Keep the muscle, burn the fat (guest blogger – Mel)

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Mel, our resident clinical research nurse, is back to help you figure out how to keep the muscle while burning that pesky fat. She’s loving your feedback, so feel free to leave a comment below or email Mike. Thanks for reading!

It’s 2AM and you can’t sleep so you decide to get up and watch some TV.  Surfing to see what’s on, you stumble across some infomercials.  This one catches your sleepy eyes…  “Want to look like this?” The narrator asks.


“Or this?”

... An editor's shameless plug of "the good 'ole days"
… An editor’s shameless plug of “the good ‘ole days”

“… ‘Fat burn’, the latest technology in burning the fat and keeping the muscle, has been proven to transform fat into muscle in just 2 weeks!”

“…Order now by calling 1-800-fat-burn and you will receive an extra…”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could keep AND build muscle while we burn the fat?  

The answer is – YOU can! And it’s free!  Well, almost.  It will cost you some time, sweat, and motivation.

Speaking of motivation… Lack of motivation is one of the biggest reasons my clients note for not being physically active.  The same motivational deficit also keeps them from reaching their health goals.

A simple definition of motivation is, “The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a certain way.”  One way to increase your motivation when it comes to personal well being is to set your “health” priorities.  This will be helpful when you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”  Your answer – “I want the health benefits”.  Remember, we don’t get what we want, we get what we work for.

Health Benefits of Regular Exercise  

There are many health benefits of exercise.  If you have any of the following conditions, regular exercise will help you manage them better. If you do not have one of them, exercise will help you keep it that way.

Exercise helps lower blood pressure and decreases the risk for:

Heart attack and stroke

Breast, colon, prostate and other cancers

Developing diabetes and lowers blood sugar in people who have diabetes.

Exercise also prevents bone loss and increases bone strength while it reduces:

Pain in people with arthritis

Obesity and maintains weight loss in those who have lost weight.

symptoms of depression and anxiety

Finally, exercise improves balance, lowers the risk of falls, and improves flexibility

Think about it!  Exercise is like medicine!  And like medicine, exercise has to be taken regularly.

You know what else – regular exercise builds muscle tone and strength! While we’re thinking about building muscle, even if you’re not concerned about burning the fat (there may be a few of you), is that:

If we don’t use them (our muscles) regularly we will lose them… especially after menapause.

The average person loses about 8% of their muscle mass for each decade after age 40. This is especially true if that person doesn’t use resistance training. This is a loss of 5-7 pounds of muscle for every decade of adult life. If we think of muscle as the engine of our body it would be the equivalent of going from an 8 cylinder car to a scooter over a handful of years.

The good news is, you can build muscle no matter what your fitness level!

Here is a quick review of how our bodies use or burn calories.


Resting energy, or a person’s “metabolism,” is the amount of energy (calories) used to keep the body alive each day.  This amount is 65-85% of our total caloric intake.

That variation in resting energy a person burns depends on:

How much they weigh

How much fat AND

How much muscle the person has

Fact: Muscle uses 3 to 5 times more calories than fat tissue to stay alive.  This means that if two people weigh the same, the one with more fat burns fewer calories.

Fact:  Muscle does not weigh more than fat! 

5 lbs of muscle weighs the same as 5 lbs of fat.  What is different is the amount of space or volume each takes up in a person’s body.

I’ve had many clients say they believe they are gaining weight once they start exercising because, “Muscle weighs more than fat”.  This is a myth!

First fact to consider: Exercise burns a modest amount of calories.

For example, walking 30 minutes at a moderate pace burns about 100-150 calories.  Just yesterday, I had a client tell me she believed that she gained weight (5 pounds in one week) because she did not exercise.  Even if she missed walking every day that week, the calories used during walking would not add up to 5 pounds.

Here’s the math:  Seven days of walking at 30 minutes would burn about 700 to 1050 calories.  1 pound equals 3,500 calories. Just the super-sized French fries noted on her food log, while I appreciate her honesty, contain approximately 610 calories.   Real weight is lost in the kitchen and that loss is then supported by exercise.


Our bodies use about 5-15% of our total energy or caloric intake for digestion.  That’s right!  That’s one reason why meal skipping is not a good diet strategy.  Our digestive system slows to a near halt, only to be overworked when we over eat from being too hungry.  Eating regular high quality protein, healthy carbohydrates in the right potions, and lots of non-starchy vegetables helps burn calories related to digestion AND help build muscle! Check out this site for additional guidance.


About 10-20% of the calories we ingest are used for exercise or regular physical activity.  Weight alone does not tell us the difference between muscle and fat.  We want to keep the muscle and get rid of the fat.

After properly setting your priorities and making exercise a “health” priority, you are now ready to get started.  Aside from exercise, YOU may have added other health benefits that were not listed above.  Feel free to add those as needed.

Ready to get started?


The physical activity readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q) is a self-screening tool that can be used by ANYONE who is planning to start an exercise program.  This assessment gives you guidance on any follow–up activity recommended before getting more physically active.  Even if you have been active, completing this once per year is a good idea to decrease your risk of a serious problem while exercising.   Once you complete the assessment, if you have any concerns, consult your health care provider.


Self-reflection – are you ready to get exercising or do you make excuses to avoid getting more physically active?

The following questions will help you decide what is working and what is not. This is true if you have set a plan, regardless of your success level.  Answering these questions honestly will help you become aware of your roadblocks or barriers.  If you are not aware of the problem, you can’t take responsible action to work on it.

Here are the questions:

“What was your plan?”  Remember SMART goals

How close would you say you stuck to your plan?

How many days did you exercise last week?

How many minutes did you spend exercising?

What were the reasons you did not exercise?

How confident are you that you can keep your goal?


Use self-monitoring techniques

This will help you start out low and slow to avoid overworking and potentially hurting yourself Overwork is especially concerning if you are just getting started with or if you are coming off a break from exercise.

Two self-monitoring techniques are:

  1. Exercising at a “conversational” pace.  That is, you can carry on a conversation while you are exercising.
  2. Using a perceived exertion scale. This scale is used to rate how easy or difficult you find an activity.  For example, “0” would be how you feel when sitting in a chair, with zero or very little exertion at all, and “10” would be the hardest you could push yourself.  This scale is widely recognized as a reliable tool to gauge how hard you should be working during your workout.

In general, to get “health benefits,” a rating of between 3 and 5 is your target.  A word of caution – I have had clients that will rate their breathing a “3” and their legs a “7”.  The rating should be an overall rating.  There are other types of training to keep in mind, for example high intensity interval training (HIIT) that uses the scale differently. For most of us though, the 3-5 range outlined above is both safe and successful in producing “health” benefits.

Next let’s review what to include in a comprehensive program:

Aerobic activities are activities that increase heart rate and heart “fitness”

Examples of moderate activities include: brisk walking, biking and swimming

A recommended goal is to work toward 30-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity most days of the week.

This can be done in increments of 10 minutes.  Do the math 10+10+10 =30.  Taking this approach may help you get your exercise in.  Get up from your desk and take the long way to the restroom or to a meeting with a coworker or park further from the store.  Don’t be one of those people who keep circling to find the closest spot to park your car (you know who you are).

Fact: Even if you are overweight, your heart “loves” aerobic activity.  Studies have shown that overweight people still get the benefits of regular aerobic activity.  There are two nervous systems that feed our heart.  Exercise “turns up” the nervous system that helps our heart beat at a slower and steadier pace and “dials down” the one that makes our heart “race”.  It makes your heart “happy”.  🙂

Strength or resistance training activities build muscle and bone.

You can be very creative in how you plan your strength training program.  For example you can use your body:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.37.55 PM




Weight Machines


Elastic bands




Tips for strength training

Form matters when completing strength training exercises.

To increase your skill level:

  • Ask for a demonstration at a recreation center.
  • Use a personal trainer until you feel comfortable.
  • Ask your doctor for a physical therapy consult if you have a current or past injury that is “nagging” you.
  • Include the major muscle groups: chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and abdominal muscles.
  • Start with 1 set of 8-10 repetitions 2 days / week of each of the above exercise and work up to 2-3 sets 3 days/ week.

Flexibility exercises/activities:

Keeping or improving our ability to move a joint as fully as possible is beneficial to physical health. This also  prevents injury and improves balance.

To stretch a joint, hold a position just past comfortable, but not yet painful for 10-30 seconds.  Examples of flexibility exercises are stretching and yoga.

A recommended goal to work toward: stretching several large joints 2-4 times each on 2-3 days per week.

Your road to success: 

The physical activities/exercise you choose should be enjoyable, or at least something you do not mind doing.  If you really do not like using the treadmill, the good news is, you never have to.  If you like the elliptical “go for it”.  Too many times people think they should be doing something (the treadmill which they don’t like) when they would greatly benefit from doing something they really enjoy.  This means you need to be open about trying things you have not tried before.  Your health journey involves learning more about yourself.

Flexible – the activity is able to be changed /exchanged.

Practical-the activity works around life, kids and work

Convenient- able to be easily started

Safe- not potentially harmful

Sustainable- not weather dependent

Affordable-cheap or free

Adjustable-easily increased or decreased

Socially rewarding – your need for either time with yourself or “buddies”


If you are driving an 8 cylinder and want to avoid down grading to a scooter, keep your exercise program going!  If you are thinking you may be shopping for a scooter sometime in your future and want to avoid that area of the car dealership,  use the self-reflection questions to get honest about what is keeping you from being or getting more physically active.  Complete the PAR-Q   to help ensure you are “ready!”


Set your health priorities.  This will help you stay motivated throughout your health journey, whether it is exercising, being more physically active or healthier eating.  Some people find logging their journey with an app or paper and pencil helps them see the steady progress they are making.  YOU can make a difference in keeping the muscle while burning the fat. You do this by becoming more physically active and engaging in aerobic, strength training and flexibility activities.


If this article has inspired you, GREAT! One word of caution though –  if you are just getting started or are starting back after having “taken a break”, take it slow and low.  Going out too hard and fast will only de motivate you, especially if you strain or sprain a muscle.   This is something I see when people are starting a fitness program.  The excitement of this new life you are creating for yourself has you “over” motivated in a sense.  Work toward including aerobic, strength training and flexibility into your program.  Even better – find FUN activities you enjoy!

YOU can enjoy a healthier lifestyle by taking action now to keep the muscle and burn the fat! Congratulations in advance! 

Thanks for reading!


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Do you have a question or comment? Let us know by commenting on the post below or emailing Mike. We’re glad you’re here. Thanks again and talk soon!


– Mike
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