While it may appear to simply melt away on the legs and upper body, that belly fat can be very stubborn and is typically the toughest to lose. In a desperate attempt to shed those last couple pounds men often end up sacrificing valuable muscle.
What makes stubborn fat so stubborn?
To “burn” fat stores for energy, your body produces chemicals called catecholamines. These catecholamines bind to receptor sites allowing the fat to mobilize for fuel by activating hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL). The prevailing thinking is there are two types of receptor sites, alpha-2, and beta 2. Without getting too complex, think of alpha receptors as bad sites inhibiting fat burning and blood flow. At the same time, beta receptors increase the fat-burning rate and blood flow to the site area. Most fat deposits have a higher ratio of beta-2 to alpha 2 receptors. But in the more stubborn areas like men’s lower stomach and back areas, and women’s hips and legs, this ratio is skewed the other direction.
It’s important to note there is no secret formula to quickly strip away all your belly fat, but there are tricks to speed up the process. Obviously you need to be in a caloric deficit to get the process of burning body fat started. If you are consuming too many calories and carbohydrates your body will simply use glucose and glycogen to fuel all of your activities. It will not need to burn fat, despite how much excess fat is stored in your body. Keep the deficit under 1000 otherwise you are at risk of breaking down large quantities of lean muscle as well as fat. While this ensures lipolysis (fat burning), how do we ensure fat burning comes from our stubborn areas?
Low insulin levels inhibit the alpha-2 receptors and allow catecholamines to bind to the beta-2 receptors. There are two methods that will help keep insulin levels low and steady enough to mobilize stubborn body fat. Low carb dieting and intermittent fasting. Low carb dieting involves consuming about 5-20% of your calories in carbohydrates and keeps glucose levels low which allows the catecholamines to burn fat. Insulin inhibits the hormone sensitive lipase so keeping it low is key to eliminating stubborn body fat.
Intermittent fasting is typically done in a 4-10 hour “feeding window.” In this “feeding window” you should consume your total caloric intake for the day. This provides many benefits that may help mobilize stubborn body fat for fuel. It also helps keep insulin levels low and does an even better job of inhibiting A-2 receptors than simply following a low carb diet. Some dietary fats can raise insulin levels and inhibit HSL similar to carbohydrates. So having a 16-hour period with no calories coming in is the best way to keep insulin down for an extended period of time. Another benefit during a fast is the levels of catecholamines increase while blood flow and circulation are also improved. This makes it easier for those catecholamines to reach the B-2 receptors in stubborn fat.
Stubborn body fat is, well stubborn and frankly a pain in the butt to burn. And you need all the help you can get when it comes to eliminating it. Sheer Strength Thermogenic is a fantastic formula helping blast away that last bit of belly fat. It contains 200 mg of caffeine that provides a large boost of catecholamines (especially if taken in a fasted state). It also contains green tea catechins. Studies have shown green tea catechins increase exercise-induced fat burning in the abdominal area. The synephrine increases metabolic rate and calorie burning while the Yohimbine HCL acts as an Alpha-2 antagonist allowing Beta-2 receptors more easily be reached by the catecholamines so stubborn body fat can be mobilized. In addition to these ingredients, it also contains ingredients, like 5-HTP, that promote better moods (which can be an issue when dieting)..
Another supplement you need is Branched Chain Aminos to ensure you are burning stubborn, not muscle. It’s a very fine line to walk and it can be difficult to prevent muscle loss when working to shed those last couple pounds. But BCAA’s provide the amino acids needed, preventing your body from getting them through the breakdown of muscle tissue.
Heavy weight training has shown to dramatically increase catecholamine levels following workouts. When done in a fasted state this effect is amplified. It’s important to use a high-intensity load with low- moderate volume otherwise you risk calling upon energy systems that will break down muscle for fuel. Keep the total reps under 6. Since you have such a boost in fat burning chemicals and blood flow in your body, you should follow your resistance training with 30-45 minutes of low-moderate intensity cardio and abdominal work.
Many people will tell you spot reduction is impossible. That it is an old school myth, or “broscience” and you can’t dictate where the fat you burn comes from. Broscience is something all the old school bodybuilders claimed worked, and they looked amazing. Now there’s actually some real science behind it. In a study published in 2007 the authors concluded “blood flow and fat burning are generally higher in subcutaneous adipose tissue adjacent to contracting muscle rather than to resting muscle irrespective of exercise intensity. Thus, specific exercises can induce spot fat burning in adipose tissue.” So spot reduction is possible and can be accomplished by training the areas adjacent to stubborn fat, specifically the obliques and transverse abdominis.
So now the question is how do we use all this information and technique to optimize stubborn fat-burning?
This process should be repeated for 4-5 days followed by a refeed during which you consume 50% of your calories from carbs while cutting fats down to around 10% of your total calories.
We mentioned how stubborn body fat tends to lack blood flow. In fact, if you touch a bit of fat in the lower abdominal area it may feel cold. This is because it lacks blood flow and circulation that are vital for catecholamines to do their job and mobilize fat. Intermittent fasting is the best way to do this, but there is a simple old school way to do this as well. Simply warm up your abdominals during cardio or working out. This can be done with one of the old-school rubber tummy belts or by using a typical weight belt backward. The increased blood flow may help transport the catecholamines to those stubborn areas.
Excess cortisol levels make it impossible to burn stubborn body fat due to the elevated blood sugar levels in the body. Prolonged periods of elevated cortisol levels contribute to visceral fat (fat around the organs beneath the abdominals) and insulin resistance. These will prevent you from ever breaking down that belly fat. It is important to manage your stress by getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, taking breaks from stressful periods of work, performing light exercise/ aerobics, or even practicing meditation.
Alcohol directly contributes to excess visceral fat. If your goal is to see all the cuts and striations underneath that layer of fat, alcohol will prevent that from happening. Nothing wrong with having a good time, but ask yourself if it’s worth it or if accomplishing your goals are more important.
Trying to spot-reduce is an exercise in futility if you are a man above 10% body fat or a woman above 18%. Instead, focus on total caloric deficit and energy expenditure. Don’t concern yourself with these techniques until it is worth it. If you have fat hanging off your arms, that’s got to be mobilized before your body can break down the more stubborn areas.
Stubborn body fat is frustrating and can almost drive you crazy when trying to finish a cut. But if you follow the outline listed above you will save your sanity and achieve your goals. Oh, and one more thing, stubborn body fat appears to be even more stubborn when it is regained. So don’t go on a month long binge once you achieve your desired level of leanness because it will be harder the second time around. Best of luck! Let me know how the protocol works for you in the comments below!
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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