- Burn more calories each day than you consume. Common sense, I know. This doesn’t mean starve yourself. In fact, one of the benefits of exercise is being able to eat more food, without gaining fat. Make sure plenty of the calories you eat come from complex carbohydrates and protein so that you do not lose muscle mass, have sustained energy, and avoid blood-sugar spikes. Muscle mass boosts your basal metabolic rate, allowing you to burn more calories at rest. It is possible to gain weight and still lose fat at the same time, but only if you’re adding muscle mass primarily through weight training, and closely monitoring your diet.
- Divide your daily caloric intake into smaller, more frequent meals/snacks, ideally up to 5 meal times per day. By doing this, again, you keep your metabolism a little more elevated all throughout the day. Also, you will be more likely to use those calories for immediate energy and less likely to store them as fat. Each meal should primarily consist of complex carbs, lean protein and some fat. I know all you Atkins-dieters out there are now disagreeing with me, regarding carb consumption, but diets such as Atkins are very extreme and limit your food choices so much so that you may find that your diet is lacking in variety and consequently, nutrition much of the time. Also, it is a medical fact that putting your body in a state of ketosis is unhealthy and hard on your kidneys. All that being said, if you can be described as being obese, ‘insulin-resistant’, or a borderline type II diabetic, (adult-onset), then Atkins is a perfect diet for you to lose fat fast. No matter what current fad diet you may be trying whether it be ‘Atkins’ or ‘South Beach’, always strive for lean protein sources and ‘good’ fats, (unsaturated and essential fatty acids), found in fish oils, nuts, and avocados. The 3 most important meals of the day for all of us are breakfast, your post-workout meal, and your pre-workout meal, but the bottom line is to eat consistently all throughout the day: don’t starve yourself, and don’t binge. Lastly, don’t eat within two hours of your bed time, as these calories will likely be stored as fat while you sleep.
- Establish yourself on an exercise program that includes both strength and cardio/aerobic training. Strength training maintains your muscle mass during times of calorie reduction, and your muscle mass is responsible for keeping your resting metabolic rate higher. Strength training also maintains bone density. Strength training does not necessarily mean weight-lifting, but can be any form of resistance training. Cardiovascular and aerobic training burn more calories during the period of exercise, condition your heart and blood vessels, and boosts your metabolism for several hours afterwards (EPOC-effect). If doing both strength and cardio training in the same workout, do your strength training first, (after a proper warm-up), followed by your cardio. This is because weight-lifting requires fresh muscle-glycogen stores, (carbs), for maximum ATP/energy production with each repetition, while cardio training can draw energy from fat as well. This will also help you enter into a ‘fat-burning zone’ sooner during your cardio session. However when performing your cardio emphasize High-Intensity over low-intensity, for the greatest exercise VALUE: more metabolism-bang for your buck. The alleged low-intensity 'fat-burning' zone is all but mythical if you can't devote at least an hour or longer of training time. The Lactic Acid produced during high-intensity ANAEROBIC exercise also directly triggers Growth Hormone secretion, which improves lean-body mass & body composition.
- Limit your sugar intake, to your post-workout meal if you can. Sugars, once consumed cause a rapid release of insulin from the pancreas into the bloodstream. Insulin is a glucose, (blood-sugar), transport hormone that shuttles glucose from the bloodstream into muscle cells and liver cells, and maintains balance in your blood-sugar levels. After you workout, be it strength or cardio training, your muscle cells and your liver more readily uptake blood-sugar, and store it in the form of glycogen. In fact, consuming sugar post-workout is actually scientifically proven to speed muscle recovery. What this also means is that it is almost impossible for you to store any of this blood-sugar as fat, post-workout. For the rest of your daily meals you should strive for low-sugar, complex carbohydrates and protein, in order to keep your insulin levels lower. If you just can’t resist a sugary snack during other meal times, try to eat it pre-workout, or for breakfast, where again, your body will uptake this sugar to use for immediate energy more readily. Unfortunately, the worst time to eat a sugary desert, (or any heavy meal for that matter), is in the late evening, when your metabolism has slowed, and you soon will be sleeping, requiring fewer calories.
- Perform your cardio/aerobic training on an ‘empty stomach’. Without immediate energy available from a recent meal, your body will be more likely to start accessing fat stores sooner for energy. The intent is not to make you feel light-headed, or weak, so if this is too hard on you, then perhaps a small meal is necessary. This is not ideal for weight lifting, as your strength will improve with a high-carb meal consumed 1.5 hours prior to training. Cardio/aerobic training accesses energy from both carb/glycogen stores, and fat stores. While it is true that cardio/aerobic training tends to draw more energy from fat stores when performed in a lower heart rate zone, (less than 75% MHR), you should consider that you may be burning less calories overall. Again, weight-lifting does not use fat for energy, only muscle-glycogen and ATP stores. High-Intensity cardio also burns mostly glycogen for fuel (stored-sugar) Vs. fat, BUT, the Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) effect boosts your metabolism for several hours afterwards. Since it is difficult to maintain VERY high-intensity cardio efforts (that push you into 'oxygen-debt' and the anaerobic (without O2) training zone), it can work better to perform it using the interval strategy in a 1:3 working interval Vs. resting interval ratio. Thus all the buzz surrounding HIIT, (High-Intensity Interval Training for improving lean-body mass lately.
- Eliminate sodas and juices from your diet. They are full of insulin-stimulating sugar. One can of Coke has 35 grams of sugar, (7 teaspoons!). Fruit is very healthy, so eat whole fruit instead of drinking juice. Diet soda is okay as long as you’re not sensitive to artificial sweeteners. Have you ever really examined what’s in your fancy Starbuck’s Frappacino/Machiato concoction? Gatorade, PowerAde, Lemonade? I don’t think so…not unless you just worked out or are in the middle of some serious cardio training. Unwanted, hidden sugar lurks everywhere.
- Drink plenty of water. Everything in the body functions better when you’re hydrated. ‘Nuff said.
- Lower your cholesterol, (LDLs), by eating your oats and nuts. Oatmeal is a great complex carbohydrate for sustained energy, and it is has loads of soluble fiber that floats through your bloodstream and whisks away bad cholesterol, (LDLs). RAW, UNSALTED nuts such as almonds and walnuts, and, avocados, fish fats, olive oil, and flax oil, all provide excellent sources of healthy fats and essential fatty acids that actually lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol, (HDLs).
- Increase your fiber intake, both insoluble and soluble, by including more whole fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, brown-rice, and salads. Fiber is not only essential for colon health, but it is also great for making you feel full, without a lot of calories. Adding these whole-grain foods and veggies to your diet is a great way to add bulk to your diet without adding extra calories. Lastly, whole-grain foods are typically more nutrient-rich then their, processed and bleached counterparts. Fiber 'volumizes' your food making you feel fuller without adding additional calories!
- If you are a coffee or tea drinker and consume caffeine, you might be happy to know that it has been scientifically proven that consuming caffeine prior to a workout can enhance your performance and endurance, both by stimulating Dopamine in the brain, (a neurotransmitter that makes you feel alert), and by unlocking the body’s fat stores for increased fat burning potential. A cupjust prior to a cardio/aerobic workout, especially on an empty stomach will put the body into the fat burning zone within 20 minutes or less. It is also worth noting that Green Tea has fat-buring/thermogenic properties beyond that of just the caffeine. Green Tea contains two key micro-nutrients known as Catechins and Polyphenols that have cancer-fighting properties, and a synergistic thermogenic effect when combined with caffeine.
- Find a way to reduce daily stress. Find a way to vent and relax everyday, whether it is working out, taking a ‘power’ nap, doing yoga, playing with your kids, or meditating. Lowering stress lowers the stress-hormone known as Cortisol. Cortisol may be of some use in a survival, fight-or-flight situation, and to help mobilize energy reserves, but high levels of it present on a daily basis, tears down your body, catabolizes muscle tissue, and causes your body to store internal, visceral fat by turbo-charging Omentum-based fat storage (the fatty-apron of tissue that drapes behind your abdominal muscles but in front of your internal). Although for the most part you do not spot-gain, or spot-reduce fat, Cortisol is thought to increase fat within the mid-section of the body… visceral belly fat.
- Build in one ‘cheat day’ in your week to eat whatever you crave, and as much of it if you want. You need to be able to have access to the foods you love, or you’ll go crazy. It would also be okay to have a small, reasonable portion of your favorite cheat foods on a daily basis, but only if you’re disciplined enough to have just a reasonable portion and not binge. That is why sometimes it is better to have a cheat day, or a reward day, after eating with discipline the entire 6 days prior. Binging on your favorite junk foods for one day out of 7 will NOT affect your overall progress towards your fitness goals. That being said, don’t take this to mean you are required to binge on junk foods one day of the week! If you happen to not fall of the wagon too badly on your cheat day, well then you can feel that much better about yourself.
**BONUS!! 13. Emphasize quality sleep!...to maximize your Growth Hormone secretion window which is greatest during your first deep-sleep phase cycle, usually right after you first fall asleep. Growth Hormone not only promotes healing & restoration of the tissues in our body, BUT is also a the greatest lean-body-mass-promoting hormone in the body! No Deep-Sleep-Phase = No Growth Hormone secretion!!
There are many more things you can do to lose fat, but I do not want to overwhelm you. Keeping it simple is key. Following these 12 steps should not feel or seem extreme. This is not the intent. Anything extreme when it comes to fitness and nutrition is bad, and usually means it will not last long. Following these 12 steps should easily be able to become a healthy way of life, rather than a temporary, fad diet for short term fat loss only. You should be able to see results, as in fat loss and possibly muscle gain, without ever feeling starved or deprived. The key is to incorporate regular exercise and focus on moderation. If you think you can lose fat without losing muscle, without incorporating exercise, you’re kidding yourself.