Ask a Trainer (Vol. III)
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Today we’re going to talk about maintaining flexibility as a heavy weight lifter, resistance training on a restricted diet, and the difference in fat loss between men and women.
If I lift weights, will I become less flexible?
Maybe. There are two main reasons why people who become very muscular end up becoming less flexible. The first is inherent to becoming more muscular in general: your muscles are getting bigger! When you lift, a process called muscle hypertrophy causes your muscles to grow in size as your body repairs the small tears caused by training. With heavier lifts, these repairs add size and strength to the fibers. The added mass can make it difficult to stretch the muscles past a certain point.
This brings us to the second point: if you’re lifting you also need to be working on mobility/flexibility on a regular basis. A good plan is to stretch twice daily whenever possible, once in the morning and once in the evening. This is a general, un-targeted stretching session intended to hit the whole body over a few minutes. If you’re exercising that day, stretch before and after your workout, especially focusing on the muscles worked during your session. A regular stretching routine will keep you flexible even when your muscles become stronger and larger. Take a look at Olympic-level gymnasts, male and female, to see the results of both heavy resistance training and mobility training in a single person.
Can I still benefit from resistance training on a restricted diet?
Yes! The goal of resistance training is to strengthen the muscles, provide stronger support for the joints, and increase the proportion of lean muscle mass on the body. There are few dietary restrictions that will prevent these goals from coming to fruition. Below I’ve laid out some common dietary guidelines and how they can affect your benefiting from resistance/weight training.
This is the “I eat anything” diet, and includes no restrictions. This diet works fine for cutting or bulking but tends to be high in carbohydrates and thus can result in caloric overload and fat gain if not monitored adequately.
Paleo (Paleolithic, Caveman)
A Paleo diet includes most naturally occurring foods that don’t require additional processing (other than cooking) to consume. The main dietary guidelines allow any meat, any vegetable, any fruit, and a good selection of nuts/seeds. Noticeably absent are dairy and grains (pasta, bread, etc.). The Paleo diet is well placed to support resistance training for strength and size because of the high amount of available dietary fats and proteins. The diet is relatively easy to follow at both caloric deficit and caloric loading (i.e. cutting fat and bulking muscle, respectively).
Vegetarian (ovo-lacto and lacto)
The Vegetarian diet focuses on taking in primarily plant-based calories. Ovo-lacto Vegetarians allow some animal products in their diet, including eggs and dairy. Likewise, Lacto Vegetarians allows dairy but not eggs. In general, the idea is to avoid anything that results from harming animals, whether that choice is moral or health-related is up to the individual. These diets work for strength and bulking but take more work than Omnivorous or Paleo diets, as dietary protein is more difficult to get from plants but is prolific in eggs and milk.
Plants and fish make up the majority of this diet, and technically you can be Ovo or Ovo-Lacto Pescatarian as well. It’s much easier to get your dietary protein with the added seafood allowance, but you need to be cognizant of mercury and trace metals inherent in most fish. Use fish as a supplement to plant-based proteins and you should be good to go.
Being a Vegan can be a tough choice if you also want to build muscle and strength, but it’s far from impossible to combine the two ideas. The main thing to remember is maximize your protein from soy, pea, and hemp protein. These each have additional excellent properties in addition to their protein content, so do some research and figure out what works for you. For dietary fat look to walnuts, flaxseed oil, olive oil, avocados, and similar foods.
No matter your dietary restrictions (or lack thereof), here are a few good rules to follow when it comes to planning out your daily diet:
- Calories per Day = Weight x 10
- Macronutrient Content: Fat 40%, Protein 40%, Carbohydrates 20%
- Avoid Saturated Fat, Transunsaturated Fat, and carbohydrates from simple grains as much as possible
Why is it easier for guys to lose weight than it is for women?
One word: hormones. Men have a greater amount of testosterone and women have a higher amount of estrogen, though both sexes have both hormones being naturally produced in the body. Testosterone promotes muscle growth, fat loss, hair growth, and male sexual characteristics. Estrogen promotes fat storage, maintenance of skin/hair, and female sexual characteristics. Since men have higher T. and lower E., they tend to shed fat quickly and easily, whereas women are the opposite.
In addition, the body composition of men and women is very different, due to the need to support different structural needs. Men tend to be built for heavy lifting and taxing physical stresses like hunting, whereas women are built for the taxing physical stresses of childbirth. The lowest healthy body fat is about 3-4% for men and 10-12% for women. The female body, even at the lower percentages, still holds significant fat in different areas whereas men tend to “go lean” over most of their body. This accounts for the large difference in percentages, but the relative similarity in appearance and leanness.
And that’s it! Join us next time for more fitness and health goodness!