This FitAfter45.ca article was written by Certified Personal Trainer and Strength & Conditioning Coach, Josh Hewett. In additional to being a personal trainer and coach, Josh is also public speaker, author, and the founder of T.B. Strength Athletics.
The majority of my clients come to me with one main goal: to lose body fat.
In my opinion, simply losing weight for most people is a relatively simple process at it’s core … we need to consume fewer calories and expend more energy (move more and eat less). Of course, that’s an oversimplification and it’s also easier said than done, but the fact remains that this is the primary mechanism for reducing body weight.
However, a more appropriate goal to take on would be to “lose fat without losing muscle”. What good is dropping a few pounds if you end up losing a significant amount of your lean muscle tissue in the process? The objective should be to “reshape” your body, not just shrink it. If you really consider it, most people want to look lean and “toned” (I hate that word!), not just “smaller”. Another benefit to keeping your muscle while you cut is that muscle mass will also support a healthy metabolism. Body weight is really secondary to body composition (ratio of lean to fat body mass).
With that in mind, let’s look at 5 keys to getting shredded while maintaining muscle. This is something that I did a good job at while preparing for my last men’s physique competition, where I qualified for the Nationals. Although I lost body fat at a slightly slower rate than I have in the past, I kept most of my hard-earned muscle mass during my cut.
Here’s how I did it:
- Maintain a modest calorie deficit. As I already mentioned, to lose body fat you need to be in a caloric deficit (consuming fewer calories than you are burning off). The trick is to assess what your current daily maintenance caloric intake is (daily calories required to maintain current weight) and reduce by about 250 to 500 calories per day. A good estimate for daily maintenance calorie needs is to multiply your body weight in pounds by 15; so if you weigh 200 lbs your estimated maintenance calories would be around 3000 calories per day (200 x 15). Of course, calorie needs vary depending on your age, body composition, activity level, metabolism, etc, so the best way to estimate your current maintenance caloric intake is to track your food intake using a free “food journal” app such as MyFitnessPal. After a couple of weeks of keeping track of your nutrition, you will have a good idea of your current calorie intake. Whichever method you use, start with a modest deficit of 250 to 500 calories, keep track of your bodyweight and waist measurement (at the belly button) and progressively adjust your caloric intake accordingly.
- Consume more protein. A high protein diet will help you maintain lean tissue while losing body fat during a cutting program. Aim to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of your lean body weight daily. Your lean body weight is assessed by finding out what your body fat % is and subtracting your body fat in pounds from your total weight. So if you weigh 200 lbs at approximately 20% body fat, you have about 40 lbs of fat on your body. Therefore, your lean body weight is 200 lbs minus 40 lbs, which equals 160 lbs. In that case I recommend at least 160 grams of protein, even as high as 180 grams per day. The remainder of your calories will come from carbs and fat. Again, the best way to measure your protein intake is by using an app like My Fitness Pal to track your nutrition.
- Lift Weights. One major key to maintaining your muscle while you drop fat is to make resistance training your primary form of exercise. Too many people focus on doing hours and hours of cardio to lose fat, without realizing that making nutrition and resistance training your priority will lead to better results. Not only that but your resistance training program should be directed at building muscle (hypertrophy), rather than simply using light weights for high reps to “get a sweat on”. By performing progressive resistance training and following a high protein diet you can hold onto your lean tissue, reduce body fat, and keep your metabolism elevated.
- Choose HIIT over LISS. If you are going to perform cardiovascular exercise, choose primarily High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) vs Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio. HIIT involves alternating brief intervals of high intensity “sprint” style cardio (ie: 30 seconds) with slower low intensity recovery intervals (ie: 1 to 2 minutes) performed for about 15 to 20 minute sessions. LISS is the traditional cardio most of us think of, such as 30 to 60 minutes of jogging or cycling. HIIT takes far less time and can be performed less frequently than LISS. HIIT also leads to an after-burn effect which results in more fat and calories continuing to be burned for hours after the workout is finished. You can learn more of the other Benefits Of HIIT on my blog, as well as 3 Popular Forms of HITT Exercise you can choose from.
- Schedule ReFeed Days and Weeks. After being in a caloric deficit for a prolonged period of time your metabolism will start to slow down to conserve energy. This is called Metabolic Adaptation. One way to compensate for this is to plan one day every week or two as a ReFeed Day. On a refeed day you will intentionally consume more calories than you normally would (as long as you don’t “blow over” your weekly calorie deficit). This can have a positive effect on your hormones and help to support your metabolism. In addition, once you’ve been in a calorie deficit for over 2 to 3 months and you haven’t reached your goal yet, I recommend taking one week to go back to your daily maintenance calories before resuming your fat loss diet. By incorporating ReFeed Days and Weeks in this manner you can prevent serious down-regulating of your metabolism during your fat loss plan. Find out more about Metabolic Adaptation and how to avoid sabotaging your fat loss progress here.
A reasonable fat loss goal would be to lose 1 to 3 pounds per week … the more body fat you carry the faster you can expect to lose it initially. But remember, slow progress is still progress! Keep track of your body weight and waist circumference at least once per week in the morning on an empty stomach and aim for steady, consistent progress. By following the tips in this article you can lose fat, maintain muscle, support a healthy metabolism, and transform your physique. If you are new to working out, you can even expect to gain muscle while losing body fat at the same time for the first few weeks!
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