Today I'm going to talk about glycogen - and the crowd goes wild! Ok, so maybe not. But if you want to lose weight, or understand the type of weight you are losing you really need to understand this process. I promise that it will only be a little boring and technical. But it should also be somewhat entertaining and extremely educational.
The body has 3 primary systems for generating energy. Phosphagen, Glycogen and Aerobic. Each has it own purpose to helping the body function at its best.
Phosphagen will user the ATP souring through your body and stored the cells at any given time to produce quick busts of energy. I'm talking 100m sprint kind of quick. Just a few seconds. This has purposes to weight loss, but it is a separate topic all together on how to increase your over all metabolism. So we'll skip it for now.
After that short burst of energy your body needs to produce more ATP to keep you running.
Now your body will switch to its favorite energy store, and second energy cycle, and that is Glycogen. Glycogen is basically a way for your body to store sugars for energy later on. It is the primary means of maintaining our central nervous system and thus is critical for a properly functioning body. It is a quick energy source, and it is very efficient at producing energy, but your body will only store a few pounds of it at any given time. By weight the liver stores the most, but by volume your muscles have the lion's share. The body stores the glycogen where it needs it the most - right in the muscle cells. Glycogen also stores 3-4x as much water as it does sugar. This is important to understand for a few reasons.
1) When you exercise - glycogen and water will be lost first because they are needed to produce energy and are tied together
2) It is also the first thing the body restores when you eat after a long work out.
3) Your body will not want to deplete its glycogen stores because it needs them to just stay alive. So after a short period of exercise (20min) the body will reduce glycogen use and focus on fat - This is a good thing that we will bring it back up in the next section.
The first two items produce the Yo-Yo effect. It is very possible through diet and exercise to force the body to deplete itself of water and glycogen for a short period of time. BUT as soon as you return to normal eating, and even over time if you manage to stay on a diet longer than a few weeks - the body will begin to rebuild it glycogen stores. And you will return to your previous weight - AND you body will try to store more glycogen as well because of how fast it was lost. So there is a "pound rebound" most people get when they yo-yo diet.
Additionally the lower glycogen stores will also produce sluggish mental and physical capabilities. So if we are exercising in this second level of energy cycles for too long - without replacing the glycogen in our bodies - we will become more irritable, tired and prone to illness. Sound familiar anyone? This is the end of most people's crash diets. They get to the end of the rope, get sick and stressed and poof 10 lbs lost become 15 lbs gained.
Now let's talk about the third energy system: The aerobic cycle. After about 20 minutes of continuous exercise the body will use oxygen to break down energy sources in the fat to compliment the glycogen cycle.
It is the combination of the second two that we are interested in right now.
The body has two main energy stores; Glycogen and Fat. Obviously we want to get rid of as much fat as possible (in a healthy way of course) and keep consistent glycogen stores so our bodies operate at an ideal level.
During the first 20 minutes up to 95% of all the energy you need is burned from glycogen. So in 20 minutes you will lose weight, but it is weight that will come back quickly. This is not something that you should fight. It just is what it is. Learn it and move on. And accept that you will need to add longer workouts to really target the fat. That being said, an intense 20 minutes - while not burning much fat to begin with - will up the over all metabolic rate. So it will certainly help you lose weight. There are just additional ways to help really target the weight loss.
After 20 minutes the body changes from glycogen to aerobic. And your body begins to conserve the glycogen and switches to producing up to 60% of its energy from the fat stores. This is a good thing to understand. Let's take as an example a workout that I did the other day. I jumped on the elliptical machine and went for a solid 2 hours at a sustainable pace. I bumped up the resistance and just went a little slower than normal - about 130 revolutions per minute (for comparison on my sprint workouts I will alternate between 150 and 200 revolutions per minute). I burned off a little over 2500 calories. Let's just say for this simple purpose that the calories were burned consistently through the workout. Here is how it works out
2500 calories divided by 120 minutes = approx 21 calories per minute.
At 20 minutes I burned off 420 calories - but 400 of those calories came from glycogen and only 20 from fat. At this rate, unless it was a really intense 20 minute (boosting the metabolism), I will not make much progress in weight loss.
But I still put in another 100 minutes. That was another 2100 calories and up to 60% of that came from my fat stores. That is 1260 calories directly out of my fat. If I do that 3x a week, then I will be losing a pound of fat every week. Even if I do nothing else over the course of a year just about anyone can lose all the weight that they need just adding a few good long power walks to their workout. I personally like to do this while watching movies. I'll put one in, and just go. Most movies last 1.5- 2 hours. So they are perfect. I get my exercise and my entertainment.
Not that I personally recommend the following, but your might want to know that after about 4 hours 95% of the energy is derived from fat. Honestly I'm not sure that I want to lose fat that bad to really find out if that is true!
Getting back to the over all effect of weight loss and glycogen. I want to talk about all the water stored with the glycogen.
Your body - in a long work out - will release about 1/2 of its glycogen stores. And along with that will come the water. Lets say the average person has 2 lbs of glycogen in their body (the ranges I saw were between 1-5 pounds). In one long workout you could lose 1 lbs of glycogen and then up to 4 lbs of water and about 1/3 a pound in fat. If I jump on the scale now it will look like I just lost 5 lbs - yihaa!
Well, you know the rest of the story. Then I eat and drink and make merry - and poof the weight comes back on. Darn! I guess I'll just give up.
I honestly think that is what happens to us. We then develop a love hate relationship with food and try to avoid it. But that is the worst thing we can do. What we need to do is just understand the process.
I try to always measure my weight at the same time and circumstance. This will give me the most accurate measure over time that I can work with. On any given day I will be up and down as my body tried to cope with all that I am putting it through. But if the over all effect is down - congratulations - assuming your eating right.
One last twist in all of this is that your body does not want to release the fat. Your adipose tissue has two purposes. The first is to store energy. And it does that really really well - especially when we feed it so regularly. The second purpose is to trap the free radicals in our body - and I'm not talking about your inner Harley Davidson desire. These substance break down the body and are among the several components that cause disease in our bodies.
If you're not sure what a free radical is let me know and I'll write a post on that as well. You can just do a Google search and find tons of info as well if you are a little more ambitious and want the info now. For now I'll just ask that you accept that free radicals are bad for health and weight loss.
Free radicals come into our body from several good and bad sources. Smoking, pollutants, chemicals, even things like processed food and exercise! What is worse is that one of your bodies mechanism for dealing with them is to encase them in fat. Your body does not want the free radicals running amok in your body, so even if you are giving all the right signals to pull off the pounds through exercise - if you're not eliminating the free radicals - then the body will do all that it can to hold on to the fat and metabolism more glycogen and protein instead. I know that in the past I could almost always count on getting sick 4-6 weeks into my new workout regime. I'd finally start to build up some progress and then BAM! I'd get sick, get off the diet and sit there like a derailed train.
The take home point on free radicals is that you'd better have a plan to eliminate them so your body will be willing to "give-up" the fat cells.
So let's get to the final point. In order to maximize weight loss and muscle tone and strength, we have to understand that the body will not drop the fat if there is too few carbohydrates in the diet (I can just hear all the Atkins dieters screaming at me now). In order to efficiently lose the fat, the body requires the glycogen (and hence the carbs that make it) in order to burn it efficiently. Thus, if we go on some type of a crash diet that denies carbs, or denies protein, or even fat - we severely hamper our ability to lose the fat weight on our bodies.
There are all sorts of opinions on this, and I am not a doctor, so I can only share with you my personal experience having been on most of these diets at one time or another.
My bottom line is this
o If I eat fairly equal portions of protein and carbs (favoring the carbs in my type of a workout).
o If the carbs I eat are high in fiber and are non-processed (this helps to eliminate the entry of free radicals into the body as well as providing means to fight them).
o If I alternate high intensity, and long distance aerobic exercise.
o If I drink lots and lots of water,
o And if I'm taking some products to give me a boost to fight the antioxidants,
Then I will lose the most weight of any program that I have been on.
I eat enough to supply basic needs but not enough to cover all my exercise, so I am always calorie deficient. But I am eating all the right foods to give my lean body mass the nutrients it needs. I demand a lot of my body in the long distance exercises, and ramp up the metabolism through interval sprint training. All of which makes sure that I continue to burn fat efficiently even while I am just sitting. So far the results have been 70 lbs of fat lost and 15 lbs of muscle gained
I know that when I track my calories burned as best I can, and the calories consumed the best I can, I seem to find evidence that I am losing more fat weight than I can account for. Some alternative medicine theories suggest that with proper diet and attacking the sever radical problem that you allow the body to release the fat into the excretion system and just be shed - without the need to expend the energy - simply because the fat is not needed to store the free radicals even more.
I cannot speak definitively on that, but I can express that I have seen more weight drop off than I can account for, so for me there seems to be something there. But regardless, I do know for certain that the steps outlined above will certainly make the fat loss happen quickly, efficiently and sustainably.
Best of luck to you in your weight loss program. I hope this has been helpful.