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Racing With a Beer-Belly

by Racer X Virtual Trainer

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The core or abdominal region is one of the most important areas of strength for a rider. Yet most weekend warriors are walking around with enough excess belly fat that makes the new bailout in Washington look small. As we proceed through our twenties and on into our thirties, most people just accept the fact that they have "gained a few pounds" and go on with their lives without a second thought.

However, did you know that not only is that excess fat around your belly hard to race with but in fact is more dangerous to your health than any other fat on your body? If you are one of these people, remember back when you were younger and dreamed of that set of "six-pack" abs. The good news is, we all have six-pack abs; the bad news is that for most people, it's buried beneath a 12-pack of beer, soda and Funyuns. So what's the best method for losing belly fat? Is it as simple as changing your diet, or doing a thousand crunches? And what are the health consequences of a belly full o' jelly?

The Secret Formula
Every single person on the face of this planet has the ability to lose that spare tire. It doesn't take special genes or genetic makeup to be "thin." The good news is that there is no secret formula. The bad news is, well, that there is no secret formula.

"There is no magic bullet, diet plan, specific food, or type of exercise that specifically targets belly fat. But the good news is belly fat is the first kind of fat you tend to lose when you lose weight," says Michael Jensen, MD, a Mayo Clinic endocrinology specialist and obesity researcher.

In general, your body shape is a reflection of both your genes and your lifestyle. Different people put on fat in different places. Some people just naturally carry weight in their midsections (an apple shape) while others are more bottom-heavy (a pear shape). However, no matter what your body type, when you lose weight, you'll most likely lose proportionately more from the abdominal region than elsewhere.

"Ninety-nine percent of people who lose weight will lose it in the abdominal region before anywhere else -- and will lose proportionately more weight from the upper body," says Jensen.

"Visceral fat, the kind tucked deep inside your waistline, is more metabolically active and easier to lose than subcutaneous fat under the skin, especially if you have plenty of it," explains Penn State researcher Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD.

And the more weight you have to lose, the more quickly you're likely to start losing your belly fat, experts say.

Can Certain Foods Help Reduce the Pudge?
A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a calorie-controlled diet rich in whole grains trimmed extra fat from the waistline of obese subjects.

List of Whole Grains
Amaranth, Barley, Buckwheat, Corn (including whole cornmeal and popcorn), Millet, Oats (including oatmeal), Quinoa, Rice (both brown rice and colored rice), Rye, Sorghum (also called milo), Teff, Triticale, Wheat (including varieties such as spelt, emmer, farro, einkorn, Kamut, durum and forms such as bulgur, cracked wheat and wheatberries), and Wild rice

"Eating a diet rich in whole grains while reducing refined carbohydrates changes the glucose and insulin response and makes it easier to mobilize fat stores. Visceral fat is more metabolically active and easier to lose than subcutaneous fat, especially if you have plenty of it and the right conditions are met, such as the ones in our study," says Kris-Etherton.

When you eat refined foods like white bread, it triggers a series of events, starting with elevated blood sugar levels followed by an increased insulin response, which can cause fat to be deposited more readily. But eating a diet rich in whole grains (which also tend to be higher in fiber) helps improve insulin sensitivity. This, in turn helps the body more efficiently use blood glucose, lowers blood glucose levels, and reduces fat deposition.

No need for a measuring tape if you can do this!

The Dangers of a Fat Gut
Why is it important to lose belly fat? Carrying around extra pounds in your midsection is serious business. Extra weight in your midsection is more dangerous than fat around your hips and thighs, as visceral fat is worse for your health than the subcutaneous fat that sits under the skin.

"Extra weight around the midsection is associated with inflammation and a higher risk of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more," Jensen says. According to a recent study in Circulation, belly fat appears to boost inflammation and is linked to hardening of the arteries.

Here is another fact: people with large bellies tend to lose sensitivity to insulin, a crucial hormone that helps the body burn energy. When insulin loses its power, the body responds by pumping out more of the hormone, which only throws the system further off balance.

As a result, people with extra belly fat are vulnerable to a whole cascade of problems known as insulin resistance syndrome or metabolic syndrome . The syndrome -- which is estimated to affect over 50 million Americans -- comes with a frightening array of potential complications. For one thing, people with insulin resistance often develop type 2 diabetes. They also tend to have high blood pressure and too much bad cholesterol, a recipe for heart disease, according to numerous studies.

Don't start worrying, though, if you only have "love handles" -- those are composed of fat near the surface of the skin. It's the visceral fat that wraps around organs deeper in the abdomen that appears to be metabolically active.


As you can see from this illustration, liposuction targets subcutaneous fat not the more dangerous visceral fat.

Crunches and Liposuction-- The Big Lie
Most people are under the misconception that you can spot reduce fat. Meaning, that if you do a hundred crunches the fat near your midsection will "burn" first. Unfortunately, the body doesn't work that way and doing all the crunches in the world won't specifically target the fat in your belly. Bottom line, spot exercises won't banish belly fat.

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you must eat a healthy, controlled-calorie diet and get regular exercise -- around 60 minutes a day of moderate activity, like brisk walking. And the harder you exercise, the more belly fat you may lose. People who engage in high-intensity anaerobic exercise (like motocross) tend to be leaner around the abdomen.

Unfortunately, if you're concerned about the amount of fat you have around the middle, you won't find peace of mind in a cosmetic surgeon's office. In a study published in a 2004 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Klein and colleagues dashed any hopes of a quick fix. The study found that women who had about 30 percent of their body fat suctioned off didn't move any closer to avoiding diabetes or heart disease. Specifically, the procedure didn't lower blood pressure or improve their response to insulin. "We removed billions of fat cells, but we didn't change the size of the fat cells that remained," he says. It's possible, he adds, that it's the size of fat cells -- not their sheer number -- that really has an impact on health.

Are You Losing the Battle of the Bulge?
It's not hard to find out if you have a potentially unhealthy amount of belly fat. All you need is a tape measure. Exhale, relax, and wrap the measure around your stomach. The bottom of the tape should be exactly even with the top of your hip bone. Keep the tape straight and snug, but don't let it dig into your skin. If you're a man, a waist circumference of more than 40 inches means you are at a higher risk for heart and other diseases. Women with a waist circumference of over 35 inches are at increased risk. If you are beyond these numbers, not only are you putting your health at risk but your enjoyment at the racetrack will plummet as well.

The Bottom Line
Most scientific evidence suggests that a calorie-controlled diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, lean meat, fish, eggs, and poultry is the foundation for a diet that provides all the nutrients you need while helping to whittle your waistline. The real secret to losing belly fat is to lose weight on a balanced, calorie-controlled diet and exercise at least an hour a day. A perfectly flat stomach may not be within your reach, but a healthier body certainly is. You can thank me on the podium after your next big win!

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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Discussion

  1. Gravatar
    kris July 12, 2012 at 7:41 am

    People in this category have a long road ahead of them unless your name is Ricky Carmichael. I think performing deadlifts, squats, push ups, burpees and other compound movements will definitely help combined with a massive overhaul of cleaning up the diet, ie chicken, broccoli, and potatos.

  2. Gravatar
    dante July 12, 2012 at 9:49 am

    It says that there is no magic bullet or specific food that will get rid of belly fat. Yet, it goes on to say that certain foods will help reduce the pudge!!! oops!!!

    @Kris Carmichael is still pudgey! I think he will be forever big, sadly.

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 12, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Dante - the key words being "help reduce" not eliminate (i.e. magic bullet). A magic bullet is akin to a pill or something that 100% specifically reduces just belly fat.

  4. Gravatar
    Kangaroo53 July 12, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Many years ago, a trainer told me that the first 30 mins on an elliptical maintained your present health and the next 30 mins improved it. I spend over 160 nights a year in hotels and I see a lot fo gymansiums. Most people only do about 30 mins...you've gotta do maore to make a real difference. For me it's 90 mins (60 cardio+ 30 weights) everyday I'm on the road, but the last one to recover for when I get home.

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 12, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Kangaroo53 - I would have to respectfully disagree with you on this. The key is intensity not length of time. I guarantee if you replace those 90 minute work outs with 20-30 minutes of high intensity interval training (HIIT), you would see a dramatic difference. Check out this article http://www.racerxvt.com/article/the-benefits-of-high-intensity-training-for-motocross

    I believe a periodized plan of high intensity and low is the best way to go. this is another great read. http://www.racerxvt.com/article/highlow-training-model-for-motocross

  6. Gravatar
    Glenn J July 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Tim, I would like to respectfully point out that you are both right..
    The human body, regardless of fitness level, keeps about 30 minutes worth of glucose stored for fuel during exertion. After that the body will either start to burn fat or,- if it hasn't been trained to burn fat- will start to cannibalize muscle for fuel. In an endurance sport it is important to do what we used to call LSD training ( long- slow-distance ) to train the body to burn fat during exertion so that you don't cannibalize yourself after the 30 minute mark. The fat-burning mode doesn't kick in until your glucose stores have been used up, thus the directive to go beyond 30 minutes with the training.
    On the other hand- if the goal is to purely burn fat to get rid of it and not train the body to burn fat for fuel during actual exertion, then HIIT /sprint / burst training does burn more fat...just not during the exertion phase. HIIT training uses only glucose stores during exercise, but then the body continues to burn fat for several hours afterward, is generally superior to the LSD method for trimming down. When you add in the fact that the human body starts to produce cortisol, a stress hormone, after an hour or so of exercise, then if you are after maximum health and minimum body fat the HIIT method is proven superior. Unfortunately if you are an endurance athlete and your event runs over 30 minutes, HIIT training is not enough for optimal performance and you will find yourself losing muscle mass during stressful exertion of competition.

  7. Gravatar
    Mad_Mark July 13, 2012 at 8:05 am

    That's not "Pinch an inch", That's "Grab a slab"!

  8. Gravatar
    LAMXRentals August 22, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Thats funny, Pinch an inch Grab a Slab!!
    I do agree with what has been said by losing weight, its not how many sit ups, push up, treadmill and other exercises your going to do, its all about what you shove in your mouth, count your cal, per day watch what you eat, yes, you have to do exercises minumume 1 hr per day, and you will most definetly lose alot of weight. Give it a try for two month you will see the results, if not I will by you a Six doller Burger from Carl's JR lol;;;;

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