Mitochondria and Fat Loss
WHAT THE HELL ARE MITOCHONDRIA AND WHY DO THEY MATTER FOR FAT LOSS?
MITOCHONDRIA. Did your eyes immediately glaze over?
FAT LOSS. Now I've got your attention, right?
Repeat this statement: Mitochondria play an integral role in fat loss, and I promise to read this article all the way to the end so I can better understand how my body works.
Okay, let's geek out on mitochondria for a minute.
Mitochondria are the “power plants” of our cells. Each cell of our body can contain as few as one mitochondria to over 200 of these tiny power houses.
Through a complex series of biochemical reactions these little powerhouses turn the food we eat into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the energy our body uses to facilitate functions ranging from involuntary activities like breathing to voluntary activities like running or lifting weights. In a nutshell, these tiny structures within our cells produce up to 90% of the energy that sustains our organs and bodily functions. Without them, or if they malfunction, we can become metabolically deranged (i.e. fat and sick), and we can even die!
Here’s where things get really interesting with relation to FAT LOSS: mitochondria are integral to the metabolism of fatty acids. HOLD UP! That means:
For fat loss to occur, fatty acids must be mobilized from our fat stores and transported to the MITOCHONDRIA for oxidation.
Following? If not, here's the bottom line: mitochondria can oxidize (get rid of) body fat.
So wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you had more mitochondria, and if the mitochondria you already have work better, it would help you shed more body fat? Yes and yes!
Here’s the good news:
- Mitochondria can reproduce. That means you can increase the number of mitochondria in your cells (mitochondrial density).
- Mitochondria can be "trained" to work better. That means you can increase mitochondrial efficiency, or how well the mitochondria of your cells work.
That’s great, Kelly. Can you please just get to the point and tell me how the hell I can increase my mitochondrial density and tune up my existing mitochondria?
Sure. Here I go with the big shockers:
1. Exercise. Damn. You knew that was coming, right?
If you don’t use it, you lose it. As with so many things in life, this is true for your mitochondria too. The body has no reason to be efficient or produce new mitochondria if you don’t force it to do so!
To increase mitochondrial efficiency (remember, that’s how well your current mitochondria work), you need to do some form of aerobic exercise. You can plug away on a treadmill or elliptical for an hour if you like, but interval training has been shown to increase efficiency AND density of cellular mitochondria. If I were you, I’d add two or three short interval sessions to my weekly routine. A simple plan: sprint, swim, spin on a bike, or jump rope as fast as you can for 30 seconds, then take a 2 minute rest. Repeat six to eight times. Done.
To increase mitochondrial density (remember, that’s the number of mitochondria in your cells), grow your muscles through weight training. Larger muscle cells will equate to higher numbers of mitochondria.
2. Help your body mobilize its stored fat by eating the right way. Double damn. Please say I can eat cake and donuts and coke and chips and pizza....
Great, now that you’ve been exercising you have high numbers of efficient mitochondria. SWEEEEEET! Now you have to feed those little buggers, which means you have a choice to make: you can feed them with shit like sugar from cake and donuts and coke and chips and pizza (which they LOVE), or you can feed them the fat you’ve got stored around your midsection. Hmmm. Choices, choices. Can't I have it both ways, Kelly?
No. Life's just not fair.
If you've got fat loss goals, chances are pretty good you’d prefer that your mitochondria burn your stored body fat, right?
Here’s the problem: if you constantly take in sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates (i.e. bread, cereal, crackers, cookies, chips, bagels, rice, potatoes, etc.), your mitochondria can run perfectly well off of that instead of your stored body fat. In fact, sugar is the PREFERRED source of fuel because it’s easier to use. But that also means your mitochondria aren’t going anywhere near your fat stores when you're hooking up to the sugar IV every three hours.
So how do you mobilize body fat:
Don't give your mitochondria cheap and easy fuel. Give them high octane premium fuel by eating a diet rich in fibrous vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, while greatly reducing or avoiding sugar, processed carbohydrates, and high glycemic natural carbohydrates (i.e. high sugar fruits like bananas and pineapple, and starchy veggies like potatoes, white rice, corn, etc.)
Recap and bottom line: proper training and diet will lead to increased mitochondrial density and efficiency, resulting in increased fat loss, higher energy levels, a healthier body, and even a longer life span!