10 Point Guide to Sensible Weight Loss
"I've been working hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle but I can't seem to lose that last little bit of belly fat".
The beginning & the end of your fitness program are the two most difficult times, with the latter being by far the most frustrating. Losing those last few pounds, whether it's off of your stomach, hips, thighs, shoulders or triceps can be brutally hard.
First you must understand that your trouble area can't be "spot reduced." We all hang onto our last vestiges of body fat somewhere. The process to get rid of it remains the same for all of us: You must reduce your overall body fat percentage. This means all of your training should work the whole body & you're going to need focus when it comes to diet.
In the beginning it's pretty straightforward. If you eat less & exercise more you lose weight at a fairly consistent rate. This is because you bring your nutrient & hydration levels back to a normal level which creates a flushing effect. You dump excess water & undigested food, generally leading to weight loss. Reducing calories & exercising forces your body to use 'fat stores' for energy. Initially this results in increased performance & further weight loss. However due to the change in ratio of muscle to fat tissue, an increase in metabolism occurs. The process results in a situation where you need to increase your dietary intake in order for your weight loss to continue, that's always difficult for first-time dieters to acknowledge. Once your state of fitness indicates you need to eat more follow the points below to keep the weight falling off & your six-pack developing.
1. Lose weight slowly
You probably lost weight quickly when you began working out but you need to redesign your program. By targeting a 1-2 pound per week loss, you can eat enough to fuel workout performance and recovery, which will keep your metabolism revving, which is the key to everything you're after. Shoot for a caloric deficit of 300–600 calories a day. Sometimes less, but never more.
2. Zigzag your calories
Also called "re-feeding", zigzagging means eating more calories on some days & less on others to determine that number of calories that works best for your goals. eg. if you've been eating a low-calorie diet you can assume you need to add calories. To find out how many, try increasing by 300–600 a day (depending on your size). Eat that way 4 days per week while keeping calories where they are now on the others. Pay very close attention to your body's performance and keep zigzagging up (or down, it works both ways) until your performance & recovery feel right (workouts are great, sleep great, weight moving how you'd like, etc.). This will mean you're at your weight loss (or gain) sweet spot. Keep in mind that as your fitness increases so do your caloric needs. Zigzagging should be done periodically (every month or so) as your training & fitness is increasing.
3. Train on an empty stomach
Work out three to five hours after your last meal (depending on the size of your meals). This ensures you've been able to convert that meal to muscle glycogen so you can train your hardest & maximize your body's ability to use fat for fuel.
4. Eat small meals often
One of the oldest weight loss tricks in the book is to eat less, more often, to keep your blood sugar steady in order to stave off bingeing. In spite of the proven effects of different methods, particularly intermittent fasting, it's still the top method when weight loss is the goal.
5. Train easy after a longer fasting period
Adding some morning exercise on an empty stomach also improves fat mobilisation & is a good way to burn some extra calories & not negatively affect your hard training session of the day. When you're looking to cut the last few pounds, this "trick" is effective, but be careful. Too much exercise, especially when your diet is lean on calories, can make you catabolic (burning muscle as well as fat) and that's something you probably don't want. The catabolic risk means that this is probably not a great tactic for those with figure & bodybuilding goals & should be saved for those whose ultimate goal is weight loss.
6. Get enough protein
Not only is protein vital for muscle building; high-protein diets increase the body's ability to burn fat for fuel. While the notion of needing a gram of protein per pound of body weight has been disproven for performance, it's still a good strategy for cutting/reducing diets.
7. Don't cut out carbohydrates
Strategic use of carbohydrates for fuel is vital for performance & performance is how you measure how your diet is working. While dramatically cutting down your carb consumption can be helpful in the initial stages of weight loss, it's a huge mistake to cut carbs once you're fitness has increased. Carbs fuel both your muscles & your brain. They are also more muscle-sparing (slowing muscle breakdown) than either proteins or fats when you're training, you need them so that you don't go catabolic. Carbohydrate intake should be strategic, around 40%, depending on your training.
8. Don't cut out fat.
Dietary fat is vital for performance-enhancing hormone production, which is key for both muscle gain and fat loss. 20-25% is generally considered a safe range as it’s been found that diets consisting of less than 15% fat can inhibit testosterone production (the male gold standard in natural PEHs).
Since fats have more than double the calories of proteins & carbs, keeping them this low means your diet should hyper-focus on the healthiest choices: fish, avocados, olives, nuts & seeds.
9. Cut out the junk
Unfortunately, there's no simple way to get your body to weigh less than it naturally wants to, without some sacrifice. The reality is that Junk food has no importance, except (arguably) for pleasure. If you want to achieve your weight loss goals, something's got to go!
10. Periodisationally diet.
Periodisational dieting is eating differently throughout the year with different goals. Essentially, don't keep your diet super-lean all the time. Like your fitness training, it's good to have some variation. Periodisational dieting is eating for what you do. Make sure there are periods in each year when you eat more. eg. Adding carbs and reducing protein is where you'll start. All athletes spend at least part of the year eating all they want (within reason), perhaps even more than they need to ensure they have the reserves to train as hard as they can.
“Six-packs look awesome in photos & impress friends at reunions but your body functions better with a little more ‘reserve’”. Shaun T