Cardio or just eat less?

Cardio or just eat less?

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We have now had a whole series of articles about different training methods and we have also talked several times about different diet strategies. What I have devoted few words to is cardio; the place of cardio in a dietary phase is a matter of considerable debate if you ask the more famous health coaches; after all, when an overweight person wants to lose weight, there is much more to be gained in eating behavior and changing / breaking the eating pattern than walking someone for hours per week or on a bicycle. Living beings are programmed by nature to use energy as efficiently as possible, because energy is literally of vital importance. Genes that wasted energy were filtered out of the gene pool by selection, so that species had and have a greater chance of survival.

The current way of living in abundance is very recent and selection has by no means had time to catch up and pick it up.

This means that energy consumption is always kept as low as possible by the body, at rest, but also during activity. Waste of energy will almost never take place from nature, which is a disadvantage for us in today's society.

There are bodybuilding coaches who let their clients do cardio for hours and hours, while there are also coaches who prefer to avoid cardio like the plague.

What is this really about? What is the best and most logical strategy?

I want to devote upcoming articles to that. In this first article, I mainly want to discuss the problems of cardio and why it is certainly not the best approach to just ram hours of cardio into your daily routine and hope for a tough six-pack. Cardio has a place, but in my eyes it is in a completely different place than many people think.

Basic metabolism

Our body has a certain basic need, in terms of energy, but also in terms of protein intake; there are all kinds of processes in our body that go on non-stop, that fall under the basal metabolic rate. Consider renewal of skin and intestinal cells. Or how about peristalsis (the propulsive movement of, for example, the esophagus through smooth muscle in the (intestinal) wall. Think of the beating of the heart. Breathing. The liver that works day and night. Or heat as a by-product of contractions and other processes in the body, nerve / brain activity, etc.

All these processes use energy without our having direct influence. I consciously say 'direct influence', because ... who has ever heard of the savings position?


Power Saving

In the fitness, food and supplement industry, the concept of saving mode is regularly used; if you were to eat too little for a longer period of time, the body would switch to energy-saving mode and eating less / exercising more would no longer result in further weight loss. To further lose weight, after reaching this stage, energy and time would have to be put into restoring the metabolism and therefore more food would have to be eaten in order to continue losing weight again.

Now there are certainly good reasons to plan an occasional refeed or diet break (for example, read the article Refeeds vs Cheats); it is certainly the case that the body can take a number of measures with long-term low energy intake to save more calories. However, the question is whether a refeed of 1 or a few days reverses these adaptations. (The answer to this question is no.)

But let's elaborate on these possible adaptations; The largest of these is reducing activity.

In addition, we know from research that, for example, the heart, kidneys, and liver, even though they make up only a small part of the total body weight, have a large share of the total energy used per day. In long-term energy shortages, the mass of these organs will also shrink; since energy consumption of tissue (whether it is muscle mass, fat mass, or organ tissue) is expressed in kcal per day per kilo of tissue, that means that less organ mass naturally consumes less energy.

These measures are, of course, finite and can only go so far before the body loses its function and eventually eventually will stop living.

Since the processes of the basal metabolic process always continue (or to a lesser extent due to the above measures), long-term no loss of weight during a 'cut phase' always means that there is too much to eat. Eating less, in the longer term, will always result in more weight loss. Long-term, since 1 cheatday per number of weeks can ruin all your progress, which makes it appear that you no longer lose weight in a calorie deficit, while on average you are not in a calorie deficit during the weeks.

The savings mode therefore exists, in some form, for sure. But not in the form that many people who stagnate in their waste adventure think.

If this form of savings existed, not many people would have died of hunger in wars and famine would not be such a life-threatening problem in third world countries.

The incentive to eat becomes so extreme at some point that you will eat calories anyway when the opportunity arises. This does not always happen consciously; if I ask you now what you have eaten today, chances are that you will forget to count a few cookies, a few dashes of milk in the coffee, a handful of sweets, a good splash of oil over your lettuce, so that you will not there is an energy shortage while you do have that sacred belief.

In addition, during extreme calorie deficits, the hormone balance of your body will change to such an extent that food hardly saturates and hunger becomes extreme. This allows you to eat as a bottomless pit when the opportunity to eat presents itself.

Enough about the energy saving and binge eating; Let's move on.

Cardio saving mode

A hefty sidetrack in the story about cardio and losing weight, but this background information is important to understand the rest of the story below.

The efficiency that we see in survival in nature is not only found in basal metabolism, but also in activity. The body tries to use energy as efficiently as possible in every possible way and is very effective at it.

If you make movements more often, less and less energy leak will occur. Those beginner gains that you made at the start of your lifting career? These were mainly because your nervous system taught you to control your muscles more efficiently.


There is also such a thing for cardio ...

The first times you cycle there will sometimes be co-contraction over joints. In other words, the quadriceps tightens simultaneously with the hamstring, or the tibialis with the soleus. Because muscles counteract each other in these ways, energy is lost. However, the more often you make a certain movement, the more efficiently your body learns to make these movements. This is one of the reasons why our condition improves if we run or cycle more often. In addition, the more experienced you become in running, for example, the swinging out of your arms or legs will be limited to a necessary minimum. The rotation in your torso / hip with each step will decrease. The fall of your feet on the ground will go less fast, etc.

These kinds of specific adjustments are the reason that someone with a very good 'running condition' is not necessarily a good cyclist; After all, the movement patterns differ considerably and the moments when muscles have to fire and relax are completely different than when running.

This learned efficiency is very useful from a survival perspective, because less energy is wasted and therefore more energy remains available for vital processes, but less useful when you want to use as much energy as possible to use up your reserves.

Your body is smarter than you think ...

Another problem with this efficiency and 'economy mode' is that your body is not easily fooled; Have you ever noticed that when you were deep in a cut, you became a diaper and your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) plummeted? Less effort to get up to grab something. Lean against poles or walls when you are waiting somewhere. Sitting calls instead of walking around. No more walking while brushing your teeth. Etc etc. You have very little influence on this, this is done automatically. Of course there will be times when you realize this and when you can consciously make the choice to still be ice-ringing through the house, but there will also be plenty of times a day when you totally do not realize that your body is enormously pressing your activity. .

When people in a calorie deficit start to perform more conscious activity (cardio), the body will (unknowingly) compensate for this by pushing NEAT further, as investigated, for example, in this study.

At the bottom of the line, this extra activity in this case will yield little to no extra calories burned, because these calories are saved elsewhere. In other words: The cardio makes no sense.


The disadvantages accumulate further ..

Do I now want to say with a huge jumble of words that cardio is nonsense and has absolutely no place in a cut phase? I don't want to go that far. However, cardio should certainly not be the first aid when losing weight is the goal, since it is certainly not the most convenient and time efficient way to lose fat. When you use 300 kcal with half an hour of cycling, many people think that they have 'saved' 300 kcal. However, a day always contains 24 hours, whether or not you cycle. Since you had filled in a different way that same half hour, you would have consumed calories without cycling, even if you had been lying in bed or sitting on the couch. After all, the basal metabolism always continues, as we have seen above.

We have so far only talked about the physical aspect, but what about the mental aspect? You have to take into account that nothing is in isolation and your body does not 'reset' after you have completed a cardio session, or after it is 12 o'clock.

If you have been in a big energy shortage all week and end Friday with a spicy cardio session, while you have planned a small refeed that evening, that extra cardio may just be the cause of a big hunger and with that a binge that you otherwise provoke. might have been spared.

To conclude, I want to address one last problem, but certainly not the least important.

There is a very important difference between bulking and cutting (and I am not talking about the energy intake in this case). Usually the recovery capacity of people during a bulk is a lot larger than during a cut phase, especially when we get far into the cut phase or when we are working towards a photo shoot or competition shape.

The energy intake is now so low that recovery is enormously limited and in addition that sleep quality is likely to be adversely affected (and we all know) how important sleep is by and what a sleep deprivation does with your muscle growth.

Anyone who has ever really gone deep with cutting knows that the last nights before D-day are characterized by hours of ceiling service. When you do fall asleep once and wake up after a few hours to go to the toilet (because you drink more water for at least a little stomach filling and in addition you are probably somehow drifting away with moisture) starts the whole story again.

Due to the lower intake of energy, fewer carbohydrates and proteins for recovery and the poorer quality of sleep, your body is definitely not in a state in which recovery capacity is maximum.

Since cardio requires muscle activity, it is somehow volume that needs to be restored. Now walking is not very intensive, but the less intensive the cardio, the fewer calories you will burn per session. In addition, walking can even lead to muscle pain or joint pain in the final phases.

Muscle recovery is one thing, but what about your tendons and joints? Muscles are well-blooded and usually recover a lot better than less well-blooded tissue such as joints, especially when the body also loses moisture as we just discussed, your joints will definitely not thank you for all that extra cardio. After all, you will not only lose subcutaneous fluid, but also the amount of fluid in joints will decrease.

In the final stages of cutting, you actually want every movement you make to have as much effect as possible; any more than these are the moments when you will try out new exercises and want to play a lot of junk volume (read this article again about the efficiency of repetitions) these are also not the times that you want to unnecessarily 'volume' on the bicycle on a treadmill.


Never again cardio?

This may seem like an argument with which I want to convince the world never to do cardio again. If I left it at that, it would probably be the best-visited article ever and 2020 might be 2e year 0 will be declared because of this Joyful Message (or may I not have a Christmas .. euhhh Party joke?)

However, I do not want to close the article with this and this is not the conclusion with which I want to close this article.

However, I have deliberately chosen to measure the "problems" of cardio so broadly, to get you thinking about this topic and about the methods that you apply yourself.

In the following article I want to explain the (in my eyes) correct approach and method of cardio and tell you what I think and according to the literature is the way to implement cardio so that it does not work against you, but precisely for you. works.

Before that moment comes you will have time to think about it for yourself; how would you, after reading this article, use cardio during cutting for the best possible result?

Feel free to leave a comment and maybe I'll work out your answer to a joint optimal cardio approach!

This blog is written by

Jan Willem van der Klis

"My focus is on obtaining and disseminating the best possible knowledge to optimize training and nutrition"

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