Tom Venuto's

Stubborn Fat And How To Get Rid Of It Pt.2

Tom Venuto

“A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”… Is this old cliche actually true? In part 2 of the Stubborn Fat interview with Lyle McDonald, you’ll learn how and why women store lower body fat more easily than men, plus you’ll discover the truth about insulin in fat gain, the cardio prescription for Stubborn Fat, what supplement might actually do something for hard to lose body fat, and the latest in cutting edge fat loss research… continued from part 1

Tom Venuto: Two women finish eating dinner and the waiter brings out a cheesecake. Woman A says to Woman B, “If you eat that it will go straight to your thighs.” Is the science now saying there’s some truth to that warning?

Lyle McDonald: Amusingly, yes. While blood flow under resting and exercise conditions to the lower body is fairly sluggish, this turns out to be reversed when people eat. Especially when they over eat. In that situation, blood flow (and nutrient storage) to the lower body increases. When your mom used to say that ‘When I eat cake, it goes straight to my hips’? Well it turns out she was right.

Tom Venuto: On a related note, we have a few gurus saying that long duration, steady state aerobics or cardio such as cycling will only make your legs fatter. Is there any truth to this at all and is it in any way related to what you’ve been talking about?

Lyle McDonald: Well, sort of. As I mentioned above, I don’t want people to read this as saying that steady state cardio will make people fatter (e.g. increase body fat percentage) in a deficit; that’s clearly not happening. As well, steady state cardio can be more than sufficient for women under the right conditions. Recall the discussion of adrenoceptors above? Well, the problem receptors, the alpha-2 receptors can be inhibited with certain dietary approaches (especially carbohydrate restriction) along with specific supplements.

So it’s more accurate to say that low-intensity steady state cardio when combined with a high-carbohydrate fat loss diet can cause problems here. Even lowering carbs to sufficient levels would prevent this problem.

Tom Venuto: Lyle, I know you’ve heard many times people suggest that “insulin makes you fat” where they’re implying that insulin is THE thing that causes obesity. On one hand, I’ve heard you dismantle that argument, but on the other hand you make it quite clear that insulin control does play a major role in the stubborn fat picture and you also recommend a certain type of low carb diet. A lot of people are still confused about this, so could you reconcile the difference between saying, “insulin makes you fat” and “controlling insulin helps with stubborn fat loss”?

Lyle McDonald: Insulin is a general storage hormone, storing carbohydrates in muscle and liver, protein in various places and; of course, it impacts on fat cell metabolism and fat storage.

I’d note that studies clearly show that the ingestion of dietary fat by itself (which doesn’t raise insulin) has similar effects on fat cell metabolism. So the idea that ONLY insulin is involved here is an idea that’s about 30 years old. Insulin certainly plays a role but it’s not all that’s involved.

Clearly bodybuilders can and have gotten contest lean with carbohydrates in their diet. And carbs raise insulin; so does protein for that matter and I’d like to note that adding protein to carbohydrates actually increases the insulin response. Yet diets high in protein and containing carbohydrates help people get lean; clearly the insulin response isn’t that big of a deal, at least not on a caloric deficit.

At the same time, insulin does inhibit lipolysis (fat breakdown) and it takes only miniscule amounts of insulin to inihibit fat breakdown. Even under fasted conditions, insulin inhibits lipolysis 50% from the maximal rate (which would be seen if insulin were absent). Eating carbs or protein raises insulin shutting down lipolysis pretty well; again I’d note that eating dietary fat alone has a similar effect although it’s not mediated via insulin.

More to the point of this specific interview and my stubborn fat book is the fact that different areas of fat are relatively more or less sensitive to the anti-lipolytic effects of insulin. So visceral fat (the fat that surrounds the gut) is quite insensitive to insulin’s effects, it will continue to be mobilized even if insulin is high. Men’s abdominal fat is more sensitive to insulin’s effects. And, of course, lower body fat is the most sensitive to insulin’s effects, even small amounts will turn off fat mobilization almost completely.

So from the standpoint of dealing with stubborn fat, insulin control can become important. Clearly one way of doing this is to do aerobic activity fasted (I believe we argued about this years ago); given that contest bodybuilders are usually down to the last bit of fat, this may very well be where the practice of fasted cardio came from in the first place, by doing it in a low insulin condition, better results were obtained for stubborn fat loss.

I’d also note that within 5-10 minutes of beginning exercise, insulin levels go down rapidly, allowing lipolysis to increase again. So even a short warmup can lower insulin (and raise fat mobilizing hormones) to help increase lipolysis.

Tom Venuto: What if I’ve experimented with all levels of carbs and I know that I don’t do well on super low carbs — I lose energy, lose muscle, lose pump and lose my mind. For a bodybuilder doing intense training, would your protocol still work with a slightly higher carb intake, say 25-30% of total calories or .8 to 1.0 g per lb of LBM?

Lyle McDonald: Since readers may be a bit lost at this point, what Tom is asking about is a study I mention in the book where reducing carbohydrates to a very low level had a natural impact on the problematic alpha-2 adrenoceptors. Unfortunately, no other work has been done to establish what low level of carbohydrates is actually needed to have this impact (the study used 20% for unexplained reasons).

And, to Tom’s specific question, the fact is that many athletes don’t perform well on very low-carbohydrate diets. Can’t train effectively, get brain fuzzed, etc. I’d note that only one of the protocols in the book actually requires a very low-carbohydrate diet, the other three can be done without having to restrict carbs to that excessive of a level.

Another option, of course, would be some type of cylical diet whereby carbs are restricted for several days (during which the stubborn fat protocols can be used) and then carbs are loaded in to refill muscle glycogen to support training.

Tom Venuto: Yeah, I’m a huge fan of cyclical low carb dieting for bodybuilding or any serious fat loss program. Can you give us the general concept of your cardio prescription for stubborn fat loss?

Lyle McDonald: As always, it depends. I actually developed four different protocols of training, diet and supplementation for the book, to take into account differences in preferences (diet, supplements), etc. Two of the protocols are based around old fashioned steady state cardio, one uses diet to block alpha-receptors and the other uses the supplement yohimbine. For many people, these are more than sufficient (the first female bodybuilder I prepped did nothing more esoteric than oral yohimbe with a low-carb diet and morning cardio).

The other two protocols are based around interval training, using specific sequencing and timing of both intervals and steady state cardio to overcome the normal resistance to mobilization that occurs with stubborn body fat. I talk a lot about how (or even if) these protocols can be integrated into training.

So, for example, say you had a bodybuilder who was already training their legs several times heavy per week. It would be a huge mistake to try to add high intensity interval training to that workload and they would be better off with the lower intensity protocols.

In contrast, if someone couldn’t stand low-carb diets or couldn’t tolerate oral yohimbe (it can cause weird side effects in some people) AND they are willing to curtail their heavy leg training, the interval based protocols would be more appropriate and useful.

I know I’m not really answering the question here; rather I’m trying to point out that I did my best to cover as many eventualities as possible, just taking into account the vast differences in diet, training, etc. that go on with people dieting down to extreme leanness.

Tom Venuto: Just to clarify, should NO other cardio be done beyond the frequency you outline?

Lyle McDonald: As above, it depends. The higher intensity protocols (the ones involving intervals) can’t be used too often per week, the dieter will over-train. And this is made worse if the person refuses to cut back their other training.

Tangentially, one thing I’ve always found odd is this tendency for dieters to try to increase frequency and volume of their training when they are dieting; the one time that they don’t have the calories to support it. Of course, this came out of the early days of bodybuilding when the pros started using steroids, they could do more training to lose fat faster without running into problems. But naturals get destroyed trying to do this.

What I’m seeing as a current trend is more and more and more intensity of training with harder and harder caloric restriction. People want to train full body three times per week and do intervals on off-days (or every day; yes, I’ve seen it) while cutting calories hard. And they blow up.

Knowing that people will ignore my warnings, I really tried to make the point in my book that the higher intensity protocols can’t be used very frequently and, anybody who wants to do them, has to cut back their other leg training. At most they might be useable twice per week and some are finding that an even lower frequency is required.

Which is also part of why I gave the lower intensity options I mentioned above: bodybuilders can and have always done low-intensity cardio daily and this ends up being the best way to structure the training week. The high intensity stubborn fat protocols, if they are done at all, can be done maybe twice per week and the lower intensity protocols can be used on the other days.

Tom Venuto: Having interviewed you previously about fasted cardio I understand that you don’t believe it makes much difference in the bigger picture, but it might make a difference in the case of stubborn body fat. Why?

Lyle McDonald: I thought I remembered that and, as I mentioned above in the question about insulin, I think this is a lot of the difference in opinion. For most dieters, getting to 5% bodyfat isn’t the goal and there’s usually plenty of body fat to be mobilized for fuel. Whether they do it fasted, after they’ve eaten or whatever is purely secondary to the fact that it GETS DONE (I don’t think you’d disagree with me here).

However, when folks start getting very lean (for men, say 10-12% body fat, for women, the high teens), things can start to change and usually for the worse. The body is fighting back harder, the fat that is left is far more sensitive to insulin levels and doing cardio fasted (or at least several hours away from a meal, preferably one lower in carbohydrates) probably becomes more important for mobilizing and burning off the stubborn fat.

Basically, I think we’re both right, it’s just a matter of context and what population you’re talking about whether or not fasted cardio is or isn’t relevant.

Tom Venuto: Sure, I can agree with that completely. In fact, my original observations about the effectiveness of fasted cardio came from bodybuilders, including myself and other competitors who were already lean and working on getting leaner, which would verify what you just said. What’s most important is just doing the cardio, not when you do it. How important is it to change up the type of cardio you do?

Lyle McDonald: From what perspective? There is evidence that the hormonal response to novel types of activity tend to be higher, I actually suggest that dieters use a different cardio machine (than they usually use) for the interval part of the two higher intensity stubborn fat protocols.

Beyond that, switching things up probably helps with boredom and can avoid over-use injuries.

Tom Venuto: I understand the concept of transdermal delivery, the adrenoreceptor system and fat mobilization versus fat burning, but I’m still skeptical of greater regional fat loss with topical fat burners. Should I not be?

Lyle McDonald: I’m equally skeptical. Now, I’m not an expert on dermal stuff by any means but I remain unconvinced that most of these compounds can actually get to the fat cells in the first place. The skin is amazingly vascularized and I’d expect most of the active compound to get sucked into general circulation.

The small amount of empirical feedback I’ve seen suggests that that is the case; to whit, people note the same elevations in heart rate and blood pressure with topical yohimbe as with oral, telling me it’s getting into the bloodstream.

That said, there are a few papers suggesting topical fat reduction with a variety of compounds, whether or not the carriers they are using are even available for commercial products, I have absolutely no idea.

Tom Venuto: Yohimbe is a part of your protocol. I have several questions. First would yohimbe be classified as the raw plant source, while yohimbine hcl is a drug? If yohimbine is a drug is it easily available over the counter or only by prescription? Is yohimbine banned by any natural bodybuilding or sports organizations? Any warnings about product quality? Any side effects?

Lyle McDonald: Yes, yohimbe is the herbal product (derived from some plant or another) and yohimbine HCL is the synthetic/pharmaceutical version. While you didn’t use to be able to get the HCL form, it’s now fairly readily available from supplement companies; I actually recommend it over the herbal form.

A primary reason is that I’m wary of the dosing on most herbals, they tend to not be standardized (Twinlab’s Yohimbe Fuel was a nice exception) and there’s no way to know how much active ingredient is actually present. With the HCL form, the pills are pretty much always 2.5 mg per pill so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Additionally, in terms of side effects, the herbal tends to have much greater weirdness and side-effects than the HCL version, most likely from the presence of other herbal alkaloids in the mixture.

People often report the sweats with chills and just feeling a bit wonky on yohimbe. Of course, I’ve also seen people report euphoria on yohimbe along with much reduced perceived effort levels during exercise. I’d note that yohimbe is used in high doses to generate anxiety attacks and people who are prone to such must not use it; they shouldn’t usually use ephedrine either.

I don’t honestly keep up with who has banned what so I don’t know if yohimbe/yohimbine is banned. Athletes should check with the governing body of their sport to be sure before using it.

Tom Venuto: if someone is die-hard natural and doesn’t want to take any drugs, including yohimbine, will the cardio protocol and dietary suggestions still do the trick?

Lyle McDonald: As I sort of alluded to above, the four different protocols give sufficient options so that someone who can’t or won’t use a given supplement or diet can still get results. Only one of the four protocols absolutely requires any supplement such as yohimbine, the others may benefit from it but it isn’t required.

Tom Venuto: caffeine is also part of the protocol. Is coffee ok, or do you have to use caffeine tablets?

Lyle McDonald: Well, since I don’t like the taste of coffee I personally prefer caffeine tablets. And since I’m a touch obsessive compulsive, I do like the dosing accuracy with pills compared to drinks. But, honestly, coffee will work. Just remember to keep it black, the fat in the cream will impact on fat cell metabolism as would the insulin response from sugar.

Tom Venuto: Do you have anything else that readers might want to know about stubborn fat removal that’s either new and already showing real world results or which looks promising and we should keep an eye on in the future?

Lyle McDonald: One hormone I mentioned in the book is something that I think has the potential to solve a lot of the problems I talk about in the book. It’s called atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) and is release from the heart to help regulate the body’s water balance and blood pressure. Well, it turns out that ANP is profoundly fat mobilizing. More interestingly, it works by a completely different mechanism than insulin/adrenoceptors work through. Basically, ANP appears to side step the whole adrenoceptor pathway to stimulate lipolysis. This might make it feasible to mobilize fat from stubborn fat without having to go through all of the rigamarole involved with inhibiting or overcoming alpha-receptors. Unfortunately, this point I’ve seen little to suggest that we can do much with it.

Beyond that, I think that, as you well know, dealing with stubborn fat will still ultimately come down to consistent dieting and training.

Tom Venuto: I would ask you about whooshes, squishy fat and the phantom tingle but I don’t want to spoil everything in the book for potential readers, so I think we’ll just wrap up and I’ll suggest that anyone who was intrigued by this information, anyone interested in science and of course anyone who is already reasonably lean who still has trouble with lower ab, lower back or lower body fat should get a copy of Lyle’s Stubborn Fat Book. What’s the exact web page where our readers can get more info?

Lyle McDonald: The easiest way is to go straight to my body recomposition web page and look for the stubborn fat book

Tom Venuto: Thanks for your time Lyle and great job with this.

About The Author

Lyle McDonald has dedicated nearly 20 years of his life to studying human physiology and the art, science, and practice of human performance, muscle gain, fat loss, and body recomposition. He uses a combination of cutting edge research, canny tinkering, and sometimes, a little bit of intuition to develop his hypotheses which he then tests in the real world on various guinea pigs (often including himself).He is the author of the Ketogenic Diet as well as a Guide To Flexible Dieting and numerous other books. Most recently he has released the “The Stubborn Fat Solution” and you can learn more about it by Clicking Here.

The stubborn fat book is available at Lyle’s website here:


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Published on 21 December, 2008


greg said:

How would a vegan benefit from this especially from a diet point of view. I dont consume animal based proteins and am highly allergic to dairy and wheat, so I dont consume them either. So my proteins would HAVE to be carbs such as beans, lentils, etc. And by the way I thought starchy carbs that come in there most natural form could be consumed without worry of over eating do to there low calories. I mean a bowl of pinto beans according to the internet has only 250 calories, So I could eat 4 bowls and still not be at my maintaince level. I dont know all this talk about low carbs confuses me, If It Is all natural carbs then what gives? Of course processed carbs I done know about and not talking about those kinds anyway.

Posted on Dec 22, 2008 05:39 AM

Tom venuto said:

i dunno... i think a vegan might be sol with a 20% carb diet. dont know if theres such a thing as a 20% carb vegan diet. But lyle mentioned the low carb aspect of his sf protocol was only one aspect. Theres the cardio and yohimbine strategies too.

Posted on Dec 22, 2008 08:25 AM

Ted S said:

Since I'm already doing fasted cardio 6 days a week, by the time I'm at 10% body fat (I'm at 23.4% now, ugh), will my body have adapted to the early-cardio-burn benefit? If so, then it sounds like my only option would be to take yohimbe to get rid of stubborn fat. I'd rather not have to take a supplement if I don't have to (yohimbe or otherwise).

Thanks again for posting this, Tom. And thanks to Lyle for dishing the info.

Posted on Dec 22, 2008 02:52 PM

Tom Venuto said:

Ted.. I dont take yohimbine. I dont take any drugs (unless you count caffeine as a drug). Thats why I asked Lyle if the yohimbine was necessary. I think he made it fairly clear that the carb restriction alone would have an effect, as would the fasted cardio.

Stay focused on the task at hand, and worry about "stubborn fat" when you get to that stage. You may not have a "stubborn fat " problem when you get there. We guys definitely tend to have the lower ab fat leave LAST, but the females seem to have more issues with this than we do

I dont think you will adapt to the TIMING of the cardio. But, your body may adapt somewhat to a high VOLUME of cardio, done ofver a long period of time however; esp if your calories are restricted.

Best to break up long periods of caloric restriction with refeeds -- see also lyles other book, guide to flexible dieting. Actually one of my favorites of lyles because it deals more with maintenance and long term success rather than the extreme fat loss methods

Posted on Dec 22, 2008 02:55 PM

Janice said:

Very good interview. I'm a little unclear about fat redepositing in the lower extremities. Does this only happen when men and women are within a certain lower bf threshold (10% or below for men and 17% and below for women)? Or does this also happen when we are above that BF threshold? I guess I'm asking if redepositing is triggered by lower bf levels or if it happens no matter what, but is not noticeable unless you get below a certain bf%. Hope that makes sense.

Posted on Dec 24, 2008 05:14 PM

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