*Before I get started: this article is NOT meant for someone who has an appreciable amount of fat to lose.
If you’re 30% or more body fat…you NEED to go full on Tony Montana.
At least for a little while.
Pull out all the stops, up the cardio, cut the cals, etc.
However, if you’re in pretty good shape, but not as lean as you’d like to be, this is more up your alley.
We need to all agree on ONE basic premise before we start.
The body ADAPTS to the stress(ors) applied to it.
That means, the body follows this model:
So think of everything (stressor) that promotes fat loss is like a bullet in an old time six-shooter…
Here’s what you have in the chambers: (in no particular order)
- Calorie Deficit
- Food Quality
- “Metabolic” Weight Training <—“finishers” or heart rate guided weight training
- Weight Training
- Steady State Cardio
- HIIT “cardio”
- Food Timing
There’s probably something else, but I’m thinking that’s probably about it.
Lets talk about each one real quick just so we’re all on the same page:
Lets get this one out-of-the-way.
Sleep, that sh@t shouldn’t be a bullet in the first place UNLESS you’re already getting at least 7, more like 8 hours a night.
If you are getting that much, a nice post workout/ late morning/ early afternoon nap is actually REALLY good for muscle-building, retention and fat loss.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, start now.
Change NOTHING else but CONSISTENTLY get enough sleep for you and you’ll probably lean up some.
If you’re trying to get leaner and can sleep a bit more, DO IT.
Rule number 1 of fat loss you gotta burn more calories than you take in.
Simple as that.
There is NO WAY around that.
So the FIRST thing you should do (baring you are sleeping enough) is create a small calorie deficit.
That depends on body size.
Generally if you begin by cutting 10-15% of the calories that would maintain your weight you’re good.
If you’re very lean, like 8-5% body fat, try 3-5% of calories.
Why Not More?
Lets say your homeostasis is 3000kcal a day.
Which option seems less awful? <—-assuming you don’t change any other behavior
- Cut 1000kcal?
- Cut 500kcal?
- Cut 250kcal?
Cutting 250kcal right? Obviously.
Cause the smallest “cut” in calories is the smallest stressor, the smallest disruption of homeostasis and the least likely to cause a massive (negative) response in the body.
Cut too many calories, the threat (stressor) is too great and the body will start jettisoning the highly active, very metabolic tissue that uses LOTS of calories to just stay alive and active each day in an effort to adapt to this stressor. That tissue?
And why would you want to get rid of that?
Isn’t that kinda the whole point of this “Working out”, “smashing weight” and “getting swole” thing? #swolepatrol
Understand, too, the body wants to have some fat, so you kinda have to coax it off when you’re already pretty lean.
This works more than you might think.
OK, so you do NEED a caloric deficit. I’m not arguing against that.
BUT eating REAL food and not overly processed shit that comes from a bag in a box, it tends to be full of vitamins, nutrients and “healthy” fats, proteins and yes, even carbs.
But here’s the thing(s):
- You have a better chance of USING what you’re putting in your mouth.
You’re still training hard and you still need all of those things to operate the body as optimally as possible.
- Most those things come from the ground, tree, sea or at one point were, in one way or another alive.
That matters because those things tend to come with pre-packaging, skins, and thick cell walls, and “ruffiage” and the like.
You’re body has to work a bit harder to break those foods down so you can get at the nutrients…and….
You’re probably going to absorb less of the larger chain molecules like carbs, fats and proteins, then what would be absorbed in similar (macro-nutrient breakdown) processed foods.
This probably isn’t a bid difference, but if you’re already pretty lean, you need every bullet you can get.
Chances are, since you’re already fairly lean (below 13%) you’re probably eating pretty clean but if you can clean up some things….it wouldn’t hurt.
Metabolic Weight Training
The good old METCON.
Look, usually the METCON sucks, but not always.
Half the time, you’re too weak for it to actually do much, the other half, you’re too out of shape to keep moving after 3 minutes.
But sometimes, if you’re reasonably strong, reasonably in shape, choose the right exercises for your ability level, you can make them work, it’s a good choice.
Want them to work almost all of the time?
Take the guess-work out….
Buy a heart rate monitor, preferably one with heart rate training zone alerts (sounds/ beeps etc) and set it for something that makes you breath heavily but you can accomplish.
I use a low of 125bpm and a high of 160bpm. My average for the workout is usually around 135-145bpm.
Not incredibly high, but the weight(s) used are pretty good and the rest times are pretty short and after a few rounds or sets, I’m breathing hard and dreading the next set.
Yeah, just in case you were wondering.
Dropping lifting for cardio to lose fat, is awful.
Purposefully lifting lighter weights is awful too.
Sure, as the caloric deficit takes hold and drags on if you’re really getting low on the BF% you’re gonna feel rough and need to back the intensity off some.
But lifting lighter just cause you heard you should do that to “cut”?
…that’s awful too, don’t do it.
Heavy weights will tell your body you need the tissue and help you keep your muscle mass.
Steady State Cardio
Gets poo-pooed on BUT ummm professional body builders have leaned on it for DECADES and had great results.
So obviously, it f-ing sucks. <—-sarcasm
Here’s what Steady State Cardio does:
Helps creates a caloric deficit.
That’s about it. (Besides its good for your heart and lame stuff like that).
But here’s the kicker: If you’re fairly muscled, lean, dieting and still training hard you’re probably going to get the best results with cardio that isn’t very stressful.
My favorite? Steep Incline Treadmill Walking.
It makes the heart rate soar, with very little speed, is easy on the old knees and hips and takes almost nothing to recover from.
When compared to traditional steady state cardio it almost always wins out.
But it is VERY fatiguing and does affect your weight training afterward.
So, just know, it can be a powerful tool, but like most stress(ors) the more powerful the stress(or) the more dramatic the short-term outcome and the sooner it loses its effect.
In my experience, HIIT after 4 weeks is almost worthless if you’re using it solely for fat loss. .
You’ve adapted, built the necessary enzymes and you’re not going to get the same body comp results that you got for the past 4 weeks.
So make sure, if you’re going to employ HIIT, you unleash it at the right time and adjust the rest of your training as necessary.
Ok, here’s the last and maybe weakest bullet you have.
I know the current “cool” argument is that food timing does not work.
And it’s correct, except when it might not be.
We need to understand that these studies are usually done on college kids, some use recall, and they’re typically “average” people more or less, even if they are “trained” <—-how “trained” is trained is always and often up for debate.
Here’s what I think (little broscience, experience and some science):
Food timing may have a small effect on those who frequently train very hard.
Food timing (I think) DOES have an effect (albeit small) on those who:
- Are training hard
- Are fairly muscled
- Are fairly lean, < 10%
- Are in a caloric deficit
If you fit those four criteria, I think timing your food can make a difference.
You’re already using tons of calories (muscle and training) and fairly lean (don’t have a ton of stored energy).
So after you’ve beaten down your body and begun an anabolic (building) response in a system that is operating at a deficit, I think having adequate nutrition (building blocks) available immediately will help to maximize anabolic response. <—- preworkout nutrition is probably just as important, if not more, than post…
In normal people terms: If you have carbs, fats and proteins readily available in the system while the body is trying to cope with the massive stress that is training I think you’ll have a better chance of recovering, holding on to and not breaking down muscle.
These Are Your Bullets In the War on Fat
Use them wisely and don’t make the #1 fat loss mistake….
The one thing that WILL make you feel like absolute SH@T after 10-14 days. Don’t…
Fire Them All At Once
One or two at a time is best.
And ride those out until they stop working…
Remember, the body doesn’t differentiate stressors.
Stress is CUMULATIVE and NON-DIFFERENTIATED.
You’re body doesn’t know that you’re trying to get all jacked, tan, cut and swole so you look good on the beach.
All your body knows is:
“You’re a Total A-Hole.”
You ask me to do all this really rigorous physical activity, barely feed me enough to maintain that and now you’re going to give me LESS to run off of.
Your abs don’t go, “ohh, he’s doing this “cardio” that makes me want to puke so we’ve got cuts”.
Instead it goes, “WHY are you bathing us in acidic, harmful, metabolic waste products and not even allowing us to remove them before you do it again?”.
So each time you fire a bullet, you’re applying one more stressor to the system.
You’re increasing the total stress on the system and disrupting homeostasis.
You’re going to adapt to that stressor and the total level of stress in an effort to regain homeostasis.
Fire them all at once?
You’re going to create a massive disruption in the system in the form of a catabolic response.
You’re going to get a massive alarm response, breaking down of tissue (fat and muscle) for both fuel and long(er) term to decrease the BMR (basal metabolic rate).
*BMR- Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy expended while at rest in a neutrally temperate environment, in the post-absorptive state (meaning that the digestive system is inactive. -BB.com
Remember, it takes a relatively large number of calories just to maintain muscle tissue through the day.
And you’re going to adapt to the overall stress load sooner than you would have, had you just taken it slow and fired them one at a time.
This is why it’s best to have as few and as minimal a stressor(s) applied as possible.
With few (one, maybe two) stressors applied at the MED (minimum effective dose) you’re being the least disruptive to the body and you have the best chance to maximize fat loss while minimizing muscle loss.
Lets Face It:
Anything only works for so long, eventually, everything stops working.
“organisms will eventually habituate to a stressor if it is applied over and over, it may knock physiological allostasis equally out of balance the umpteenth time that it happens, but it is a familiar, predictable stressor by then, and a smaller stress- response is triggered.”- Robert Sapolsky
So where do you go if you jump in full-boar and from day one you’re:
- Weight training 4 times a week with METCON finishers
- Walking every morning for 60 minutes
- Doing HIIT on “off” days
- Sleeping your 8 hours a night
- Eating high quality, clean food.
Basically, you’re screwed.
You’ve fired all your bullets at once.
You’ve got nothing left to add, nowhere to go.
What? You’re going to start walking 2 hours a day? Really???? You have time for that?
You’re going to drop calories lower? How low? Operate that schedule on 1500kcals a day?
For how long? How much muscle are you going to lose in that process?
At this point. You’re done, you’ve stalled.
You’re war on fat loss….It’s over, you lost.