Tip #1: Train with Weights.
Most people rely on aerobic cardio for fat loss, but this is a mistake because even though it burns calories, it doesn’t increase lean muscle mass in the way that training with weights does. Increasing lean mass is your first line of defense against body fat because it raises your metabolic rate so that your body burns more calories every day.
To build muscle, emphasize multi-joint exercises (squats, deadlifts, presses, pulls, etc.), using moderately heavy weights in the 65 to 85 percent with short rest periods (10 to 60 seconds). This type of training uses the glycolytic pathway rather than the aerobic. It is superior for fat loss because high blood lactate levels decrease blood pH, which in turn sends a signal to the brain to increase the production of growth hormone. Growth hormone accelerates fat burning and raises testosterone
Tip #2: Do Sprints.
Sprint intervals are a superior style of cardio for fat loss because they can be done in less time than your typical aerobic workout and they are so much more effective. For instance, a 2008 study found that women who did 20 minutes of cycle sprints 3 days a week lost six times more fat (2.5 kg or about 6 pounds) compared to a group that did 40 minutes of aerobic exercise.
Sprint training is so effective for fat loss because it increases activity of enzymes involved in fat burning and it raises levels of the catecholamine hormones like epinephrine that ratchet up metabolic rate. Sprints also improve muscle mass and increase insulin sensitivity for a better metabolism.
Tip #3: Adopt an Active Lifestyle.
You’ve got to consciously fight the obesogenic environment that is set up to keep you sedentary and in one place most of time. In as little as 20 minutes of sitting, the body has a harder time regulating blood sugar, and gene signaling drops, blunting physiological processes like tissue repair. Other processes involved in metabolic rate are downregulated, making the body more likely to store the food you eat as fat.
How you craft your active lifestyle has to be individual to your personal circumstances. Some people bike to work. Some get a standing desk or take frequent yoga breaks during the day. Others walk everywhere within 2 miles instead of driving their car. Others plan leisure time physical activity instead of watching TV. Try walking the dog, practicing martial arts, or riding horses.
The key is to look at how your life is set up and what you can do to make it so that you’re in motion as much as possible.
Tip #4: Do a Legit Food Journal.
Fat loss requires you to create an energy deficit so that you’re expending more calories than you’re taking in. Unfortunately, studies show humans are hopeless at estimating how much they eat. We always underestimate calorie intake—usually by at least 500 calories a day, which is why a lot of people wonder why they can’t lose any weight even though they think they’re doing everything right.
A food journal solves this because it eliminates the guestimation and lets you see how many calories you’re taking in. You can look for foods that you can cut out or replace with healthier, lower energy foods. You can also identify areas of “food weakness.” For example, are you snacking in the afternoon because you’re bored? Or are you getting an energy crash midmorning because of a high-carb, low-protein breakfast?
A food journal allows you to troubleshoot these problems—just make sure you outsmart your human nature and make it a legit, honest journal. Otherwise it’s just a “tool” that’s working against you.
Tip #5: Never Starve Yourself.
The first thing most people do when they want to reduce body fat is slash calories as low as possible. Seems logical since we’re inundated with the fact that we have to eat fewer calories than we take in to lose fat, but it ends up causing more trouble than it’s worth.
Slashing calories (below the 1,200 to 1.500 a day range) causes you to lose lean muscle so that your resting metabolic rate drops. Your body goes into “starvation mode” and you burn fewer calories daily.
The other terrible thing about very low-calorie diets is that they require you to fight off hunger with willpower. But, willpower is a limited resource that is quickly depleted over the course of the day. When you restrict food, your willpower is exhausted in no time and you are left with nothing between you and that mountain of food that you’ve been avoiding.
Instead, you’ve got to find a way to create a calorie deficit without starving yourself. That’s where higher protein, whole food eating plans come in because real protein such as fish, meat, poultry, Greek yogurt, eggs, and even beans reduce appetite and lead to the release of gut hormones that tell your brain you are full more quickly.
This leads people to eat less naturally. One review found that for every 1 percent increase in protein intake, people spontaneously reduced calories by between 32 and 51 calories daily.
Tip #6: Balance Protein with Vegetables & Fruit.
Plenty of veggies and fruit are the second part of a fat-loss eating plan designed to avoid hunger. Low-carb plants like leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower are a godsend for anyone trying to lose body fat because they are “free for all food” and you can eat them as much as you want, which is helpful for reducing hunger and filling your stomach.
They also provide fiber and phytonutrients, which help eliminate inflammation and prevent disease. Veggies and fruit contain key nutrients involved in metabolism like potassium and magnesium, both of which are lacking from the average sad American diet.
Finally, diets high in fruits and vegetables can help you re-train your taste buds away from the hyperpalatable, scientifically-engineered-to-suck-you-in processed foods that most people are eating. This makes you love blueberries or cherries for dessert and allows you to salivate over those baked Brussels sprouts or that kale and tomato stir-fry that helps you stay lean, healthy, and hunger-free.
Tip #7: Eat Healthy Fats!
Everyone knows certain fats are “healthy” but that doesn’t mean they’re not the first thing the average dieter cuts out when they try to reduce body fat. This causes a variety of problems: First, eating fat improves your metabolic flexibility, which is the body’s ability to burn body fat. If you eat a low-fat, high-carb diet, fat burning will be sluggish and your body will run on carbs.
A related benefit is that becoming metabolically flexible allows your body to maintain energy levels by burning fat. This is important because you don’t want your brain to go bonk if you can’t eat every two hours. This also allows you to have more satisfying meals instead of snacking on 250-calorie meals 6 or 7 times a day.
Finally, fat provides the raw materials for the body to manufacture important body composition hormones such as growth hormone, testosterone, and the like. You need healthy levels of these hormones to retain lean muscle during fat loss and access body fat stores to be burned.
The best way to up your fat intake is to include it with every meal. Many high-quality protein sources naturally provide fat (salmon, steak, eggs), but if not, add olives or avocado to salads. Cook with coconut and olive oil. Toss in some nuts or seeds with your sautéed leafy greens or add them to Greek yogurt.
Tip #8: Address Hormone Issues: Start With Insulin.
Hormones have a big effect on metabolic rate and your ability to burn fat. Growth hormone, testosterone, cortisol, insulin, glucagon, and the catecholamines all influence your ability to reduce body fat, and the good news is that these hormones tend to function in a cascade-like fashion, so that if you fix one, others will respond favorably for better body composition. Insulin is a great place to start because it is a storage hormone and if you are in calorie excess, insulin will store those calories as body fat.
This is one reason that low-carb diets tend to accelerate fat loss. Carbohydrate foods lead to the largest release of insulin and they’re easy to overeat because they activate parts of the brain that stimulate food intake. Another negative side effect of high insulin levels is that the cells become desensitized to insulin and more is needed to get the same effect.
Reducing carb intake will restore insulin sensitivity and give the body a chance to access fat stores to be burned. Specific carb/protein/fat ratios will depend on your individual situation—particularly your activity level, current body composition, goals, and genetics.
An example of how to reduce carbs for better insulin health would be if you’re eating 55 to 70 percent of your calories from carbs, reduce carbs to 40 percent, increase protein to 25 percent, and fat to 35 percent. You could also try eating lower carb on days when you don’t work out and higher carb on workout days.
Tip #9: Cope With Your Stress.
It’s almost impossible to escape having some degree of chronic stress in today’s lifestyle, but figuring out a way to cope with it effectively is one of the most important things you can do to improve fat loss.
The reason is that persistent stress leads to cortisol secretion and cortisol’s primary function is to increase blood sugar (bringing with it an insulin spike) so you have enough energy to get through a stressful situation. When this becomes chronic it produces inflammation and dysregulation of the hypothalamic pituitary axis, which means the body’s not working right any more. Everything is out of whack in the body and fat loss simply won’t happen.
Stress management looks differently for each person, but a few tips are as follows:
Do meditation or deep breathing.
Listen to beautiful music.
Try yoga or a martial art.
Train hard but always allow for a complete recovery between workouts.
Tip #10: Solve Sleep Once & For All.
The amount of sleep people need is very individualized but if you’re consistently exhausted, fat loss will be hard to come by. Studies show people feel hungrier, make poorer food choices, and are less active when they are sleep deprived. In addition, insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance plummet when you don’t get enough sleep. The stress hormone cortisol also rises, shifting the body into fat storage mode.
You’ve got to find some way of getting all the rest you need on a regular basis. Start by practicing good sleep hygiene (turn off electronics an hour before bedtime, avoid caffeine, have a bedtime ritual), and try natural sleep aids: Topical magnesium, melatonin, and make sure your vitamin D level is up to par.