As we all know fat loss is not an easy thing. It requires sheer mental power and a lot of patience, but that's not all. In this article I am going to go in depth on some key factors that everyone should consider when trying to show off their body by cutting weight and maintaining muscle mass.
The major factors that most ignore when dieting are moderation, cheating, and refeeds. These all play a major factor in helping increase fat loss/weight loss and keep you on track to help you reach your goal. So many people in the gym think they are going to get toned in a month with some high rep program. They are full of it. Starving yourself for a few weeks? Yeah throw that idea out the window.
The key quote “Rome was not built in a day” will be important in this article. Losing weight should not be a drastic process unless you want to suffer some side effects (depending on the length of your diet). Without further ado let's get into the context of the article and show some features to have you looking your best in the summer. Not to mention how you can have some cake and eat it too on your diet. Now how about them apples!
The Keys to Losing Fat
The key to cutting is giving yourself adequate time. Most often the #1 fat loss mistake is setting unrealistic goals and having a limited timetable. (Refer to my first article regarding cutting for more information). People think it can be done overnight, in a few weeks, or even in a month. That is going to depend on where you start out (weight and physique-wise) and what you are trying to achieve.
Someone who is 180 pounds looking to cut down to around 145 in 16 weeks is not giving themselves enough time. Why? Because you are talking about 35 pounds in 16 weeks. This is nearly 2 pounds per week. You will be sacrificing a lot of muscle to lose this weight. You will have to make drastic changes throughout the journey, and may really suffer from low energy, focus, and dieting motivation.
Those who eat fast food three times a day, workout once a week, and find themselves partying on the weekend think it’s a mere flip of the switch and boom, they are in their brand new bikinis showing off their new body. Not so fast my friends. Let's get realistic here. If you are not already relatively lean (say 10% bodyfat for a male or 15% for a female) you will need time to diet down.
Most people do not realize that just starving yourself, or doing some crazy diet they read out of a magazine, will not do the trick. The human body is not a textbook. People respond to different things, so it's going to be a matter of trial and error to find what suits your body!
My general outlook on dieting is...more time is better. This may not apply to everyone, due to genetics and where they start, but there are too many factors that can happen during fat loss that can set you back.
For those looking to be in shape come summer time, I would make a game plan that begins in the fall. This will allow you to look your best by summer. Plan things out ahead of time if possible!
Every calorie does count. Calories are the best overall standard for fat loss/weight loss. If you ask a random stranger on the street how many calories they eat, they would probably be clueless.
If your diet is extremely diverse and you don’t have a single clue about what they are consuming on a daily basis, how can you expect results? Also, most people do not have a grasp of their macronutrient intake - protein, carbohydrates, and fats. These macronutrients make up these calories needed for weight loss or weight gain (depending on the goal).
In the end we know that different macronutrient profiles (how you divide your calories) have different effects on hormones and if we will lose fat, muscle, or weight! My baseline for protein, carbs, and fat will vary just a touch depending on goal. For those looking to add size, maintain, or bulk this is my recommendation:
- Protein - 1-1.25g per pound of bodyweight.
- Fats - At least 20% of daily calories from fat.
- Carbohydrates - The rest of your daily calories from carbohydrates.
Now there will be those who say they are carb sensitive. If this is the case you will have to play with your calories/macros. First, meet your protein intake then vary your fat and carbohydrates. Some will respond better to a higher fat intake (those usually who are older in age cannot metabolize the carbohydrates better than someone who is say 16-24 years old and has the metabolism to do so.) The bottom line here: if you are not taking in less than your body is burning you are not going to lose weight, nor will you cut the needed fat required to make you look great by summer.
Speaking of cutting and fat loss, I take an approach very similar to bulking but with a slightly higher protein intake (1.25-1.5g). When you are in a caloric deficit, protein intake becomes the most important macronutrient. protein is muscle sparing, and will help you retain muscle mass while losing fat.
Remember this: when you meet your protein intake levels while eating at a deficit, carbohydrates can be very protein sparing depending on how you set up your diet and training. Those looking to include High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) will need the carbs because HIIT utilizes glucose as its primary fuel source where LISS (Low Intensity Steady State such as walking on a treadmill) will tap fat reserves).
This also applies if you are not burning off more than you are consuming but are using weight training and/or cardio. You will not get to your desired goal. The bottom line is that macronutrient and caloric total play a major role in reaching your weight loss goal. Your total energy intake will vary depending on many factors, including how active you are, what you do in and out of the gym, non-exercise activity (NEAT), and how many calories you are eating.
There has to be a negative balance. Calories in must be lower than calories out! So use the above outlines for your intake and modify them to suit your diet. Determine a desired calorie intake, adjust your carbohydrates and fats to see what suits you. Those who do not fare well on a high carbohydrate diet will notice they bloat very fast. They will also notice that they get sluggish and their energy drops.
The same can be said for those who have a hard time metabolizing all the fats in their diet. I fall under this category and can tell you first hand a higher fat intake makes me very sluggish. My performance drops, and my overall energy is no where near the same as a higher carbohydrate diet.
Cheat Meals and Refeeds
Two more things to discuss - refeeds and cheat meals. When you diet over a prolonged period of time your metabolism will start to slow down. There is a law of diminishing returns on how long an individual can diet before their body slows down and starts to go against them. As I noted in my first article on cutting, you should set up your intake as high as possible to start with.
Why do this? Because you want to see how many carbohydrates, fats and calories you can continue to eat and still lose fat. This will keep your metabolism at its highest peak and will allow wiggle room to drop calories should you need to.
You cannot keep adding cardio and dropping calories and expect to continue to see good results. You may start to notice that you will feel cold all the time, you get sick very easy, sluggish feelings, workouts become harder, and your mental lethargy is at an all-time high from cortisol levels being stressed to the max. These are all signs that the diet phase needs something, and that something is change.
Granted, as the fat loss process moves along will experience some of these effects, not to mention sleepless nights and dreams of walking into a buffet because you are starving. Or there will be those who have vicious snacking habits and it will get the best of them. It's all a learning process. When I went through my first contest preparation I spent a lot of time second guessing myself and what it took to come into peak shape for a bodybuilding show.
Many will need to schedule periodic breaks in their diet, or include cheat meals/reefed days to help boost hormones, t3, and leptin levels. This will keep the cutting diet going and help the fat to keep coming off. While it does not sound ideal to throw in, say a burger and fries, or to double your carb intake, cheat meals are beneficial for the reasons listed above. Revving up the metabolism will kick your body into overdrive from time to time. This will be beneficial as the fat loss process goes on and on and the body starts to slow down.
I would recommend doing a cheat meal or refeed day one time a week after the diet has been rolling a good 6-8 weeks. Why not start right away? Well first of all let's look at the starting diet and caloric allotment for the individual and see what happens when they start their diet. Are they making progress? Do we need to drop calories right away?
Depending on how lean you are to begin with you may be able to utilize cheat meals right from the start. This level would be around 10% body fat for males and 15% for females. Refilling glycogen storage and raising leptin levels have a dramatic effect on the body.
Cheat meals can also help us fit foods in to satisfy cravings. Those who diet using a lower fat and higher carb eating plan may want to get themselves a huge steak, while those on a low carb diet will want to devour a plate of pasta. This will help to keep their body and mind going in the right direction.
Some science to back up the reasoning behind refeeds and cheats meals. A stall occurs when you can't figure out what is going on. You dropped calories, added another HIIT session...and another week goes by and nothing changes. Your energy drops, and you feel fatigued and mentally weak. The reason is that long periods of undereating can cause a hypo-caloric state where the metabolism will slow/shutdown to an extent. This is where the refeeds and cheat meals come into play.
Leptin was first studied in 1997 (as far as PubMed goes on their research). This hormone helps us understand that when it is controlled, leptin can increase fat loss and weight loss. Called an anti-famine and starvation hormone by many researchers, leptin plays a huge role in increasing metabolism for brief periods of time, and in regulating hunger.
While dieting leptin can decrease fat oxidation, increase appetite, and decrease your metabolic rate. Therefore the smaller the fat cells in your body, the more that can be synthesized as far as hunger/lower energy expenditure during dieting. As we ramp up calories expended from cardio, etc., and decrease overall caloric intake, we need to find a way to shock the body and increase fat burning. This is where the refeeds and cheat meals come into play.
For a refeed I will take the individual's fat and protein intake and drop it slightly while raising carbs. How much? That is hard to say. When starting out the refeeds should be small. As the diet prolongs they can increase in size. As you get into a leaner state the body can absorb and process more. Ever hear the phrase: the body grows best in a lean state? Well it's 100% true.
Try having a person who is 6% bodyfat refeed on a very high carb meal and see how it. You will notice those who have a quicker metabolism and grow in a leaner state and can handle the bigger cheat meals.
For those starting out I would do the following:
- Protein - Drop around 20-25g per day.
- Fats - Drop 5-10g per day.
- Carbohydrates - Increase carbohydrates by around 75-100g per day.
So you have dropped around 100 kcals in protein, 50-100 from fat and added 350-400 calories from carbs. While that does produce a slight surplus, this will change as the fat loss program moves forward. Someone who has been dieting for 15-16 weeks may be doubling carb intake goes, possibly increasing it by around 200-250g per day. Or they will do 2 smaller refeeds to help keep the metabolism turning, as their body will simply eat up the carbs for being in a deficit for so long and being on a restricted intake on the other 5-6 days of the week where they do not refeed.
For cheat meals I have an outline I like to follow to prevent the client/individual from going overboard. To some a cheat meal may be an all out assault on a buffet, which would be counter productive and set the individual back quite a few days. I have seen individuals go to buffets for cheat meals and take down 6-7 plates of food, and then polish off dessert. This may be around 3500-5000 calories for a single meal, which doesn't even include what they ate before the meal.
There will be those who have a hard time accepting the premise of a cheat meal. The might make a batch of protein pancakes yet push away the plate because they feel guilty. They fear the calories when they should be indulging to help restore t3, leptin, and hormone levels to increase their fat loss.
My outlook is pretty simple. Most individuals utilize a cheat meal to indulge in a great home cooked meal or trip to a restaurant with family or friends. My advice is to split an appetizer. Say you get a onion ring basket, fried zucchini sticks, some sort of sliders or potato skins among your party. Indulge on 2-3 of them to get the satisfaction and move onto the next portion of your meal.
If you have a side salad it is free game. Greens do not have very many calories, and it will help curb hunger/appetite during the rest of your meal. Then grab an entrée of your choice, whatever your heart desires or may want. For many individuals it may be a burger/fry meal. For some it may be a great big burrito, chicken wings or a few slices of pizza. So eat up and enjoy!
Then if you want you can split a dessert. Say you are dieting around the holidays and there is a slice of pumpkin pie left on the counter that is sealed up. Split it with your wife/husband and move on. The cheat meal is done and completed. Get right back on your diet the next day or next meal.
For some it is very hard to mentally adapt when you get back on your diet. I would suggest leaving your cheat meal as the last meal of the day so you can shut off, wind down, and get ready for bed soon after, and get back on track the next day.
For those who just need a meal on their own getting a takeout order works very well. Say you are digging some Chinese. Grab an egg roll or some soup with it as your appetizer, take down an entrée of general Tso’s chicken and polish off a cone of ice cream, a few servings of ice cream, a doughnut or two, or a few cookies and call it a cheat meal and get back on the swing of things.
Trying both the cheat meal and the refeed may be wise. See how you respond, and see how you react as far as weight gain from both processes. Note how you mentally and physically feel. These are KEY indications as to what works best for your body and what you should utilize in the future to help dial you into the best shape of your life!
Others may want to take a complete diet break for a week or even up to 10 days depending on how long they have dieted. I would suggest this for those coming off a contest prep diet (16+ weeks long), or a very rigorous diet such as Lyle McDonald's Ultimate Diet 2.0 or Rapid Fat Loss Diet (RFL). This will help get rid of the metabolic slowdown and the mental lethargy of the caloric deficit they have been placed in for so long.
In the end dieting comes down one major factor... “Dieting smarter and not harder than it needs to be.” Taking a step back (as in refeeding or a cheat meal) can help you and taking two steps forward (increased weight loss, and satisfying your cravings) when done properly and executed. You will have to read your body, read the scale, and look in the mirror to see how you react to those things and then based off what your progress is keep fine tuning to see what suits your body best.