A couple weeks ago, science examined past contestants from the show “The Biggest Loser” to see how their bodies responded after the stage lights were off and the trainers were gone. After getting hammered and finding “success” on the show, a vast majority of these contestants put at least some weight back on, some even more than when they started on the show. Which begs the obvious question, why?

Several things happened:

  1. Naturally, their metabolisms slowed. However, they slowed so much that at their new size their bodies were not burning enough calories to maintain their thinner sizes. 
  2. Even worse, their metabolisms still haven’t recovered. 
  3. Their leptin levels were almost nonexistent by the end of the show, and only recovered to about half the level of when the season started. Leptin is one of the hormones that controls hunger, and is associated with the feeling of satiety. Which means they are hungry all the time. 

These are all clearly incredibly bad things to happen to the human body. Here’s how you can avoid the unfortunate circumstances put on these contestants:

Don’t workout 4-6 hours a day. 

Do workout 4-6 hours a week. 

It should go without saying (but apparently it has to be said) that 4-6 hours of training a day, no matter what it is, is far too much for the average person, let alone considering where some of these participants were starting at. For most people (not necessarily these contestants), I would recommend 4 days of weightlifting - two upper body, two lower body- with HIIT sprints done on the rower, bike, or treadmill on lower body days. The other two to three days can be spent doing low-intensity steady state (LISS) work on any of the above mentioned apparatuses. Even a simple walk will do for 20-30 mins! Remember, you breakdown muscle to repair it. Give your body a chance to maximize all the hard work you put in!

Don’t think about burning off calories. 

Do think about building muscle. 

Too many people focus on the calorie burn. Unless you have specific achievement goals like running a marathon or improving your 400m time, the goal of every workout should be to maximize your muscle gain through proper breakdown and recovery protocols. While research has shown that the caloric demand of muscle vs fat is minimally higher in muscle, in my experience, those that can nail down nutrition and focus on adding muscle tend to trim up and stay leaner longer (and easier) than those focusing merely on how many calories they can siphon off during their workout. If you get in the habit of always having to cut calories and you never go through the process of developing any muscle, you will eventually end up running out of workouts to add or calories to drop. When you lift, you also get the big hormonal response that drives up the metabolism as well. 

Don’t cut your calories by 80%.

Do pay attention to the quality of foods, the calorie amounts, and the macros going in. 

These people went from somewhere around 8,000 calories a day (how many calories do you think it takes to maintain 450 pounds?) to 1200-1800, and it's rumored to be even lower than that. That’s an 81.25% drop in calories if you’re at 1500 calories. Avoid the drastic cut and make more moderate cuts if you have to, like 20% (think 2000 to 1600 calories), until you find a point where there is consistent progress. Even that might be too much depending on where you’re starting from. This, of course, would require you to track your calories and macros in the first place, which itself can have a rather large margin of error, but at least its something to work with.

These people didn’t need to make drastic cuts, just make small improvements. Drop from 8000 calories to 6400. Go for a 20 minute walk everyday for a couple weeks. Lets chat about nutrition. A lot. And how to find the right mix of working out and proper food choices based on their normal schedule and available resources. It’s not much for eye-popping TV, or ratings for that matter, but maybe we give these people the tools to succeed forever, as opposed to only for a season. Once some progress is made, then we slowly add on to the pile. Create habits that lead to success, then continue to hone in the process further. 

By making the small steps, as opposed to the big leaps, you give your body the chance to adjust to a new homeostasis point, which gives you a fighting chance at sustainability. 

You can check out the full article here.