As a personal trainer who works with prenatal and postnatal Mums most days of the week, I am quite often asked, “How do I lose my baby weight”? Or, “can we do more cardio so we can burn more fat for the Christening I have in 3 months”? Or, “oh god look at my fat belly”! “Stop that! You’re pregnant, not fat”!
There is never a simple yes or no answer to this I’m sorry to say. It’s more the question of, would you like to take the red pill or the blue pill?
By the way, if you’ve never watched the movie ‘Matrix’ then you can just ignore that little expression about the pills! They aren’t a secret fat loss supplement claiming amazing results for f all time and effort (disclaimer – there is no such thing).
To cut straight to it the fact is you need to increase your muscle mass but most importantly the amount of mitochondrial cells you have in the muscle cells of your body!
WTF did this guy just say… This is what I imagine you’d thinking right now…
Mitochondria are specific types of organelles (a type of cell) which perform some very important and specific tasks within your body, inside your muscle cells. Their main task is to convert protein, carbs and fats (food) into usable energy for you to use on a daily basis.
Think of them as your little ‘energy burning and producing factories’ in your muscles which help convert the food we eat into energy you need to do your daily tasks and more, the more mitochondria we have the more efficient we are at using food as fuel, instead of potentially storing it away as fat.
Stay with me.
Another way to think of it is, the more mitochondria in our muscle cells we have, the faster your metabolic rate will be, meaning you will burn energy (fats, carbs, protein) at a faster rate while resting. So, if you can increase your metabolic rate then you can burn fat faster for longer and more consistently over time, leading to the desired result.
Ok Mumma, let me explain how you can create a roaring metabolic rate and be healthy, energetic, lean and feel fantastic after having a baby, or better yet during your pregnancy!
A key to increasing your resting metabolic rate for anyone, not just Mums, is that you must do resistance training at least twice per week, that’s a bare arse minimum (BAM!) to stimulate mitochondrial growth. Ideally 3-4 times for optimal results.
I’m not talking about yoga or pilates here, although they’re both excellent forms of exercise and have their place in your exercise journey, I’m talking about weight bearing vigorous resistance training so your muscles get ‘the burn’ sensation and you get a little muscle soreness the next day or two maybe.
It’s important that when you do perform resistance training that you aim to reach a point of muscle failure at the end of the second or third set of each exercise you choose to do, this triggers a chemical response in the muscle to encourage the regeneration of new muscle tissue and can stimulate the production or efficiency of your mitochondria cells.
Does this make sense? If you’re still not fully understanding why you can’t just do cardio exercise. Let me explain a little more….
When you’re trying to lose body fat, you do need to create an energy deficit by eating a diet which would provide you less energy than you are burning, right? Which I must add is NOT a good idea if you’re breast feeding, as it probably will affect your milk supply. That’s a conversation for another article.
The problem with only performing cardio (non resistance) exercise and being on a calorie restricted diet is that your body uses quite a lot of muscle as fuel for energy, basically we breakdown too much muscle tissue when dieting… By resistance training it offsets this muscle tissue breakdown and helps maintain the tissue, meaning your body would retain precious muscle tissue and mitochondria cells (energy burning factories) to keep your metabolic rate working well.
And just to assure you, the majority of women who choose weight training in addition to cardio will not get big and bulky if you’re eating a healthy diet, it just doesn’t happen unless you’re eating too much food.
Let me ask you this:
Have you ever lost a stack of weight in a reasonably quick time, but then put it back on again and a little bit extra?
The most common reason for this is most people lose their weight through muscle tissue instead of fat tissue, actually it’s common for people to lose MORE weight from muscle than fat, for three main reasons: 1. They don’t do enough resistance training, 2. They aren’t getting enough essential nutrients through food 3. They stay in a calorie restricted state for too long leading to muscle breakdown.
And remember that the scales don’t tell you if you’re losing fat or muscle, you simply have no idea what’s going on when your weight loss and metabolic rate come to a screaming halt, for you to then just put the weight back on again. It’s super frustrating if you don’t understand these laws.
Is this making sense?
When you lose your muscle, your entire resting metabolic rate drops, because it’s our muscle tissue and mitochondrial cells which largely make up our resting metabolic rate. That means you lose your little energy burning factorie cells you had and with that your ability to effectively convert food into useable energy, leading to the conversion of food into fat. It’s a sad fact I so commonly come across but this is a scientific fact which most people have no idea of.
So the moral of this story is that you must must must perform resistance training for healthy long term weight loss, alongside cardio exercise and with a balanced healthy diet of proteins, fats and carbohydrates if you want long term fat loss or a positive change in your body shape.
Let’s sum it up with some key points which you need to remember:
- No matter what exercise you do, if it’s for fat loss or extra tone or more energy or a good healthy immune system or to be stronger – you must do resistance training at least twice per week alongside your other forms of exercise
- The whole purpose of performing resistance training is to stimulate the muscles enough so they respond by regenerating new tissue, to do this you need to work hard, get that burning sensation in your muscle by the end of the second or third set. This is a mentality which may take some time to develop so work at it Mumma
- To burn fat and get leaner we need to increase our resting metabolic rate (RMR). Our RMR is largely driven by the amount of muscle tissue you have, so take care of your precious muscle tissue by feeding your body enough nutrients it needs
- Every 6 months or so your body will breakdown and regenerate your entire blood volume and muscle structure! Meaning your body is constantly regenerating itself, this is apart of ‘ageing’, by resistance training and consistently replacing essential nutrients you will age gracefully and stay youthful for longer because you will maintain valuable muscle tissue
I hope this gives you some perspective on what forms of exercise are most important for you, feel free to email or make any comments if you have specific questions. Thanks for reading, now go work out!
References used for this article:
- Precision Nutrition, The Essentials of Sports and Exercise Nutrition, 2nd Edition,