The Improbable Eating Habits Of Olympic Champions.


By Raymond Onyango.

Fitness is a multi-billion-dollar business worldwide. According to the international current affairs magazine, TIME; Americans alone spend an estimated 19 billion dollars a year on gym memberships. In an article titled, ‘Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin’, author John Cloud, notes that in spite of this colossal amount of money being poured into health club memberships, obesity rates in the United States Of America have continued on a seemingly uncontrollable upward spiral, with an estimated one-third of the entire American population now considered obese under the definition offered by the federal government.

The author’s argument against exercise is based on an interesting piece of logic. He reckons that the problem with exercise, is that it makes you hungry, and the more you exercise, the more hungry you get and thus the more you want to eat. As he puts it, a hard workout will burn maybe 200 to 300 calories, which you could put back with a single muffin, and so when you exit the gym and settle down to a sugary snack right after that hard workout, you are probably working against your very own weight-loss efforts.

His solution – and he quotes several experts to back it up – is that you should watch what you eat as the central core of your weight loss efforts, and he proceeds to caution the reader that ‘fiery spurts of vigorous exercise can lead to weight gain.

Predictably, this article caused a huge controversy, when it was first published in August 2009, attracting widespread condemnation from Fitness professionals all around the world, and triggering a raging debate in the global wellness community, dwelling on what the New York Times described as one of the most intriguing and vexing issue in physiology – Can Exercise Make You Thin?

Above the blaring cacophony of competing ‘expert’ opinions, a plausible answer to this question is to be found in the most befitting arena of all – the London 2012 Olympics.  Thanks to the British love for tabloid news, the media has been a buzz with the most trivial details of the games as well as the athletes themselves.  For instance, we got to learn about the dietary habits of some of the world’s most illustrious athletes, and boy! They are not exactly what you would expect from athletes of this caliber!

Michael Phelps the American swimming sensation, who made history at the London Games, becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals, 18 of them gold, not surprisingly eats like a horse. What is surprising is the amount of junk food the guy packs away on a daily basis – 3 fried egg sandwiches, choc chip pancakes, a 5- egg omelet, French toast and grits – just for breakfast. Phelps also consumes a whole kilogram (yes, a whole Kg!) of pasta everyday, plus ham and cheese sandwiches, pizza all chased down by a couple of liters of soda…and the guy is still as lean as a cheetah!

At a whooping 8,000 calories a day, Michael Phelps is taking in almost 4 times the recommended average calories for a male adult and yet he is still as lean as they come. There couldn’t be a better answer than this to the question – Can Exercise Make You Thin? Michael Phelps is living proof that Exercise Can Make You Thin, even if you must, like he does, train for up to 5 hours a day. Now that he is retired, one thing that is certain from this point forward is that even the great Michael Phelps, can gain weight, if he continues to eat like this, without a maintaining a commensurate level of exercise.

The fact of the matter is that neither extreme is sustainable. When you lose weight exclusively though calorie restrictive diets, the weight loss is indiscriminate and your body readily cannibalizes it own muscle tissue to bridge the calorie deficit. The result therefore is that as you lose weight, you also muscle mass which as you well know is the metabolic engine of the body and you further weaken key bodily organs and structures including your heart as well as your bones. Constant dieting for her demanding movie roles is believed to be one of the reasons why actress Gwyneth Paltrow was diagnosed with the degenerative bone disease osteopenia, a precursor to osteoarthritis – at the age of just 37!  Not to mention that the very moment you begin to eat normally again, you will rapidly gain back all the weight you have lost.

On the flip side, even if you exercise plenty, but eat too much junk; you are still not immune to the effects of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, or the cumulative effects of over consumption of highly processed food, which while high in calorie value is utterly devoid of any real nutritional value. In the long run you will end up malnourished and probably obese, when work or family gets in the way of your exercise habit.

In my book, the most effective and sustainable approach to weight loss lies in finding balance between the two. You don’t have to subsist exclusively on vegetables and mineral water in order to lose weight and be healthy, but you mustn’t imagine that a single hours worth of gym 3 times a week gives you the carte blanche to eat anything you please – because it doesn’t! You have got to ‘eat better and move more’ if you hope to get thin and stay that way for a lifetime!

Have a balanced week will you!


The Science Of Weightloss – Part 2

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Putting theory into practice

By Raymond Onyango

Last week we established some facts about weight loss; one untruth that we laid to rest, is the myth that you can somehow melt away fat from your body by using pills, diets or even exercise. We went back to our high school physics and the laws of energy which state that energy cannot be destroyed only converted, and we looked briefly into the processes that help you use up fat energy including workload, rate of breathing and body temperature.

Today we will take all of these complex sounding theories and break them down into a simple exercise format that any one of you readers out there can perform even in the comfort of their own home – a format known as circuit training. Circuit training is a form of body conditioning exercise that combines strength training and high intensity aerobics in a fast flowing format that allows for very little rest if any, between exercise stations.

As far as exercise goes, nothing will get you to loose more weight in a shorter time than circuit training and here is why. Remember our holy trinity of weight loss – workload, rate of breathing and body temperature? Well, circuit training is one of the only forms of exercise that maximizes all of these three factors in a sustainable way. Lets look at this a little more closely;


Circuit training is hard – not because you are lifting much weight, but because you are making use of a loophole in the design of the human body to make your heart beat much quicker. Have you ever wondered why you tend to feel sleepy after a heavy meal? Well this is because, your body has only a limited amount of blood (about 5 liters in an adult) but this is often not enough to power all of the body’s activities all of the time. So the body runs a blood-rationing program, where after a heavy meal, blood is shunted from the brain and the rest of the body to the digestive system, causing you to feel sleepy and tired at the same time.

This same process is at work during Circuit training, when you do a set of squats, your body shunts enormous amounts of blood into the leg muscles to sustain the increased workload and then when you turn around and do a set of push ups, you body has to send blood back to the upper body again. This alternation between upper, lower and core body exercises is what gives your cardiovascular system such a kick in the butt and makes circuit training one of the most effective all round forms of exercise and weight loss.

Rate of breathing

The rate of breathing naturally increases with an increase in your workload, but unlike jogging or weight training alone, circuit training packs a particularly spirited punch in the weight loss department and for good reason. In a traditional workout, you would warm up in the cardio room, do your sets on the strength machines leisurely and then maybe cool down later on a cardio machine. Often this will take you an eternity and get you little success.

Circuit training is the exercise equivalent of multi tasking, in the sense that it is actually a cardiovascular, strength, core and flexibility workout all wrapped into one.  This is where that fat goes – it goes into powering your legs when you do that set of squats.  Into powering your cardiovascular system in order to get the huge amounts of blood, oxygen, carbon dioxide in and our of working muscles often at different extremities of the body and plenty of it is also lost in the heat generated and lost by your body though sweating  – which is something people tend to do a lot of during circuit training.

Body temperature

Talking of sweating  – the idea behind a circuit training workout is to keep the sweat taps turned on permanently for the entire duration of the workout.  To do this successfully you have to be smart about your approach to pacing yourself. One tool you could work with is the talk test. If you are really working at the right intensity you would not be able to hold a conversation with the fellow next to you, but you should still be able to answer to your name when called. Somewhere between those two extremes is the body’s most efficient fat burning zone and that is the place where a well designed circuit will keep you for longest time possible.

As we learned last week, the human body operates at just about 20% thermal efficiency, meaning that for every 100 calories you burn only about 20 of them go into performing the actual exercise, as many as 30 of them may be lost in heat and the remaining 50 in metabolic processes including increased rate of respiration.

Working up a sweat and building muscle tone are the two things that will get you to loose weight the quickest, and circuit training is the one form of exercise that delivers both of these in bucket loads. Get on the Internet and learn about circuit training or otherwise talk to your fitness instructor about designing a circuit type program for you, you body will never be the same again!

Have a fat burning week will you!

The Science Of Weightloss


How exactly does exercise burn fat, in the human body?

By Raymond Onyango.

 Weight loss is big business, and every year individuals from all walks of life spend billions of shillings joining health clubs and seeking our all manner of pills, concoctions and diets that will do the trick in the shortest time. Needless to say, most of them fail in their quest, quite often not for want of sufficient effort but rather for lack of a proper understanding of how what cause a human being to lose weight. This will constitute our topic of discussion this week!

Basal Metabolic Rate

There are two things that directly influence your ability to lose weight, and these are your basal metabolic rate or the amount of calories your body needs to maintain itself; and of course the amount of energy we out our in work or exercise or even mental thought. It is generally accepted within the fitness community that the average human body needs at least 2200 calories a day, just power its every day activities – this is the basal metabolic rate. Weight loss happens when you take in less than 2200 calories in food a day or otherwise engage in exercise or movement which expends more calories than the amount you take in though food.

Fairly straightforward isn’t it? Well not quite. You could go on a diet like many people do but even that wont help you lose weight very quickly. The human body is incredibly resilient in the face of starvation. Lets do the math; we have established that the average human being has a basal metabolic rate of 2200 calories a day.  What I did not tell you yet is that each kilogram of stored body fat contains at least 7700 calories in it.  At this rate the human body looses about 1 kilogram of body fat every 3.5 days of total starvation. You would have to commit yourself to a month without food to lose just 10 kilograms of excess body weight! Not very much indeed!

Why Starvation Diets Don’t Work

Okay, so the starvation diet will not work, how about exercise? Running on the treadmill everyday should get you there quick, shouldn’t it! Well, only if you know what you are doing. Let us start by understanding a very basic principle of energy – it cannot be destroyed only converted. The petrol energy you put into your car’s fuel tank is converted into fire a series of controlled explosions in the engine which turns a crankshaft, which turns the wheels, and gets the car moving.  Your body is much like a car, and body fat believe it or not, has roughly the same amount of stored energy in it and a litter of petrol – which is why it is such an excellent source of emergency energy.  To loose the fat, you must use up the energy stored in it, but doing somehow, it cannot just melt away!

Factors That Influence Weight Loss

There are 3 things that will influence you ability to lose weight through exercise, these include your workload, your rate of breathing (VO2 Max) and your body temperature during exercise. Let us start out with the workload.  Workload is the trigger that sets off the chain reaction that causes your body to use up the energy it has stored as body fat. This is how it happens.

When you begin to run on the treadmill your muscles demand more energy to meet measure up to the demand. To deliver this energy, your body must process it more quickly by synthesizing stored body fat or blood sugar into the mechanical energy needed to move you.

This increased rate of metabolism requires more oxygen to fuel it and remove it’s by products including carbon dioxide. Your body responds to this by increasing your rate of breathing from an average of 12 to 18 breaths to a much faster rate depending on the intensity at which you are working.

How Getting Hot And Breathless Helps You Loose  Weight

The increased rate of breathing and metabolism produces heat, which if allowed to accumulate would cause the body to overheat and must thus be lust though sweat and water vapor in the lungs. It is estimated that the human body works at about 20 percent thermal efficiency, meaning that for every 100 calories you consume, only about 20 of them are converted into actual work, the other 80 are lost to metabolic processes and the heat that they produce, which is why cardiovascular exercises that make you sweat are integral to your weight loss efforts.

Next week we will examine these three factors that influence your capacity to lose weight in greater depth, but at this moment I will conclude saying that you can only really lose weight by increasing your rate of breathing and your body temperature. People selling you products that claim to melt away your body fat are simply selling you lies. That fat energy as we have seen cannot be destroyed or melted away, it has to go somewhere – and that will be the topic of our discussion next week!

Have an active week will you!