Scott White, professional trainer, certified nutritionist, and fitness consultant answers your questions about weight loss, diet, exercise, weight training, and any other fitness-related topics.

Question of the Week

Dear Scott:

1.        I am in great shape but want to get leaner.  What do you suggest? Diet? More cardio instead of weight training?

You’ve just asked the million dollar question: “How do I get lean?” Getting leaner is fairly simple, once you determine what formula works best for your body. Of course it’s going to be related to your diet and exercise program — they are number one and two on the how-to-get-lean list.

But you don’t have to be in great shape to be lean, and vice versa. Just ask any bodybuilder to run a flight of stairs and you likely will get a great kick out of seeing this very lean person look like an out-of-shape goof. And, on the other hand, look at your cardio kings and queens who could exercise until the cows come home and still keep on going like the Energizer Bunny but who look like they have never worked out a day in there lives. It’s a complex situation.

So where do we start?

First of all, if you have fat on your body, then you also have toxins in your body. If this is the case, you may need to detox, go for a lymph drainage massage, or have your soft tissue and bones adjusted.

You must find out which key components are not functioning properly. This is done through a series of questions and tests. One test will check you for candida, a yeast fungus, as you may have a parasite robbing your body of nourishment. This also would keep the internal organs inflamed and not functioning properly, giving your belly a “pouch.”

As far as diet goes, it’s important that you eat according to your metabolic type. The Metabolic Typing Diet probably is one of the best books available on nutrition. Eat as much organic food as possible, making sure your have a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. You may need to supplement with flax seed or fish oil.

That covers most of the general stuff when it comes to the chemical process of getting lean. Now, let’s tackle the mental outlook. Are you holding onto something in your life you need to release? Sometimes your emotions will cause you to hold onto fat and not get as lean as you want to be. Stress comes in all different forms, though the body’s fundamental processing systems are physical, mental, and chemical. Therefore, in order to truly get fit, you must tackle each part of the health triad.

If you need help on the mental/emotional level, I suggest you find an NLP (neural linguistic programming) practitioner, or someone equally qualified, to help you work through any unwanted baggage you may need to dump. As this is not my area of expertise, I cannot personally help you out with this, but I know many qualified people who can.

Lastly, let’s get to the physical side of things. Working out is a crucial component of getting lean. Just look at your leanest athletes and consider why are they are so slender. They got their lean, sculpted bodies by doing both cardio and weight training. The leanest individuals would be the bodybuilders, then sprinters, gymnasts, and so on. The common ground that makes them leaner is that they move in short bursts of activity. Long-distance runners and cardio fanatics reside at the other end of the spectrum, sharing the fact that they store more fat.

To burn fat and get lean, you must put your anaerobic system to work. This means your weight training exercises and cardio exercises should last only for about 60 seconds or less. Using this system is so inefficient for your body (heart) that it makes burning fat much more effective.

Typically, working out at 5 to 6 sets of 6 reps with no rest (a circuit 5-6 times through a complex set of lifts) is the best method for shedding fat. However, this is a very complex system, and I urge you to get professional guidance before beginning such a program.

Though I don’t know what program you currently are using, adjusting it regularly could work miracles for your physique and get you leaner much more quickly. Then again, you and your body might need some other steps not detailed here.

This information may seem vague, but it will at least give you the insight to get started. If you want to know how to create a program tailored precisely to your needs, set up a consultation with me, and I will go over each detail to find out what it will take for you to get as lean as you want to be.

2.        What is the best way to get cardio? Interval training?

The best cardio activity depends entirely on the person’s training goals, though I’m going to assume you are referring to fat loss. Interval training, where you do sprints for 60 seconds or less, then rest, and repeat as many times as possible, is typically the best for achieving significant fat loss.

However, this isn’t the end-all and be-all. There are other factors and considerations to be taken into account, such as the individual’s overall health, current level of fitness, age, and any injuries or issues that might require specific attention.

3.        Is it true that if I exercise at my heart’s max rate, my body is no longer in fat-burning mode?

No, this isn’t necessarily true. At the moment in time that your heart rate reaches its max, your body probably will be using glucose for energy, but that doesn’t mean you are not burning fat. Fat burning is a cumulative process. You may not be burning fat at this exact time and moment, but in the long run you will burn more fat if you work at a higher max rate.

How does the body burn fat? Fat burning occurs when your heart works at a certain percentage of its capacity while you exercise. Your body primarily uses fat for energy (fuel), which is why fat is broken down at the moment you are performing cardio. The percentage of fat you burn depends on how hard you are working. You will burn a smaller total percentage of fat when you work at your max heart rate, but the total amount of fat burned will be greater.

Let’s look at the numbers in the following example.

If I’m in fat-burning mode and I burn 1,000 calories in 30 minutes, 55 percent of those calories will have been fat calories, making a total of 550 calories from fat I lost during that workout. Now let’s say I did cardio at 85 to 90 percent of my max heart rate for 30 minutes. And say the higher heart rate means I burned 2,000 calories in 30 minutes. Since I worked at a higher heart rate to burn those 2,000 calories, the percentage of fat I burned went down, with only 30 percent of the calories I burned at that time being fat calories. However, 30 percent of 2,000 is more than 55 percent of 1,000 — making a total of 600 fat calories I lost at the higher heart rate, 50 more than at the lower rate.

These are just round numbers to simplify the example, but you get the idea. Yes, on a percentage basis, it is more optimal to keep the heart rate within a certain range to burn the most fat. However, the overall number to consider is the total calories burned — and at the higher heart rate you can increase the total amount of calories burned, making it far more effective for fat burning in the long run.

4.        What are signs of over-training?

Signs of over-training are pretty obvious. You look tired and fatigued, with bags and dark circles under your eyes that make you resemble a raccoon. Low appetite, low sex drive, and lack of drive or motivation are other signs.

Yes, this sounds like the majority of the population — and yes, in a way, most people are over-trained. While most people probably don’t exercise and work out, they perform the same routine every day, with no additional stress for their bodies to improve (super compensate).

Quality training involves both ends of the spectrum: giving your body something new and more challenging to do — and then allowing it time to rest and recuperate before the next time you work out.

5.        What’s your opinion on the carb craze? 

Let me again advocate for William Walcott’s book, The Metabolic Typing Diet. Read it, and you will understand that everyone has a different bio-chemistry. Some people need more carbs, while others need hardly any. Because we are all different, each of us should be on a diet that works for our metabolic type. Low-Carb! Low-Carb — High-Protein! Low-Fat! Low-Fat — High-Carb! These new diets are all just media hype and fads. Popular diets like the current low-carb craze may work, but they won’t work for everyone, and they will only be effective for a short time.

Short-term diets don’t work in the long run. The only eating plan that will work long-term is one that is tailored to your body’s specific physical needs. The best part about it is that it’s not a diet,  — it’s a life plan. Invest enough time in yourself to find out what foods best nourish your body, and you will be well on your way to health and the lean body you seek.

6.        What do you generally suggest in the way of carb/protein/fat ratio? 

I believe I may already have answered this question. The ratio of carb/fat/protein intake all depends on a person’s metabolic type. I have found that once a person figures out their metabolic type and begins eating accordingly, the fat just comes flying right off.

I typically help determine metabolic typing first with a questionnaire, and then with some fine tuning. With such precision eating, the person’s energy, mood, and cravings improve dramatically. Again, this is all dependent on each person’s own specific bio-chemistry. There are no one-size-fits-all programs or diets that really work. This garbage that everyone should eat the same thing really is a bunch of BS. You can tell that from the recent proliferation of allegedly “low-carb” products. Food manufacturers don’t care about your
health — they just want to cash in on the latest craze. There actually have been ads for low-carb soda and candy bars, for crying out loud! Don’t be fooled. Unhealthy is unhealthy, whether it’s low-carb, high-carb, or no-carb.

Our bodies are all unique, and we react differently to foods, making optimal eating a science that is distinct to each individual. So you must take your nutrition and exercise programs seriously if you want great results. A quick-fix, shotgun approach is just a waste of time, money, health, and energy. Do it right the first time and you’ll achieve the results you want without the headache and hassle.


Sally R.
Turning Point Personal Training