The burner types
The body has two main fuels at its disposal, sugar (carbs), and fat. We burn a mix of these two fuels all the time, but our individual genetics as well as our chosen lifestyle habits can determine which fuel dominates. Stress and overeating are two of the biggest influences on which fuel we burn. Both push the body toward a higher proportion of sugar used compared to fat. Too much food or the wrong types of food push us more towards sugar burning and fat storage. Too much stress pushes us toward muscle burning (muscle can be burned to use as sugar) and fat storage.
In the Metabolic Effect way of thinking, there are three burner types and they lie on a continuum. On one side there are the sugar burners who tend to be insulin dominant resulting in a metabolic preference to run off of sugar from the food they eat rather than using fat for energy.
In the middle there are the mixed burners who burn a relatively even mix of sugar and fat. They have a more balanced hormonal makeup between stress hormones and fat storing hormones.
Finally, on the other end there are the muscle burners, who also run primarily off sugar, yet seem to derive much of this fuel by converting amino acids from muscle into sugar. This is because they are stress hormone dominant which results in conversion of their own muscle tissue into glucose for fuel. They are less reliant on food for this reason and can usually go without food without difficulty.
Finding your unique fat loss formula requires an understanding of which of these types you more closely resemble so that you have a starting point to begin the journey of body change.
A little more on the burner types
Sugar burners are more insulin dominant compared to other types and easily become insulin resistant. This requires the body to produce more and more insulin over time. Insulin is a hormone that sends a signal to store fat and also decreases the release of fat from fat tissue. This is largely the results of its stimulatory and inhibiting impact on the enzymes lipoprotein lipase (LPL) and hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) respectively.
Muscle burners also run their engines off of sugar, but they are more stress hormone dominant than insulin dominant. In others words, they have higher resting levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones raise blood sugar by breaking down stored glycogen, but also cause the body to release amino acids from muscle tissue to make sugar in a process called gluconeogenesis (i.e. generating new glucose).
Although it is not universally true, sugar burners tend to be overweight while muscle burners tend to be thinner and more flabby. As the metabolic dysfunction of each type worsens they can easily start to resemble each other. In other words, it is wrong to think all muscle burners must be thin and flabby. Some can be quite obese.
Muscle burners can indeed become fat, although thinner and flabby, a term many call “skinny fat”, is also very prevalent. An obese muscle burner is less common, but will hold most of their fat in their midsection (central obesity) while the obese sugar burner will store the fat more globally.
A good rule of thumb to tell these two obese types apart is to observe their extremities. Sugar burners will have fat bulbous calves and forearms and look a little more “solid” or “formed”…..sort of “stay puffed marshmallow” looking. While muscle burner’s calves and forearms will be leaner in comparison to the rest of their body and they will suffer from a more “flabby obesity”. When muscle burner types get obese they can often have large protruding bellys but look almost normal everywhere else. Look for tricep muscles that sag or lose skin around the elbows and knees as well as most fat storage around the midsection. Some overweight muscle burners actually maintain fairly small and lean arms and legs.
Mixed burners are right in the middle and can be nudged toward the sugar burner side of the equation if they overindulge in carbs and fat. At the same time, they can also be pulled to the muscle burner side if they are overexposed and/or acutely reactive to stress. Mixed burners have a much easier time making body change because they usually have athletic and muscular builds.
These types are those who will usually respond to any change in diet for a short period of time. But chronic dieting, overeating, and lack of exercise causes them to lose muscle and develop dysfunctional metabolisms. Most people, and almost all younger people, are mixed burners. This percentage changes as we age. When stress and poor eating habits catch up with people, they begin to move toward the muscle or sugar burner category.
It is important to remember here that these are simply clinical designations and not meant to define exact metabolic tendencies. In other words, the metabolism is not static, and there is no such thing as a pure “metabolic type”.
Carbohydrates & burner types
Now that you understand the burner types, it is time to discuss carbohydrates. Carbs are one of the body’s chief energy sources, but carbohydrates are also more than fuel; they send information to the body in the form of hormonal influences. Understanding these hormonal messages help you know where to start.
Sugar burners, those who struggle with their weight and tend to be more globally overweight, need to control carbs more than any other type. This is because carbohydrates are the major stimulator of the hormone insulin for most people, which is already an issue for sugar burners. Therefore, sugar burners should start with lower amounts of carbs. We usually keep them to 10g to 15g of carbs at each of the three major meals. With protein and vegetables and little to no carb at snacks. The range has to do with carb quality. The “whiter” the carb, (i.e. white rice, white pasta, white bread, sweets, cookies, etc.), the less carb they are instructed to eat. The more whole the starch, (i.e. whole grain bread, high fiber cereal, potatoes including their skins, beans, squashes, etc.), the more or higher range of starch allowed.
Muscle burners need a little more carbs than the other types. This is often confusing for people, but remember the primary hormonal dysfunction in this group comes from stress hormones. These stress hormones are released mainly to raise blood sugar levels. By supplying more carbs to these types, we are effectively preempting this entrained stress hormone release. The best way to oppose the action of stress hormones is to throw enough glucose & insulin in the mix to control the blood sugar, but not so much to throw things further out of balance. In other words, they can’t go overboard with carbs, but also should not reduce them too low. We usually recommend these types eat between 20g to 50g of carb at each major meal. This is a very wide range of carb intake and muscle burners often have the most difficult time finding the optimal carb level and controlling this “stress response”.
The adrenal stress reactions they have can be unpredictable and influenced by many things. Therefore, muscle burners have to often work harder than any other type to balance starch and other metabolic influences. This more difficult metabolic response in muscle burners comes from the fact that stress hormones not only raise blood sugar levels, but can also disrupt insulin metabolism. When that mechanism is pushed too far, it is very difficult to tell a muscle burner from a sugar burner. Muscle burner snacks usually focus exclusively on protein and fiber, but they often need small amounts of starch at snacks as well.
Mixed burners fall in the middle with a carb intake range between 15g and 30g at each major meal. Carbohydrates for mixed burners can be looked at strictly as fuel. The tendency of mixed burners to stress more or overeat more is a good predictor of whether they should eat more or less carbs. If they are more stress driven, they may need more carbs. If they are more food driven they should eat less carbs and instead do more protein based foods. Carb timing works very well in mixed burners and is an excellent strategy for them. When after fat loss, carb intakes that are greater in the morning and post-workout do very well for mixed burners.
Types are just a starting point
The important thing to remember is that the burner types are just a starting point. Too often people get caught in the dieting mindset. In other words, they determine their burner type and follow that diet prescription to the letter. This is the wrong approach. The burner types are simply a blueprint from which to start. They are not meant to be followed like a diet, and they are not exact. These types do not represent any form of exact science, but rather are a clinical tool only. They are much like the old designations of ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Once you understand your burner type, you are not meant to stay there. Instead, you should begin the process of finding your unique fat loss formula.
This process involves listening to your body’s hormonal biofeedback signals. These signals include hunger, cravings and energy. The idea is to follow the given burner type plan, and then begin to pay close attention to these physiological sensations. They will guide you on how to adjust the diet specifically for you. As you go through the program, you’ll pay close attention to hunger, cravings, and energy after each meal. You don’t have to write these sensations down, but simply pay attention to how you feel after each meal. The correct hormonal meal will leave you so that you have no cravings, are not hungry, and have high energy.
This is the first step. Once all these hormonal feedback signals are balanced, you then begin to track your body fat percent using a fat loss monitor. Many of these fat loss monitors can be found over-the-counter. These monitors are what are called bioelectrical impedance machines. While these machines are not 100% accurate, they do provide a repeatable body fat measure to keep track of progress. In other words, they will tell you if you are heading in the right direction or not. You cannot use a traditional scale in the fat loss lifestyle; it simply will tell you nothing and have you confused about what is happening.
If hunger, cravings, and energy are balanced and you are losing fat, then you have found your fat loss formula. There is no need to change anything. If however, your hunger, cravings and energy levels are balanced and you are not losing fat then you will need to make some adjustments. This involves manipulating the carbohydrate content of the diet first. The first thing to do is to decrease your carbohydrate amounts at each meal. For example, if you were using 10 to 20g of carbohydrate at each meal and you are not getting the fat loss results you want, then you reduce the amount to 5 to 15g at each meal. While you are reducing your carb amounts, you continue to monitor hunger, cravings and energy levels as well as body fat percent. At this point you should notice changes in body fat percent. If you do not, you continue to decrease the carb content of the diet while also monitoring hunger, cravings and energy levels as well as body fat percent. At some point you will find the correct carbohydrate tipping point for you and begin seeing results. (* note: one of the biggest mistakes people make is cutting carbs and forgetting to raise protein and fiber at the same time. If you just cut carbs and don’t then raise protein and fiber you will not be able to manage the hunger, cravings and energy effectively.)
On occasion hunger, cravings and energy levels will not be balanced yet you will still be losing body fat. While this is not a bad thing, it signals to your body that you are not on the fat loss track. In other words, these results will likely not be sustainable. This is what the standard dietary practices do. In this scenario, you are simply relying on willpower. The fact that hunger, cravings and energy are out of whack, tells you your hormones are not balanced and sustaining the current regime is unlikely.
There are times when decreasing the carbohydrate content will result in changes in cravings, hunger or energy levels yet there will be no drop in body fat. This is a good clue the carbohydrate intake is not the problem. At this point you should work to increase protein and fiber through vegetable intake, as well as look for other foods, such as dairy and/or gluten containing grains that may be impairing your results. These foods are almost always fruit, dairy, too much fat from nuts and seeds, and/or too many starchy grains. This is a key difference in the Metabolic Effect’s body change system. It is important to realize certain foods may work great in some people, but not others. Hence the acronym ME. Often times, people will need to adjust carbohydrate, protein and fiber intake and then work diligently to find other foods that may be slowing their results.
Many people think that diets don’t work. At Metabolic Effect we would agree with this statement. Except we would revise this statement to say one-size-fits-all diets don’t work. For any diet you can name, you will find somebody who it worked for. It doesn’t matter if it’s the grapefruit diet, a raw foods diet, weight watchers, or any other kind of diet, you can find people who do well on these diets. We are attempting to make two important distinctions with Metabolic Effect. First is the idea that it is most important to find a diet suited to your unique genetic, metabolic, and psychological sensitivities. Second, it is important to measure the right thing. Weight loss and fat loss are not the same. Metabolic Effect is a fat loss program. A diet that helps you lose weight but makes you more fat in the end may have appeared to have worked in the short term, but actually makes things worse over the long run.
The burner type designations are meant to help you find a good starting point from which to begin to decipher how your metabolism works. From there you measure fat loss and metabolic feedback signals (hunger, cravings, and energy) so that you get results. The power lies in this process. Your metabolism will and does change. Pregnancy, menopause, andropause, times of stress, etc., all result in metabolic changes that may or may not correct on their own. By understanding the Metabolic Effect diet process you will always have the tools to lose fat no matter what is happening with your metabolism. In other words, the burner type means nothing without the process. In reality, if you do the program correctly, you should end up at your own unique metabolic burner type.