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Blog - Richard Geres Personal Training - Weight-Loss, Fitness, Research

Fri, 4 July 2014

Do you have metabolic flexibility?


Our bodies predominantly use fats and carbohydrates to produce energy. In most cases we use both nutrients simultaneously to produce energy, but the ratios of carbohydrate to fat utilisation depends on fuel status, activity level, fed versus fasted state and the body's ability to efficiently switch from one nutrient to the other. That, unfortunately doesn't always work as well with some folks as it should, which can create a number of pretty serious health issues.

Our modern lifestyles have led us to be constantly surrounded by food at home, at work, at social gatherings. To make matters worse, much of that food comes in the form of highly processed carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, pastries, sweets, soft drinks, ready-made meals and so on.

But our body was not designed for that environment. It was designed for the caveman lifestyle. Eating plenty when food was available, then not eating for days (they didn't have supermarkets or refrigerators back then!). This kind of lifestyle forced our bodies to become efficient at switching between fuel sources, and running efficiently on bodyfat for fuel when food was scarce. The ability of our body to switch between fuels is termed as Metabolic Flexibility.

However, research shows that insulin resistance, the stage that precedes type II diabetes, can have a dramatic negative effect on Metabolic Flexibility. Being metabolically inflexible can cause a number of mild to severe side-effects. When blood sugar drops, sufferers can easily become hypoglycaemic, meaning that the body is not able to elevate blood sugar sufficiently through other metabolic pathways. This can cause light-headedness and inability to perform properly. In severe cases I may lead to Diabetic Coma. The other problem is that sufferers from metabolic inflexibility may find it hard to lose weight, because their bodies cannot switch to burning fat efficiently.

The hormone insulin plays a big role in all this. Insulin controls blood sugar levels, which  become elevated after we eat carbohydrate foods. Insulin's job is to lower blood sugar by pushing glucose into liver or muscle tissue for storage or energy production. When we eat too many carbohydrates on a regular basis (think of the crackers, sandwiches, biscuits, chocolates, soft drinks, ice-creams, etc) insulin levels become chronically elevated and our tissue cells become insensitive to it, meaning that it is not able to perform the task it is supposed to. When insulin levels are chronically high, our body becomes inefficient at burning fat and the mobilisation of fat from our fat stores for energy production is put to a stop. That's bad news for people who are trying to lose weight or even just maintain weight. If more fat is going to storage (in out fat cells) than being pulled out of storage into the blood supply for energy production, we eventually get fatter.

So how can we prevent metabolic inflexibility?


Regular Exercise

Regular exercise improves glucose levels in the blood, increases insulin sensitivity and increases fat oxidation. In simple terms: lower blood sugar, less insulin, more fat burning. Regular means several times per week, every week. With so many health benefits, no wonder exercise is called the miracle pill! If you're fairly unfit, you'll be best off with a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise programme like walking or cycling. Relevance to the caveman: Remember, cavemen used to spend days chasing their prey!

Fasting

You may have heard that to lose weight you need to eat every 2-3 hours. While that may work for some people, it is definitely not the only way to lose weight. Some research has shown that fasting for 16-24 hours increases insulin sensitivity and will increase the amount of fat used for energy. Thats exactly what we want, and if it worked for the cavemen, it will work for us too!
Note:  not eating for a day once in while can save you up to 2000-3000kal per fast!

Cut down on the processed carbs!

Get rid of the crap, at least for some time: white bread, pasta, pastries, sweets, soft drinks, ready-made meals. If cutting these foods from your diet for a while means the end of the world to you, it clearly demonstrates that you have a distorted way of eating, and that you are controlled by food impulses. To help you get on the track with eating a more balanced diet, get some professional help. You'll be surprised how easy it is to change your eating habits once you have a practical plan to follow, and how helpful it is to have someone check on you from time to time.

Need help to implement a more balanced way of eating?
Then join our 10-Week Nutrition Coaching Programme.

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