Exercise is most effective for reducing body fat when you pair it with a smart diet that leads to a reduction in energy intake.
Sounds easy, right?
Unfortunately, we humans have a hard time making it happen—often because we don’t get our nutrition and training priorities right.
This article will solve that problem and tell you EXACTLY what you have to do to lose body fat and get a physique you feel great about.
#1: Prioritize nutrition, making time to plan, shop, and cook.
In the mainstream, most people make the mistake of thinking that all they need to do to lose body fat is to start exercising. But, research consistently shows this doesn’t work very well because people often compensate for any extra calories burned during exercise by eating more.
This is why the single most important thing for fat loss is to get serious about nutrition. By making time to plan meals, shop, and cook, you accomplish at least three key things that make fat loss easier:
First, you’ll be amazed at how much energy you have now that you’re not living on refined carbs and processed food.
Second, you’ll be eating foods that naturally raise your metabolism, making it easier to achieve a calorie deficit so you lose fat.
Third, you’ll be laying the groundwork so that the other priorities on this list become easier to achieve, such as improving your digestion and avoiding nutrient deficiencies.
As far as what to cook, there’s no rule that says you have to eat in one specific way. The key is to avoid foods that give you trouble and cause you to overeat or feel sluggish the next day.
You probably know what these foods are and it’s perfectly fine, if not super smart to completely remove them from your diet in favor of foods that make you steady and energized.
#2: Do high-volume total-body weight training.
A lot of people prioritize sprint interval training when they want to lose fat, and while this is not a bad choice like steady-state cardio is, it’s better to focus first on weight training and use sprints as icing on the cake.
Weight training with loads in the 65 to 85 percent of maximum range with short rest periods of 60 seconds or less is ideal:
- It builds muscle, raising your resting metabolic rate (RMR) so you burn more calories everyday and
- It produces a lot of metabolic stress, making your body burn a lot of calories during the 24-hour recovery period.
Turning your body into an energy burning machine is never a bad thing when you’re trying to get and stay lean and lifting weights has the added benefit of making you strong and athletic as well—traits that will pay off down road in terms of health, mobility, and future results.
If you get nothing else from this article, take away the understanding that exercise for fat loss isn’t about what burns the most energy during a training session; it’s about what burns the most calories in a 24-hour period.
#3: Track your diet and training to ensure you’re achieving a calorie deficit.
We’ve all heard a friend or family member complain “I can’t lose fat even though I’m doing everything right!”
Unfortunately, humans are not very good at assessing how much they eat or how hard they work out. Studies consistently show that when people do food journals, they tend to under-record what they’ve eaten by a whopping 500 calories a day. They also significantly underestimate how hard they are exercising, both when training with weights and doing cardio.
This combination of “errors” is a primary reason that diet and exercise programs don’t lead to fat loss. In order to stop sabotaging ourselves, a few things need to happen:
- Since you know that humans are notorious for inaccuracy with food journals, you can make the choice to own up to what you put in your mouth and do a completely honest food journal. You don’t have to show it to anyone or feel guilty. This is raw data you need to overcome your biological drive for foods that work against your own interests.
- Get a trainer or a coach who can push you to ensure you are training as hard as you think you are. A trainer can also monitor your food journal and test your body fat, keeping you honest.
- If you can’t get a trainer, get a workout partner who is in better shape than you and knows how to push themselves. Assuming you don’t turn workouts into social hour, research shows training with a more advanced partner leads people to work harder.
#4: Eat protein at every meal.
Planning meals around protein has many benefits if your goal is fat loss:
Whole protein foods like meat, fish, eggs, and beans increase satiety after eating so that you are less hungry later.
Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbs or fat, which means the body burns more calories digesting it. A meal of pure protein requires the body to burn 25 percent of the energy provided in the food just to break down and use the nutrients.
High-quality protein helps manage blood sugar and insulin, decreasing cravings for carbs.
Eating protein improves brain function and will power, helping keep you steady and on point.
Protein triggers protein synthesis, preserving lean mass, which is essential when trying to lose fat because lean tissue elevates the amount of calories you burn daily.
#5: Do intervals or strongman workouts.
Adding a few sprint interval or strongman workouts to your training is an easy way to accelerate fat loss. Anaerobic-style exercise such as sprints don’t have a catabolic effect like steady state cardio does, so you won’t lose muscle.
Plus, although they are stressful, anaerobic training elicits a robust fat burning hormone response in the form of elevated growth hormone and testosterone. The key is to make sure you are able to recover effectively when you throw in weight training workouts and the stress of daily life.
If you’ve got a pretty low-stress life, you could lift weights 4 days a week and do sprints 2 days, doing sprint workouts separately from your weight workouts and keeping them to less than 30 minutes.
But, if you’re under a lot of stress and/or not sleeping well for 7 to 9 hours a night, you probably don’t want to do more than 4 workouts total a week. You could do 4 weight workouts, or if you like sprinting, you could do 2 weight workouts and 2 sprint workouts.
#6: Eat vegetables at every meal.
Do you have to eat vegetables to lose body fat?
No, of course not, but let’s try to convince you: Vegetables go a long way towards filling you up, providing a boatload of key nutrients to support everything from tissue repair to immunity. They also improve mitochondrial health, which can be suppressed on a high-protein diet.
Plus, they give meals texture, color, and best of all, FLAVOR.
For the lowest carb veggies like leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, and cucumbers you pretty much have a free for all and can eat as much as you want. Higher carb veggies and fruits, such as berries, starches, and peppers can help satisfy carb cravings and be used to jazz up meals.
#7: Sleep enough/Stress less.
Sleeping well is really important for fat loss because without it, you won’t get the large fat burning growth hormone release, which occurs when we sleep. In addition, lack of sleep is stressful: It leads to an increase in the hormone cortisol and a decrease in your body’s sensitivity to the hormone insulin.
Problems with blood sugar follow, as does a cascade of changes in other hormones, such as testosterone (important for body composition in both men AND women), melatonin (needed for sleep), and leptin (keeps you from getting crazy hungry).
Finally, neurons in the brain die off, which means the neurological connection from your brain that tells your muscle to fire is not as strong. Lack of sleep is like the opposite of strength training for the body—it literally reverses all the amazing things that lifting does for you!
#8: Make sure your gut is healthy.
Poorly functioning digestion is sure to inhibit fat loss by leading to an increase in cortisol and a decrease in overall neurotransmitter production. Plus, it makes you feel sluggish, lowering mood, motivation, and energy levels.
The two biggest culprits to look for in troubleshooting a bad gut are as follows:
- Poor bacteria—eat probiotic foods.
- Chronic inflammation in the gut—avoid foods that you’re sensitive to and get indigestible fiber from plants, NOT processed foods.
#9: Make sure you don’t have nutrient deficiencies.
Minerals such as magnesium, vitamin D, and zinc are extremely important for metabolic health.
For example, magnesium improves insulin sensitivity of cells. Vitamin D enables other nutrients such as calcium to sustain metabolic rate and bone metabolism, while preventing the hormone testosterone from being aromatized or changed into estrogen. Zinc enables hormone balance and acts as an antioxidant, keeping cells and DNA healthy.
If your levels of these nutrients are topped off, they cease to be a concern, but if you’re deficient, they become a top priority for fat loss.
#10: Sharpen your diet to improve insulin sensitivity.
One of the best-kept secrets of the fitness world is that insulin health is one the most underrated factors in fat loss and getting an awesome physique.
Insulin is a very anabolic hormone and it will drive nutrients into muscle cells. In an insulin sensitive state, the body is more tuned to store energy as muscle glycogen—the energy source for your muscles during exercise. On the other hand, in an insulin resistant state, you are much more likely to store the food you eat as fat.
The cool thing is there are simple habits you can use to improve insulin sensitivity. First, vigorous exercise such as lifting weights or sprinting is a great method because it requires cells all over your body to become more responsive to insulin. The key is to use as many muscle groups as possible because there’s a wide variation in sensitivity of different tissues in the body to insulin and only muscles that are trained will improve.
Second, a lower glycemic diet of protein, healthy fats, veggies, and lower carbs fruits will allow you to experience steady blood sugar instead of spikes and valleys.
Third, certain foods such as vinegar, citrus, and spices like cinnamon and turmeric will significantly increase the cell’s sensitivity to insulin. Try eating these foods when you eat higher carb foods like grains and starches.
Now that you’ve got your fat loss priorities straight, you’re ready to give it all you’ve got and have the fat start to melt away. Just remember that fat loss results tend to take weeks to appear, while muscle development takes months. Stay the course.
- amino acids
- body composition
- body fat
- fat loss
- healthy fats
- insulin resistance
- processed food
- strength training