Dieting and the Immune System

It has long been thought in bodybuilding circles that prolonged dieting for beach season comes with the feeling of being run-down, and being more susceptible to illness and sickness. In fact, a lot of people ramp up their intake of vitamins and anti-oxidants during this time as they firmly believe that their immune system is vulnerable. Some new research coming out of Australia is suggesting that not only is this not the case, it may in fact be the opposite of what actually happens. Yes, it may actually get stronger.

I say this *may* help strengthen the immune system because the study I am referencing in this update is done on obese people who have lost a modest amount of weight, showing immunity improvements. This is quite a far cry from someone already quite lean (sub-15%) and healthy aiming to get incredibly lean (sub-10%) to look good in Speedos. However, the immune systems of the life extension folks who practice calorie restriction (CR) suggest it may be the case for bodybuilders like us. These folks stay on very low calories for long periods of time without refeeding days as they believe it prolongs life and delays aging. The effect of CR retarding aging has been proven in worms, but human studies are on-going to my knowledge with nothing tangible as of yet. But not only do these folks believe it works, they believe it helps with avoiding sickness, and I recall reading an article where one guy claims that CR has corrected his short-sightedness!

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How dieting makes you fatter

An easily made mistake when dieting is thinking that all weight lost is fat. In truth diets usually cause a loss in fat, water AND muscle. After dieting and back onto normal eating some people are mystified as to why they pack on flab fast.

Why does this happen? Calories are burned by muscle. When you lose muscle your calorie needs become reduced. Metabolism is slowed. This means the amount of calories you used to have to eat to keep weight constant is now less. If you eat above this new, lower calorie threshold you gain fat.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Jim crash diets for a month and drops 8.5kg. He’s stoked. Of this weight loss 5kg is fat, 2.5kg is muscle, and 1kg is water. When at rest every kg of your muscle burns around 100 calories per day (it burns even more when you exercise). Because Jim lost 2.5kg of muscle his metabolism has dropped and his calorie requirements are now 250 calories less per day than when he started. He used to eat 2800 calories per day, now anything over 2550 calories per day will cause him to gain fat.

Happy with being 8.5kg’s lighter and ignoring the muscle loss Jim goes back to eating the amount he used to before his diet. With his slower metabolism and eating 250 calories per day more than he needs means he’ll gain fat at the rate of 1kg per month. Checking in with Jim 12 months later he’s gained a whopping 12kg of fat!

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