Expending body fat while retaining lean muscle tissue is a spectacular balancing act, one the requires finesse rather than brute force and willpower. The former selectively trims adipose tissue off your frame exposing the muscles below in bold relief.
The latter arbitrarily burns organ tissue, muscle, some fat, and decimates your biochemistry making future fat storage far more likely. The effects of any good fat reduction strategy are cumulative and dependent upon several factors.
We will be discussing how to regulate not only your diet, but hormones and supplements to keep the fat burning furnaces chugging along while preserving and protecting your size and strength.
US culture is obsessed with weight loss, and a simple glance at the health and wellness section of a bookstore will reveal ample systems for eating to lose weight. Any diet designed to reduce body fat has The primary challenge in any fat loss focused diet is keeping your cells properly nourished while eating at a caloric deficit.
High fat, high protein diets:
Controlling insulin drive and blood sugar is key to burning fat. We recommend a low-glycemic index diet. Nearly every ‘fad’ diet directly or indirectly employs this strategy in some way.
If your primary goal is controlling bodyfat, your first step needs to be reducing your carbohydrate intake, not your calories. Caloric restriction will be useful later on down the line for shedding those final pounds.
Recall that insulin is the primary driver of body composition with high insulin levels associated with high body fat. Remember also that insulin levels are correlated directly with blood sugar. Therefore the easiest way to control body composition is lowering (not eliminating) your carbohydrate intake.
Small amounts of complex carbs such as fruits, vegetables or whole grains, should be eaten with every meal to maintain healthy levels of blood sugar.
Diets rich in protein and fats encourage your body to begin shedding weight.
Cutting carbs causes immediate weight loss in the form of shedding water. If you want to track your fat loss, wait to weight yourself until you’ve followed a low carb diet for at least 72 hours so you don’t confuse fat loss with water loss.
When done properly, restricting your carbohydrates temporarily can produce rapid and spectacular results. It is a well known fact that much of the initial weight loss can be directly attributed to water weight, and is absolutely reversible. This can be a confounding factor in determining how much weight one has lost.
To better measure how much your weight has changed when carb depleting it’s best to weigh yourself 72 hours after beginning your diet. This will better allow you to use weight as a fat loss metric.
Also, if your regimen is working properly you will start noticing a difference in how your clothes fit, particularly at the waist and chest.
You will notice that on a diet like this cravings for carbs will pop up. This is your brain signaling for sugar, and you need to listen to it. It is telling you that you’re hungry, but like a two year old child as it’s coming from a very primitive part of the brain.
So do what you would for a small child and feed them healthy food. For this purpose, you will find foods that you can take with you, such as apples, oranges, and bananas to be extremely useful. They will satisfy your brain without crushing your insulin drive and diet along with it, as an entire bag of chips or pizza would do.
Just make sure the healthy option is always readily available.
Body fat slows your metabolism by insulating your core. Combat this by building a solid foundation of muscle to burn fat before embarking on a weight loss diet.
Though not deserving of an entire section it is important to note that there is an interesting thermodynamic effect regarding fat storage depending upon body type. In order to be maximally effective your body temperature needs to be at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Your entire body chemistry needs that specific temperature and there are several mechanisms that keep it that way. However, your surface area to mass ratio determines how many calories your body will consume to keep you at the perfect operating temperature.
Higher surface area to mass people (skinny people) will have a hard time maintaining their body heat and will get leaner faster. The opposite is true for those who are carrying a great deal of body fat, their metabolism is literally insulated and they require less calories to maintain their body heat.
If you fall into the latter category, you’ll need to build muscle mass for a while then use that as a metabolic engine to support fat loss.
Designing your leaner diet:
Putting yourself in a controlled caloric deficit is critical for burning bodyfat. This requires you to know your daily caloric need, called base metabolic rate (BMR) as well as the amount of calories you’re consuming. You have to budget your calories in such a way that your body is not deprived of protein, or you will inadvertently catabolize your muscle and organ tissues to supply the amino acids your body needs for a great many things.
Base Metabolic Rate (BMR): The speed at which you burn calories, expressed in calories per day. This is the first metric we need to design your diet.
The first thing you will need to do is determine what your daily caloric needs are. This is done quite easily at bmrcalculator.org. They just need some very basic information, height, weight, age and gender. They use this information to determine how many calories you are expected to burn, on average, day to day. It is the baseline around which we will figure out the caloric content of your diet.
The next step is to apply a caloric deficit. This is a delicate balancing act, as anything more that 20% of your caloric need is not only extremely difficult to adhere to, but may actually damage your metabolism long term by catabolizing your organ and muscle tissue. Fat as a metabolic fuel is consumed slowly and, perhaps ironically, most avidly in the presence of sufficient nutrition. The math is fairly straightforward. We will use nice round numbers and assume the athlete has a BMR of 2,500 calories/day.
BMR = 2,500 cal/day.
2,500 x 0.8 = 2,000
Don’t overdo your calorie deficit. Anything more than a 500 calorie deficit will damage your metabolism. As it stands, the 500 calorie deficit will let you lose one pound per week. This effect will be amplified if you also cut carbs.
So the diet will be designed with roughly 2,000 calories per day. Divided evenly into four meals, this is 500 calories per meal. The numbers don’t have to be precise, just reasonably close. Given that a pound of fat contains 3,500 calories, the athlete can expect to lose about a pound per week of fat. This seems insignificant, but bear in mind this is a volume of roughly 24 cubic inches. Per week. That rolls into about a gallon of fat per month, as the effect is cumulative. So between October first and Halloween you drop an entire milk jug of adipose tissue. Not bad.
Once you’ve got your BMR dialed in you’re ready to design your meal plan, replete with correct calories and macronutrient (protein, carbs, fats,) ratio. If that sounds like a chore, it’s because it is. Fortunately, there are ample online resources that can help you do this. A decent one is eatthismuch.com. They have a web app that will help you design the exact diet you want and can even accommodate specialized diets such as paleo or keto.
Following your diet should be as easy as possible. As much as you can, try to incorporate foods you know you enjoy. After all, we are trying to deprive your bodyfat, not your soul.
Make certain that whatever diet you do create for yourself, it is easy to adhere to. Do you have the time to prepare this food? Can you afford it? Are there lifestyle considerations such as work hours that need to be considered? Does you family have any special preferences that could make meal planning more efficient? Take your time and carefully consider how you plan your meals, and be willing to make alterations if your efforts aren’t being reflected on the scale or how your clothes fit.
Below is a sample 200 calorie diet spread across six meals. A ketogenic diet was chosen as an example owing to the current popularity it enjoys. Notice the absolute absence of bread or grains, with the only direct carbohydrates coming from blackberries and tomatoes. This diet is entirely focused on meats, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Controlling your insulin drive and lowering your carbohydrates both discourages fat storage while encouraging your body to use fat as a fuel in your daily activities, a metabolic state scientists refer to as beta oxidation.
Breakfast (376 calories)
- Pesto scrambled eggs (1 pan)
- Bacon (2 strips)
Morning snack (164 calories)
Lunch (430 calories)
- Spinach salad with blackberries (1 serving)
- Keto protein shake (8 - 10 ounces)
Afternoon snack (306 calories)
- Ham, cheese and tomato wrap (1 serving)
- Almond butter with celery (1 serving)
Dinner (574 calories)
- Rosemary crusted lamb chops (1 serving)
Evening snack (120 calories)
- Keto protein shake (8 - 10 ounces)
‘Nutirients without calories’ is a key concept for healthy fat loss. There are also specific supplements that can gently support reducing body fat.
Supplementation is critical during intense weight loss strategies. You will need to find a way to provide your body with all the nutrients it needs while adding minimal calories. In a way you are deliberately starving yourself, forcing your body to reach into your fat stores for the energy you need daily.
This is safe and okay to do, but it’s also important that you keep critical, non-caloric components of nutrition at high levels to support cellular function. Supplementation can also be used to make it easier for your body to use fat as a fuel, which is ultimately exactly what you want.
Finally, putting your body in a calorie deprived state is likely to turn down the furnace of your metabolism and it is very important to attenuate that effect long before it begins.
For a weight loss diet and especially if you’re cutting calories, your supplementation mantra needs to be nutrients without calories. Support the biochemical functions so your body can thrive!
The behavior of fats in the body is somewhat counterintuitive. Fat cells don’t store fat as much as they slow it down as it travels through the body, much like tide pools by a river. Certain hormones also cause fat to accumulate at certain parts of the body.
For example, testosterone cause fat to build up around the waist but depletes it from your cheeks. Estrogen causes fat to build up on the upper arms and thighs. Stress hormones cause fat to accumulate on the back and the face.
CLA has several effects which are favorable to fat loss. Because CLA does not work in a “drug like’ manner, you cannot gain a tolerance to it. It is nearly a ubiquitously useful supplement.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA is a fascinating substance that works on multiple biochemical pathways in your body. It is characterized as having a moderate effect on weight loss even on sedentary, obese individuals. One large scale and well-cited paper had a sedentary group taking CLAs lose weight while the control group taking placebo gain a modest amount of weight over the 12 month study period.
CLA sends signals to your fat cells telling them it’s okay to release body fat to be burned. This is an effect that will be most effective when you’re close to your goal.
In particular, CLA alters signaling to adipocytes (the cells that store fat,) to store less fat in the abdomen which is a problem area for many people. This makes it particularly powerful towards the end of a leaning-up program, where the body begins to show significant resistance to shedding further body fat. However, there is no penalty for using it straightaway as the health effects it promotes are always useful irrespective of your fitness goals.
CLA has the interesting side effect of inhibiting aromatase, the enzyme which converts testosterone into estrogen. This will have the effect of boosting your testosterone naturally, as your HPG axis strives to keep estrogen levels consistent. It is useful during post cycle therapy but is excellent when run alongside any testosterone booster as it will enhance the effect and maybe even prevent some of the more serious side effects before they manifest.
BCAAs do more than just build muscle. They can be used to ‘hack’ you diet to prevent a metabolic downturn.
Often during a leaning cycle, an obvious metabolic downturn prevents effective and efficient fat loss. People on diets often speak of the “terrible ten,” those last few pounds that take just as much effort to burn off as the first 30 did. There is a known reason for why this occurs, and an efficient workaround for it.
Branch Chain Amino Acids trick your body into thinking you’ve consumed more calories than it has. This allows your cells to express metabolically expensive genes, ramping up your metabolism and keeping you alert and energetic as you lose weight.
Your cells are perfectly capable of detecting low caloric inputs via a mechanism called mTOR, and tricking this biochemical pathway into thinking you’re eating more that you actually are.
mTOR is activated by BCAAs. While these are generally thought of as a growth supplement, they are not limited by this definition. When you’re consuming fewer calories, it is mTOR that notices a lack of BCAAs (most specifically, levo-leucine,) and turns down your metabolic furnace in response.
Taking supplemental BCAAs will turn this effect right around and your body will look to fat as a fuel source again.
Myths and pitfalls:
Weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry in a society where obesity is nearly pandemic. Where there is money and a large market, there is bullshit. The weight loss industry has accumulated enough bullshit to make an experienced ranch hand blush.
We will attempt to address the most insidious and mendacious myths here to keep you focused on regimens and principles that are actually effective.
- Fat is targeted for burning only when the body is properly nourished.
- Fat is targeted for burning only when the body is properly nourished.
- One last time, fat is targeted for burning only when the body is PROPERLY NOURISHED.
This means that decreasing your calories below -400 per day will arbitrarily burn organ and muscle tissue, the very metabolic engines you need to burn fat to begin with. Extreme calorie deprivation will not “kickstart” your weight loss, change the pH of your blood to favor fat burning, or “clean your liver.” It will silence growth factors, make your metabolism sluggish and encourage your body to store as much fat as it possibly can, at the expense of your muscle tissue.
The above applies to your intermittent fasting, your juice cleanse, your hCG diet, and anything else that deprives you of nourishment and wrecks your biochemistry. You cannot deprive yourself into a state of radiant health, you have to carefully nourish yourself there. Any system that claims otherwise is based off egregiously flawed science and will absolutely stymie your long term goals despite any short term gains it may produce.
As it applies to fat loss, your primary nutritional goals needs to be reducing your calories to 3-500 below your BMR, with controlling insulin drive a very close second factor. Low glycemic index carbs, or heavily reduced carbs, are useful for controlling insulin.
Your first task needs to be finding a diet that you can comply with that meets this criteria. After you do, weight loss and exercise modification will also be fruitful
When and only when your diet is dialed in, supplements and exercise will enhance your biochemical environment to support fat loss. You can reverse metabolic downturn by adding BCAAs to your supplementation strategy to burn through those last several pounds to yield a hard, vascular appearance.