Make no mistake: fat loss is an industry.
The market is flooded with gimmicks and gadgets, programmes and diets – all of which claim to help you shed the blubber, and all of which stand to profit from your well-intentioned dedication.
As a result, the public’s perceived wisdom on fat loss is not always in line with what science actually teaches. The ten principles below are unconventional only because you’ll rarely hear them uttered by money-orientated fitness companies. I’ve seen them help many people draw a line under long-standing physical and psychological weight problems – and I hope they can help you too.
1. Sleep Longer
Studies have shown that inadequate sleep effects our ability to lose fat by up to 55pc. There are many reasons for this, including better muscle recovery and less stress, but the most influential factor appears to be the presence of a hormone called Ghrelin, which is triggered by a lack of sleep. Higher levels of Ghrelin cause us to be hungrier and reduce our energy expenditure. We’re also more likely to make bad food choices when fatigued.
2. Skip Breakfast
Conventional, hand-me-down wisdom has it that you never skip breakfast – but the truth is that consuming carbohydrates (almost all traditional breakfast foods are carbs) first thing in the morning could defeat your weight loss goals before the day’s even properly started.
When you wake up your body has been in a fasted state overnight, which means your blood sugar levels are stable and very vulnerable to the introduction of sugars. Significant sugar intake is likely to cause an insulin spike causing a massive surge of energy, that if not used immediately will be stored as fat for later use.
Try skipping breakfast, having only a warm drink to get your through the morning. This will allow your body’s natural growth hormone (also secreted overnight) to stay active for longer, allowing you to enhance your fat loss.
3. Train on an empty stomach in the morning
Fasted workouts sound like no fun, but they help because the carbs you eat afterwards act as a super efficient delivery system that delivers nutrients into your depleted muscles and therefore kick-starts the recovery process.
It’s a very simple way of making the same physical responses to sugars work for you rather than against you.
4. Focus on strength training
Most guys associate fat loss with cardio, which means that treadmills, cross trainers and rowers are the main focus of their fat loss training plan. Error. The real focus should be on strength training.
Utilising big compound lifts should be your priority when seeking fat loss. Low rep ranges (e.g. 3-5 reps) instruct your body to maintain your existing muscle mass even when you’re is operating on a calorie deficit.
This kind of training also raises your metabolism, increases your lean mass and keeps your hormones at optimal levels.
Tracking your strength training efforts will give you a very good idea of how successfully you are targeting your fat stores. If you can’t make strength gains or maintain the strength you had when you started your fat loss plan, that’s a pretty sure sign that you are losing your muscle mass and need to address your nutritional intake.
5. Don’t forget short bursts of cardio
Although strength training should be the focus of any fat loss plan, there is still a place for cardio – just not the type of cardio most people see as their ‘go to’.
The optimal type of fat loss for fat burning is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). This involves short workouts, in which you perform exercises at a very high work rate.
Tabata drills are thought of as among the optimal protocols for fat loss, as they convince the body to burn calories throughout the day.
6. Eat according to your body
Counting calories can help you burn fat and get lean, but it’s a bit simplistic. you’re dealing with estimates – and anyway, there’s a growing argument that suggests it’s not the amount of calories you eat, but the type that matters.
Instead, try manipulating your macronutrient intake.
To do this, begin by identifying your body type. Different body shapes have varying abilities to process carbohydrates. For example, mesomorphs and ectomorphs can handle far more carbohydrate per day than an endomorph, so a one-size-fits-all approach to macronutrient intake is faulty to begin with.
You should also cycle your macro nutrients according to the energy expenditure of a given day. Training days should typically represent a higher intake of carbs in relation to fat, while rest days would be better suited to a higher intake of fat as opposed to carbohydrate.
7. Eat carbs at night
This is a controversial area and many people advocate that you stop eating carbs as early as 6pm so as to avoid putting on fat. However, 6pm represents an arbitrary time – especially given that we all wake, exercise, and go to bed at different moments during the day.
The real reason fat gain is associated with night-time eating is because typically we take in poor quality carbs at night and then eat loads more poor quality carbs in the morning. All that energy has nowhere to go but into your fat stores.
As long as you are following the protocols in the points above, eating carbohydrates at night makes sense because you’ll burn up the stored glycogen during your fasted morning workouts.
8. Avoid stress
At the risk of sounding like a new age guru: stress is extremely detrimental to our health; it should be avoided at all costs.
Stress releases cortisol (also known as ‘the fat hormone’), which makes you unmotivated for workouts and also has an extremely detrimental effect on other hormone levels – hardly ideal for fat loss.
Of course, stress isn’t always something that you can control. My advice is that if you’re feeling the pressure, do a couple of strength training workouts during the week and don’t worry too much about the amount you eat. This will help you stay strong without piling on the pounds while waiting until the stressful period has passed.
9. Try fasting – but only intermittently
Intermittent fasting and protein fasts are becoming more and more trusted forms of accelerated fat loss. I believe the question of whether fasting is for you is a personal decision and should be researched individually. Anecdotally though, I can tell you that I fast for 24 hours once every couple of weeks with very good results (noticeable fat loss) and fast for a weekend once a quarter.
It’s not easy but the effect is substantial.
10. Eat more fat
We’ve been told to avoid fat for decades now, under the understanding that eating fat leads to being fat. Thing is, it’s not actually that simple.
Healthy fats are an essential part of our dietary requirements. Fat is also essential for maintaining a healthy hormone balance and is largely involved in our skin and hair health. Plus fat keeps us fuller for longer.
That said, not all fat is created equal. Try to avoid typically ‘fatty’ foods like fast food, hamburgers and fried foods. Instead, opt for healthy sources of fat like avocados, olives, fish and seeds.
Intermittent Fasting: The Secret Weapon of Fat Loss
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