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Low Body Fat - The Tipping Point
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Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Hard to keep warm even with plenty of BF on 07/12/2011 16:44:07 MDT Print View

"Maybe I'm not putting out enough heat for the parka to conserve."

That is a sure sign that you need to eat. Initially take in some carbs, followed by a good high calorie meal within 2 hours of ceasing exercise. This is good policy regardless of whether or not you are feeling fatigued. It will hasten your recovery and leave you in better shape to continue the next day, assuming you are on a multi day hike.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Low Body Fat on 07/12/2011 18:32:22 MDT Print View

Mike I think addresses the most important about how our bodies were meant to ne used on a day to day basis. And it's easy to see even today. Just observe wild mammals. You will never see most of them (at least not the larger ones) running around incessantly, pushing their bodies to overly elevated heart rates, lifting unreasonable amounts of weights, or pushing themselves for overly long periods. That the human body can do this (and no doubt most animals, too) shows the great recency and redundancy built into our systems so that we can survive times of hardship or danger. But I font think this was meant to be sustained for any length if time.

I've read a lot of books on exercise methods and ways of eating, mostly to come to grips with having diabetes and needing to live with it my whole life and get control of it. Most books tended to be more for the writer's self promotion and ego than to really do something about the epidemic of bad health. Occasionally I came across some gems that really made a difference, and one of them is "The Primal Print" that I mentioned earlier. Mark Sisson maintains, after having been an Olympic level long distance runner, that trying to keep up such a tamped up level of activity is very damaging to the body. It is not natural for us to do that. And I agree.

His main point in talking about eating has to do with insulin. It is the key to understanding weight gain, NOT "calories in, calories out" as the popular wisdom unthinkingly dictates. If it were, then everything you pit into your mouth would affect you equally. But it doesn't. Different foods affect you in different ways. The thing you have then ask yourself is "How?" Why does a food that is primarily fat affect you differently from something that is primarily carbohydrates? In terms of weight gain it boils down primarily to the production of insulin in your body. Insulin works with carbohydrates, little else. In the absence of carbohydrates insulin is not produced. Insulin us the hormone that takes the glycogen produced from the carbohydrates and, when there is excess glycogen, turns that into fat for storage and later energy needs. Just the fact that we HAVE the ability to store body fat INDUCATES that fat is the preferred energy source for our bodies. Glycogen is an >extra< fuel.

Now, people like Sisson's main gripe with grains and sugar is not so much people's tolerance to them, but to the far in excess production of insulin they produce due to the grossly high amounts we consume of them. Our bodies cannot maintain such high amounts of insulin without breaking down. We were never meant to useore than trace amounts of insulin day-to-day. All animals produce insulin. It is what helps animals gain the fat they need for energy during the winter. And the reason Americans have such high levels of obesity is from over production of insulin. Obesity is defined by "hyperinsulinism".

That is why carbohydrates are better to be lowered and grains and sugars eaten in moderation.

Edit: sorry about the bad spelling... iPhone!

Edited by butuki on 07/12/2011 18:39:01 MDT.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Re: Low Body Fat on 07/12/2011 20:00:56 MDT Print View

@Miguel -- Thanks for bringing up the insulin production issue. It's really one of the key points to paleo-type diets, and tends to get overlooked.

And yes, a big part of the obesity problem is that sugar is no longer seen as a luxury to be enjoyed occasionally, but is a major source of daily calories...

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Hard to keep warm even with plenty of BF on 07/13/2011 11:01:12 MDT Print View

There are variations in body shape around the world, too. Some people are long and linear and others are more compact and wide. I think this correlates to the temperature of the environment in which the population has lived, with longer more linear shapes having more surface area to mass. I suppose if you diet/exercise your way into a more linear shape, you'll also have more surface area to mass and thus dispell more heat.

As for the whole diet thing, sometimes I wonder if it's partially when one major thing is removed from the diet it causes weight loss. You have your vegans who don't eat much protein, your paleos who don't eat much carbs, your doctor-prescribed low-fat diets...Is it forcing a lack of one major nutrient that causes weight loss? Or do all these diets have in common, even if it's just incidental, that they force the eater to consume less sugar and refined/processed foods?

Rakesh Malik

Locale: Cascadia
Re: Not just insulation on 07/13/2011 13:42:06 MDT Print View

"Makes sense that very low fat reserves could make your body think it's in danger of starvation, so it will protect itself by ramping down your metabolic rate."

It doesn't really work like that. Body fat stores are a response to starvation + gorging. Eating smaller meals more frequently leads your body to adapt by storing less fat.

"Instead of increasing your body-fat %, would increasingyour lean muscle mass help insulate ? "

It doesn't offer much insulation, so adding muscle wouldn't make much of a difference to warmth.

"I've had a similar problem and in my case I've attributed it to having a low resting pulse. Do you have a particularly low resting pulse?"

A low resting heart rate is just a sign of an efficient and healthy circulatory system combined with a strong heart. What it really means is that during exertion, you can crank your metabolism higher than most people can.

"Since our ancestors didn't eat a lot of carbs, that couldn't have been what kept up their body temperature. Since they couldn't have moved about constantly all the time, how did they stay warm when resting?"

1) Wear the same thing their prey did
2) Stay active
3) Build more body fat stores than we do (read the first answer above)
4) Share warmth

Miguel, you raised a lot good points. You also reminded me about the mountain guides on the Kilimanjaro trip; our guide in particular ate a meal that consisted mostly of a grain-based dish that looked remarkably like mashed potatoes (obviously, it wasn't potatoes, since it was made from grains, IIRC corn or something similar) after dinner before our summit day. He also said that he wasn't going to eat anything else until the following evening.

Good Luck isn't a big guy. Quite lean, not unusually muscular. I suspect that part of the reason that he is able to do that trip with the apparent ease with which he does it is that he is very efficient -- he doesn't waste any effort. He was carrying quite a bit of stuff, also -- probably more than I was, even with my 35-pound pack. (Mostly due to photo gear.)

BTW, to clarify -- glycogen is an anaerobic source of energy. It's used for fast-twitch movement rather than for endurance; due to being anaerobic, burning it produces lactic acid. We need oxygen to get rid of lactic acid. Fat on the other hand burns aerobically, and the body uses it to make ATP which consumes oxygen and emits carbon dioxide and water.

Most mammals use fat to provide both insulation and energy storage. It's what enables whales to consume vast amounts of krill, and then swim north to give birth, and not eat again for six months. It's what enables bears to sleep through the winters, and what keeps critters like walruses warm in the cold Arctic waters, penguins to go for months at a time without food.

"Is it forcing a lack of one major nutrient that causes weight loss? Or do all these diets have in common, even if it's just incidental, that they force the eater to consume less sugar and refined/processed foods?"

Part of it is that when we eat overly processed foods, we basically trip up our metabolism; we're evolved to eat complex foods, not raw sugars and junk like high fructose corn syrup. Our bodies metabolize that stuff into fat because it metabolizes so easily.

The weight loss from *most* diets is due to starvation -- most diets lead to thin, flabby people. Not fit people. And certainly not healthy people...

Diets that combine exercise with proper nutrition achieve weight loss by balancing caloric intake with activity levels, as well as balancing where those calories are coming from, so that the body can use that energy like it's evolved to use it.

This has been an interesting discussion so far. :)

fat on 07/14/2011 20:52:09 MDT Print View

Over the last 6 months I have taken my bodyfat from ~20% down to about 5.4% (measured with calipers). I used to be comfortable in the house at 70F, now I am cold. I ran the heater in my office at work today, and it was 100F outside. I sleep with an electric blanket in the middle of summer.

Yes, I agree that you get much colder with low bodyfat percentage.

However, I think that carrying an extra pound or two of gear/clothing weight in exchange for 25 lbs less of bodyfat is an winning trade.

I hadnt intended to go this low with my bodyfat when I started, and am still slowly going lower. Just got started to get in better shape for in-bounds hiking with skis at 12000 ft for ski trip, and didnt stop.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: fat on 07/15/2011 06:22:56 MDT Print View


Good to know I'm not alone. However, I wouldn't take too much stock in what calipers tell you given their relatively high percentage of error.

Keep in mind that really getting below 6% (for men) is unhealthy (you're getting in to essential fat required for the body to function properly) and not maintainable. Body builders do it for competition, but under the supervision of physicians in controlled situations and only for a few minutes.

To offset 25 lbs of body fat, I'm fairly certain you'd need a lot more than just 2 lbs of extra clothing. I'd guess more like 10. You'd likely be much more comfortable and efficient with the 25 lbs of fat spread across the body than the 10 extra on your back (I would anyway).

The real problem with very low body fat, though, isn't so much being colder, it's having no reserves to allow for longer trips.

An interesting thing I've noticed (I believe due to training) is that I can wake up in the morning (6-8 hours post rest and 10+ post meal), not eat, and go run 5-10 miles @ 85-90% max hr with no degradation in performance versus having eaten several hundred calories an hour before. During intense activity, I actually have to force myself to eat and prevent an eventual crash. On my recent 30+ mile day trip with Javan, I only consumed 1000-1200 calories while walking and nothing considerable prior to starting. I can do this for a day, maybe 2 but more than that would be dangerous with my lack of reserves.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: fat on 07/15/2011 10:09:09 MDT Print View

"An interesting thing I've noticed (I believe due to training) is that I can wake up in the morning (6-8 hours post rest and 10+ post meal), not eat, and go run 5-10 miles @ 85-90% max hr with no degradation in performance versus having eaten several hundred calories an hour before. During intense activity, I actually have to force myself to eat and prevent an eventual crash."

It takes time for you body to metabolize. Elite distance runners load up on carbs the night before a race, not a few hours prior.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Re: Re: fat on 07/15/2011 10:25:17 MDT Print View

I don't load up on anything prior. I did the pre-race carb thing when I ran competitively because that's what you were told to do. I run much longer distances now without doing that and see zero difference. Anything I eat for dinner is long gone before I wake up in the morning, as is evidenced by my feelings of starvation.

What I have found, and I'm not alone, is that our bodies can be trained to burn fat (instead of carbs) while still operating at a very high output.

Edited by simplespirit on 07/15/2011 10:34:06 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: fat on 07/15/2011 11:46:34 MDT Print View

What Nick is talking about is carbohydrate loading and it's all about muscle glycogen stores, not food in your stomach which we all know is gone the next morning.

Re: Re: fat on 07/15/2011 16:48:21 MDT Print View

On the contrary, I think calipers are a good way to measure bf. Only better is weighing in water (rare and expensive) and full body MRI (expensive). There is really nothing else. Simple electronic methods are very innacurate.

Accuracy with calipers is however related to the skill of the person and the # of points, and the correlation used.

To my knowledge, essential bf for men is about 2-4%. Clarence Bass is the expert on achieving low body fat, pretty much has been for 30 years.

I agree with you, if you dont want to carry enough food, you need to have some fat reserves. But a 160 lb person at 6% body fat still has several lbs to spare. A bigger problem is that you will lose muscle too anytime you starve yourself. And the lower the bodyfat % goes, the higher the ratio of muscle /fat lost will generally be.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Re: Re: fat on 07/15/2011 17:22:03 MDT Print View

My bf was tested via hydrostatic weighing. Calipers at best have a 3% error. You can't measure body fat with an MRI. You must mean DEXA which is a bone density scan. My min 5% comes from the medical community.

measurement on 07/15/2011 21:07:16 MDT Print View

I think if you research it a bit, you might find that not only can you measure bodyfat with a full body MRI, but it is regarded as the most precise way. It can precisely determine the volume of fat stores under the skin, as well as visceral, intramuscular, etc. More of a leading edge research thing really currently, cost and access makes it impracticle for 99.9% of people. Since a normal MRI looking for soft tissue damage only is billed at about $1500, I wouldnt want to know what something complicated like body composition analysis would run.

Hydrostatic weighing is also not without its own difficulties and imprecision, generally related to the lung capacity and ability of the subject to expel air in lungs.

re:measurement on 07/15/2011 21:24:22 MDT Print View

Ill add that I have a biomedical research facility affiliated with a major university near me that does full body MRI composition analysis for all their studies. They frequently solicit volunteers for diet/nutrition studies. They actually pay but you have to eat all your meals there for the duration of the study.

I know several persons that have participated in these studies. One may have had his life saved because the initial scan showed a malignant tumor in one of his kidneys, which was promptly removed the next day.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: re:measurement on 07/16/2011 06:44:11 MDT Print View

Looks like you're correct about the MRI thing, but I don't see it being used as a body comp tool any time soon.

Every method has some percentage of error since they're all just estimations.

Hydrostatic weighing - 1-1.5% and $30-50/test.
High quality Calipers - 3+% and $200-400/set
Air displacement - 3+% and $40/test.
BIA - 5+% and no idea on cost of a commercial machine
DEXA - 1% and $50+/test

Now that we have that out of the way, we should get back on topic.

Edited by simplespirit on 07/16/2011 06:44:54 MDT.

another downside on 07/16/2011 08:55:55 MDT Print View

besides being colder natured, another downside to low bodyfat is comfort. Your butt is bony and it hurts to sit on hard non-padded items. Your hips and spine are bony as well. One might end up needing a heavier, more comfortable pad than when you carry your own built-in padding.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: another downside on 07/16/2011 14:45:29 MDT Print View

Personally, I don' have a bony butt. Low body fat doesn't necessarily mean bony.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Low Body Fat - The Tipping Point" on 07/16/2011 15:17:26 MDT Print View


Care to share a typical week's diet? I say diet in the traditional sense of food consumed, not the overused term to describe fad diets, unhealthy food practices, starvation, fasting, etc. I'm aware your food intake is a direct response to a lifestyle change, not a season or trend.

I'm interested in what you intake in the week to support your level of activity. Is it affordable, simple?

Rakesh Malik

Locale: Cascadia
Re: Re: another downside on 07/16/2011 23:55:18 MDT Print View

"Personally, I don' have a bony butt. Low body fat doesn't necessarily mean bony."

I think it's pretty unlikely that people who do a lot of trekking, bicycling, running, and that sort of thing will have bony butts. I don't have a lot of fat on me, but I don't have a bony butt :)

Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
Nothing bony here on 07/19/2011 18:07:33 MDT Print View

I've certainly managed to build some butt padding, but I've really never been about 8% bodyfat or so. I also have some experience with being cold, as well as some experience, recently, with NOT being cold.

I think there are some things that may be overlooked in this discussion so far. Notably, the "brown fat" cells that are, if I recall correctly, similar in form to muscle cells, but exist subcutaneously and primarily exist to burn fat to generate warmth. We're born with a lot of them, but they dwindle significantly by adulthood. Whether that's a natural occurence or a result of our modern, centrally-heated environments has yet to be studied. Whether we can increase their number in adulthood is also not known to me.

However, it makes me think about the Seneca culture that existed in my region before they were all rounded up etc. It's recorded that many Seneca men would remain rather lightly clad, in the outdoors, throughout the year. The child-rearing practices of the Seneca are also interesting, particularly the fact that mothers would bathe their children (from infancy) in icy cold water on a daily basis to inure them to the cold. Similar cases of cultures producing highly cold-resistant people aren't too hard to find.

So my question, as a very-lean person who was raised in abundant warmth and tolerated the cold better than my peers (probably from walking everywhere year-round) but nowhere near as well as many other humans, was "can I increase my cold tolerance through some sort of conditioning?"

The answer has definitely been yes. Last winter I started doing any short walks near the house in the snow barefoot (never long enough to go totally numb) and twice a day (immediately upon waking or before sleeping), standing out on the back porch in just boxers and slippers for 10 minutes, no matter how cold (and we do get -10 windchills). Add cold showers on top of that (which saw my eczema dissapear, funny enough) and intentionally under-insulating myself for walks of known duration, and before I knew it my cold tolerance was vastly improved. The first post-thaw plunge into the lake this spring, usually a trial, was just pleasant. I felt a lot more "free" all winter without having to be as dependent on external sources of heat.

My appetite did see an increase during this period. I was following a roughly-paleo diet with intermittent fasting that was often in the very-low-carb range. I found that I was consistently warmest fasting most of the day and limiting my eating to a 3000+ calorie high-fat-and-protein meal in the evening before bed. Keeping the insulin downregulated seems to have been key, because if I ate anything carby I found myself eating a LOT more to keep just as warm. Most of my exercise was the long-term low-intensity or very quick high-intensity sort, so carbs weren't really necessary. As it warmed up and I started running and cycling more, increasing carb intake has seemed to be best. There's no rule that says we should eat the same way all year long, after all.

Any given person has tens of thousands of extra fat calories in storage. Even if they're not enough to insulate you (like mine) conditioning the body to burn them freely to generate heat and eating in a way that doesn't inhibit that process (as in keeping insulin low) seems to be a very doable thing.