Targeted fat loss is a popular myth in many fitness and slimming magazines. Plans to reduce butt fat or slim your thighs, get a six pack for example. I wish it was that simple.
While exercise burns calories and the right type of exercise will also promote muscle growth and burn fat it doesn’t specifically burn fat from any particular area. If you want fat loss you need to create a calorie deficit and train to improve muscle mass.
For a lean, toned body you need to do both – reduce energy input (calorie deficit) and train your muscles. If you train but don’t reduce your body fat % you will not see the benefits. You can do all the crunches you want but if there is a layer of fat over your belly you won’t get a six pack.
We do have different receptors on cells including fat cells. Three types of receptors have been identified: alpha 1-, alpha 2-, and beta-adrenergic receptors – these respond to stress hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline which can help break down fat cells for the body to use as energy. Some of these receptors are more responsive than others – which may explain why certain areas of the body appear to lose fat more easily than others because they vary in the types of receptors they contain. However if you really want to improve the appearance of your body you still need to reduce overall body fat and increase muscle mass.
There are certain ways you can promote fat loss – for example working out in a fasted state when insulin levels are lower can be helpful – this is why I recommend training first thing in the morning when you would have fasted overnight.
HIIT training can also be an effective way to boost fat loss. It appears to improve resting metabolic rate and improve insulin sensitivity which can in turn improve fat burning.
There are also certain supplements that may help to preserve muscle while reducing calorie intake and / or improve fat burning. There is no however magic pill – changing your body composition takes time, dedication in the gym and in the kitchen. That said here are a couple of supplements you may wish to consider.
The amino acid leucine is useful for preserving muscle mass particularly when training in a fasted state as it does not really impact insulin unlike eating protein foods . Try taking 5g before morning exercise to support muscle mass while cutting. Of course it is also important to ensure sufficient protein through the day to preserve muscle but look to food not supplements to achieve this.
Caffeine stimulates thermogenesis so aids fat loss by increasing your energy expenditure. It can also be useful as a performance aid helping you work out harder and for longer. Obviously not everyone does well with caffeine – partly this will be influenced by whether you are a fast or slow metaboliser so it is good to start off slowly. A cup of coffee contains around 90mg caffeine which may be enough for some people. Some studies have used levels up to 400mg. If you regularly use coffee you may find you build up a tolerance so always include 1-2 days a week of little or no caffeine.
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea has been shown to aid fat loss and in particular reduce abdominal fat. The combination of caffeine and catechins appears to aid fat burning. If you are looking at taking a supplement opt for one that specifies EGCG as this has been most extensively studied.
Of course there are other considerations – you need to watch your stress levels, get sufficient sleep, don’t overtrain etc. There is no quick fix for fat loss – if you want to change your shape then look at the long term – don’t expect miracles in a month but with consistently in your training and diet you will get results.