Summer’s coming up and many people will want to burn a little bit of body fat. The old adage of eat less and exercise more may work fine for some, but for other it can a little more complicated. Here are 6 tactics I always consider when designing a programme for myself or a client who wants to burn some body fat.
1. Create an energy deficit through dietary control:
– Counting calories is a good place to start, but shouldn’t be considered as the be-all-and-end-all. Calculating calories should be done at the beginning of a dietary phase to determine a baseline of food intake, but it doesn’t need to be done religiously, every day. The same applies for calorie expenditure. Burning 700kcals on a treadmill because you overate 700kcals worth of mini eggs the previous day doesn’t balance things out. The body doesn’t work like that. It is not a simple, closed system of IN v OUT. Work out an estimation of your Basal Metabolic Rate and Estimated Daily Energy Expenditure using the Katch-McArdle Formula (LINK), and then create a simple-to-stick-to food plan that gives you 15-20% less than this value. After 2 weeks, if you have stopped losing weight, decrease all your portion sizes by 10%. Repeat until target weight is reached. I would suggest that eating the same few meals over and over would be the sensible option here as it will alleviate the need to constantly calorie count (which is an absolute pain in the arse and definitely drives people to failure) and it is also far easier to tweak portion sizes. From a physiological viewpoint this tactic will also help the body create a fat burning environment and build up some momentum in your weight loss. To give you an example of this, if you ate 500kcals worth of chicken every lunchtime for 4 days and then on the 5th you substituted the chicken for Rolos you would stop your fat burning in its tracks, despite having the same calorie total.
2. Expend energy through multiple pathways
– Exercise in different ways at different intensities. Your body is a remarkable machine. It becomes incredibly efficient at doing things, so if you give it the same challenge over and over it will soon do it at the expense of less energy (another reason why kcals IN v OUT is a faulty premise). You should include a myriad of different movements into your training, and ask your body to utilise different energy sources (creatine phosphate, glycogen and fat) for intra-cell energy repletion by training at different intensities (ranging from very hard short bouts, to moderately easy long bouts). This way, your body will never really have a blueprint of how to deal with the stresses you are placing upon it, so it will continually struggle to deliver and recover – which in turn makes you ‘fitter’ and hopefully leaner in the process.
3. Test your body
– Find exercises/sports that you are happy to be pushed beyond comfortable in. This links into the point above. In order to keep your body on it’s metaphorical toes you must ask it over-reach from time to time. Asking your body to over-reach can be a very uncomfortable experience so having an underlying reason behind your activities will give you some other sense of achievement. This can be invaluable when weight loss stalls or plateaus. The crux of the point is simple really; work hard, but make it enjoyable.
4. Maintain a good muscular system
– Muscular tissue requires constant energy to keep it ‘alive’. Having more muscle means a having a higher metabolic rate. It also benefits us aesthetically in terms of posture and tonicity. You need to give your body a reason to retain it’s muscle tissue. Lifting and moving weights is the best way to do this. Strength training is the perfect fit. Using large, compound movements such as deadlifts, squats, presses and rows will signal to your body that it needs a well working muscular system, but also give you a forever moving carrot on a stick to keep your motivation high (see point 3!).
5. Create a hormonal environment conducive to fat catabolism (breakdown) as opposed to fat anabolism (storage)
– Everything your body does is the result of a hormonal trigger, and fat burning/storage is no different. If you flood your body with anabolic hormones (insulin being the BIG DADDY here) several times per day your body will struggle to allow fat to be broken down. As I mentioned in point 1, creating momentum is vital to long term weight loss results, so keep your hormones under control whenever you can. Endocrinology and weight loss are still in the early stages of a blossoming relationship and there are still several debated grey areas – so the best advice to give is also currently the simplest. Avoid sugar and alcohol.
6. Do all this consistently
– And for a long time. There is no quick fix, or magic diet or exercise regime. The best way is the way that works for you. Sometimes it can take a while discovering this combination through trial and error. When you have found it, it can still be slow progress if you have lots of weight to lose. The key is to do the right things over and over, and if the results slow down, tweak the things you are doing. In the span of a sensible weight loss regime (let’s say that is 12 weeks), 3 new dietary fads will probably be heralded. Ignore them. They will disrupt your momentum and potentially derail you. If you are so inclined, read the literature and learn about what makes them great. You may be able to shoehorn some of their tactics into your own strategy.