If you read my article on calorie counting you probably guessed that I am not a huge fan of the notion. I agree that it is effective and sometimes necessary for extreme cases however I feel that the average individual becomes overwhelmed with the mathematical concept of fat loss. To do a quick recap of my previous article (click here to read it if you haven’t already), calorie counting is tracking energy expenditure and energy intake. Calories in equal calories out. If you do not expend calories to equate what you have ingested, you gain weight. The concept is correct as it is standard physics but what you must remember is that not all calories are dispensed equally. In other words, one calorie may not equate to another single calorie.
To lose fat mass you must first dissect exactly what you are eating and fueling your body with. Nutrition is first and foremost when it comes to dealing with fat loss. Ensuring sufficient protein intake along with appropriate carbohydrate and fat consumption are key to improving your chances. You must never feel like you are in a starved state as your body will react as such and slow down your metabolism. Ensure you ingest enough food of various sources to prevent hunger.
As the latest research has demonstrated, subjects that consumed an extremely high protein diet actually retained lean muscle mass and lost fat mass. This should give you some perspective as to what macro nutrient you should be filling your plate with. Caloric recommendations are based upon body fat percentage and lean muscle content. Funny enough, the lower your body fat percentage is the higher your recommended caloric intake is per pound of lean mass. Muscle demands a higher energy stores in order to sustain or grow (just one more reason to try and build some).
Keeping this in mind, caloric recommendations actually allow for substantial energy consumption within reason for most individuals. Experts will use guidelines as a starting point and then finalize recommended calorie consumption based on your individual needs. However, we must take a step back and look at it from the person’s perspective. You mention calorie counting, they automatically become anxious (maybe even scared) of what they are eating. This leads to stress, lack of nutrition and all the symptoms associated with it. It is understandable to keep track of caloric intake but ensure the information is being translated appropriately. Emphasize balanced eating and energy expenditure via physical activity instead of starvation. After all, it is far more effective (and healthier) to create a caloric deficit through exercise than dietary restrictions.
We’ve established nutrition as the first priority which means exercise is next in line. I really want to reinforce the importance of weight training when looking to lose fat. Here are three reasons why should you pick up heavy stuff when training for fat loss:
1)During your deficit, weight training will help to maintain lean muscle mass
2)It leads to a greater caloric expenditure than cardio when comparing similar timelines
3)Metabolism is elevated for a longer period of time
There you go. Although cardiovascular activity is recommended, you shouldn’t forget to add weight training to your program. Consider these three concepts when building your future plan.
When training for fat loss keep the focus in mind: fat loss. Everything you do will be to reduce total fat mass. That means getting incredibly ripped (hulk huge) may take the back burner for a while. It’s not to say you can’t gain some muscle but keep in mind the physiology behind muscle gains. Frequent bouts of cardiovascular activity may hinder your muscle building simply due to protein inhibition. It’s not to say you will lose mass however you may be in a maintenance phase for the time being.
The most important concept I can emphasize revolves around being able to continually follow your plan. Consistency will be your key to success when aiming to lose fat mass. If you are consistent with your plan (even if it isn’t what some professionals may prescribe for you) you will see some results. Remember that your nutrition is first priority so those changes alone will count for a lot. If you follow your plan and are training 4-6 days of the week you will see benefits. If you learn nothing else and choose to never change your program I will accept that. In return, consistently follow your nutrition plan and exercise program day in and day out. Habitual exercise and healthy eating is not a new concept in regards to improving quality of life yet we tend to complicate the most basic rule. Exercise and eat well often.
Next key factor is intensity. If possible, break up your training day into 2 mini workout sessions. You can do a cardio bout in the morning and a weight session in the evening (or vice versa). For fat loss, short and intense workouts are better than long and slow ones. Your energy expenditure must be high and remain elevated so shorter more intense bouts broken up into 2 per day will help to achieve that. If two a days aren’t always an option, consider adding a quick HIIT (high intensity interval training) session after your weight workout to keep the metabolism going.
To shorten your workouts, decrease rest time. This may mean lowering weight in order to remain safe however keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish. You aren’t trying to shred muscle anymore, you are trying to burn fat. Lowering rest time keeps energy expenditure elevated so shorten things up and get going. Utilize different tools for your cardio HIIT sessions. As mentioned previously, faster paced exercise leads to a higher energy expenditure so try a variety of complexes. Maybe jump rope or sprint on an incline. Switch things up and use a rowing ergometer or swing a kettlebell. Combine exercises in a circuit and throw in some weight lifting to really crank things into overdrive..
With regards to weight training, big lifts are your go to. I recommend variations of the essential 6 to optimize energy expenditure and muscle maintenance. You may not lift heavy or have as many isolation exercises but caloric output will be much higher. You get more bang for your buck. Worried about become weak? Add one heavy lift day per week to maintain your strength. You should never walk away from a fat loss program weaker than when you started. If you do, you either weren’t following appropriate nutrition guidelines or refused to pick up a heavy weight.
As mentioned earlier, a great way to incorporate variety with your intense sessions is to utilize circuit based methods. Alternate stations of body weight exercises with free weight ones. Add some stability ball drills or jumping jacks. The options are endless when it comes to a faster paced workout. With a little creativity (and consistency) your 40 minute workout may be one of the toughest you perform all cycle. Circuits are great if you can only squeeze in one workout per day and they keep things interesting.
In closing, remember the main goal. Everything you do and everything you consume is based around fat loss. You may not gain muscle and you may not increase strength (maybe) but you will certainly have a lower body fat percentage. My advice would be to try and utilize two workouts per day a couple times per week. Do a quick HIIT session on the hills for 20 minutes and come back later on for a weight circuit. During your rest day, hit the gym for a couple heavy lifts. It won’t take long, just a few heavy squats and a deadlift will suffice. When you finish your fat loss cycle, you’ll come back ready to shred with an even higher work capacity. Remember to stay consistent and stay hungry (pun intended).
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Matrixx specializes in adolescent athletic development. He coaches some of the top athlete prospects coming out of high school in the Niagara region. He also works with dedicated members of the community who are passionate about improving personal fitness. Matrixx is also the author of The Iron Guide to Building Muscle.