What's the most important fat-loss advice you need to hear? We asked 8 experts and pros. Their answers are surprising.
What's your single best tip for fat loss?
Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach
Control hunger and increase satiation without blowing your diet, especially on the weekends.
This is the key to sustaining a diet and losing fat. Some people can power through the cravings without caving to them, and some people don't have that kind of willpower. But this is what separates the people who make progress consistently and those who don't.
The weekends are when people struggle the most. Weekdays give us structure, but the weekend often means going out with friends or family functions. This is when you become a dieting casualty. A Saturday and Sunday of overeating can undo the previous five days of being strict on a hypocaloric diet.
Stop the self-sabotage. These tips can help:
- Drink diet drinks. They're great at temporarily controlling your appetite. I'm sure someone is going to pipe up referencing some study about artificial sweeteners and insulin, but there was a year-long study done that showed those who used diet drinks in conjunction with their diet lost more weight than those who just drank water. I had Diet Sunkist all the way up to my bodybuilding show and was in the low single-digit body fat range. Somehow it didn't impede my fat loss. Shocker. Zero calories didn't hurt the fat loss. Go figure.
- Load up on veggies. Veggies fill you up, and you can eat a ton without blowing your diet. You'll never need to check into a fat loss clinic because of your broccoli habit. If you're attending a get-together, bring a vegetable tray that everyone hates and eat it all by yourself. After that, go to the protein sources. This at least gives you a fighting chance at not ingesting 10,000 calories at the neighbor's barbeque.
- Have a protein shake before leaving the house. This curbs your appetite before you hit a function or eat out and it'll minimize overeating. – Paul Carter
Nate Miyaki – Physique and Nutrition Specialist
Track your food intake.
Track your calories and macronutrients the first few weeks of your fat loss phase. Here's why:
- Education From a qualitative perspective, you'll identify the highest-level habits you can improve to get the ball of fat rolling in the right direction (off your body). From a quantitative perspective, it'll show you how the typical foods and meals you eat impact your average nutrition numbers. You can then adjust portion sizes in order to hit your target fat loss numbers.
- Awareness It can show you the difference between "health" foods and "fat loss friendly" foods. Yeah, nuts are healthy, but if you're taking in 1000 extra calories a day by nibbling on them, it'll be difficult to consistently get into that calorie deficit necessary for fat loss.
- Objectivity and accountability If you aren't losing fat and are only hitting your target numbers 80% of the time, you need to bump that average up. Fat loss requires discipline and consistency.
- Fine tuning Sometimes subtle shifts are all that's necessary to start the fat loss process, or to keep it progressing. Some people will jump to extremes when it's not necessary. Maybe all you need is to cut your carbs down by 10% to spark some fat loss. By tracking, testing, and assessing, you can do that instead of cutting your calories in half and carbs to zero, then suffering all of the negative metabolic and hormonal consequences of those extremes.
Food tracking isn't something you need to do indefinitely. The whole point is to teach you enough about nutrition so that you can eat more intuitively while still reaching your physique goals. You'll soon know the numbers of your typical meals and will be able to eyeball portion sizes. – Nate Miyaki
TC Luoma – T Nation Editor
Improve your insulin sensitivity, starting with your next meal.
Okay, improving insulin sensitivity might not sound like a tip you can use right away. It sounds like some painstaking process that happens over a long period of time, like getting better at playing violin or hacky sack.
But you really can improve your insulin sensitivity right away, and at the same time coax your body into losing fat. Plus, when you do improve your insulin sensitivity over the long run, it's possible you may not have to ever pay attention to fat loss tips again because you'll have set your body up to stay continually lean, even in the face of future increased calorie intake.
Quite simply, insulin sensitivity largely determines how lean you are and how muscular you are. It improves the way your body partitions energy so that food calories are preferentially shuttled to muscle instead of fat. If insulin sensitivity is poor, you might look and feel squishy, or you might be reasonably lean everywhere except for a layer of overflowing fat around your waist that reminds everyone of the miniature volcano you once made for a school science project.
So do as many of the these insulin-sensitizing things as you can:
- Take 2 tablespoons of vinegar before bed and/or use it as a salad dressing. Taking it before a meal can raise post-meal insulin sensitivity by 30 to 40%.
- Sprinkle 2-3 teaspoons of cinnamon into your breakfast oatmeal. It slows down how fast your food digests and reduces fasting insulin levels.
- Take 1 teaspoon of psyllium (found in Metamucil) twice a day. Researchers found that using it for 8 weeks reduced all-day blood sugar levels by 11%.
- Take 4 to 6 capsules of cyanidin 3-glucoside (Indigo-3G®) before dinner. The insulin sensitizing effects of this naturally occurring substance compare favorably with some insulin sensitizing prescription drugs.
- Take a combined 3 grams of DHA and EPA a day. Fish oil not only makes cells more sensitive to insulin, but also reduces the secretion of insulin by the pancreas.
There's one more thing you can do, too, but it has to do with how you eat, rather than what you take with your food. When sitting down to a meal, make sure you eat some protein, fat, or vegetables before you take even a bite of a "starchy" carbohydrate. Studies have shown this practice leads to significant reductions in post-meal blood sugar levels, simply by slowing down the digestion of those carbs. – TC Luoma
Christian Thibaudeau – Strength Coach
Do energy systems work (cardio or HIIT) separate from lifting.
Why not put them together? If you do the energy systems work after the lifting workout you risk decreasing muscle growth by inhibiting mTOR via the increase in AMPK from the energy systems work.
Without going into too much complex science, mTOR is the trigger for protein synthesis (muscle growth) while AMPK is increased when you expend a lot of energy, and it can inhibit mTOR. So raising AMPK right after lifting might partially inhibit the muscle growth stimulated by lifting.
If you have no choice but to do both types of exercise in the same workout then you should do loaded energy systems work like sets of farmer's walks, Zercher carries, or pushing the Prowler. The loading will also raise mTOR which might compensate for the increase in AMPK.
So in order of effectiveness:
- Do energy systems work in the morning (not totally fasted), and lift in the afternoon or evening if you can train twice per day.
- Do energy systems work and lifting on separate days. In this case the whole workout would be about energy systems. You'd start with an easy warm-up (like stationary biking 10 minutes) then you'd do a high intensity medley, for example farmer's walk for 60 meters, then 30 seconds rest, then Prowler pushing 60 meters, then 60 seconds rest. Do 4-6 sets and finish with low to moderate intensity steady state cardio for 20-40 minutes.
- Lift then do loaded energy systems work. Here you'd do sets lasting 30-60 seconds on the farmer's walk, Prowler pushing, rowing ergometer or Assault Bike for example. Do 6-8 sets with a 1:1 work to rest ratio.– Christian Thibaudeau
Dani Shugart – T Nation Editor
Don't purchase what's obviously a problem.
If you can control yourself with foods commonly known for their physique-wrecking qualities, and you're generally lean, then knock yourself out. But if you can't stop overeating a certain food, then keep it off your grocery list.
People say that removing something from your diet only makes you want it more. Of course! But maybe that's the psychological struggle you have to overcome in order to learn how to go without it. And it may sound crazy, but you can't eat what's not there. Even if it's on your mind a lot.
This period of going without your favorite snack is a great time to find alternatives that hit the spot. Do they have to be textbook nutritious? No. You don't have to snack on raw broccoli to lose fat. But they do need to be better than what you were eating. Don't swap your bag of Fritos for Doritos. Try something else that has the main flavor quality you're after.
Is your favorite snack salty? Wrap a couple slices of deli meat around some pepper jack cheese or smear some guac on a popcorn-flavored rice cake. Many nutrition pros will say these aren't perfect choices. Rice cakes for instance have "empty" calories. But if those 35 empty calories (topped with another 100 calories of something else) can replace the 900 calories of what you were going to eat instead, it's a step in the right direction.
What if your favorite junk food is sweet? Find a sweet alternative. Mix chocolate protein powder with Greek yogurt and a tablespoon of chopped nuts. Or consider an apple. They're okay.
Don't like these suggestions? Not a problem. There's an endless amount of alternatives if you're creative enough and willing to stop spoiling yourself the way mommy and daddy did when you lived at home.
Go to the store and walk past the stuff you know you'll over-consume. This goes for alcohol too. Wine has become the cliché indulgence for stressed-out middle aged women, just like beer for men. So if you're overweight and you drink excessively, abstain for a few months. Yes, it'll suck and you'll feel "deprived" but expect that. Embrace it so that there are no surprises.
That's exactly how exercise is. If you're not used to physical effort, working out sucks. You feel "deprived" of comfort. But discomfort isn't always a bad thing, and life without it makes us unable to cope with common things that shouldn't be hard. Like avoiding donuts or making it to the gym.
To succeed, you must endure the unpleasant feelings that come along with learning anything new. Train yourself to handle them and they'll stop feeling unpleasant. Eventually you'll look forward to all the better alternatives.
Big warning here: Avoiding foods you overeat doesn't mean intentionally slashing your caloric intake. That strategy will make you ravenous and likely to overeat later on. Start with simple swaps, get satisfied on better alternatives, and quit paying for things that make you fat. – Dani Shugart
Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro Bodybuilder
First some background info: Muscle tissue is the engine which burns the fuel (calories). Losing fat requires the engine to burn more calories than you ingest, so it's forced to tap into stored calories (fat). The more muscle you carry, the more calories you burn.
From two decades of competing I've learned that eating too many carbs makes it darn near impossible to get shredded. At the same time, elimination of carbs makes it difficult to train with the intensity and stamina necessary to maintain or gain muscle. So the best way to lose fat is to eliminate starchy carbs in favor of lean protein and healthy fats (coconut, olive, avocado, etc.) with the exception of the workout window.
The workout window includes 30 minutes prior to your first working set until the completion of your workout. Depending on the length of your workout, this should amount to about 80-150 grams of carbs in the form of highly branched cyclic dextrin. I use Plazma™.
These carbs will provide the required material to train with intensity, blunt a prolonged catabolic spike in cortisol, and jumpstart recovery so that you build and maintain the engine (muscle mass). As for the rest of the day, limit carbs to fibrous vegetables. – Mark Dugdale
Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO
Stop being a pantywaist.
Oh sure, I could've talked about a number of important things here:
- Stop thinking of food in terms of reward or punishment.
- Learn to cook and make healthy foods taste good.
- Get off the "strict diet" vs. "inhaling the buffet" merry-go-round.
- Stop eating all the things you dang well know are bad for you. (Duh.)
But what do all those things have in common? Ninety percent of the solution is to simply choose better foods and be consistent in the gym. So why do people get overweight and stay that way for years when the common-sense answer is right there? What's the root problem?
Answer? Being a pantywaist. Or as we'll define it here: Lack of self-discipline and self-control. The unwillingness to plan because planning workouts and meals isn't a bowl of fun. The inability to suffer just a little to get a great reward. Aversion to work.
It wasn't too long ago that being tough and mentally strong were considered desirable traits. The last thing a man wanted to be called was a wimp, a weenie, weak, or lazy. Where has that gone? Why do people choose to wallow in their weaknesses instead of overcoming them (which they're very capable of doing)?
"Oh, but Chris, I have a medical condition that makes it hard for me to stay lean and/or work out!"
That can happen. But the strong-willed person adjusts his or her diet to compensate for that back injury, "thyroid problem" or prescription med that's making things harder. It's not easy, but easy is for pantywaists. And pantywaists get tubby waists.
But the excuses pile up anyway:
- "I'm an endomorph."
- "I'm too busy."
- "I'm broke and don't know where to buy inexpensive, healthy foods because I've never tried."
- "I don't know how to prepare my own meals because I'm basically an adult toddler."
Yes, in first world societies it's easy to get fat. I did myself back in the day. It's hard to get lean and stay that way. Takes work. Takes planning. Takes discipline and determination. But that's what we do best. That's what YOU do best when you decide not to be a pantywaist.
No other diet or training tip will "work" until you remember that you're a predatory animal with massive brain power... and not a weak-willed wimp. – Chris Shugart
Dr. Jade Teta – Integrative Physician, Naturopath, Coach
Keep your HEC in check!
HEC stands for hunger, energy, cravings. Keep these three metabolic responses balanced and your fat loss mission will become far more efficient. Most fat loss experts focus on following a one size-fits-all rule. This is a huge mistake because no hardline approach benefits all individuals.
Fat loss involves creating a calorie deficit and a hormonal balance. Most are aware of this need for a calorie deficit, but they're ignorant about what hormonal balance means. Hormonal balance means creating a metabolic state where you're naturally resistant to overeating and more motivated to work out.
Most people will create a calorie deficit, but it will unfortunately cause their metabolism to get out of balance, which means any fat loss they achieve will be temporary. This is why research shows that 95% of people who go on a standard low-calorie diet regain the weight, and 66% end up getting fatter.
The metabolism isn't like a calculator, but more like a boomerang. This means the harder you push on it, the faster it'll fly back at you, creating compensatory reactions that cause you to overeat. It throws hunger, energy, and cravings out of balance. The solution lies in developing an individual strategy based on your own metabolic expression, psychology, and personal preferences.
If you can balance metabolic hormones responsible for hunger, energy and cravings, you can naturally lower calories with much less effort. If you can't keep your HEC in check, you'll fail every time. For lasting fat loss, forget the rules and instead follow your biochemical biofeedback. Eat, train, and live in a way that keeps HEC in check.
How's this done? Follow what the research supports at first. Get more protein, fiber, and water to balance hunger and cravings. Lift weights and live in a way that reduces stress.
But research isn't enough. It's based on averages, not individuals. You must then be flexible and adjust your approach based on your own results. If your HEC is in check, you're losing body fat and you're getting healthier, then you've achieved the "holy grail" of fat loss. Develop a diet, exercise routine, and lifestyle that creates sustained and lasting fat loss. It'll be specifically created for you, by you. – Jade Teta