Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How to Win at Fat Loss

Eat less, exercise more!!

Although that pretty much summarizes it, I know that you are looking for a bit more. So after going through the literature, reading what other top strength & conditioning coaches are recommending, and of course including what I've seen work again and again, I've broken it down to 12 key points.

On a slight side note, all this advice is for fat loss not weight loss. If you're not 100% sure what the difference is read my last blog "Weight Loss Vs. Fat Loss".

Although each of these points has been shown to be effective individually what makes this a powerful fat loss tool is the combination of all 12 points. I understand that adopting all 12 points into your lifestyle might be daunting, but at an individual level none of these steps are hard to do. The main reason for this is because some of the most effective fat loss methods in this post are about changing how you eat, not what you eat. The main reason for this is because I'm a Sport Scientist, not a nutritionist. If you're a little intimidated by the list simply pick one point and stick by it for a week. After the first week pick a second point and add it into your routine. The more points you can effectively adopt into your daily lifestyle the more fat you're likely to lose. Taking your time to integrate these 12 points into your lifestyle is a far better long term strategy than trying to adopt all 12 points in your first week just to get frustrated and give up.

Ok, so enough chit chat...time to get down to business.

1. Mental Determination. The first thing you need to do is get to a point in your head where not losing body fat is no longer an option. It's that simple. I've seen people lose fat on the worst programs simply by never giving up. It might have taken them 10 times longer than it should, but they all achieved their goals. There is simply nothing more powerful than the made up mind. How you get to this point I unfortunately can't help you with. It's just got to come from within. "Eehhh, ya....I, emmmmmm.....kinda want to lose 50 lbs of body fat" is never going to get you anywhere. You need to get to a point where you are ready and willing to run through concrete walls, kung fu kick Chuck Norris so hard that he actually starts to weep, and then eat kryptonite as a post ass kicking snack. Get determined and get effin' confident that this is an achievable goal....because it is.

2. Increase meal frequency. To pull out a number of minimum meals per day is not reflective of the research. What the research is telling us is that people who eat more meals per day lose more fat even when the total calories per day are identical. The only thing I'll add to this is that a "meal" isn't a full plate of food piled sky high. It's simply a feeding of food that's balanced e.g. has fruit/veg, protein & a carbohydrate. A hand full of nuts with a small yogurt & a few grapes is a "meal". I aim for 5 "meals" per day, some are bigger than others.

3. Choose nutrient dense food. This one is really easy, switch white foods for brown foods and you'll get more out of the food you eat. Wild rice, oats, quinoa, spelt...all good things.

4. Big breakfast every single day. The research clearly shows that people who eat breakfast have less body fat. Furthermore, people who eat breakfast every day have less body fat that those who eat it occasionally. So get breakfast into you, no excuses! Make it the night before, set your alarm earlier, I really don't care how you do it, just eat breakfast. It jump starts your body and sets you up to burn more calories throughout the day. Finally, it also seems that a bigger breakfast is even instead of just having a cereal, get some seasonal fruit and throw it on top with some hemp seeds!!!

5. Eat on the clock. I don't know why, but eating at the same time every day results in greater fat loss compared to eating at different times every day, even though the same food was eaten each day (broken down into the same sized meals), Iwao (1996) and Farshchi (2004). Therefore, pick times that you're going to eat your "meals" and stick to it, every day.

6. Low Carbohydrate Diet. I think I need to start this point off with some caution. Although a low carb diet is what the research suggests for fat loss, this does not mean a no carb diet!! Too many people have taken this concept too far and have taken carbs out of their diet completely. You simply have to have carbs, you need them! However, time and time again, the research has shown that a lower carb diet results in a higher rate of fat loss. The point that I really want to make here is that it's not a low fat diet that results in greater fat loss. In actual fact, numerous studies have shown that an unrestricted low carb diet (subjects could eat as much total calories as they wanted provided the total carb content was low) results in greater fat loss than a restricted low fat diet (subjects could only eat what was given to them and the fat content was low). Also, as an added bonus the adherence to the unrestricted low carb diet was greater than the restricted low fat diet i.e. a higher percentage of the people who started the diet actually kept it up. So not only does it increase fat loss, but it's also easier to do. Win win.

7. Increase water intake. Simply staying hydrated increases the amount of calories your body naturally burns (metabolic rate). This doesn't mean drink any of the hundreds of sugar water that's passed off as "water" these days...this just means water. The stuff that comes out of your tap and nothing more. (If you're not happy with the water out of your tap get a filtering system. Don't buy bottled water.). A nice easy way to work out how much to drink is to half your weight in pounds and drink that in fluid ounces e.g. if you're 200 lbs drink 100 oz of water. Sorry for my metric readers but it's a nice easy way to remember and you probably have a converter in your phone, so just spend the time to work it out!! You need to drink this water throughout the day, not in one chug. You should never wait until you're thirsty and your pee should always be clear. Oh, and one final note on this topic; iced water seems to be even better for fat loss. I presume this is because your body has to burn energy to re-heat your body after drinking the iced water. Regardless, just drink water. If there's ice in it from time to time even better.

8. Resistance (strength) Training. I've no doubt that I will end up writing countless blogs on just this topic alone so I'm going to keep it brief here. Using the metaphor of a car, having more lean mass (muscle) is the equivalent of having a bigger engine that burns more fuel (fat). This is obviously something that we want because having more lean mass means that you're going to burn more fuel 24 hours a day, every single day...yes, even when your sleeping. This is why I'm so against "weight loss" as that normally means muscle loss, which in turn means that you're going to decrease the amount of fat your body naturally burns, hence making it harder for you to lose fat. This does not mean that you need to turn yourself into a bodybuilder; it simply means do some resistance (strength) training. Again, I'll get into this at a later date but resistance training is what you need to prioritize during your workout. Cardio work does not burn fat nearly as effectively. In fact McTiernan (2007) got 202 subjects to do moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity (med. to hard cardio) for 1 hour a day, 6 days a week, for 1 year...AND...subjects lost on average 3.5 lbs!! After a year! Of 6 days a week! Med. to high intensity cardio work!! I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty disappointed with that. (Side note; you still need to do cardio work for health reasons, but for fat loss it just doesn't cut it).

9. Pre workout protein. While I'm on the topic of working out I may as well include the next major point. Eat a protein based snack pre workout (about 20-30 mins before). Hackent et al. (2009) conducted a great double blind crossover study (just a v. powerful study) that showed that if you consumed protein pre workout (20 mins in this case) it significantly increased the amount of calories your body burned the day after the workout. Just like a lot of the points in this list, I'm not 100% sure why exactly this happens, but there's one thing we know for sure, it does happen. If you're already working out this is so easy to do that it's stupid not to do it!! It could take the form of a protein bar or shake, or it can simply be some nuts (a variety is better). (The study used 18g of whey protein).

10. Rest. You simply have to get enough sleep. You have to give your body time to recover. It may be slightly surprising to this see on the list, but it's vital for long term success. Proper rest is often completely over looked in fat loss programs. Long story short you need a minimum of 7 hours sleep. Also if you live a stressful life you need to do de-stressing activities (read, yoga, listen to music etc). Being stressed changes your hormonal balance and makes it harder to lose fat.

11. Supplementation. Yes, there are actually supplements that I recommend you take!! I don't think it'll shock you to learn that these are not the marketed "weight loss" supplements that are constantly pushed on us. So what is the best supplement on the market?? Fish oil!! Studies actually show that independent of a change in diet or exercise supplementing with fish oil decreases body fat. I find this crazy...but the research shows it works. As an added benefit it also contains a few grams of omega 3 which is a reason in its self to supplement with fish oil. After that, the rest of my recommended supplements are just food!! Chili's, grape fruit and to a lesser extent coffee have all been shown to increase your metabolic rate. So, eat a grape fruit as part of your breakfast, sneak in a coffee around that mid day slump and throw a chili in your dinner to fire up your body's engine. (Note, 1-2 medium cup(s) of coffee per day is all I recommend. And if you do decide to drink it you need to drink more water).

12. Short term fasting. Ok, I must admit this is a new one for me, and although the science gives it a thumbs up I want to read more research on the topic. Hopefully, everyone here knows that crash diets are an absolute NO. They are simply disastrous for long term success. They destroy your hormonal balance and basically mess your body right up. And what are crash diets? Basically fasting for a period of about 2 weeks (medium term fasting). This is why I'm hesitant with sort term fasting. But I'm fully ready to admit when I'm wrong and after looking at some research for short term fasting it looks very promising. Basically, if you fast for one or maybe two days out of a week you get a positive response from your body. (Note; if you were to do it 2 days out of the week they should be non-consecutive days). Even if it does result in a positive response from your body (decreased body fat & LDL cholesterol to name just two) I would personally find it almost impossible to fast for one day a week, every week. I simply enjoy food too much!! But I wanted this list to be as scientifically bases and as current as possible, and hence this creeps in as the 12th step. I currently recommend that you only add this step if you've already integrated the first 11 steps into your daily lifestyle and are still looking for an even faster rate of fat loss.

And that's it!! This is what I consider to be the top 12 things you can do to win at fat loss. As I said at the start, none of them are particularly hard to do (well maybe #12). You can still have some chocolate from time to time. You can still drink that glass of wine or that pint of beer. You can still have a life!!

So try it out and let me know how it goes.

Cian Lanigan

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