Fat loss is never easy, and if you’re already fit and lean, it can seem impossible.
Maybe you’ve gotten bad information or are incorrectly applying the information you have. Maybe there’s a simple variable you haven’t accounted for that’s impeding your results.
Whatever the exact issue, it’s common to find yourself gaining a few pounds in the process. No more!
Here are ten simple tips to use to tighten up your efforts and get the physique you’ve been working for.
#1: Hard strength training is your number one priority. Don’t shy away from intense weight training during fat loss phases because this will maintain strength and muscle mass.
It’s a mistake to reduce calories and cut back on training in the hopes that you’ll lose fat because this will cause a catabolic state, leading to significant muscle loss so that your metabolic rate plummets. The effect is worsened if endurance exercise is performed as well.
#2: Do a few high-intensity training (HIT) sessions, sprint intervals, or strongman exercises each week. This type of training boosts calorie expenditure in the recovery period and triggers protein synthesis so you build muscle, sustaining metabolic rate.
There’s evidence that fit, lean men benefit from shorter, more intense work bouts (such as 30-second all-out intervals), whereas lean, fit women get better results from slightly longer, less intense intervals (such as 30 to 60 seconds at 90 percent of maximal).
Keep your HIT workouts to less than 30 minutes and do them separately from strength training, either at a separate time of day or on a different day.
#3: Eat a higher protein diet because this will preserve lean mass so your metabolism doesn’t drop as much while you’re losing fat. Higher protein diets have other benefits as well:
• Metabolism of protein requires the body to burn more calories than it does breaking down carbs or fat.
• Due to something called nutrient partitioning, our bodies are designed to use protein to build lean tissue rather than store it as fat. This means that if you find yourself hungry when trying to lose fat, opt for protein rather than carbs or fat because the extra calories are more likely to be turned into muscle or lean tissue.
• Protein is very satiating and it naturally leads people to eat fewer calories over the course of the day. This is because protein foods lead to a better metabolic hormone balance than those high in carbs.
How high should you go in protein? This will depend on a variety of issues, but the bulk of the literature suggests 1.6 to 2.4 g/kg of protein a day can be beneficial for lean people who want to lose fat.
Of interest, a new study found that it may be beneficial to eat even more protein in certain situations. This study found that when lean, fit people supplemented their diet with 800 extra calories of protein a day (mostly from whey protein) so that they consumed 4.4 g/kg of protein daily, they gained no more fat than a control group that ate their normal high-protein diet (1.6 to 2 g/kg a day).
Researchers make the following relevant conclusions from their study:
• Protein is the most important macronutrient vis-à-vis positive changes in body composition. Whey protein is particularly beneficial because it has a high thermic effect and consistently leads to greater gains in lean mass with training than other sources.
• It disproves the notion of “a calorie is just a calorie.”
• Protein calories in “excess” of requirements result in a gain in lean body mass and are not metabolized in the body in the same way as carbohydrates, which result in a gain in body fat.
#4: Optimize your carb intake for physical activity and genes.
Low-carb, high-protein diets are effective for fat loss. But the very low-carb diet that is right for overweight, sedentary people who need to reset their metabolisms will be different from what lean, active people who are lifting weights require.
Reasons not to eat a super low-carb diet if you’re lean include the following:
• They reduce the production of thyroid hormone, which lowers body temperature and the amount of calories burned at rest.
• When carb intake is very low, cortisol is released in order to free stored energy and provide glucose to keep you going. Combined with intense exercise over the long-term this can lead to an elevated cortisol curve, which alters metabolism and halts fat loss.
• They are needed to replenish muscle glycogen when training intensely.
How high you should go in carbs will depend on activity levels and other issues, but if you’re lean and working out, try eating more carbs on training days and fewer and off days.
If you prefer a lower carb intake (below 100 grams a day), try cycling high-glycemic carbs every 5 to 7 days to improve sensitivity of the metabolic hormones, insulin and leptin.
#5: Don’t rely on the scale. Test your body fat using a reliable skinfold test (12-site tests are best).
Muscle is your best friend if you’re trying to lose fat and you’re already lean because it drives your metabolism, supports insulin sensitivity, and improves overall hormone balance.
Therefore, your goal is not to lose weight but to sustain muscle mass and lose fat. The only way to measure this accurately is with a skinfold or fancier test like a DEXA scan. The scale and those handheld electrical body fat devices are useless.
#6: Sleep enough and optimize circadian rhythm.
Getting decent sleep may be the most important thing you can do to improve fat loss if you’re lean.
Our ability to sleep is regulated by a circadian rhythm that relies on balance of a large number of hormones. Those same hormones regulate when you’re hungry, the foods you crave, and how active you’ll be.
Over the long-term, lack of sleep leads to lower testosterone, growth hormone, and thyroid hormone, but elevated cortisol. This is a combination that will make fat loss impossible. Hormone dysregulation is one reason that some fat loss studies show poor outcomes.
#7: Focus on pre- and post-workout nutrition to get the most out of your workouts and improve recovery.
Losing fat when you’re lean requires you to take advantage of every opportunity. A few things are indicated by research:
• Try using caffeinated coffee (1 to 3 cups) pre-workout because it significantly enhances exercise performance and motivation. This is especially useful if you’re eating a lower carb diet and training in a glycogen depleted state.
• Don’t eat high-carb foods before training because this will increase insulin and shift the body away from burning fat. It also reduces energy levels and motivation.
• The best time to eat higher carb foods is after intense workouts because metabolism is elevated and your body will use the carbs to replenish glycogen. In addition, the insulin spike can improve recovery from training because it has an antioxidant effect on muscle.
• Use whey protein because it has consistently been shown to be a superior protein for improving body composition with training by improving insulin sensitivity. It also triggers protein synthesis and has a greater thermic effect than other sources such as casein or soy.
#8: Eat natural, whole foods and eliminate all refined/processed foods.
Just about everyone knows that whole foods trump refined foods when it comes to losing fat because they are more nutrient dense, have more natural fiber, and have less added sugar and fat.
But a lot of people still let refined foods sneak into there diet here or there. They try the 80/20 approach in which they eat whole foods at least 80 percent of the time and processed foods 20 percent.
This is a big mistake. When you are already lean and trying to coax those last few pounds off, you’ve got take advantage of every chance you have to optimize your metabolism.
Opt more for a 95/5 approach. Here’s why:
There’s evidence that compared to unrefined diets, diets higher in refined foods cause major metabolic damage, which leads to fat gain and poor cognition.
Eating these foods, especially when they are high in carbs and omega-6 fats from vegetable oils, change the architecture of your brain, triggering appetite and making you feel like you have to have them. They actually activate endocannabinoid receptors, which are the same receptors in the brain that bind to THC in marijuana.
#9: Reduce stress and balance cortisol.
Every time you get stressed, cortisol goes up, which causes cravings for high-fat, high-sugar junk foods. At the same time, cortisol shuts off the goal-oriented, rationale parts of the brain.
A few things can help you balance cortisol:
• Eating frequent meals (3 to 6), avoiding long periods of fasting so that you reset your entire hormonal cascade and improve the body’s biological circadian rhythm.
• A lower carb, higher protein diet is useful because it manages blood sugar. Even if you’re stressed, cortisol doesn’t go as sky high. Insulin response to meals is lower, and insulin sensitivity improves.
• Meditation and being mindful balances cortisol with other hormones involved in body composition such as testosterone, DHEA, and growth hormone.
#10: Write everything down. Very few people are able to accurately estimate how much they eat. Keep a true food journal that only you see, but make sure you see it.
Own up to what you put in your mouth. If you’ve never done a completely honest food journal, you may be surprised at your numbers. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty. This is raw data you need to overcome your biological drive to eat in a say that impedes fat loss.
In addition to logging your diet, record training volume and how you felt during workouts. Also record overall energy levels, sleep, and any food cravings you have.
Food cravings, low energy, or poor motivation tend to indicate poor hormone balance. This could be due to stress or what you’re eating. Take action to reduce your stress (#9), and avoid all high-carb foods. Identify low-glycemic carbs that are acceptable substitutes for higher carb foods.
Final Words: Use these tips to give it all you’ve got and those last few pounds will melt away.
• Creating an energy deficit through calorie restriction and exercise.
• Eating a super low-carb diet, ketogenic diet.
• Eating a super high-protein diet (the new 4.4 g/kg of protein a day referred to in #3).