Now that I have your attention, let me explain that I am not referring specifically to the eating disorder and the psychological and sociological components that come with it. I am also not encouraging throwing caution to the wind and eating yourself obese. Rather, these individuals give physical proof to just how powerful food and calorie management is in both fat loss and muscle gain.
In an era of team touchdowns and high self esteem, it’s not surprising that weight loss books and articles like to blame someone else for the state of your body. Instead of encouraging personal responsibility, we’re bombarded with the notion that food additives, and specific food types are responsible for your obesity. While I agree that there are optimal foods for a body type, a notion that neutrogenomics should eventually expand upon, the fact of the manner is that we abide by the laws of thermodynamics. While caloric restriction will eventually cause metabolic slowdown, Lyle McDonald contends that the largest recorded rate of reduction is to the order of 30 to 40%. If one was living on veggies, gum, and water, they’ll surely be under this caloric burn amount. To sum it up, calories matter, no matter what this week’s fly-by-night fitness author tells you.
The second part is the bit that makes me excited, as anorexics provide insight into how anabolic food can be. The weight restoration process is the first step in establishing the physical health of a patient recovering from anorexia nervosa. While it might seem a sure thing that the initial weight regained would be all fat, considering their reduced metabolic rate, this study indicates that the weight regain is almost equal parts fat and lean tissue:
“CONCLUSIONS: Body fat estimation by skinfold-thickness equation appeared to be as accurate as underwater weighing. The refeeding program led to a significant increase in body weight, of which 55.5% was body fat.” (Emphasis mine)
“Sure,” you might say, “but what about regular, healthy people?” Well, we do have evidence to suggest that lean tissue and fat are gained when overeating:
“Forty-six percent of the 4.3-kg average weight gain experienced by these subjects consisted of lean body mass (LBM)…”
Or this study where twins were 1000 calories overfed for 100 days:
“The mean body mass gain for the 24 subjects in the 100-d overfeeding experiment was 8.1 kg, of which 5.4 kg was fat mass increase and 2.7 kg was fat-free mass increase.”
And by favorite study of all, and one of the hardest abstracts to find, shows that underneath all of that fat mass, sumo wrestlers have more muscle than even bodybuilders:
“Sumo wrestlers had a significantly greater FFM (fat free mass) than bodybuilders, who had a greater FFM than the untrained men. Six of the wrestlers had more than 100 kg of FFM, including the largest one of 121.3 kg”
One thing of note is that none of the above studies, when overfeeding the subjects, prescribed a specific exercise program. If this had been done, the nutrient partitioning effect might have improved the fat/muscle gain ratio.
So what’s the take home lesson?
1. If you want to lose fat, you’ve gotta lower your calories.
2. If you wanna gain muscle, you’ve gotta eat more than your maintenance level of calories.
3. If you cycle your caloric intake, you may be able to add muscle without adding fat (but that’s another post for another day).