With an increasing number of “amazing” new weight loss products and services hitting the marketplace daily it comes as no surprise that many who simply wish to lose their love handles without having to subscribe to the latest, often cripplingly expensive fad give up in sheer frustration, especially when said fads do not deliver on their “ripped abs in five minutes”, “10 pounds lost in ten days” and “eat KFC all day and lose all the weight you want” promises. Sometimes, to achieve successful outcomes in any endeavor requires getting back to basics and doing what has worked successfully in the past for countless people.
Take weight loss. So caught up in marketing hype have we become that the simplest and most effective fat loss strategies are often passed over as being “outdated” and not “cutting edge” enough to warrant inclusion in one’s program. Those who chose to train “old school” are increasingly labeled dinosaurs and confined to a forgotten age where protein shakes tasted like sawdust and, would you believe, bench press and squats formed the basis of a person’s training program.
It seems that nowadays if you do not wear the latest fashion or follow the latest guru you are not fit to be considered a fully functioning member of society. Of course, most smart people know that the opposite is true: to succeed at the highest levels within any sphere requires adherence to what works best, and feels right, for the individual, that individuality of style and intent support personal growth, self satisfaction and goal attainment. So, to lose weight in the “fastest time possible” it is best, it appears, to find an approach that works most effectively for you and to hell with what the marketing hype suggests and what sheep-like masses of followers say.
And probably the best way to discover what works best for you? Ultimately this would take much trial and error – definitely a good thing – but a great place to start is with the basics that have worked for millions of people since it first became fashionable to sport sliced abs and, frankly, develop an attractive physique.
TIP 1 MORNING CARDIO ON AN EMPTY STOMACH
As with most other training goals the fat loss craze has reached epic proportions to where special diets – the more bizarre sounding the more popular they seem – and insane cardio regimes are the norm. With cardio we today see the devoted masses scheduling in one hour – or more- sessions each day of the week and wondering why they are not losing body fat (with all the muscle often lost through such an enterprise it is really no surprise). Further, there are those with even greater discipline who train as if they are preparing for inclusion in an elite military unit, with hour upon hour of cardio work heaped upon exhaustive weight training sessions and supported by starvation diets.Specifically, 45 minutes of moderate intensity cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach three or four times per week.
They are more likely to find themselves in a hospital bed than one of the tanning variety. A sensible cardio approach that has benefitted millions – and yes we could also argue that HIT Interval Training aerobics is also effective, which it is, but not for everyone – is the good old 45 minutes of moderate intensity output (around 70 percent of maximal heart rate) three or four times per week.
Tackling such training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is also a great idea – despite what some people say – as this, provided training intensity does not extended beyond moderate and session length is kept as prescribed, will directly target body fat, since glycogen stores will typically be low at this time leaving fat as a major fuel source; if we wait until after breakfast then a percentage of the energy burned will come from the carbs consumed earlier, despite the fact that aerobics, in its purest form, uses oxygen – which activates the usage of fat stores – for energy.
Most forms of sustained lower intensity exercise will suffice here: stationary cycling, fast walking and the stepper machine being the best forms. Running is too tough on the joints and typically will burn a greater degree more muscle than will the lower impact forms of cardio, as mentioned here. So, if you can get out of bed before 7.00am and complete 45 minutes of moderate intensity cardio three times per week you will almost certainly be on the path to permanent weight loss. Probably the best reason for adopting such an approach is the fact it is relatively easy to maintain; once waking earlier becomes routine, morning cardio will not only burn fat, guaranteed – no need for any money back promises here – but will awaken your mind and set you up perfectly for the day ahead.
TIP 2 AVOID CARBOHYDRATES AFTER 6:00 PM
Experience has taught me that eating carbs after 6:00 PM will increase my potential for fat storage. Many people I have trained have also experienced a similar effect. After our final meal of the day, which no doubt would, or at least should, comprise around 45 percent complex carbohydrates, especially if we had trained prior to it, there is little point in eating more of this macronutrient until the following morning.
While eating carbohydrates early in the day provides us with the energy needed to power through training sessions and complete our daily tasks, and the evening meal containing them helps us to replace lost glycogen from our final workout for the day, consuming carbohydrates after 6:00pm (or around this period) will only lead to an unnecessary output of insulin, an anabolic hormone responsible for, among other functions, increasing fat storage.
When insulin is produced for no apparent purpose – for example, when we eat a large pizza late at night – the glucose (a form of sugar converted from carbohydrates) that prompts its release will be, in large part, transformed into glycogen (another form of sugar stored in the muscles and liver) and tucked away for future use. And this is where the problem lies. Once our body’s capacity for glycogen storage has been reached (around 350 grams in most adults) any remaining will be converted into fat. For a well fed bodybuilder – especially one whose diet includes 40 percent of their total daily calories in the form of carbohydrates – this 350 gram limit will probably be maintained into the evening hours.
Therefore, if they decide to consume any carbohydrates at this point, without the energy output needed to use those that remain in storage, then fat will be produced and stored in fat cells. Often all it takes for one to lose a significant proportion of their body fat is to limit carbohydrates in the evening. However, human nature is such that once a routine has been established this pattern is hard to overcome. It is almost as if we have conditioned ourselves in believing that since we train hard during the day we can at night pound down the carbohydrates with impunity.
Remember: once your glycogen stores are full, adding further carbohydrates without the sets and reps required to burn them up will only result in a burgeoning waistline. Forget fancy diets. If you are finding it hard to lose unwanted weight, along with adopting a basic higher protein and complex carbohydrate (at least 35 and 45 percent of your daily caloric intake respectively), lower fat (around 20 percent) diet, simply eliminate carbohydrate consumption in the evening.
TIP 3 MAKE WEIGHT TRAINING THE CORE OF YOUR WEIGHT LOSS PROGRAM
One major mistake many overweight people make is to mistake bodybuilding training – that which emphasizes weights over cardio – for a pure muscle building activity. While weight training does of course build muscle it also encourages fat loss, a fact lost of those who instead opt to run on the treadmill five days a week, burning a little fat, but losing much of their muscle size in the process. Cardio activity is something that should not be overlooked when aiming to lose body fat, but it is only half of the equation. Yet ask most people what the most effective method for burning body fat is and they will almost universally tell you that it is aerobic activity.
While it is technically correct that cardio activity will use fat to fuel energy output, this process usually only lasts as long as the session itself, and because we gradually adjust to certain levels of intensity the body increasingly resists shedding unwanted weight when routinely using this method: this is why varying one’s cardio intensity levels is mandatory if we wish to optimize fat loss. Weight training, however, will work one’s body much more intensely than most forms of cardio will, thus stimulating a greater metabolic response, which will ultimately lead to increased fat loss above and beyond that directly attributable to aerobic work.
“WEIGHT TRAINING WILL WORK YOUR BODY MORE INTENSELY THAN MOST FORMS OF CARDIO.”
Further, by building muscle – and thus permanently increasing our metabolic rate – we become walking furnaces, burning fat even while at rest. Given that muscle is a metabolically active tissue, it requires a continual turnover of energy to maintain, a degree of output that steadily targets our fat cells for fuel. The dilemma we face, then, lies in determining just how much cardio and weight training should be done to maximize the fat burning effect. One common theme that has emerged in reviewing the results of the many people I have trained over the years is the profound effect weight training has had on their weight loss success.
Remove cardio and maintain the weight training and fat loss results will still come, provided their nutrition is sound. Furthermore, their physiques will look vastly more impressive compared with those who emphasize aerobic work at the expense of resistance training. By removing weight training and continuing cardio, however, a person will no doubt begin to resemble one of those unhealthy looking marathon runners, the only class of people who appear to have mastered the art of looking lean and fat at the same time.
For overall health improvements – the mental boost it provides and enhanced blood circulation etc – aerobic exercise should be included in any good fitness program, and indeed it does burn body fat and can assist weight training throughout this process. But to overemphasize it while neglecting high intensity weight training is a fundamental mistake. In fact, excessive cardio may negate our weight training efforts; it can rob us of our strength and negatively impact our recovery abilities. Yet, used correctly as a tool rather than blindly using it as foundational to the achievement of our fitness goals, it can improve recovery and enhance muscle growth: three 45 minute sessions per week would be sufficient, slightly more or less depending on the host of individual factors (metabolic response, body type and so on) that often make designing specific training programs difficult.
TIP 4 EAT SEVERAL SMALLER MEALS PER DAY
With those seeking weight loss increasingly bombarded with fad diets, people are now preparing a bewildering array of food combinations and eating either massive quantities of these or tiny servings which, in both cases, will only hamper weight loss efforts. Fad diets usually only work – if at all – over the short term, though there are some that have become quite popular and are used by many. Many of these diets, however, are so nutritionally restrictive that they can only be maintained for a short period before the dieter relents and eventually regains that which they lost.
“TO LOSE FAT AND KEEP IT OFF REQUIRES AN APPROACH THAT IS BOTH EFFECTIVE AND EASY TO MAINTAIN.”
The popular Atkins Diet, for example, encourages one to load up on fatty foods at the expanse of carbohydrates, the theory being that the body will become programmed to burn fat as opposed to carbohydrates for energy, which will ultimately lead to a leaner physique. However, the lack of nutrients this diet offers, and that would be included when consuming a wide variety of food sources may, over time, lead to nutritional imbalances and poor health. Due to its limited food choices this diet is also boring for many people. Overall it appears that fad diets – so called become they usually fall out of favor quickly or become popular, depending on one’s subjective view – are used to reach a specific target (such is the case, for example, with the “three day diet”): perhaps a new dress is to be worn for a special occasion and one only has a few weeks to lose enough weight to fit it.
To lose fat and keep it off requires an approach that is both effective and easy to maintain. For most, a wide variety of foods in the right quantities and at the right times is best. If we eat too much – the standard “three square meals” a day – we run the risk of putting on weight due to the sluggish metabolism this encourages combined with the surplus of calories that will require burning at any one time. Eat too little and we again encourage a slow metabolic rate due to muscle loss while discouraging the thermogenic effect (when foods themselves increase the metabolism) that foods, in sufficient quantities, will create.
It is best to achieve one’s dietary requirements somewhere in the middle and, once again, bodybuilders have led the way in this regard. To gain muscle and lose fat requires a steady stream of nutrients to feed our cells and fuel our workouts. Bodybuilders – dating back to the 40s and 50s – have noted that when consuming four to five (sometimes up to seven) smaller meals per day they are better able to remain lean and muscular.
By maintaining a low fat (though it is important to include a good supply of essential fatty acids) diet comprised of higher amount of protein and complex carbohydrates, and through portioning meals comprised of these over three hourly intervals (while being sure to avoid carbohydrates in the evening), one can more effectively replenish any lost nutrients while continually stoking the metabolism to burn a greater deal more body fat. And since such a regime can be easily followed compared to the more extreme approaches that work well in the short term but are difficult to maintain, it can be adopted for life.
TIP 5 EAT A PROTEIN MEAL DIRECTLY BEFORE BED
As a nutrient which raises the metabolic rate probably faster than any other, lean protein is favored by bodybuilders for its fat burning properties. As well as encouraging muscle growth through its conversion into the amino acids needed to rebuild damaged tissues larger and stronger, protein, due to the complexity of its composition, requires additional energy to be properly digested. If we do not eat enough protein the body will break down muscle tissue to ensure there is enough of it to fuel the many biological processes that require it. So, to boost the metabolism to encourage fat burning it is essential that we at all times consume enough protein.
One mistake many dieters make, one that bodybuilders have been avoiding for many years, is to eat a serving a protein before bed. Three or so hours after our final meal of the evening the body again begins to ever so slightly enter a catabolic state where the protein we ate hours back has been used to repair muscle, while the carbohydrates have been stored away for future use. Now we are in a position to eat again, but generally cannot consume carbohydrates as they may lead to fat gains (see tip two). So to offset any potential catabolic effects (the aforementioned degrading of muscle tissue for cell maintenance, which also occurs while we sleep) it is smart practice to consume protein before bed.
Remembering that the eight or so hours we are asleep are essentially a fasting period – a time where the body will do anything to maintain its fat stores lest its survival is threatened – those wanting to continue the fat burning process, even while sleeping, would be wise to top up with protein. Good sources include a quality casein supplement (due to its slower digestibility), low fat cottage cheese, lean chicken and fish. Thirty grams would be sufficient. Just remember not to add carbohydrates to the menu at this time.
After reading this article and putting into practice its insights it should be abundantly clear that to lose body fat does not require us to do anything drastic and that good, commonsense advice will always trump advertising hype and any outlandish new contraption to have hit the marketplace. Through sensibly incorporating cardio into your program, limiting certain foods at certain times, eating others when required and in the right quantities, and by focusing on weight training rather than endless aerobics sessions you will be doing what many physique champions have done for decades. And by doing what has achieved success for millions worldwide you, too, can reap the rewards of a fat free physique