This is the time of year when fat loss mania is reaching a fevered peak. The only thing on anyone’s mind this time of year, as far as the gym faithful are concerned, is trying to look fabulously ripped and muscular in some imaginary beach scene that resembles a beer commercial in their minds. The method that I see used by pretty much everyone is to lose as much fat as possible, and to do so as quickly as possible. This works great for a few weeks, especially if there is a fair amount of fat to lose, but after a little while the fat loss will slow to a crawl. Not to mention the amount of muscle lost to fat lost ratio is going to start to get really ugly. This is never the best way to get yourself to a low body fat percentage, while still having some muscle to show off. As a matter of fact, I’ve never actually seen anyone be successful with this method at all.
The truly ideal way to have a low body fat percentage as well as retain muscle is to not gain so much fat in the first place. If for example, you’re carrying an extra 30 pounds of adipose tissue that must be lost to get you to the beach ready or fitness model ballpark, then that means an awful lot of dieting. Dieting, not to be confused with diet, means that you’re going to be restricting your caloric intake and eating under your maintenance requirements. In theory this means that because you’ve created an energy deficit, the body will draw that energy from its stores of fat and presto, a month or two later and it’s nothing but shredded muscle, or toned and sexy for you. Like I said, this will work for a week or two, but not much longer than that.
Your body is an incredibly smart, adaptable and beautiful hunk of meat. In the body’s never-ending wisdom, should you try to lower the amount of fuel you give it, your body will simply speak to its internal accountant in charge of expenditure, and request that less energy be used to cover the deficit. Homeostasis is the fancy way of saying that your body was happy with how things were, and if necessary it will make its own adjustments to see that everything continues along as it previously did. This is what happens when you restrict your calories.
This problem is magnified much more when the person attempting to shed fat at a ridiculously fast rate cuts the calories somewhat drastically in an attempt to expedite the process. It will work great as far as numbers on the scale are concerned, at least at first. When you hear claims from your gym friends about how they lost seven pounds last week, I bet it was the first week, and a good chunk of that loss was just water. Your body due to the extreme loss of its usual allotment of calories will be putting on the metabolic brakes shortly to ensure that any kind of serious loss to its valuable stores of energy won’t be possible.
Exercise of course will help to balance the scales a little. Through various methods involving weight training and high intensity sprints, we can convince our bodies that it’s a good idea to hang onto the muscle and begin giving up the fat for fuel. If your muscles are being used to perform all of the heavy lifting you’re doing, as well as generating a high degree of intensity for the sprints, then your body will deem those muscles as necessary and decide they are worthy of keeping around. As you can see, there are ways to help lose that fat and get yourself to the shape you’ve always dreamed of.
Lifting weights and sprinting will also encourage your body to produce hormones that will be incredibly beneficial to both maintaining muscle mass and using body fat for fuel. Both activities have been proven to increase the amount of testosterone your body produces. Any activity the boosts testosterone naturally is something we all should be doing. Testosterone obviously is important for building muscle as I’m sure you know, but testosterone is also a valuable aid in convincing your body to give up its fat stores for energy. That burning feeling that you get in your muscles when you perform high reps or preferably long circuits, and of course from sprinting, is lactic acid. The larger the burning sensation, the larger the amount of lactic acid that has been produced and where there is lactic acid there will also be growth hormone being released in corresponding amounts. Growth hormone is another valuable weapon in the fight to retain muscle as well as liberate fatty acids to be used for fuel.
So what was I saying earlier about how this fat loss plan wasn’t going to work? Well it will to a point. If you’re lifting weights, doing sprints and maintaining a caloric deficit, then you will see results. Remember homeostasis? That still comes into play, regardless of the tactics you’re using. Your body may be compliant for a while, but sooner or later it is going to decide that enough is enough. It’s happy with the amount of fat it has left and it is going to retain it at all costs. Even if it means using less and less fuel to run its functions, by becoming more and more efficient. You can continue to up the intensity of your training, while at the same time lowering the calories further to create that deficit again. Eventually though you’ll burn out. This type of dieting isn’t sustainable. Professional bodybuilders do it, sure, to look at their best for a very short period of time. Often just a few weeks, if even that long.
Which brings me back to the point that the first thing you can do for yourself is to keep your body fat levels in check year round. By doing so you can continue to add muscle and definition without ever having to drastically cut calories. What if it’s a little too late for that, you ask. You put on way too many pounds and you want to lose them? Finally we get to what this article is about. This is the method I would suggest you employ even if it’s only a small amount of fat you need to lose, and I call it the lose and cruise method.
What does lose and cruise mean, I’m sure you’re asking? It means that basically year round, if looking lean and muscular is your primary goal then try putting yourself in a perpetual state of losing body fat, and then cruise. This means lose a small amount of fat by tightening up your diet for a week or so, and then go back to maintenance or slightly above and focus on shifting the emphasis to building muscle, endurance, power, mobility and athleticism. You can do this 52 weeks a year. This way you’re never far from your best condition and you continually build muscle, year over year.
Another bonus from what I have termed lose and cruise, is that you get to keep all the muscle you build. I may not impress the typical bulk and cut bodybuilder with the number of pounds you gain each year, but if you can gain three to five pounds of pure muscle every year, you can probably see how that adds up after five or ten years. It also means there is no such thing as dieting. You stay strict for ten days or so and then go back to your maintenance diet for the equal amount of time and repeat. Your metabolism never slows in an attempt to maintain its comfort zone, but the truly best part is you don’t ever have to severely restrict your food intake.
The flip side to this is of course that you never just throw your self-control out the window, and have an eating and alcohol free for all as most do for the entire autumn and winter months. If you’re spending six months of the year over eating, and six months of the year under eating, then why not meet in the middle and consume the same quantity of calories throughout the year? The reality is that if this sounds like you, you’re spending way to much time and energy getting to your ideal physical state. Truthfully, the amount of time there will be short as you had to deny yourself for so long, that at the first chance to indulge the pendulum swings in the opposite direction yet again, and so the cycle continues. I strongly encourage you to try this technique. It may not get you to that goal you had in mind this summer, but it will take you further than that for the next one and every one after that. If you’re in this for the long haul then you have to think long-term. Until next time,
This article was written and researched by Matt Taylor
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