We have now covered a whole series of articles about different exercise methods and we have also talked about different diet strategies several times. What I have devoted few words to is cardio; the place of cardio in a diet phase is much up for debate if you ask the more famous health coaches; after all, if an overweight person wants to lose weight, there is much more to be gained in eating behavior and changing / breaking eating patterns than putting someone on a walk or on a bicycle for hours a week. Living beings are programmed by nature to use energy as efficiently as possible, because energy is literally vital. Genes that wasted energy were filtered out of the gene pool by selection, so that species had and still have a greater chance of survival.
The current way of life in abundance is very recent and selection has not yet had time to catch up and pick up on this.
This means that energy consumption is always kept as low as possible by the body, at rest, but also during activity. Nature will hardly ever waste energy, which is disadvantageous 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.
How about this really? 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 rock-hard six pack. Cardio has a place, but in my view it is in a completely different place than many people think.
Our body has a certain basic need, in terms of energy, but also, for example, 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. Think of renewal of skin and intestinal cells. Or how about peristalsis (the propelling movement of the esophagus through smooth muscle tissue in the (intestinal) wall, for example. Think of the beating of the heart. Of breathing. The liver that does its work day and night. Or heat as a by-product of contractions and other processes in the body, nerve / brain activity, etc. etc.
All these processes cost energy, without our direct influence on it. I consciously say ‘direct influence’, because… who has ever heard of the saving mode?
ENERGY SAVING MODE
In the fitness, nutrition and supplement industry, the concept of saving mode is regularly raised; if you were to eat too little for a longer period of time, the body would switch to the power save mode and less food / more exercise would no longer result in further weight loss. To lose weight further, after reaching this stage, energy and time should be invested in restoring the metabolism and therefore more should be eaten to allow weight loss to continue.
Now there are certainly good reasons to schedule a refeed or diet break every now and then (for example, read the article Refeeds vs Cheats ); it is certainly true 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 will reverse these adaptations. (The answer to this question is no.)
But let’s go into these possible adaptations a little further; The greatest of these is to reduce activity.
In addition, we know from research that, for example, the heart, kidneys and liver, although they only make up a small part of the total body weight, have a large share in the total energy consumed per day. In long-term energy shortages, the mass of these organs will also shrink; since energy expenditure of tissue (be it muscle mass, fat mass or organ tissue) is expressed in kcal per day per kilo of tissue, less organ mass automatically uses less energy.
These measures are of course finite and can only go so far, before the body loses function and eventually stops living.
Since the processes of the basal metabolism always go through (or to a lesser extent due to the above measures), long-term no weight loss during a ‘cutting phase’ always means, without exception, that too much is eaten. Eating less, in the longer term, will always result in more weight loss. Long-term, since 1 cheatday per number of weeks can screw up all your progression , making it seem that you no longer lose weight in a calorie deficit, while on average you are not in a calorie deficit over the weeks.
SO, THE SAVER MODE DOES EXIST, IN SOME FORM, FOR SURE. BUT NOT IN THE FORM THAT MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE STAGNANT IN THEIR WASTE ADVENTURE THINK.
If this form of saving mode existed, not so many people would have starved to death 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 forget to count a few cookies, a few splashes 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 shortages, the hormone balance of your body will change in such a way that food hardly saturates and hunger becomes extreme. This allows you, when the opportunity to eat presents itself, to eat like a bottomless pit.
Enough about the saving mode and binge eating; Let’s move on.
CARDIO SAVER MODE
A big sidetrack in the story about cardio and weight loss, but this background information is important to understand the rest of the story below.
The efficiency we see in survival in nature lies not only in the basal metabolism, but also in activity. The body tries to use energy as efficiently as possible in every possible way and is very effective in this.
When you make movements more often, there will be less and less energy leakage. Those beginner gains you made early in your lifting career? These were mainly because your nervous system learned 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 across joints. In other words, the quadriceps contracts simultaneously with the hamstring, or the tibialis with the soleus. Because muscles work against 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 our fitness improves when we run or cycle more often. In addition, the more experienced you become in, for example, running, the swinging out of your arms or legs will be limited to a necessary minimum. The rotation in your torso / hip will decrease with each step. Landing your feet on the ground will be slower, 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 in which muscles have to fire and relax while cycling are completely different than in the case of running.
This learned efficiency is very useful from a survival perspective, because less energy is wasted and thus more energy remains available for vital processes, but less useful when you want to use as much energy as possible to use 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 become a piece of diaper and your NEAT (non-exercise-activity-thermogenesis) plummets? Make less effort to get up to grab something. Lean against posts or walls when you are waiting somewhere. Calling while sitting instead of walking around. No longer walking while brushing your teeth. Etc etc. You have very little influence on this, this is automatic. Of course there will be times when you realize this and when you can consciously make the choice while pacing around the house on the phone, but there will also be plenty of times per day when you do not realize at all that your body is depressing your activity enormously. .
When people in a calorie deficit start to perform more conscious activity (cardio), the body will (unconsciously) compensate for this by further pressing NEAT, as investigated in this study , for example .
Bottom line, in this case, that extra activity will yield little or no extra calories burned, because these calories are saved elsewhere. In other words, the cardio is pointless.
THE DISADVANTAGES CONTINUE TO PILE UP.
Do I now want to say with an enormous amount 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 weight loss is the goal, as 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 you cycle or not. Since you would have filled in the same half hour in a different way, you would have consumed calories without cycling, even if you had been lying in bed or sitting on the couch. After all, the basal metabolic rate always continues, as we have seen above.
We’ve only talked about the physical aspect so far, 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 has been 12 hours.
If you have been in a serious energy shortage all week and end the Friday with a tough cardio session, while you have a small refeed planned that evening, that extra cardio can be the cause of a big hunger pound and thus provoke a binge that you otherwise might have been spared.
TO CONCLUDE, I WOULD LIKE TO ADDRESS ONE LAST PROBLEM, BUT CERTAINLY NOT THE LEAST IMPORTANT.
There is a very important difference between bulking and cutting (and I’m not talking about the energy intake in this case). Usually people’s recovery capacity is much greater during a bulk 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.
Energy intake is now so low that recovery is greatly limited and sleep quality is likely to be negatively affected (and we all know how important sleep is and what sleep deprivation does to 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 and wake up after a few hours to go to the toilet (because you drink more water for at least a bit of stomach filling and you are probably in some way drifting off moisture) the whole story again.
Due to the lower intake of energy, fewer carbohydrates and proteins for recovery and the lower quality of sleep, your body is absolutely not in a state in which recovery capacity is maximized.
Since cardio requires muscle activity, it is somehow volume to recover from. Walking is not very intensive, but the less intensive the cardio, the fewer calories you will burn per session. In addition, even walking can lead to muscle pain or joint pain in the final stages.
After all, muscle recovery is one thing, but what about your tendons and joints? Muscles have good blood circulation and usually recover a lot better than less well-blooded tissue such as joints, especially when the body also starts to lose moisture, as we just discussed, your joints will absolutely not thank you for all that extra cardio. After all, you will not only lose subcutaneous moisture, but the amount of moisture in joints will also decrease.
In the final stages of cutting you actually want every movement you make to have as much effect as possible; just as these are not the times when you try out new exercises and want to run a lot of junk volume (read this article again about the efficiency of repetitions ) these are also not the times when you want to turn unnecessary ‘volume’ on the bike at 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, this would probably become the most visited article of mine ever and maybe 2020 will be declared the 2 nd year 0 because of this Happy Tidings.
Yet I do not want to end the article with this and this is not the conclusion with which I want to close this article.
However, I have consciously chosen to measure the ‘problems’ of cardio so broadly, to make you think about this topic and about the methods you use yourself.