How to Lose Belly Fat, Man Boobs & Muffin Top
Noteworthy topics like macronutrients, cardio protocols, periodization, and time under tension get a lot of coverage in the fitness industry. And to be fair, these things can’t be ignored during the purist of physical mastery.
But why is that with the abundance of research-backed information on these topics, we still have people who can’t get it right?
Jelly belly, muffin top and man boobs are largely due to hormone imbalance.
We spend a lot of time investing in high level strategies like carb cycling, altering tempo of our reps, cyrotheapy, and Olympic lifting, but we overlook the solutions to the real problem. The real gaps in your approach are most likely behavioral decisions and lifestyle choices you make daily; it has nothing to do with the fact that you don’t have $170 lifting shoes.
Our modern day lifestyle makes it easy for you to suffer from low testosterone, insulin insensitivity, reduced levels of growth hormone and chronically elevated levels of cortisol. This combo produces a wicked cocktail of chaos on your hormonal environment. The result? You become fat, sick and tired.
There is no other part of your physiology that has a greater impact on how you feel, look and behave than your hormones do. Everyday tasks like the ability to walk into work with vigor, crushing a deadlift workout, and rising to the occasion in high demand situations are controlled by glands—including the pituitary gland, adrenal glands, pancreas and testes—so we can respond in optimal fashion.
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It’s true, as each day passes, we grow older. And with time, there is a natural decline in our hormonal profile. However, the rate at which this happens can be significant altered. You don’t have to buy into the idea that the sad downward spiraling starts in your 30’s and gets worse with each year faster than Charlie Sheen can say “winning” after 3 bumps in club bahtroom.
Luckily, there are some time-tested strategies that help you slow down the hormonal decline. But rather than a one-size fits all piece on optimizing your hormones, think of this as a playbook for best practices to improve your strategy, instead of molding your tactics. The right solution for you will always be grounded in personal preference–an idiosyncratic combination of strategies based on your lifestyle.
Strategies are something you do daily without thinking. Going to bed at 10 P.M and getting at least seven hours of sleep. Strength training four times a week at 5 P.M Monday through Thursday. These are strategies.
Tactics is where your personal taste come into play. Taking a epsom salt bath while reading a novel before getting into bed. Listening or watching to a motivation clip while sipping your pre-workout before you train. These are tactics.
Consider this guide on restoring your hormonal environment as a strategy guide. As you adopt them, you’ll find tactics that work best for you.
Attacking Unwanted Belly Fat, Man Boobs and Muffin Top
#1 – Cortisol: The Stress Hormone
Cortisol, despite the bad rap it gets, is actually required for good health and a lean, strong physique. In fact, you want cortisol to be high when you you’re ripping a bar off the floor, blasting your biceps with some Zottman curls, or when you’re going all out doing field sprints.
We often associate cortisol with catabolism, and to be sure, that’s what it is. But not all catabolism is bad. In a positive case, it refers to the breakdown of substance for energy.
When you’re faced with positive stress in short spurts—think of pressing 85 pound dumbbells overhead or meeting a project deadline that you are confident you can crush—your brain sends a signal to the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol to release energy. This is good. And it helps you set PR’s in the weight-room and in the boardroom.
However, when positive stress turns into chronic stress, your cortisol levels remain high throughout the day. This is where you run into problems. The starting line-up for chronically high cortisol levels are lack of sleep and stress at work.
When your sleep quality sucks, your metabolic rate decreases, making it way easier for your body to store fat around your belly. Slacking on the amount of zzz’s you get each night also hinders your ability to recover from that epic squat workout you hit the previous day; thus, it makes it even more difficult to build muscle and gain strength.
Studies who that the elevated cortisol levels due to the lack of sleep also deliver some collateral damage on your satiation levels and appetite. Virend Somers, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, conducted a study that showed people who slept 80 minutes less a night on average, overate about 550 calories the following day.
When it comes stress in the workplace, it would be absurd to say, “strive to have no stress at work”, that’s impossible. Positive stress, like we mentioned earlier is required to do great work.
But statistics report that an overwhelming amount of people are chronically stressed out at work. It’s more than just a handful of people reporting this too. Over 80% of people say they are stressed out with their work.
Following a linear work routine that doesn’t have any built-in renewal time throughout the day is like continuing to make withdrawals from your ATM even when you don’t have any funds to take out.
Handling angry customers, fussy co-workers, trying to write for hours on end, trying to stay engaged with endless amounts of boring meetings: We try to push through our human capacity to do our best work, and eventually, the chronic stress takes its toll.
For engineering a better nights sleep there are a few things you can implement.
First, establish a trigger. Identify something you can do nightly that lets your brain know, “bed time is right around the corner.” It can be brushing your teeth, slipping on your LeBron James jersey, or you can have a spot of tea.
Make sure your room is dark. If you really want to level up your game, getting black-out curtains for your room is the best route. But wearing a sleeping mask that blocks all the light out will work too.
Dock all electronics (phone, tablets, laptops and TV) 30-45 minutes before bed. Radiation from electronics increase the amount of time it takes you to fall into a deep sleep.
Lastly, keep your room cool. Waking up intermittently throughout the night because your King James jersey is soaked in sweat is not only annoying, but causes an unnecessary disruption in your sleep.
Studies show that are ability to do our highest and best work is known as ultradian rhythms—ninety minute periods over a maximum of five hours per day is the ideal work flow.
However, the normal is far from ideal. Instead of taking breaks after 90 minutes, we plow through eight, nine, or ten hours of work. Then we wonder why our work suffers, our managers have to discipline us and clients aren’t happy.
This sets of a cascade of chronic stress with no relief. And then you head home filled to the brim with stress and elevated cortisol which causes you to stay up at night. It’s not the best combo.
To manage stress better at work, schedule the most complex and demanding tasks you need to complete early in the day. By doing so, you’ll leverage the fact that your cortisol levels are at the highest naturally giving you more energy.
This way, you won’t be pulling your hair out at 9 P.M. because you didn’t submit a project that was supposed to be sent at 9 A.M. Also, work in sprints if at all possible and build breaks into your day. This is the strategy, your tactic will be forged by your personal style.
But a few common examples are taking a short walk outside. Reading a novel. Listing to your favorite music. Going for a lunch time workout. Calling a friend or family member just to chat. Having lunch outside instead of spilling brown rice all over your keyboard.
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2. Insulin: The Muscle Fueling Hormone
Insulin is the hormone that keeps your cells fed: It performs a tag-team job with cortisol. Once energy is made available in the blood stream (thanks to cortisol), insulin shuttles glucose into the cells.
When your insulin levels are healthy, your cells are primed for nutrient storage. Think of it this way, after you workout you’ve used stored energy that came from your cells. Post-workout, these cells are now ready for nutrients to be delivered so the repair job can take place and energy can be stored for the next bout.
This is what happens when you’re insulin sensitive. This is good. However, modern diet behaviors and sedentary habits diminish insulin sensitivity and turn you insulin resistant.
So instead of insulin shuttling nutrients into muscle cells, it get transported and stored in your fat cells. At this point your body has a hindered ability to use insulin efficiently, so it adjusts by producing more in order to utilize the carbohydrates you eat.
But this is a problem. Since you’re producing more insulin, without giving it any way to efficiently store nutrients into muscle cells, the food you eat is more likely just getting stored as fat.
When managed properly, carbs aren’t evil. But when your daily diet consist of donuts, Doritos and pizza, you’ve got a good chance of becoming insulin resistant. Meaning, you are on your way to slapping on a spare tire around your waist and rocking the muffin top.
Since insulin resistance is heavily correlated with body-fat, I’ve listed general carb recommendations based on body-fat levels:
12% and below – You’re pretty lean in this category. You can handle carbs well and should be incorporating them into your diet. As a general prescription, if you’re 12% or below, 35-40% of calories should come from carbs.
12-20% – This is a huge range, but generally earning your carbs is a good rule of thumb if you’re in this category. Meaning, you’ll probably want to be a little strategic with carb intake. The bulk of your carb intake will probably be best utilized when insulin sensitivity it at its highest, during your workout and a few hours afterwards. As a general prescription, about 25-30% of carbs should make up your total caloric intake if you’re in this category.
25% and higher – You’re in the danger zone and might even be insulin resistant. You’ll want to base your diet around high quality protein and fats. Think grass fed meat, free range eggs (include the yolk), and wild caught salmon.
For fats, nuts and avocados are great. By having a higher protein diet, you’ll source you saturated fat from animal protein. To mix in some Omega 3’s if you’re not a fan of fish, throw in some ground flaxseed into your shakes.
As a general prescription, no more than 20% of calories should be soured from starchy carbs. And of that 20%, fibrous green veggies should be the staple (spinach, kale, bok choi, broccoli, etc).
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3. Testosterone and GH (Growth Hormone)
Both testosterone and growth hormone work tougher to build and maintain muscle.
These two powerhouse hormones are what has fueled decades of game-winning shots, historic knockouts, and championship physiques.
But over the last two decades, testosterone levels have dropped about 30%. And this is a large reason why a lot men have jelly belly’s, muffin tops and man boobs.
The lower the levels of cortisol and insulin, the better testosterone and GH perform in our bodies. But the exact opposite is what most are experiencing.
Since most are not getting enough sleep and are overly stressed at work, cortisol levels remain chronically elevated. And, since the modern day diet resembles a vending machine, a lot people are insulin resistant.
To add the matter, testosterone and GH production gradually start to decline after about age 30. But since other hormonal profiles are so out of whack, it expedites the downhill trip into castration by the time you’re 37 (not literally, of course).
Fat gain and low muscle mass is a maker of low testosterone. But more alarming, is that low testosterone is also the catalyst to man boobs. It’s not the best look for dudes.
For starters, focus on getting more quality sleep. Nearly 80% of the androgens your body produces is during deep sleep. So scroll back up and glance at those sleep tips we went over just a minute ago.
Secondly, if you’re not accumulating three-five hours of strength training per week, it’s time to start. Build your training program around big compound lifts: All variations of the squat, bench and deadlift. Throwing in some interval work or strongman type training is great too.
Eat an adequate amount of healthy fats. Saturated fat from high quality animal protein, nuts, and putting coconut oil in your coffee are all great starting options.
Lastly, if you aren’t getting 15-20 minutes of sunshine a day, supplement with some vitamin D. Being deficient in the sunshine vitamin is correlated with muscle weakness, and low testosterone. Dosing 2,000-4,000 IU’s daily is a good place to start.
The cure for jelly belly, muffin top and man boobs is managing your hormones optimally.
It’s understandable. Maybe it wasn’t your fault up until this point and I’d bet the house that you didn’t set out to be soft, fat and tired. But it’s time to saddle up. If you’re ready, willing and able for change, now is the best time.
You’ve got a handful of practical strategies to follow. Now, it’s time to practice them.
1) Bornstein, Adam, and John Romaniello. Man 2.0 Engineering the Alpha: A Real World Guide to an Unreal Life. S.l.: HarperOne, 2014. Print.
2) “Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation on Testosterone Levels in Men. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.
3) “Men’s Testosterone Levels Declined in Last 20 Years| Reuters.” Reuters UK. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.
4) “Study: Sleepy People Eat 550 Extra Calories a Day.” TIME.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.
5) “Workplace Stress on the Rise With 83% of Americans Frazzled by Something at Work Nasdaq:COCO.” GlobeNewswire News Room. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.