For over forty years, no other topic has been able to fill the headlines of the press and television as persistently as the question “How can I best lose weight?” Overweight and obesity are the number 1 health issue in the civilized world for a reason – they are closely related to the typical affluent diseases of high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, spinal disorders and premature osteoarthritis of the large joints.
But recreational and competitive athletes also have a special relationship with the subject of body fat. For reasons of performance improvement or body aesthetics, he is mostly concerned with keeping the body fat percentage as low as possible.
Is there an optimal body weight / body fat?
Until a few years ago, fatty tissue was viewed exclusively as a more or less undesirable energy store for humans. Today we know that adipose tissue is an extremely metabolically active tissue, which is of great importance for hormonal regulation and the immune system and which of course also plays an important role in controlling hunger and satiety.
It is not just too much fatty tissue that makes us sick (this particularly affects what is known as belly fat). Too little adipose tissue can lead to health problems and damage.
From a health point of view, “ideal body weight” or “ideal body fat content” means the area in which a person is statistically the healthiest and has the lowest risk of death.
Even simple measurements (height, weight, Waist circumference) can be used to assess whether a person is in this area or not. The most commonly used measure is the so-called body mass index or BMI.
It is calculated from body weight in kg divided by the square of body height (measured in m).
BMI = body mass in kg: (height in m) 2
Example: Man 180 cm tall, 76 kg heavy
BMI = 76 kg: (1.80 m) 2 = 23.5
|Weight division||BMI||Health risk|
|Normal weight||18.5-24.9||average risk|
|Obesity I||30.0-34.9||higher risk|
|Obesity II||35.0-39.9||high risk|
|Obesity II||40.0 and higher||very high risk|
People who are in a BMI range of 18.5 to 25 do not need to change their body weight from a health point of view. Even high-performance athletes from a wide variety of sports are usually in this normal range.
When should you actually lose weight?
If the BMI is over 25, there is always an increased health risk if the belly fat is increased at the same time. A very reliable and easy way of assessing the percentage of belly fat is to measure your waist circumference.
This is measured either at the narrowest point of the waist or, if this is no longer recognizable, at a height of 2 cross fingers above the navel. Normal waist measurement for women is less than 80 cm and for men less than 94 cm. If the BMI is between 25 and 30 or the waist circumference is 80-88 cm (women) or 94-102 cm (men), one speaks of overweight.
Body fat reduction is recommended in these cases. A circumference of over 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women, or a BMI of over 30 kg / m2, is called obesity.
Performance optimization through body fat reduction – where are the limits?
For a number of years, inexpensive and sufficiently accurate methods for indirect body fat measurement (bioimpedance analysis, caliper method) have been available. In contrast to the BMI, there are no generally recognized normal value ranges for the body fat content. A body fat content of
approx. 17 – 22% in men and 22 – 30% in women as biologically / health-wise normal. Experience has shown that significantly lower values are advantageous for optimizing physical performance.
This is especially true for sports in which body weight plays a greater role, such as B. running, ski jumping, gymnastics. That is why many competitive athletes strive for body fat reduction, even though they are already in the normal biological range. An additional health benefit is not to be expected.
It must be warned against practicing a slimming cult according to the motto “the less body fat, the more efficient”. The lower limits of body fat values that are compatible with health and performance cannot currently be given with certainty.
At the latest with values below 10-14% in women, however, serious disturbances in hormonal regulation must be expected. In the case of men, one can assume that values below 6 – 10% no longer have a positive influence on physical performance.
Why are so many people getting too fat today?
Over more than 100,000 generations (approx. 2 million years) man has genetically adapted to a life that was determined by food shortages and high physical energy consumption to obtain food.
Energy-rich food has only been available in abundance for about 2 generations without the need for physical exertion worth mentioning. The ability to optimally adapt the energy metabolism to a scarce food supply has been a genetic survival advantage for thousands of years (theory of thrifty genes = thrifty genes).
Now, in the words of Sigmund Freud (1965), it leads “to constipation and obesity of millions”.
The recent history of our planet shows how sensitive and easily disruptive such biological equilibria are: cultures that still live in their original environment today are practically unaware of obesity or the health problems associated with it.
With a natural food supply, this is independent of the food composition! Native Eskimos, who eat almost exclusively animal food with a high protein and fat content and at the same time low plant and carbohydrate content, have an extremely low cardiovascular risk.
They are physically just as normal weight and fully productive as members of tribes living close to the equator with a high vegetable food supply that is rich in carbohydrates and extremely low in fat.
Come people who have lived in such an environment to this day, in contact with the western way of life and nutrition, they become obese in a dramatically short time and are at high risk of diabetes and its complications!
Since we currently cannot (yet) influence our genetic makeup, measures to reduce body fat must first and foremost attack the lifestyle conditions of diet and exercise if they are to be successful in the long term.
The Successful Way To Lose Fat
Nothing works without movement
Even in the 21st century, the human energy balance strictly follows the physical laws of thermodynamics: those who want to lose weight successfully have to consume more energy than they add.
The estimated daily energy consumption through physical activity should have been around 1000–1500 kcal for our ancestors. Today, most people consume less energy through physical activity.
Unfortunately, a correction can only be made through the mind, i.e. an arbitrary increase in energy consumption. First and foremost, this means that everyday activities must be increased wherever possible: leave the car behind and travel by foot/bike, do without aids such as elevators and escalators, actively take breaks (e.g. go for a walk instead of sitting around), and especially to avoid sitting/lying leisure activities (television, computer work).
Sporting talent is not necessary for this! Anyone who consumes at least 100-200 kcal per day with these measures (this corresponds to about 2–4 km or 15–30 minutes of easy cycling) is already doing an invaluable service to their metabolism. Physical activity does not have to be done in one go. It’s just as effective
Endurance sports are the ideal engine for fat loss!
People who are already active in sport not only have a much smaller risk of becoming overweight. They can also increase their energy expenditure much more easily and to a greater extent than the untrained person can.
The classic endurance sports allow the highest energy consumption. Depending on the level of training, between 400 and 1500 kcal can be converted per hour.
Basic training with rather low intensities and therefore higher volumes enables the highest total energy and fat consumption, as it can be carried out over much longer periods of time than is possible with very intensive training.
Not only does it improve the body’s ability to increase the amount of fat it provides for energy, it is also the most beneficial to health, especially for the less trained.
Very high intensity training is also effective in losing body fat. Although it has the advantage that it is less time-consuming, it is not recommended for the less well trained for the following reasons:
- The great effort of will required for every training with the risk of loss of motivation,
- High (oxidative) stress on the body temporary disorders of the immune system,
- Greater risk of injuries and overuse problems in the musculoskeletal system
Overweight people with disorders of the sugar and fat metabolism should avoid high-intensity training because, in contrast to low-intensity training, it tends to worsen rather than improve their metabolic functions.
The improvement of the metabolic situation in these people is an indispensable prerequisite for being able to lose weight successfully at all!
Maintain or build muscle mass
In contrast to endurance training, the effectiveness of strength training in terms of body fat reduction is generally assessed to be lower because the energy consumption of the training itself is significantly lower than that of endurance training.
Measurements on students showed values between 250 and 400 kcal/hour. depending on the level of training. Strength training has a number of advantages in addition to endurance training, which should encourage anyone who wants to lose body fat to integrate muscle training into their training plan:
This type of training helps to maintain muscle mass, especially during a more rigorous diet phase. 1 kg of muscle mass contributes about 50 kcal to the daily resting energy expenditure.
Those who consistently build up their muscle mass with this kind of training benefit twice: Because the energy consumption of the increased muscle mass is added to the pure energy consumption of the muscle training every day.
With a muscle gain of 4 kg, this corresponds to about 20 minutes of daily jogging! Good muscles also make a positive contribution to a better self-esteem and more aesthetic body contouring.
Current strategies for fat loss, avoidance of obesity, and more stable health from a nutritional perspective
Numerous studies show that weight loss through exercise alone is difficult for most people to achieve. This not only requires a good level of training but also a correspondingly high training volume. A simultaneous change in diet is therefore always necessary for successful fat loss.
Prefer low-energy foods
A heated and unnecessary discussion is currently heating up both the lay and specialist press as to who is the “culprit” for the misery of the unloved fat deposits – fats or carbohydrates. The reason for this could be two simple mistakes:
- An assessment of whether a meal is high in carbohydrates, high in fat or high in protein cannot be determined based on the percentage of energy, but only on the basis of the actual amount of nutrients in grams.
- Foods with a high carbohydrate density (high glycemic load) are high in calories, although they are low in fat, and especially in the case of existing metabolic disorders, promote the development or progression of overweight and obesity.
A few examples should make this clear:
100 grams of lettuce (corresponds to a relatively large portion) with olive oil dressing have a fat content of 75%! Such a salad portion does not contain a lot of fat, namely only about 5 grams.
It only has few carbohydrates (about 3 g) and protein (about 2 g) at the same time, ie it is low in fat, low in protein and low in carbohydrates at the same time so it has a particularly low energy content (a total of 65 kcal) and can therefore be eaten in large quantities without hesitation.
However, their content of vitamins, minerals, water and fiber is very high in relation to the calorie content. Such a food therefore has a low energy density and at the same time a high nutrient density.
It is therefore ideally suited for the goal of weight reduction – regardless of the above percentages.
100 grams of “Bayerischer Kaiserschmarrn” (that is an extremely small portion) contain 61% carbohydrates and only 27% fat. At first glance, this seems ideal for losing weight.
With 7 grams of fat, it is actually relatively low in fat. But it contains 33 grams of carbohydrates. As a result, it has a very high carbohydrate load (glycemic load) and a very high energy density (namely 222 kcal / 100 g).
Recent studies on such high-energy and high-carbohydrate foods have shown that they play a role in the development of overweight and obesity as well as their secondary diseases. Like high-fat foods, they are not suitable for losing weight.
Table 2 shows that bread (regardless of the type) and cereal products are also energy-dense foods and should therefore only be used with caution for the goal of “body fat reduction”.
Particularly fatal in this context are, of course, all foods that contain a high amount of fat and a high amount of carbohydrates at the same time (this includes sandwiches, cakes, pastries …).
(Milk) chocolate is the absolute front runner with 536 kcal per 100 g and a whopping 31 grams of fat and 54 grams of carbohydrates per 100 g! Be warned against canned peanuts! 100 g have 568 kcal and contain a whopping 48 g of fat!
Meat, on the other hand, has completely wrongly the image as the main supplier of fat and health hazards. This applies much more to the inferior meat waste products (sausage, press sacks, etc.).
While these consist almost exclusively of fat, many types of meat are extremely low in fat and provide high-quality protein. A 100 gram serving of pork schnitzel (pure) contains just 2 grams of fat and only 107 kcal, which is a very low energy density.
|Peanuts in a can||568 kcal|
|Milk chocolate||536 kcal|
|marble cake||391 kcal|
|Cereal flakes||351 kcal|
|Coca-Cola 1/2 l||300 kcal|
|French fries||290 kcal|
|currywurst with fries||270 kcal|
|Big Mac||256 kcal|
|Baguette sandwich with salami||250 kcal|
|Pure white bread||253 kcal|
|Pure black bread||210 kcal|
|Pure pumpernickel||182 kcal|
|Spaghetti Carbonara||206 kcal|
|Average western diet||160 kcal|
|spaghetti bolognese||135 kcal|
|Prevention of obesity||below 120 kcal|
|Pure pork knuckle||118 kcal|
|Pure roast pork||97 kcal|
|Pure roast pork||97 kcal|
|Cooked pasta||94 kcal|
|Cooked whole grain rice||84 kcal|
|Boiled potatoes||70 kcal|
|Leaf salad with olive oil dressing||65 kcal|
|Mixed vegetables||37 kcal|
Fiber-rich, low-fat foods with a low glycemic load from the vegetable / salads / fruit groups are the basis here and should make up the main part of our diet.
They are supplemented by protein-rich foods such as dairy products, fish and lean meat, by whole grain products, as well as by vegetable oils and nuts.
All sources of carbohydrates with high GL (this includes bread products in particular) should, like sweets, high-fat and other high-energy foods, only be consumed in small amounts.
Contrary to statements made by the nutrition societies to the contrary, this form of nutrition is neither high in fat nor extremely low in carbohydrates, nor does it have a worryingly high protein content.
All recommendations of a wholesome diet in terms of the DGE are met (especially high fiber content, Intake of all vitamins, minerals and trace elements above the recommendations, favorable fatty acid profile with a high proportion of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, favorable carbohydrate profile with low glycemic load.
The food has a low energy density and therefore a large volume with a high water content, which promotes early satiety by filling the stomach appropriately.
The increased protein content has been shown to lead to more rapid saturation with a reduction in the spontaneous total energy supply and an increase in energy consumption, especially with unrestricted access to all foods.
Protein-rich diets are also associated with a reduction in blood pressure, cardiovascular risk and an improvement in blood sugar control. Postulated negative effects on different organ functions in people with intact kidney function could not be confirmed in recent studies up to a protein intake of 2.8 g / kg (approx. 200 g / day).
Only patients with impaired kidney function or severe liver damage have to be careful about restricting their protein intake.
How can a diet for maintaining health and avoiding obesity be best designed practically today?
A high glycemic load in the diet is particularly detrimental to the health of overweight and physically inactive people. This means that overweight people in particular should look for a low glycemic load in their diet.
Taking into account the relationships presented so far, the following specific recommendations can currently be made for this group of people with regard to a healthy diet for weight loss:
- Restriction to 3 main meals per day with no snacks in between. Evening meal before 8 p.m. if possible. Short exercise session before going to bed or in the morning before breakfast.
- Beverages as calorie-free as possible. No alcohol. No fruit juices. Abundant hydration. Tea and coffee allowed without sugar.
- 2 protein-emphasized, low-fat meals with a low glycemic load (evening meal and a second meal) preferably consisting of vegetables, salads, lean cold-water fish, lean meat (e.g. real game meat), low-fat dairy products, cheese <25% Fitr., Nuts, Mushrooms, sprouts, fruit, spices and, in small quantities, eggs. Vegetable oils (preferably olive oil and oils rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as linseed oil, rapeseed oil, and nut oils) may be used in abundance. Bread, pasta/rice/potatoes should not be consumed at these meals.
- 1 meal (morning or lunchtime meal) with emphasis on carbohydrates and protein, low in fat, preferably consisting of vegetables, legumes, salads, potatoes, cereal products (whole grain bread, pasta, rice, cereal flakes) in small amounts, lean fish and lean meat, Mushrooms, sprouts, fruit. High-fat foods (cheese, full-fat dairy products, cream, sauces, etc.) must not be consumed at this meal.
- It is best not to eat at all or only occasionally and in small quantities: Sausage and cheese with a high-fat content (> 45% Fitr.), Refined carbohydrates with a very high glycemic load (white bread, rolls, polished rice), Foods with high fat and high carbohydrate content such as sandwiches, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, sweets, cakes/pastries, fatty sauces, and fatty dairy products (cream, sour cream), fat-fried / deep-fried foods (fried potatoes, French fries), alcohol and soft drinks.
- The increased protein content in this form of nutrition leads to a higher acidity of the diet. In order to achieve a balanced acid-base load, it is important to pay attention to a particularly high proportion of alkaline foods (especially vegetables, salads, fruit)! Therefore, if possible, these should be a (main) component of every meal!
Special features for competitive athletes who want to work off fat:
As a rule, the increase in training volumes and intensities in competitive athletes causes a moderate loss of body fat in the course of the season up to the competition season, even without a change in diet, which can be seen in the sense of a physiological adjustment to the required performance.
If, in addition, fat pads are to be broken down, this can in principle be done according to the above specifications. However, some special features must be taken into account:
- The protein content of the food must be kept as high in order to avoid a loss of muscle mass as possible. There are only estimated values in the range of 1.6–2.0 g / kg. For a 75 kg athlete that would be around 120–150 g protein per day. Legumes, soy products, low-fat dairy products, lean sea fish, lean meat, and nuts are suitable natural sources of protein. A dietary supplement with protein or amino acid mixtures is also conceivable.
- Salads/vegetables and/or fruit should be an integral part of every meal. At the same time, they provide high-quality carbohydrates with a high nutrient density.
- Carbohydrate intake in the form of carbohydrate-dense, low-fat foods (preferably potatoes, rice, pasta) is largely free. This is e.g. B. necessary the day before high-intensity training units since the required willingness to perform can be achieved more effectively with filled glycogen stores. Even after very strenuous training units, a supply of carbohydrates with a high glycemic load causes faster regeneration. For low-intensity basic training units, which are energetically covered mainly by burning fat, a carbohydrate intake in the form of foods with a low glycemic load appears to us to be more suitable than highly insulin-effective sugar-containing bars and drinks.
- The consumption of foods that are high in fat and carbohydrates at the same time should be largely restricted as above. These include dishes such as pizza, French fries, potato or pasta dishes baked with cheese, lasagna, dishes with cheese and cream sauces, meat dishes with fatty sauces and carbohydrate side dishes, sandwiches, hamburgers, bread/rolls topped with sausage/cheese, and butter, cakes, pastries, Chocolate, milk ice cream.
- In order to avoid regeneration problems and performance drops, the energy balance should be largely balanced. In athletes, fat loss can always be achieved with a balanced energy balance if the fat consumption from daily training exceeds the fat intake, i.e. the fat balance is negative. The fat consumption is highest in phases with an extensive basic training program, which is, therefore, best suited and most compatible for a planned fat reduction.
- Professional nutritional and sports medical care, regular BIA measurements, and accompanying nutrition analyzes, which allow existing deficits to be quickly identified and remedied, should accompany the athlete in such phases and enable optimal individual adaptation of the training and nutrition plan to the needs of the athlete.