Hello my (soon-to-be-leaner-legged) friends
After my blog post of last week – How to Enhance Your Abs in 9 Moves – I’ve had a helluva (it’s a word, at least in my head it is) lot of great feedback from my Bootcamper legends. And of course, once we conquered the ab world, the next step (for females anyway) was “how do I tone-up these bad boys?”* (cue pointing to the thigh/ glute area).
*OK, so no-one called them ‘bad boys’ per se, but it sounded good to me.
For the sake of change and to limit ourselves (if not, I get very carried away – as I swear every question could have its own book) I am going to keep today’s article merely to Nutritional/ Lifestyle/ Supplementation. We’ll assume for today that you are already:
a) Lifting free weights in high volume (prioritising whole-body heavy compound movements)
b) Squatting at full range of motion
c) Not overdoing your long cardio session (prioritising HIIT and sprints over long runs and spin classes please… don’t hate me, this be the science, yo)
Like I ever doubted you. Soz.
OK, moving on then. How do you tone-up those bad boys? Assuming that ‘toning-up’ is just colloquial speak for gaining muscle and losing fat, the training part (and of course eating with a muscle-building purpose, but more on this later) looks after the former, so what we’re really talking about here is how to lose fat from our thighs, right? So…
What’s with the Wobbly Thighs then?
Men and women store fat in different areas (in the main, not always, but in the main). Men tend to store it on the stomach and sides, and these days, more and more on the moob (again, a word, surely: Man + Boob = Moob, for those that were confuzzled). This is because men’s hormone profiles are different to women’s.
Whilst men tend to have adrenal (a knock-on to cortisol) and insulin issues traditionally, yet more and more in today’s more toxic environment, oestrogen versus testosterone issues (hence the moobs, no, I jest not).
Women however have more fat receptors in the lower body. Hence the so-called ‘stubborn’ fat for so many females is in this area.
The Sciencey Bit
A receptor is a sort of antenna which is located on the outside of adipose (fat) cells. This receptor receives chemical signals. These signals come from hormones (or from chemicals that mimic these hormones). For women, the majority of hormone imbalance results from what is often known as oestrogen dominance: or in other words, having too much oestrogen compared to progesterone or having a dominance of the ‘bad oestrogens’, such as E16, over the ‘good oestrogens’, such as E2.
Have I lost you yet? No? Good…
Oestrogen and progesterone are the female’s primary sex hormones, which regulate a woman’s cycle. Both are essential for other basic biological needs. For example, oestrogen elevates serotonin levels in the brain and progesterone is important for a sense of equilibrium and is a natural diuretic. However, they also both impact on other hormones. Oestrogen impacts upon and influences insulin and oestrogen levels and progesterone affects thyroid hormone activity. It’s also a precursor to cortisol and thus can be negatively impacted by high amounts of chronic stress. Hormones are a tricky business and interact with one another slightly differently in everyone, depending on environment, genetics, diet, exercise, stress, sleep, etc, etc, but…
The long story short here therefore is that whilst thoroughly necessary and altogether awesome in appropriate levels in the human body, the less-than-ideal ratio of progesterone and oestrogen and/ or the inter ratio of individual oestrogens can cause what is called generically “oestrogen dominance”. Said dominance in turn leads to excess chemical signals sent to the aforementioned receptor sites, predominantly distributed in the lower body of females particularly.
What about now? Lost you yet? No? Good. Hang in there… (but just in case I have lost you, here’s a photo of an adipose cell to wake you back up)
Whilst today’s post may have a female slant, the same points very much apply to men. Men can also have “oestrogen dominance”, which is not only excess oestrogen compared with testosterone levels, but also a dominance over its natural precursor, progesterone. In men though, an oestrogen dominance morphs typically as pectoral fat (didn’t want to say moob again, oops, there it is), but also interestingly as upper hamstring fat (or lower bum, it depends on your view…). This can be as a result of influencing factors in modern society, such as too much wi-fi and phone usage, excess alcohol or caffeine consumption or other environmental factors (discussed in Step 1 below).
Whilst I veer slightly off topic here, oestrogen dominance can be combatted using the below five steps, to combat excess body fat in the thighs for females (and males) but also upper hamstring and pec fat (see, I can not use the M-word) in men:
The Five Steps to Leaner Legs
Step 1: De-toxify your environment
Compared to our grandparents, our environment is so much more toxic. Sorry for the neggy vibes here, but it is the truth (the positive is that now you know that and you can do something about it!). More radiowaves and more chemicals – in farming, food production, cosmetics and water treatment – are the main culprits for this mild negativity, so blame them!
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that mimic the effect of oestrogen in the body causing an unnatural oestrogen dominance. Xenoestrogens are more and more prevalent in most foods with the increased use of pesticides and herbicides. They’re also present in contraceptive pills, certain household cleaning equipments and the heavy metals in some non-stick cooking pans and your tap water supply. Also, in many plastics and your cosmetic products.
Woah, way to drop the bomb Paddy.
Sorry to play the scare monger here peeps but you need to be aware, these things can all lead to increased levels of oestrogen dominance. Ignoring the impact on your lower body fat storage here but in high quantities, all of the above are also (direct or indirect) carcinogens. So take a breath, it’s OK, just do something about it now:
What to do:
- Check your shampoos and all cosmetics for Bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates and parabens (these should be clearly written on the label). Avoid these.
- Cut down on your plastics, or if you do, use BPA-free
- Filter your drinking water or use bottled water if possible
- Wash all fruit and veg throughly (and go organic if possible) and eat organic meat whenever you can
And no, washing your fruit and veg in unfiltered water, in the presence of a plastic bottle of unverified chemical constituents is not going to be the reason you have excess fat below your bum. Let’s not get carried away here. But, as they say, pennies make pounds and every little helps in your quest for optimal health!
Step 2: Check Your Gut (Fibre and Probiotics)
2A) If you have imbalanced gut bacteria in your body, this increases an enzyme called beta-glucoronidase (say that three times clearly without messing up, I dare you). This enzyme reverses liver detoxification (in phase 2 detoxification – I know, you were asking which phase, weren’t you?) and toxins are inadvertently reabsorbed into your system. Or seeing as you asked, in this case, an imbalance between Phase 1 and Phase 2 liver detoxification can occur, which leads to a build up of toxins your body struggles to get rid of.
If you’re following a fat loss programme and have a poor gut, steps should be taken to fix this before anything else. A good probiotic supplement (preferably in the billions count) is great here, or simply 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed in water, taken daily (on waking or before food… hmmm yummy!), often works a treat in leading the way (by binding to unwanted waste toxins and clearing a path for probiotics to do their worst!).
2B) Also, you should seriously look at your fibre intake. Fibre is crucial for optimal gastrointestinal (GI) health and function. A primary benefit of fibre is that it binds to toxins in the intestines and helps eradicate them swiftly (that’s a nice way of putting it, isn’t it?). If that wasn’t clear (excuse the pun), it keeps things moving and avoids a bloat, binding with excess oestrogens and stops them being secreted into the gut wall.
Most westerners are ridiculous (as in, ridiculously bad) at consuming adequate fibre, consuming often less than 1/4 of the required levels for optimal GI health. Aiming for around 40g of fibre per day, by including (yes, you guessed it) high-fibre vegetables at every meal is ideal. If you struggle to reach this goal, you should definitely consider supplementing with a fibre supplement to create better oestrogen balance and hence aiding lower body fat loss, or you could supplement with 40g of ground flaxseeds per day.
Step 3: Eat More Cruciferous Vegetables
Indoles found in cruciferous vegetables have excellent oestrogen-inhibiting properties and can effectively modulate ratios for the better to restrict oestrogen dominance. Broccoli (even the little purple and yellow ones that I wouldn’t know where to find, but look great in photos), cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, wasabi (as if we needed an excuse to love wasabi any more, right?! Just me then) are the common members of this super-potent leg-leaning family of veggies. Try to prioritise these types of green vegetables at least 2-3 times a week.
Step 4: Support Your Liver (Consume a Quality Multivitamin)
No matter how balanced your diet, there will always be nutritional deficiencies. With depleted soil quality and the general quality of food these days being less than it once was, there will be a shortfall (or ten) in your nutritional pallet; in order for you to function at fully optimal levels of health. Your liver is your number one priority, especially when trying to detoxify excess oestrogens.
Eating quality lean protein for the complete amino acid range it offers is essential for optimal liver function, as is methylation support, from folic acid, B-vitamins and antioxidants such as zinc, selenium, vitamins C and E. Whilst all this might sound too much for you too handle, often many of these are hit with a solid, balanced diet. But for sure, there’ll be gaps which is where a good quality multivitamin will help cover all nutritional bases and support optimal liver function. This, combined with a quality Omega-3 fish oil (known for its effective oestrogen modulating properties) should be taken for at least 3 weeks before looking to any further oestrogen modulators or liver-detox protocols.
On that note…
Step 5: Use Detoxifying Supplements
We can eat as much broccoli as we damn well like but when there is a supplement out there called DIM (diindolylmethane), which is basically found in broccoli anyway… urghhh… hello?! However, you’d have to ram in a whole plate of broccoli to glean as much DIM as you’d glean from two little DIM capsules. It’s a tough contest I know. Whilst broccoli does also contain indole-3-carbinol, DIM is a powerful oestrogen modulator, especially combined with calcium-D-glucarate and green tea extract. However, I must restress the point that these ‘modulators’ should only really be looked to when all of the above five steps are take care of, and of course, you are exercising appropriately…
Conclusion: Aka The Final Leg (tee hee)
It’s very easy to read the above and become obsessed thinking that these are indeed the reasons that your legs are not as lean as they could be. It’s important here to see the woods from the trees and realise that your legs will only be optimally lean when you are working out appropriately and frequently enough for a meaningful length of time. There is no quick fix and anything worth having is usually only worth having because it’s a challenge to obtain. So an appropriate, intense, training programme including whole body compound lifts, high intensity metabolic conditioning, tempo’d lifts in appropriate volume, is of course something that should be looked at before all else (or in tandem with your basic macro intake, let’s say). Without this, your growth hormone and testosterone will not rise to further diminish your relative oestrogen dominance and help lean-out your whole body and hence your legs. However, you can do as much glute bridging, squatting, lunging and donkey kick-backs as you like, but those glutes and thighs won’t tone themselves without looking after the holistic system that is your body. As I started with today, toning = muscle gain and fat loss. Without optimal lifestyle and nutritional choices on a daily basis, optimal toning can’t be achieved, regardless of how hard and how well you train. Which is exactly where the above five steps come in.
- Check out your cosmetics
- Cut down on your plastics
- Eat as quality produce as you can afford and wash your veggies
- Look after number one – that being your gut (perhaps take a probiotic)
- Do as mummy told you and eat your greens (of the cruciferous kind, if we’re to be picky)
- Get your fibre down you (no not Kellogg’s Fruit and Fibre)
- Give your liver all the help it can get (take a quality multivitamin)
- Use specific oestrogen-detox supplements (only when all other of the above oestrogen-detoxing ducks are in a row, however)
Not only will the above factors help ‘super-thighs’ you beyond what you ordinarily could have achieved (through decreasing your oestrogen dominance and eradicating toxins) but they are also vitally important to your overall optimal health in general. So get busy and get super-thighsing.
p.s. Please go ahead and share this post with any of your friends who may glean the benefits of reading this article or indeed may be yearning for a ‘super-thighsing’. Follow me on Facebook and share/ comment on today’s share of this article – I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much, until next time amigos!