Friday, November 18, 2011

New Leaf: Teaching Your Body to Burn More Fat

Starting in 2007, I made a series of changes in my workout routine, adding stability ball exercises, then interval training, plyometrics, and more core work.  At first, I lost a few pounds but after that, things leveled off and there was no further progress.  At 153 pounds I still wanted to get my weight down a bit more and lose body fat rather than hard-earned muscle.  Greg Simmons, my trainer here in Bloomington, suggested the New Leaf program.

Produced by St. Paul-based Angeion Corporation, New Leaf uses proprietary hardware and software to assess the individual’s metabolism and design a customized diet and exercise program to improve its efficiency.  This assessment is based on a measurement of how the individual’s body uses oxygen to burn fuel.   In practical terms, a mask was placed over my nose and mouth with a tube connecting it to a computer.  I then walked on a treadmill (in later tests on a cross trainer) at increasing speeds and inclines.  The computer then produced the following graph.

The horizontal axis shows my heart rate in beats per minute; the vertical numbers denote the percentage of fat calories being burned; and the wavy line shows my actual course.  On 3/16/2010 my aerobic base, the maximum heart rate at which I burned fat as the primary fuel, was 111 bpm; my anaerobic threshold, the fastest I could go, was 139.  A major objective of the program is to build your aerobic base, increasing the range of exercise intensities at which the body will burn mostly fat.  Co-trainer Susan Simmons produced an exercise program based on the assessment results plus what I was already doing.  I did not use the diet component of New Leaf because my own diet was already healthy.  I did cut out a protein shake on days when I wasn’t exercising.

At the time of my most recent re-assessment, 1/17/2017, my aerobic base was up to 132, my anaerobic threshold 146.    During the year or so I followed the program I lost eight pounds and about 5% of my body fat.  Clearly, the program works. 

Now the bad news.  “Building your aerobic base” can be a boring, time-consuming process.  Initially, it involved long workouts at slower speeds than I was used to doing. On the other hand, after following the workouts consistently, I really did gain stamina so I can now exercise at a higher intensity than before I started New Leaf.   Part of the problem is with the program protocols, which can set you up with an aerobic base that looks lower than it actually is so that you start off with workouts that are too slow.  I found that the short, easy-going warm-up recommended by the program was not enough to show what my heart could really do.  I learned to warm up longer and at a faster pace. 

All in all, a useful tool to add to the inventory of diet and exercise resources.

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