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The #1 Way to Fight Fat Naturally – Why You Need to Build Muscle to Lose Fat

While I touched on this topic when I asked what kind of weight do you want to lose, I thought it warranted some deeper discussion. After all, fighting the idea that cardio is the king of exercise is almost as tough as fighting the dogma that saturated fat is bad.

Next to eating the right foods (like eating plenty of healthy fat), doing the right type of exercise is a very important key to losing fat weight.

How Building Lean Muscle Fights Fat

I’m not going to repeat the overemphasized notion that muscle burns more calories than fat, and that’s why having more muscle helps you lose weight. While this is very true, the science behind the benefits of building muscle goes way deeper than that.

Strength training stimulates the production of your natural growth hormone. First, let’s be clear on this one: injecting yourself with synthetic hormones to lose fat is not healthy. Supplementing with hormones you don’t need is a surefire way to trigger some major imbalances in your body. I repeat: definitely not healthy.

However, generating circumstances that stimulate the natural production of beneficial hormones is not only safe but highly beneficial. The kind of exercise that builds muscle also encourages your body to produce healthy levels of growth hormone.

What does growth hormone do?

- Improves body composition (muscle and fat in the right proportions and in the right places).

- Aids in tissue recovery and healing.

- Provides natural energy.

- Improves bone strength.

- Improves reproductive function (i.e. libido).

P.S. Sleep is another great way to stimulate the natural production of growth hormone. So get some more quality sleep!

Strength training improves insulin sensitivity. Research (such as this study or this one) demonstrates that weight-bearing exercise has a positive effect on insulin sensitivity. When your body exhibits proper insulin response, you are much less likely to store excess fat. You will also experience less blood sugar swings that trigger cravings for carbs and sugar. Plus, you get the added benefit of warding off insulin-related conditions like metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a GoddessLean muscle mass looks better. Muscle tones and shapes your body so you look leaner and more fit. Even if you’re having trouble losing fat, building lean muscle can still improve the way you look by defining your shape in a more attractive way.

As an added bonus, building strong muscles will also improve your posture, which can dramatically improve the way you look. Slumping is not attractive. Having muscles that help you stand tall and proud definitely is.

Weight-bearing exercise strengthens your bones and joints. What does this have to do with fighting fat? More than you might think. Strong bones and joints allow you to achieve a higher level of fitness. As they say, you are only as strong as your weakest link. So if your bones and joints are prone to injury, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to getting in shape.

How often should you do strength training?

A basic formula is 2-3 times per week for 30-60 minutes. Aim to build strength and endurance over time. Giving yourself plenty of recovery time is an important part of building lean muscle mass, so don’t over-train–it’s just plain counter-productive. On the same note, don’t overdo the cardio either. Too much cardio stimulates the breakdown of muscle and other vital lean body tissues (like bones and organs). If you’ve got a damaged metabolism, skip the cardio until your health is in a better place. If you’re healthy, 30-60 minutes of cardio twice a week is more than enough.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.

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16 Responses to The #1 Way to Fight Fat Naturally – Why You Need to Build Muscle to Lose Fat

  1. Terrific as usual! Thanks, Elizabeth. I’m trying to get back into regular weight-training. I’m extremely sporadic about it. I have been doing squats a bit more lately, such as in the kitchen yesterday, holding a Le Creuset Dutch oven for the weight!

    • Squats are great. The leg muscle are part of one of the largest systems of muscle in the body, so working out your legs is a great way to reap the benefits I mentioned above!

      And sporadic is better than nothing. :)

  2. A number of years ago I did a Body For Life 12-week challenge*. It was the first time I had EVER exercised to such a degree. The weight training was a big transformation. The part that especially worked for me was the workout schedule in the book. It was spelled out and I could fit it into my life easily. The cardio recommendation was specific instructions for doing interval training for only 20 minutes 3 times/week. Sometimes I skipped the 3rd cardio of the week.

    Week 1: M + F = strength train upper body, W = strength train lower body, Tues+Thurs+Sat= Cardio
    Week 2: M + F = strength train lower body, W = strength train upper body, Tues+Thurs+Sat= Cardio

    According to your article, this still works pretty well.

    I have tried getting back on the wagon and the schedule really helps me. I like to work out first thing in the morning. It helps to have a plan when I would rather just stay in bed. After a couple of weeks, you start to see minor, incremental results. It does take a while for this to become routine in my day. If the schedule was only for 3 days a week, it would be harder for me to implement because I’d fall off the wagon more easily.

    * BFL came with a diet, which I tried to do. It would no longer fit with what I consider healthy. It is too high in carbs and too low in fat for me. I DID learn to see food more as fuel than entertainment, so that was good.

  3. Actually, could you explain this a little more?

    “If you’ve got a damaged metabolism, skip the cardio until your health is in a better place. If you’re healthy, 30-60 minutes of cardio twice a week is more than enough.”

    • A damaged metabolism would be someone with insulin resistance or adrenal burnout for example. Someone with these types of metabolic imbalances should focus on healing. Cardio can trigger the body to break down rather than rebuild, so it’s not ideal for someone who wants to heal their body.

  4. i would like to see the issue of exercise with adrenal fatigue addressed. i know every time i try to push myself just a bit more (whether with weights or cardio) i end up exhausted and often get sick.
    thanks susan

    • Adrenal fatigue is a topic I really want to delve deeper into with this blog. If exercise is really exhausting you that much, then your body is telling you something. I would never recommend someone push themselves with exercise until they are eating well (plenty of real food), managing stress effectively and sleeping well on a regular basis. That way you have plenty of fuel to exercise. Someone with severe adrenal burnout may not be able to handle a lot of exercise when they’ve just started healing.

  5. I remember a few years ago when I was just getting into eating real food, and I had been getting exhausted from exercising. It was really discouraging, but I now know my body was simply not healed nor strong enough yet to be engaging in strenuous exercise. I even had muscle weakness to the extent that I could feel my body shaking during and after exercise was finished.

    Now, I have a lot of energy and stamina, and I’m not a seasoned athlete really. I just eat well and get as much regular activity as I can. In my post I wrote last week about why I don’t go to the gym (it’s because I really just enjoy activity and exercise more when I’m outdoors…but I also do exercise in my house on my trampoline and videos), I talk about how much easier exercise is for me and that I can actually get 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th winds with no problem. This used to be a problem for me and I’d lose interest in exercise quickly because I’d tire so easily. It’s so nice to have conquered that from eating well. Thanks for this post, Elizabeth! :)

    • It is really hard when you don’t feel motivated/energetic enough to exercise. Today most people just label it as “lazy” when it’s usually just your body telling you to rest. Thanks for sharing that story with us, Raine. It’s a fine example that with a little time, rest and patience we can eventually acheive the level of fitness with desire.

  6. This really helps me alot. I’ve just started working out and I really had no clue what the heck to do LOL In the past cardio hasn’t really done anything for me, and I wasn’t a fan of being on a treadmill for forever and a day.

    • Ugh. I cringe to think about all the hours I logged on the elliptical machine back in the day. Seriously, if I was still doing that much cardio now I probably wouldn’t have any time left for this blog! Strength training, pilates, yoga and maybe some interval cardio (for like 20 min max) are all much more efficient exercises. And way more fun in my opinion.

  7. I am new and I am enjoying reading your old posts. Did you know that one of the ads on your site (as I read this post about healthy weight) is one for a local plastic surgeon with an almost naked model with the ad “Say goodbye to your love handles.”  

    • Thanks for the heads up. I don’t have much control over Google ads (they are based on location, demographic, and cookies), but I can block certain ads from appearing. It’s always helpful to know if something particularly unappealing is showing up for my readers!

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