When I try to explain to clients about the changes they go through over time, a certain pattern emerges.  I’m guessing the following description will sound familiar to many of you.

As a general rule, people do not change their eating habits a whole lot.  Most of us stick with the same or similar foods and usually in the same portion sizes.  In fact, it is estimated the average person eats roughly four pounds of food per day.

This is pattern #1. 

Another harsh reality in life is that no matter how hard we try, our metabolism will slow as we get older.  Not a whole lot we can do about that.

This is pattern #2.

The next piece of the puzzle is muscle mass.  While there are some exceptions, the vast majority of people lose muscle mass over time.  Yes, you can point out the occasional “late in life” body builder or even the guy who went to that big city anti-aging center and now has the body of some ripped pro athlete with some old guy’s head attached.   Maybe you have seen the ads on TV…very unusual and highly dependent upon manipulating hormones.

The problem with the loss of muscle mass is that muscle uses and stores huge amounts of sugar (carbs) every day.  Therefore, when you lose muscle mass, you lose the ability to burn as much sugar and your capacity to store it goes down as well.

The tricky part about losing muscle mass is that it occurs anyway – even if you are staying relatively active.  The average person can lose up to half a pound of muscle mass per year.

The ONLY way to slow the loss of muscle mass is through strength training.  Period.

This is pattern #3.

You may be able to see where I am headed with this.  When you combine pattern #1 and pattern #3 an immediate problem occurs.  You are eating the same way you did for your whole life, but you have less ability to process (burn off or store in the muscle mass) these calories.  The result?  Any excess carbohydrate intake is converted to fat and stored.

Add in a slower metabolism (pattern #2) and you have the start of a nasty cycle.  Without some significant change in nutrition or lifestyle you have created the “fat gap”.  A concise definition might like this:

Fat Gap – noun; the increase in overall body fat from long-term levels, despite a consistent pattern of diet and exercise. 

The creation of a fat gap cannot be prevented unless you devote the majority of your waking hours to strength training and perfect nutrition.  This is simply not a realistic choice for most of us.

So what can you do?

Make two significant changes.  1)  Alter your nutrition to move away from calorie-rich foods like bread (yes, even whole grain bread), rice, cereal, pasta.  Control the sweet tooth by eating mixed nuts before the sugar cravings hit. Decrease alcohol intake. Increase your plant-based food choices and increase your protein intake (why protein shakes, chicken, fish and eggs are ideal)

2)  Increase or add in strength training to your workouts.  Use the larges muscle you have; your leg muscles, back and shoulder muscles and increase the weight lifted when using them.  These are strong muscles – they can take it!  All too often I see people using 10# dumbbells when they could easily be lifting 15 pounds or even 20.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Don’t rely solely upon cardio-vascular activities for exercise!  Lift weights, don’t just run.  Cardio has its place, but is only one piece of the health puzzle.

We have seen plenty of people improve their body fat percentage even if they are in their forties or fifties, but it takes solid planning.

If I can help you with any of this, please let me know.  Good luck and keep lifting!

Art McDermott CSCS CISSN