremely complex and interactive. There are not only different macronutrients with different energy yields, hormonal, enzymatic and thermic processes. There is also an intricate interplay between the different processes that affect your results.

Have you glazed over yet? Does it sound too complicated already? Don’t be put off though. The answer is so freakishly simple.

What I do want you to do is to ALWAYS keep these things in the back of your mind during any discussion. It doesn’t matter what diet, etc, you adhere to, there are a few base universal principles that any good diet should deliver on.

What you will find in any case, the diets that deliver on all or as many of these things as possible, also happen to work well to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which also serve to give you maximum nutrient density, which also…and so on and so on.

But first…just need to air some dirty laundry a little.

Should you go High Carb / Low Fat? Or Low Carb / High Fat?

Oh yes. That old chestnut. The diet question for the ages. And ultimately the question that pisses me off the most. When did it come to that anyway?

Do I go HCLF or LCHF? Should I go 60% carb 20% fat? Or go 10% carb 80% fat? (If you do either of these by the way, you are beyond help)

Short answer is NEITHER. Adequate carb. Adequate fat. For what you are trying to do.

It’s like arguing if Pippin or Rodman were the bigger key to the Bulls championships. Motherf#cker it was JORDAN all along!! He da real MVP. But he still couldn’t have done it without them.

Scientists and the public constantly in a pissing contest over who holds the upper hand, while protein sits there with a wry smile thinking “I’ll let these knob jockeys fight amongst themselves”

Protein is the key (Protein is Jordan, by the way. Just in case you couldn’t keep up). First rule of fat club. Make sure you are getting enough protein.

There is one thing I will say on the fat vs carb debate. When it comes to FAT LOSS. For the same calorie intake, the lower carb version works better. Even when fluid, etc is taken in to account. Scientists even gave this phenomena a name. The metabolic advantage. I’m not going to say Google it like some internet guru’s who can’t be bothered to answer legitimate questions. But the metabolic advantage of this kind of diet should already be obvious if you have been paying attention to ANYTHING I’ve been saying in the first seven parts of the series.

How Do You Optimise MPS (Muscle Protein Synthesis)

Whether you are trying to lose fat or “bulk”. Or even “lean bulk”, as the kids of today call it. Your goal should ALWAYS be to maximise as much lean mass as possible.

The only way you can do this is to

1) Get enough protein

2) Get enough of the right quality protein

Get enough protein:

I’m seriously not going to talk about something that can be found in every single fitness and bodybuilding magazine and online forum for the past 15 years.

But, your protein requirements may increase above the usual 1.8g/kg/day depending on what you are trying to do and really it depends on what you are doing with the your carbs and fats. Some people (say prepping for a contest) can sometimes go up to approx 3-4g/kg/day.

Should you do that? No. I’m just saying that it can vary, depending on circumstances and goals.

And two more words when figuring out your optimal protein intake. Dose. Response. Have your nutrition coach calculate what is best for your circumstances. If they don’t know what that means. Find a new coach.

And just in case anyone even tries to mouth the words “what about your kidneys?” Or “that’ll strip calcium straight off your bones”….Well, let’s just say, as soon as they invent a way to complete a virtual punch to the throat through a mobile screen…you better duck and weave. Thanks for bringing up something that no study on healthy individuals EVER has ever shown. On the other hand, you can stick to your higher carb and / or higher fat. Just tell me how your diabetes, heart attack, cancer, etc goes. I’m sure your kidneys love that chronically elevated blood glucose even more…

IF on the other hand you have a legitimate pre existing kidney issue, you do have to be very conscious of your protein intake. On that note, anyone who requires any medical nutritional support at all, talk about everything with your treating physician first. Then again, if you’re getting your specialised medical advice from a Facebook / blog post, you probably deserve everything you get. NEXT…

How to choose the best quality protein??

It’s not that I’m inherently lazy. It’s just that I hate repeating myself. Which I feel I’ve already done enough during this series (it’s not all about the calories… “geez, we get it, will you give it a rest already douchebag!”)

Click here later

Can Eating Too Much Protein Make You Fat?

Well. Obviously, yes. And no. I mean. It can. But it’s kind of harder to. And it kind of depends. You don’t get the same 4 calories per gram as carbohydrates though, that’s for sure. Different amino acids have different caloric yields. Different protein sources have different amino acid profiles (ratio of amino acid contents). Some amino acids are more easily converted to glucose intermediates, some more fat intermediates. Some can even be used directly by your muscles as a source of energy (BCAA’s for example). Soooooo…it’s not really that simple.

What is simple is you have no “storage” form of amino acids. Other than, you know, yourself. So any excess above what can be used to replace your bodies cells, kind of has to be converted in to energy of some form for you to use. Usually, this accounts for about 10% of your energy intake. But, this changes depending on how much protein you are used to feeding your body.

You have what are called Glucogenic and Ketogenic amino acids. The Glucogenic ones are obviously converted more easily to glucose intermediates and can be used to make glucose, which can then theoretically be used to then make fats. But it’s a pretty long process and you have to ask yourself, what kind of nutritional environment does this happen in?
Conversely, ketogenic amino acids can be broken down to intermediates that can be converted to ketones and fatty acids.

Is there an advantage of one over the other? Not really. Just saying there are different types that go through different pathways. Not all amino’s are the same when it comes to how they are broken down for energy.

Because your body can’t store it for later, and any excess has to be dealt with as a priority. Think of it as protein having almost a carbohydrate and fat sparing effect. If you have too much protein, your body will try and convert the excess to a usable form of energy. What does it do with all those carbs and fats you just ate with it? Freaking store it obviously.

Now I’ve got that out of the way…

Meal Structure to Optimise The Fat Loss Environment:

At last. How do you put all this together in a freaking meal!?!

Despite any goal that any diet has, what is your first unbreakable law of nutrition? Say it with me. “To give your body adequate nutrients to promote health and function.” That’s right! Health, damn it. Health.

Does it fulfil all of the necessary requirements to provide enough essential amino acids, enough essential fatty acids, micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, fibre, etc to maintain and optimise health? If you fail this just to drop a few kgs. You just fail.

If anyone said “energy” in answer to above question. You can get your right hand. Lower it down to your mid section. And grab a big fat juicy handful of all that excess “energy” you have on your guts. Most people have enough “energy” on them to last a few months. We want to use it.

That said. In conjunction with above, what are the goals of your meals to optimise fat loss?

  • Control Insulin
  • Increase Leptin, Decrease Grehlin 
  • Maintain optimal Thyroid, Growth Hormone and Testosterone levels
  • Optimise Serotonin and Melatonin
  • Maximise TEF (see previous Courage Corner posts regarding Thermic Effect of Feeding)

How do you do all of this?

1) Again, Adequate protein: Not only does protein provide essential amino acids, promote Muscle Protein Synthesis and have the highest Thermic Effect. It also helps maintain Growth Hormone levels in the relative fasted state. There are even some amino acids have a Growth Hormone stimulatory effect (although not conclusively proven when it comes to oral doses).

In fact, you can think of everything we are doing here as creating a modified fasting state. And that’s exactly how it has been known over the years in some circles. Think of it as a variation of a “modified protein fast”. You get the same fat loss / fasting environment, but without the negatives and without the pesky muscle loss or slow down of metabolism.

2) Eat a LOT of High Volume Nutrient Dense Foods: This will optimise your Leptin and Grehlin response (your appetite and metabolism hormones). It will also stabilise your blood glucose and maintain you in the relative fasted state. You will feel fuller by eating more food while consuming less calories. So eat. A lot. Mainly highly volume, high fibre, nutrient dense foods. It will fill you up. It will send signals to the brain you are full. It will also keep your Thyroid humming along by not starving yourself. One of the biggest complaints I get initially on any of my diets is that people struggle to get in the volume of food and they feel full all the time.

3) Optimise Your Insulin Response: Mainly here we are talking about carbs here. Your goal is to maintain a stable blood sugar level. Typically, the normal levels are about 100mg/dL, with a range of about 80-120mg/dL. What the hell does that mean?? Basically, it works out to be about 5g of sugar in your blood stream at any one time. One freaking teaspoon of sugar in about 5L of blood!! You go get a 5L bucket, fill it with water, and then put a heaped teaspoon of sugar in there. That’s it. Think about that the next time you sink a can of coke.

And do you know how much glucose your brain uses per hour? About 5 measly grams. Coincidence? I think not.

Maintaining blood glucose levels for optimal brain function is, therefore, freaking easy. And nature made it even easier for you. In 100g of fibrous / plant based carbohydrates (not grain or dense root vegetables) you are going to get about 4-6 grams carbohydrates per 100g. No matter what type of plant. Whether lettuce or a tomato. Just the volume and density of the food will differ.

Remember, I’m not talking about optimising performance here. Just basic cell function and survival.

There will be a follow up post coming soon regarding Carbohydrates, but for now keep the following in mind.

– Carbs are purely an energy source, they serve NO structural purpose

– How much do you really need right now sitting there reading this?

– How much to maintain blood glucose levels for optimal brain function?

– Can you use fat for everything else?

– How much will you need for your workouts? Are you trying to refuel the liver or muscles? Or both?

– What type of carb and how much best suits this response?

– What has the optimal density of carbs and gives enough nutrient value?

Do I care if you ultimately have dextrose (glucose powder) after a workout or jelly beans instead (99% glucose)? No. What I do care about is people who argue about this kind of crap and think they’re smarter for it.

Never cut carbs altogether. Remember Serotonin? You need some.

4) Get Enough Fat: Make sure you get enough essential fatty acids to normalise cell function and to maintain adequate Testosterone levels. Testosterone is a fat based hormone (it literally uses fat to get made). Beyond that though, do you really need anything beyond structural essential fats? When it comes to energy, wouldn’t you want to use your stored fat? Why would you give it any extra? There are some fats, however, than can actually help you lose fat. Omega 3’s, for example, improve insulin sensitivity, and decrease inflammation. Be sure when you look at your fat intake, you start with the essential fats.

When you look at the above principles, the magical meal structure you should focus 80-90% of your meals around becomes….

(drum roll)

Animals and Plants

Yep. Let the disappointment sink in for a second there.

The stupidly simple 3 Step Process to the perfect fat loss meal:

  1. Choose your protein source
  2. If you chose a lean protein, add some essential fats
  3. Fill the rest of your plate with as much veggies as possible. Different families, different colours, use different herbs and spices.

There are a couple of meals in the day where this will deviate. And will depend on how much carbs you have earned. Whether you are trying to fuel activity, or to facilitate recovery.

No magic potions. No diet pills. Proteins, fats, fibre, nutrients. Energy only as needed to fuel training. Let your fat reserves do the rest.

Don’t Restrict “Calories” Too Much

Say the words “metabolic damage” one more time. Go on, say it. I dare you…

There is an element of truth to it though. Restrict calories to dangerously low levels for too long, and it will backfire on you. If you want to really mess with your metabolism, all you need to do is drastically alter your energy intake and deprive yourself of nutrients.

There have been numerous studies over the years on various starvation models. Starvation studies used to show that any severe calorie restriction (say 800cal diets for example) the metabolism would slow to such a rate, that, even after normal maintenance calories were restored, the person would ALWAYS end up heavier than before. Even if they just went back to the same calories as before! In my day we just used to call it Yo Yo dieting. Welcome to your body fighting against change. Scientists call it trying to preserve homeostasis.

Good news is, you can recover from this. Bad news is it might take time. Even months for some people.

Stress Less

Again. And again. And again. Chronic stress = bad. You can’t necessarily avoid a lot of stressors in your life. But learning to deal with and manage stress is critical.

Learn to channel your chi, align your chakras, work on your mantra, or quit your day job and go bush…

But seriously, don’t do any of those things. Or all of them. I don’t really care. As long as it works for you.

Get More Sleep. Get Better Sleep.

Fire up your pink salt lamp

Get your wifi blanket and magnet shield or whatever

At least have a decent night time routine. Limit technology and artificial light before bed. Don’t stay up til 1am watching Netflix or swiping right. Those sorts of things.

You’d think by now adults would have this sleep thing down. But we suck at it. People tell their kids to get to bed early, cos we all know what assholes they turn in to if they don’t get enough sleep. What do you think you’re like you cranky shit?

And the Obvious…Exercise. Hard.

30min 3 times per week of a lazy stroll doesn’t cut it. Although doing 16.5 every workout might be pushing it a little.

Adrenalin is a short term stress hormone. Short term stress is good. Long term stress is bad.

If you remember correctly, this “fight or flight” hormone is the main antagonist to insulin.

Weights. HIIT. Do it.


Wait. Wait. Wait….Is that it?

No sizzle? No sex?

Eat mainly protein and veggies? Exercise? Get some sleep? Manage stress?

Is that all??

Well. It’s as simple as that. And as complex as that.

What the freak did you expect?

There is nothing sexy about it. In fact. It’s completely unsexy. But unsexy doesn’t sell. You wanna know what does sell? If I take any one of these aspects. Just one. Give you a little bit of science to make it sound plausible. And exploit the living crap out of it. Give it a catchy name and brand, like macrobolic optimax 3.0. Tell you it’s the quickest, easiest way to fat loss. Have a few people on board screaming how good it is. Maybe even a celebrity endorsement. A few good before and after shots. Some recipes. And there you go.

Do they all work? Probably. Is one any better than another. Maybe. But not one of them. Not one. Can work without affecting one or more aspects we’ve discussed in this series.

The way I look at it? If exploiting one aspect. Like cutting calories. Or restricting carbs. Or limiting cortisol works. Imagine what you can achieve by doing all of these things simultaneously?!

Kind of like a “best of”. And I’m not talking a Milli Vanilli “best of”. But more like The Beatles “best of”. But with fat loss.

Coming Soon: Can You Spot Reduce??

Calories Don't CountBen Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooksAmazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.

TCC The Science of Fat Loss Series Part 7 – How You Get Fat

What is the ideal fat storing environment?

Although some of you may ask, why am I covering fat storage when all you want to know about is fat loss? Well, it kind of makes sense, if you don’t want to get fat, you should avoid the things that get you fat.

Let’s look beyond calories again, and look at what is really going on inside the body at the cellular, hormonal, metabolic and enzymatic processes. Some of these things are influenced by the amount and type of macronutrients directly, others indirectly, others are governed by things completely separate to these altogether.

Remember how “The Fed State” was characterised by an insulin response. And in the scientific definition, this was typified by a carbohydrate rich meal. Already, most of you should know you can manipulate macronutrient make up of a meal so this doesn’t have to be the case, but let’s take a look at the actual Hormonal Response to The Fed State.

Hormonal, Metabolic, Enzymatic Response to Eating i.e. “The Fed State”

Rise in Insulin – mainly influenced by blood glucose levels

Activation of Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL) – the fat storing enzyme

Rise in Leptin – your fat cells talk to your brain telling you you’re full

Decreased Grehlin – you stop sending “hunger” signals to your brain

Increased Thyroid – metabolism speeds up (there is no evidence that having 5 meals per day is any more beneficial for metabolism than, say, 3. So the old way of thinking that smaller meals throughout the day is better for the metabolism has been pushed to “urban legend” status. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other benefits to spaced out feedings – see Muscle Protein Synthesis post – just saying it’s not done for basal metabolic rate improvements)

Decreased Growth Hormone – You can’t have everything all at once. Just because this beneficial hormone gets suppressed during this eating period, doesn’t mean it doesn’t get released at other, more beneficial, times. There is also evidence that GH can be augmented with amino acids Arginine, Ornithine and Lysine. The only problem is, the jury is still out whether these work that well when taken orally.

Increased Serotonin – this is why some strength coaches recommend a small carbohydrate meal just before bed time. Increased serotonin levels from this can help with quality of sleep.

As you can see, there are some good and some bad things that occur when you eat a meal as far as your fat loss efforts go. Needless to say, not eating doesn’t work as a sustainable way for fat loss.

Is there any way we can manipulate say the composition of a meal in order to optimise this outcome?? You bet.

You can get the positives out of the fed state and offset the negatives. It just depends on how you structure the composition and timing of your meals. This will be covered in the next part of the series. I think you can already take an educated guess as to what this might be though.

We will look at the optimal meal composition to maximise the good hormones and mitigate the bad hormones next instalment.

One of the big things to remember when talking about these hormones. It’s not only the output of these that are important, it is also your cells receptivity to it. How sensitive they are to its effects. The other important point is the interaction a lot of these different hormones have with each other.

Let’s take insulin, for example. You can elicit a NORMAL insulin response. The biggest problem with insulin normally arises from CHRONICALLY ELEVATED LEVELS OF INSULIN. Usually from over consumption of carbohydrates and even worse with the over consumption of the wrong type of carbohydrates. You can also get elevated levels of insulin as a result of the development of Insulin Resistance. With Insulin Resistance, your body no longer has the same effect at a lower dose, so it has to increase insulin output to try and exert even a small effect. Now you’ve turned in to an insulin junkie. Needing a bigger and bigger hit, just to get a small “high”.

To make matters worse, Insulin Resistance quite often coincides with Leptin Resistance. So, now you eat things that aren’t good for you, your blood sugars are way too high, your insulin levels are way too high, BUT YOU DON’T FEEL FULL!! And we wonder why obese people over eat?!?

Glucose tolerance and Insulin Resistance is highly variable from one person to the next. There are diet, exercise and also genetic factors involved. How you respond to a certain level of glucose is going to be different than mine. BUT. This is also a fluid and shifting process for each individual. One that you can actually exert an influence over. You can start affecting insulin sensitivity in as little 2-3 weeks if you really wanted. You can also start reversing these symptoms in that time frame too.

If you just said to me “the only way you get fat is if you eat more calories than you burn”, then you can see now how you start looking like a petulant child learning at a grade 2 level. Think about every level in the list above. And then think about all the things that can go wrong with not only the output of said hormones, but also how the body is receptive to them. Do you think it would change things if a person had:

– Insulin resistance?

– Leptin resistance?

– impaired Thyroid function?, etc

HOW your body process and responds to the calories is a huge factor.

It should seem obvious, but…if you eat a high fat high sugar diet, you’re going to have a bad time. Shocking right?!! I know! Imagine that. What people telling us over and over again for years might actually be true. I don’t give a crap about what diet dogma you subscribe to, you can’t get around these factors. And you will see, there is not one diet approach in the world that advocates a high fat / high carb diet. It’s used to be Atkins or Pritiken. Zone or South Beach. These days it’s Paleo. Now the pendulum is starting to swing back again. What I’m trying to say is, you can dress it up and sex it up any way you want to. At the end of the day they ALL fall back on the same physiological principles. You are never EVER going to escape these.

Hormonal Response to Chronic Stress

As discussed in previous posts. Stress affects a great deal of the hormones involved in fat accumulation and fat loss. As a general rule. Chronic stress leads to an increase in all of the “bad” hormones. And a depression of all of the “good” ones.

Increased Cortisol

Decreased Growth Hormone

Decreased Thyroid Hormones

Decreased Testosterone

Increased Grehlin (makes you hungry)

Decreased Serotonin (makes you feel hungry and crave carbs, not to mention pain in the ass cranky)

Increased Insulin resistance / Decreased Glucose Tolerance

This obviously leads to greater fat deposition, increased hunger, muscle loss, and a slower metabolism.

Hormonal Response to Lack of Sleep

What happens to your body when you don’t get a) enough sleep? b) enough quality sleep?

Increased Cortisol

Decreased Growth Hormone

Decreased Serotonin

Decreased Testosterone

Decreased Leptin (feel hungry)

Increased Grehlin (again, you feel hungry)

Increased Insulin Resistance / Decreased Glucose Tolerance

As you can see. The responses from chronic stress and a lack of sleep are pretty much exactly the same. I need to look in to it further, but I’m currently unsure of the compounded impact of both of these occurring at the same time. For example, if you are in a highly stressed job or going through a difficult emotional period AND you are not sleeping, whether this has an even greater detrimental effect on your system than either one on their own. It’s common sense though, you rarely if ever have one without the other though. As most people can easily attest to.

Here it is!! How To Get FAT In 3 Easy Steps!!!!!

What is the perfect $#IT storm then for you to get fat??

1) Eating Too Much High Sugar High Fat Food

High carb / high sugar diet. High fat / high carb. HSHF or HCHF diet. Whichever way you cut it, there it is. Why does “processed” foods get such a bad wrap? Because this is exactly what it’s made up of.

Too much fats, too much carbs leads to “fuller” fat cells and insulin resistance.

Chronically elevated levels of insulin are a combination of too high insulin from too much carbohydrates and too much refined carbohydrates. It is also a result from insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can also result from over eating fats. So, just because you cut out your fruit doesn’t mean you can load up on all the butter and bacon you like and not have a problem. It’s stupid, it’s non sensical. It’s also unfortunate that some people still advocate this type of approach.

Now. Walk through any supermarket aisle and start looking at all packaged foods. Breakfast cereals, biscuits, chocolate, chips, whatever. Now look at the nutritional information and pay close attention to the “per 100g” part.

I will guarantee you it will look something close to:

Carbohydrates – 60g

Fats – 10-30g

Proteins – not much because we can’t get the food to taste good with it

Sugar. Fat. Salt. That’s what makes food taste good, feel good in your mouth, and make you want more.

2) Stress OUT about EVERYTHING

If I have to seriously write again why stress leads to fat gain, muscle loss, being a turd to live with and generally a shell of a human being, then you haven’t been keeping up.


3) Cut Down on Your Sleep

See above.

For every new parent out there that I haven’t had a chance to talk to. You’re going to get fat. You’re going to lose muscle. You’re going to suck at life for a while. For all of you people that don’t have an excuse. Shame on you, you should know better.

Now you know why “adrenal fatigue” is such a buzz word for the day.

Key Points:

1) Don’t eat too many carbs and fats

2) Stress is bad

3) Losing sleep is bad

Good. Now we’ve covered everything that makes you fat. We can now look at what you can do about it. 10 points to the people who can figure out what that’s going to be.

Coming Up in Part 8 – The Ultimate Fat Loss Environment

Calories Don't CountBen Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooksAmazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.

TCC Science of Fat Loss Series Part 6 – Hormonal Control of Fat, Appetite and Hunger

Belly FatIn the last couple of posts, we looked at what happens after a meal and between meals purely from a substrate level response. Which somewhat contrasts what we learned in the first few parts, where we discussed what was happening from a cellular level and the enzymes that control fat being under hormonal control.

Remember from very early on in the series how we looked at the enzymes LPL (fat storage enzyme) and HSL (fat releasing enzyme). We learned these enzymes are mainly regulated under hormonal control. We also learned that insulin not only stimulates LPL but also inhibits HSL to promote fat storage. The main antagonist to this process being adrenalin.

Now we get to the exciting part of the series. The part where we start filling in the gaps. Now we start looking at what you eat and what you do and how it influences the hormonal environment as well. And how these hormones affect fat loss – or gain – at the cellular level. We are now moving on from the substrate level of control, to now also include the metabolic, enzymatic and hormonal control.

This is definitely NOT a comprehensive list. But it does serve to highlight some of the main players involved in this whole process. This instalment we are introduced to the main players, what their role is. In the next two posts we will categorise them in to which ones promote fat storage and which ones promote fat loss.

I will try and keep things as simple as possible. You don’t have to remember all the details, just as long as you understand the basic principles. Remember, hormones are messenger molecules, they tell your body to do things. These hormones operate simply to signal your body for a reaction to something that has taken or is taking place. Most of these are usually under strict regulatory control. Any thing too high or too low is often undesirable and can have consequences to your health. Also be aware, these hormones usually have an “opposing” hormone, and / or they work with others in different feedback loops. That levels start to rise or drop too far, this usually signals for something else to take place. Some hormones also affect the output of others as you will see.

Hormones that control Appetite and Metabolism:

Insulin – released by your pancreas in response to blood glucose and parasympathetic nervous system response. It is a storage hormone that promotes fat storage and prevents fat loss. This is the main regulator of your fat cell influencing not only fat storage but also inhibiting fat loss.

Grehlin – as you eat and your stomach gets full, your stomach starts releasing this hormone to tell your brain you are full. Think of Grehlin as your short term control of your appetite. If your stomach feels full, you are not hungry. This is one reason why eating high volume, nutrient dense, less energy dense foods help you feel fuller, without all the “calories”.

Leptin – remember how we learned that your fat cells act like an endocrine organ? Well this little baby is one of those hormones your fat cells release that has important implications in your fat loss efforts. Leptin is release by your fat cells and “talks” to your brain. In an oversimplified version, think of Grehlin as controlling short term appetite, but Leptin controlling your appetite over the long haul. The bigger your fat cells get, the more leptin they release. This Leptin tells your brain you don’t need to eat as much, in a sense it is telling you your fat cells are full. Leptin is a good way for your body to naturally suppress its appetite. Likewise, if you lose a whole bunch of body fat, your fat cells start to get “hungry” and they will tell your brain you need to eat more to fill them back up.

Leptin not only controls appetite, but it also has a direct effect on your metabolism and immune system as well. One of the biggest issues with people who are overweight is they start to become resistant to leptin.

Important*** You can become resistant to some of these hormones if they are pumped out in your system all the time. We have already discussed Insulin resistance. Quite often, insulin resistance will go hand in hand with leptin resistance. This means that you will have a high output of insulin promoting fat storage, but, even though more leptin is getting pumped out of your fat cells, your brain doesn’t listen any more. So you don’t feel full!!! So you keep on eating. And you get fatter…And the process goes on. This is one of the reasons why it is easier for fat people to get fatter. They don’t have the same off switch any more. This is also one of the ways in which your hormonal environment can influence your behaviour. We are quick to tell people just to “eat less and move more”, but we fail to give respect to the internal hormonal environment also influencing their metabolism and their behaviour.

We are quick to point to things such as testosterone for making people “angry” but when it comes to people that are overweight it’s all of a sudden their “will power” that’s lacking.

One thing I will say though, behaviour influences this internal environment, which then influences behaviour, which influences…and so on. It comes back to that age old adage you have to control the things you have control over.

Thyroid hormones T3 and T4 – Most people have heard of it. The hormones released by your thyroid are powerful regulators of your metabolism. T3 is the active form, with T4 having to be converted at the target cell in order to be used. Either way, this little sucker is responsible for how your body regulates your energy output.

Sex Hormones:

Oestrogen – typically known as the “female” hormone, but it is present in both males and females. As well as influencing a whole host of body processes, we are mainly concerned with the fact it increases fat storage.

Testosterone – typically known as the “male” hormone, but again, is present in both males and females. It promotes fat loss and an increase in muscle mass.

Stress Hormones:

One thing to note here is there is a difference between acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress, say from exercise, is good. Chronic, or long term, stress is bad. Both of following hormones are released by your adrenal glands located above your kidneys.

Adrenalin – the “short term” stress hormone. This gets released during your “fight or flight” response and signals your body to release glucose and fatty acids. This is the main antagonise to insulin and promotes fat being released. This is one of the reasons why High Intensity Interval Training has been found to be such an effective means of stripping body fat over steady state cardio. Steady state cardio doesn’t have the same effect on adrenalin output.

Cortisol – the “chronic” stress hormone. I’ve written a little about cortisol and its effects in previous posts. More is written about it below. Suffice it to say, this one isn’t one you DON’T want chronically elevated in your system. It promotes fat storage and muscle loss over the long haul.

Sleep Hormones:

Growth Hormone – this powerful hormone affects muscle mass and fat loss. It gets a spike about an hour or so after you fall asleep, so sleep quality is important. It is also affected by protein / amino acid intake, blood glucose levels and also the type and intensity of exercise you do.

Serotonin – suppresses appetite, regulates mood, and influences sleep quality. You know how someone feels better and can sleep better after a few carbs? This is one of the reasons. One of the biggest complaints you hear about people preparing for a comp is they are cranky and they don’t sleep very well. This is one of the reasons.

Melatonin – another sleep hormone that affects the output of some of the other hormones listed here. One of the reasons why a lack of sleep can also affect Thyroid output.

One of the most important things to note is that most of these hormones do NOT act in isolation. They form complex interactions with one or more systems simultaneously. A dysfunction in one system will most likely cause a dysfunction in another. One example of this is Cortisol. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol work to actually inhibit your Thyroid output which works to DECREASE metabolism. Cortisol also increases insulin resistance to again promote fat storage. When cortisol levels are elevated it will also disrupt sleep cycles which in turn will affect Growth Hormone output. Cortisol also negatively impacts testosterone levels and the immune system. It’s no wonder why cortisol is the buzz word in the health and wellness industry at the moment.

The Good News:

In an effort to optimise certain systems, you will inadvertently optimise a number of them at the same time. This is the great thing about the body. When you eat the right amount of foods, of the right composition and the right quality at the right times, etc. You will optimise all of these systems on multiple levels.

The Bad News:

If you want to screw up your system completely, the reverse is also true. As noted above, if you are under chronic stress (sometimes there are times in your life when this can’t be avoided) it will have a knock on effect on multiple systems of regulation. This can put the whole system in to turmoil.

In the next couple of posts we will explore the optimal environment to promote fat loss and also the optimal environment for fat storage. The obvious point is to want to optimise the fat loss environment and inhibit the fat storage one as much as possible.

Take a look at all of the above hormones that affect fat loss and fat storage. And tell me honestly how many of them are directly influenced by the amount of “calories” you ingest?

But it still comes back to energy in vs energy out right? It’s still something to this day I question myself over and over again. And the short answer is yes. And no.

One thing to keep in mind though, is all of this does happen in conjunction with the type and amount of substrate involved!!!!

The amount of “calories” in doesn’t account for where it goes and what it’s used for. Whether this energy in is used up, lost as heat, stored for later, stored as potential energy, or stored as a structural organ / muscle, etc. It doesn’t account for other factors such as Thermic Effect of Feeding (see some previous Courage Corner posts for this), and so on.

There are so many factors to account for!!!!

But again, it will all come back to just a few key things well in order to optimise ALL of them.

SPOILER ALERT!!!! Even just from that list above, what do you think you can influence by diet? By training? By sleep patterns? By stress management? By the end you will find there are really just 3 key things (well, maybe 4, or more…) you need to do well to optimise this whole scenario on every possible level.

How many diets do you know of or can you list for me that even in the past couple of years you have heard of that really only try and focus on ONE of these factors???

– IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) – Looks purely at the calorie intake as being the most important factor. In it’s proper form has some great merit. At worst it’s misinterpreted and used as an excuse to eat pop tarts and nutella.

– Intermittent Fasting – looks to reproduce the fasting state as the key to fat loss. Works on a couple of different levels, but again, falls short on a couple of factors.

– Low Carb / Insulin control – apparently you can just eliminate carbs to eliminate insulin and then eat all the butter and lard you like and not get fat…

– Adrenal fatigue whatever – don’t get me going again…

One of the latest ones seems to be all about the Thyroid, or carrots and ice cream or something…

And don’t even get me started on everything from the past 20 years. There’ll be some people in the industry now who won’t even remember what Atkins means. Or they think that Paleo means low carb.

THE INDUSTRY IS F#CKIN NUTS!!! It always has been. It always will be. When it comes to fat loss, people want the latest thing. People want a quick fix. People want a pill. People want something easy. What they don’t realise, is, just like every informercial. All that happens is some old piece of SH!T gets reworked and repackaged in to some new form of SH!T that we think somehow is going to revolutionise the industry.

Just like Crossfit apparently did by reinventing the exercise wheel. But hey, at least they gave us the kipping chin up and a way to murder a KB swing. Enjoy your F45 or whatever it is the kids are in to these days, there’ll be something new in 6 months.

I better stop now before I really get going…

Coming Up in Part 7 – The Ultimate Fat Storage Environment

Calories Don't CountBen Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooksAmazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.

TCC The Science of Fat Loss Series Part 5.2 – What Have We Learned So Far?

Below is a summary of the main points we have learned on our journey so far. These are the things to keep in mind as we start tying this whole thing together.

What we have learned so far:

  • Fat cells are MAINLY regulated by hormones, not “calories”.
  • Fat cells are in a constant state of flux. This flux is regulated by enzymes. Hormones in turn regulate these enzymes.
  • The main regulator of your fat cell is insulin. The MAIN regulator. NOT THE ONLY regulator. Insulin signals fat storage and also inhibits fat breakdown.
  • The main antagonist to insulin for your fat cell is adrenalin (for the liver it is Glucagon)
  • The main substrate that influences insulin is carbohydrates.
  • Substrate availability also influences your fat cell flux both directly and indirectly. For example, glucose availability drives certain reactions inside your fat cells and glucose availability also influences insulin.
  • Fat cells are therefore under substrate AND hormonal control. Substrates availability can in turn affect SOME of these hormones but NOT ALL OF THEM.
  • The ideal storage environment is typified by what scientists call the “fed state”
  • The opposite to this is the “fasting state”. This is typical of a fat burning state but does not constitute the ideal fat burning state as far as recompositioning goes.
  • The other hormones involved in fat storage and fast loss will be explored in future posts. From this we will determine what is the ideal fat loss environment and how you can go about creating it.
  • ANY diet or weight loss plan you could ever go on in your entire life will work through regulating one or more of the hormonal, substrate and metabolic factors involved.

When people say “cutting calories always works”. This is not an incorrect statement. But what they fail to appreciate is that it’s not just the substrate availability that has been affected. By cutting calories you also inadvertently cut down the insulin response indirectly as well, which in turn also affects the fat cells. What they don’t tell you though is that it is widely accepted in the literature that cutting calories is actually an INEFFECTIVE means of treating obesity. This is widely accepted in the scientific community as numerous journals and textbooks make mention of it repeatedly. Obesity is a multifaceted issue and one that can’t be tackled with just simple calorie cutting.

The good news is: we can affect nearly ALL of these factors that affect the accumulation of body fat with some meaningful changes that are under your control. You will learn what all of these are very very soon.

Other helpful things we have learned (from these and other recent posts)

– After a fasting period (or a relative period of low carbohydrates) your liver will make its own glucose if it’s own stores are depleted.

– your liver will stay in this state of gluconeogenesis even after you ingest carbohydrates until it’s own stores fill back up. This “shunting” of ingested glucose ensures your muscles and your brain have “first dibs”

– fructose can only be processed by your liver. If you ingest fructose with glucose post workout, this will result in greater muscle glycogen replenishment as the liver will shunt the glucose to your periphery while trading care of the fructose.

– if you ingest whey protein with fast acting carbohydrates post workout there will be greater muscle protein synthesis and greater muscle glycogen replenishment than either one on their own.

– you can do this without affecting how fat is processed

In Part 6 we now FINALLY get in to juicy bits you have all being waiting for!!! The main hormones that influence Fat Loss!

Calories Don't CountBen Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooksAmazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.

TCC The Science of Fat Loss Series Part 5.1 – Decoding the Puzzle

How Do We Start to Decode the Fat Loss Puzzle??

The control of your body fat is an interplay amongst many factors. As I’ve mentioned from the very beginning, it is not just substrate availability, or “calories” that drives this whole business. You simply have to also give credence to the hormonal and metabolic environment that this is all occurring in AT THE SAME TIME. To confuse matters even more, the substrate availability does contribute to the hormonal and metabolic environment BUT it is not solely governed by it.

For example: Carbohydrates have an effect on insulin. But you can also affect insulin sensitivity in other ways (like exercise), which will also have an effect on insulin output. Eating carbohydrates after a workout can be partitioned differently with relative metabolic processing than at other times, which can assist in refuelling muscle glycogen levels quicker.

Also, your food intake doesn’t affect adrenalin output, but this is the main antagonist to insulin’s effects on your fat cells.

Strange how scientists will discuss the enzymatic and hormonal control of your fat cells at the cellular level, then completely bypass this when they take a step back and talk about The Fed State vs Fasted State. Then only revisit it again when looking at endocrine factors that control metabolism and relative disorders states. Why they never look at the interplay of these processes from the BEGINNING is beyond me. Some do. But for most it gets lost in translation.

The Interplay:

People throw the word “metabolism” around everyday without an even basic understanding of what exactly this means. It’s not good enough to just say “the amount of calories we burn”. Your body will only change these processes if it needs to. For example, your Thyroid will contribute to an increase in your rate of calorie expenditure in response to the cold. This is so it can keep warm. The Thyroid can also have its production rate influenced by other factors, such as stress and even the amount of daylight you’re exposed to. These processes are NOT strictly under calorie control.

At it’s most basic basic level, think of your fat gain / fat loss environment being influenced by

  • Enzymatic control at the fat cell level
  • Which in turn is mainly regulated by Hormones
  • Which in turn is mainly regulated by:

          1. Substrate availability: Your calories. From both ingested and previously stored forms

          2. Hormonal receptivity, Hormone levels, Hormone cascade events: NOT just your calories.

          3. Existing Metabolic environment: What’s the current metabolic status and, therefore, fate of those “calories”

As you know from the previous two instalments, the metabolic “state” the body is in has a direct influence over the fate of each macronutrient. For example, you eating carbohydrates after a fasting period have a different fate and a different effect on the body than during a “Fed State”. This partitioning of these calories and their fate has important implications in fat burning and maximising the use of each substrate.

If anyone at this stage of the process is still willing to argue with me that it is “all about the calories” please stop reading and leave. There is nothing more I can do to help you. In fact, you are beyond help.

People have seemed to have been able to accept that HIIT works better than steady state for fat loss. Even though your fitbit calorie counter might not say so. But they can’t accept it’s not just all about the calories you eat. No. THAT somehow defies science.

Coming Up in Part 5.2 – What We Have Learned So Far?

Calories Don't CountBen Minos has Bachelor degrees in both Physiotherapy and Exercise Science (Human Movements). He has worked as a Personal Trainer for 20 years and a Physiotherapist for close to 15. Ben has authored a book on nutrition titled Calories Don’t Count, available through iBooksAmazon and most online retailers. He has also authored many articles for Ironman Bodybuilding Magazine and also co authored Australia’s first Kettlebell instructor certification course. He has competed in Natural Bodybuilding over a number of years, as well as prepared numerous clients for the stage.