Fat Loss - A Primer
Fat loss is simple. It is not easy, but it is simple. With this basic framework, you can achieve fat loss in a sustainable and healthy manner.
There are five main categories of fat loss. In this article, we will delve into each category. Look out for future articles, where I focus specifically on each tenet. The key tenets of fat loss are:
- Resistance Training
- High Intensity Interval Training
- Low Intensity Steady State Training
- Sleep and Stress Management
Nutrition is arguably the most important tenet of fat loss. No matter how hard you work out, you cannot out-exercise poor nutrition. The key to proper nutrition is not the amount of calories you take in, but the quality of those calories. 100 calories of potato chips DOES NOT equal 100 calories of chicken. In order to turn your body into a fatburning machine, here are a important guidelines:
- Eat real food - a general rule of thumb is that you don't know what the ingredients are on a food label, it is best to put it back on the shelf. This applies to almost all packaged foods, including "health", "all-natural" and "organic" packaged foods. They are filled with man-made chemicals which are designed to make you crave more and are devoid of nutrients. Stick to meats, vegetables (lots of them), nuts, seeds and fruits (in moderation).
- Enjoy healthy fats - Fats have gotten a bad rap due to the supposed linkage between cholesterol and heart disease. However, research is coming out saying that the link between high cholesterol and heart disease isn't as pronounced as once thought. Fats have also gotten a bad rap because of their high calorie content. However, I want to say one thing - fat does not make you fat. Fat turns you into a fat burning machine. For example, there are certain diets, such as keto, where fat is the main component of your caloric intake, that have been proven to boost fat loss. While this can be something you experiment with, stick to healthy fats such as grass-fed butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados and more. Stay away from bad fats including any vegetable oil (when was the last time you saw oil in a veggie), margarine, canola oil and more.
- Eat all the veggies - try to aim to eat a pound of non-starchy veggies a day. Load them up in a morning smoothie, sauté them in grass-fed butter for a yummy side dish, roast and blend them to make a hearty soup. Not only are they full of nutrients, they fill you up and therefore can replace lower quality foods like white starchy carbs.
- Limit your fruit intake - while fruit does have beneficial nutrients, it is also filled with fructose which is a form of sugar. Enjoy fruits in moderation - while the sugar is natural, it is still sugar.
Resistance Training can come in the form of lifting weights, body weight exercises and even plyometrics. Resistance training builds lean muscle and increases metabolic capacity. Aim for 3-4 days per week of 20-45 minutes of resistance training. Finally, aim for big muscle groups as you will see the most full body change when focusing on those. Some resistance training ideas include:
- Push / Pull leg and arm exercises - For example, a push arm exercise would be a shoulder press and a pull exercise would be a row. For legs, a push exercise would be a squat and a pull exercise would be a deadlift. Aim for lower reps with heavier weights.
- Body weight training - you do not need to lift weights to get in your resistance training. Exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups and single leg squats are great movements to build lean muscle.
High Intensity Interval Training
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a quick and effective way to burn fat. It involves a short bursts a 'work' period followed by a 'rest' period for a certain number of sets. HIIT burns fat after you are done working out. Since your body is not able to bring in enough oxygen during periods of hard work, you accumulate a “debt” of oxygen that must be repaid post-workout in order to get back to normal. As a result, your metabolism is revved for hours after you leave the gym. This phenomena is referred to as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. Aim for 3-4 days a week of HIIT. Some examples include:
- 30 second sprints / 30 second rest for 10 - 15 minutes. This could be done running, cycling, swimming, rowing, etc.
- There are some great apps for quick HIIT workouts in the comfort (or discomfort of your own home). My favorite is at www.12minuteathlete.com. This app provides amazing 12 minute workouts with a timer. You are guaranteed to be a sweaty mess by the end.
Low Intensity Steady State
Low Intensity Steady State is low intensity exercise, such as walking, done for a long duration of time. While the debate continues about the type of cardio that burns the most fat, LISS allows you to burn extra calories without the negative hormonal and stress effects that exercises such as running put on your body. Aim for 3-4 days a week of LISS for 35-45 minutes. My favorite way to get my LISS in is to take a morning walk. Not only is it good for my health, I am able to clear my head and get ready for the day. Some other examples include:
- 35-45 minutes walking at 3.7-3.9 mph on the treadmill (or outdoors)
- 35-45 minutes of low resistance cycling
- 35-45 minutes on the cross-trainer at the same speed as a fast paced walk
Sleep and Stress Management
While this is the least sexy of the factors for fat loss, sleep and stress management provide a baseline for your body to perform. Even with a perfect diet and workout regimen, you may not be able to achieve fat loss without getting in high quality sleep. Lack of sleep has the following effects:
- Increased daytime cortisol levels - cortisol is a hormone that is released within the body that works to break down body tissues. In times of stress, you will find cortisol levels very high since the body is getting ready for the fight or flight response mechanism. As High cortisol levels lead to more insulin resistance which leads to more fat storing.
- Impaired glucose control - lack of sleep leads to food cravings, particularly carbs and sugars. Often in very fatigued states the body senses this fatigue and perceives a low supply of energy as a result, kick-starting internal drives to eat.
Fat Loss isn't about deprivation but it is about lifestyle changes. By focusing on the five tenets (Nutrition, Resitance Traning,HIIT, LISS, Sleep and Stress Management), you can boost your fatburning capabilities. In following articles, I will focus on each specific category to give you a more detailed look on how to burn fat.