Beer belly blues

The beer belly, aka the Beer Boep, as it is affectionately referred to in SA, might well be something of a familiar sight on local men, but it really isn't anything to be proud of. The good news is that we know how to fix it and find the six-pack that's hiding under all those layers of… um… six-packs and biltong sticks.

Many of the questions Fitness Doc is asked on a daily basis on her forum concern losing weight around the belly, or how to get rid of the belly-flab and to replace it with a leaner tummy. And the answer is always the same: diet and exercise.

"Diet is crucial, and if it's not 100% it will undermine any exercise benefits," says Dr Ross Tucker, Health24's FitnessDoc.

"Everyone seems to battle with the weight in a specific area, in this case the stomach. It's really difficult to combat, but it's important to recognise that eating well and exercising correctly are the keys," he says.

Energy in must = energy out
The solution, he says, is finding the right balance between how much energy you take in versus how much energy you spend.

"At the risk of oversimplifying matters, men and women tend to store fat in different areas, as a result of genetics. What happens is that if your overall energy intake is too high, relative to how much energy you use (for example, if you eat a lot of fatty foods, and don't exercise), then you store that extra energy as fat. This is where genetics comes in, because men store it in the stomach, woman often on the thighs.

"So the problem is the same - too much energy in, not enough out. It's just the result that is different," he says.

So are we doomed to a life of relentless sit-ups and daily crunches? Actually, no.

"The mistake people make is that they try to target the specific muscle group they're worried about, often at the expense of doing the whole body exercise that is actually more effective. That's not to say that focus on a muscle group or area is bad, because you need it, but it's better to exercise the whole body.

The solution then, is to correct the initial problem, which is energy-related, says Tucker. He highly recommends cardio training – such as running, walking, cycling, swimming, aerobics - anything that is cardiovascular and gets the heart pumping, and energy burning.

"It is just a question of how you use these cardio sessions. I would suggest at least four days a week of cardio training, each session lasting about 30 to 45 minutes, at the very least. You have to build up this duration and then keep at it consistently in order to see change," he advises.

Cardio + specific exercises the key
According to Tucker, specific exercises for the area in question play a relatively minor role, other than that they are responsible for developing the muscle in the area, which creates the appearance of being toned.

"That's obviously what you want, but you have to realise that you can't do the toning and specific work first and neglect the cardio - it has to work the other way around, cardio first, toning second. So focus on cardio, then on toning."

And of course, no belly is going to go flat on exercise alone, so those beers and biltong also have to go. At least for now, anyway.

"The best thing is to see a dietician or follow a very good diet plan. Just remember that low kilojoule is not necessarily better – if the diet is too low it can cause problems as well, because it causes the body's metabolic rate to drop and that affects your ability to lose weight in the future. So don't try to starve yourself or go overboard, rather eat sensibly, cut out as much fat as you can, and listen to your body," he says.

(Dr Ross Tucker, Health24's FitnessDoc, Health, July 2008)

Write to Fitness Doc for answers to all your questions about training and fitness.

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