NOTE: I have copied this excerpt from another site I visit...this is NOT my writing but I have found it to be a very good synopsis of what needs to be done to lose fat. It is long but if you are the kind of person who is hanging out in the training and nutrition portion, you probably will appreciate it.
So you want to lose fat, do you?
Note the semantic difference there – you want to lose fat, not weight. Weight is a combination of a bunch of different things, most of which are very beneficial to keep around (muscle, bones, blood – you know, the good stuff). You want to lose fat, so keep that in mind.
Surprisingly enough, it’s not that hard – from a ‘What-to-do’ point of view, that is. The actual mechanics of fat loss are easy, and will end up making you feel a lot better than any pile of junk food ever did. The real test, of course, comes down to willpower and the desire to actually put the work in to get the results.
Will it happen quickly? No. Will it be as easy as 20 minutes three times a week? No. Can I buy the fat-loss for 3 easy payments of $19.95? Not a chance.
Losing fat requires time, patience, and forethought. If that’s too much for you to deal with, then you might as well stop reading now.
You’ve kept reading, which means that you’re my kind of person. So let’s talk numbers.
First thing first – how much fat do you want to lose? If the number is bigger than 2lbs/week, then go back to the part about time, patience and forethought, and begin again. Trying to lose any more than 2lbs/week (without the use of pretty strong supplements/steroids) will result in either a)muscle loss (which is bad), b)a lowering of your body’s metabolic rate (which is bad), or c)both (which is really bad). If you’re starting from a big number (ie. your bodyfat percentage is above 15% and you need to lose a lot of fat) then 2 lbs a week is a good number to start from. Aiming for more will do the above (the bad stuff above). As your bodyfat % lowers and your weight gets lower, you’ll want to aim for smaller increments per week; it gets harder to lose fat the less you have.
You see, your body doesn’t want to give up the fat it’s got. Call your body crazy, but it has knowledge ingrained from a few millennia ago, when food was scarce and being fat and strong was a good way to ensure surviving both a saber-tooth tiger attack and a long cold winter without much food. With that in mind, the lower your bodyfat %, the more your body starts to rebel against your fat-loss goals.
Now that you’ve got that number in mind, let’s talk about calories.
For starters, the obvious qualifier. No method is exact. They’re not going to describe the exact number of calories that your body needs to take in. What the following is a good starting point. We’ll get to how to fine tune it shortly.
The bottom line of fat loss is that calories in and calories out are the single over-riding factor. If you aren’t burning more calories per day than you’re taking in, then (barring exceptional genetics) you won’t lose much fat. After you get the nutritional part of the equation squared away, there are lots of neat things the body does that work in conjunction with the calories in vs. calories out principle, but the first thing to consider is still your daily caloric intake. There are a couple of ways to calculate your required daily intake; some are complicated, some are not.
We’ll start with the semi-complicated way (it’s not really complicated, but that’s an often heard excuse when given this method). The Harris Benedict method follows – the HB info is taken from the Clean Eating III thread by karocka.
Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories your body (given normal metabolic conditions) burns in a day, given that you do nothing more than exist. No eating, no walking, no getting out of bed. These are your ‘existence’ calories. To calculate your BMR, use these formulas:
Men BMR = 66 + (6.3 x Body Weight in lbs) + (12.9 x Height in inches) - (6.8 x age)
Women BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kilos) + (1.8 x height in cm) - (4.7 x age)
Now that you’ve got your BMR, you’ve got a good starting point for how your body (at your current weight) burns calories. Now it’s time to use that information and figure out how many calories you burn during a normal day. You know, when you crawl out of bed and actually do something. Take the BMR, and multiply it by the Activity Multiplier below that best describes your average day:
Sedentary = 1.2 (little exercise, desk job)
Light Activity = 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)
Moderate Activity = 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week)
Very Active = 1.725 (heavy exercise/sports 6-7 days/week)
Extreme Activity = 1.9 (heavy exercise/sports, physically demanding job)
Now, if you’re trying to decide where you fall – say you’re thinking you may be between light and moderate activity – then pick a number in between. Remember, this isn’t exact, so don’t stress too hard.
So now you have a rough estimation of how many calories you use during the day, courtesy of the Harris Benedict method.
To figure out how many calories you want to take in every day, you need that first number from earlier, the one about lbs/week. If you want to lose 2lbs a week, you need to cut 2lbs worth of calories per week. A pound of fat is equivalent to about 3500 calories, so 2lbs is about a 7000 calorie deficit per week. Luckily, that divides nicely by the number of days in a week, so subtract 1000 cals from your Harris-Benedict number, and that’s what you need to take in. If you want to lose 1lb a week, subtract 500 cals a day. It’s that easy.
The super easy method is one that popeye (a mentor to many on the Men’s Health boards) has popularized. I have no idea where he got it from, so I’ll credit him for it and let him source it properly if he feels like it. The fact is, though, that it seems to work pretty well.
The general rule of thumb about caloric intake is this:
10-12xBW to WANE
13-15xBW to MAINTAIN
16-18xBW to GAIN
Spelled out in big letters for you – take your bodyweight and multiply it by the number that fits your goal (wane means lose weight, maintain means maintain, and gain means . . . you get the picture). That number that you get is an approximation of how many calories you should have as your starting point.
Well, why don’t I eat even less calories?
Because you’ll lose muscle. And you need muscle. So don’t burn muscle. Unless you’re very large (we’re talking 350-400 lbs here) you need all the muscle you can get.
Yo-yo dieting happens because people eat to little – basically starve themselves – then lose lots of weight, try to start eating the same amount of food they used to, and since their metabolism is even slower now, they put the weight on twice as fast as they lost it. I’m pretty sure that’s not what you want. So eat enough food.
2. So what do I eat?
Now that you’ve got your calorie numbers, it’s time to examine the other important part of fat-loss – the types of foods you eat. While calories in vs. calories out is the over-riding criteria, this is the big number 2. The different categories of food do different things, and those things are important. Keep in mind that, while I subscribe to the information presented, as do many other people who have successfully lost fat and retained muscle, some of the things are debated by many. As you continue through your fat-loss journey, you’ll learn more, and if you decided you disagree with me on something, I won’t hate you.
Number 1 on the list of stuff to eat is protein. Protein is the building block of life (as far as I’m concerned), and the average North American diet is sadly lacking in it. Protein is good for a number of different reasons.
For starters, it takes more energy to digest protein than anything else (called the thermic effect of food). Your body needs energy to digest food, and protein takes a lot. So when you eat protein, you’re boosting your metabolic rate just a bit more – always a good thing when trying to lose fat.
Second, it is extremely satisfying and filling. Think about the last time you had a steak. Pretty darned good, and it got you feeling pretty full by the end, eh? A big part of that was the protein. Making sure to get protein at every meal is a good way to make sure you feel full for a while afterwards.
Third, it helps build and maintain lean muscle mass, which is extremely important when trying to lose fat. Remember the reason why we say ‘lose fat’ instead of ‘lose weight’? It’s because muscle mass helps keep the metabolism running – the more muscle you lose, the lower your metabolism because your body needs to do less to keep you going, and isn’t going to want to lose anymore muscle.
In terms of fat-loss, when I am trying to shed fat I keep my protein intake at a minimum of a third of my daily caloric intake. A gram of protein is equal to 4 calories, so take your calorie number, divide by 3, then divide by 4 to get the number of grams of protein you want a day.
You’re going to hear a lot of people say that too high a protein intake will results in kidney problems. To anyone who says that, I say this: show me one study that proves that. If you drink enough water, a person with healthy kidney function has little to nothing to worry about. The studies that I have seen indicate that, given normal kidney function, adequate hydration and the recommended intake of calcium during the day, a healthy person has nothing to worry about. If a doctor tells you to avoid protein for the above reason, ask them to show you a study that shows the aforementioned problems occurring. If they have one – pass it along to me. I’d like to read it.
Next up is fat – poor, confused, misunderstood fat. Most people out there are automatically thinking “Hey, stay away from fat, right? I mean – eat fat, get fat – right?” Wrong. Fat is an important part of a man’s diet – the right kinds of fat help keep your heart ticking right, your arteries clean, and your testosterone levels up.
The unsaturated fats are the best – poly and mono-unsaturates do all kinds of wonderful things for your body, which I’m not going to get into here because it deserves a post all by itself. Saturated fats are also important, as there’s been a lot research suggesting that saturated fat is linked to male testosterone levels. Have no fear – you won’t become a bodybuilder – but try to make sure that you’re getting a balanced amount of the different fats.
The stuff to avoid is Trans-fat – comes from oils and such, and does all the wrong things for your body – raises the bad cholesterol, reduces the good cholesterol for starters. When you see words like ‘hydrogenated oils’ steer clear. Not good stuff.
I try to keep fats as about a third of my daily intake when cutting fat – I try to keep my poly’s, mono’s and saturates at about a third each within that number, as well. A gram of fat equals 9 calories. To figure it out, take your daily calorie number, divide by three to get the calories from fat, then divide by 9 to get the grams of fat per day.
Finally, carbohydrates – in many people’s eyes, the most difficult to comprehend. With everything that’s been said/written about carbs in the last few years, finding the truth can be difficult. What follows is my opinion, backed up by a lot of reading and research, and it will probably be the most contentious part of this article.
Carbs are not evil. I will state that at the beginning. They serve a great number of purposes when employed properly in a balanced diet. They also, however, tend to contribute disproportionately to the amount of fat on the average North American’s body. This is because carbs have been so distorted from the way Mother Nature intended them to be used by humans that most carb products barely resemble real food.
Many carbs are processed to the nth degree. A loaf of white bread is the nutritional equivalent of cardboard. So is normal pasta. When you order a burger at Mickie D’s you’re getting crappy meat sandwiched between an insulin spike waiting to happen. You eat ketchup with more sugar and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) than you will ever need. These are the crappy carbs.
You can and will hear a lot about Glycemic indexes, Glycemic Loads, Insulin Loads, Insulin Indexes, blah blah blah. My rule of thumb – if it didn’t resemble that when it was grown, it probably won’t do me much good. This means that veggies are good. Fruits are good. Legumes are good. Beans are good. Heck, anything with fibre is probably good. If you’re trying to decide whether a carbohydrate source is good or bad, take these two things into consideration: a)does it have fiber in it?, and b)did it take chemical and mechanical processes to get to the state it’s in now? If you answered no to a) and/or yes to b) there’s probably a better choice out there.
The key to all of this is, of course, moderation. I try to get veggies or a piece of fruit with every meal. I eat beans a few times a week – legumes as well. I get a good amount of fiber, which keeps my arteries flowing smoothly, and I’m nice and regular below the belt.
Now, are carbs necessary? It is my opinion that, in the short term you can probably greatly restrict carbs without any harm – but for a long-term nutritional approach you’re going to want to incorporate them in one way or another, simply for the nutrients and fibre that are contained therein.
Using a diet like Atkins or South Beach, however, is not necessarily a bad idea. Given that you’ve read the book and follow the diet plan properly, you shouldn’t have any problems. I used Atkins, and it does work. But I did the induction phase for 2 weeks – then I transitioned the way the book tells you into a more Clean Eating, balanced approach to nutrition. The problem that people run into is that they stay in the induction phase for 9 or 10 months – I personally don’t think that’s healthy at all. If you’re going to use a radical diet approach (and low-anything diets are radical) – then read the book and follow the directions.
OK – that’s a brief rundown – and that barely scratches the surface. Below is the Clean Eating link – if this has not satisfied you, try reading that as well:
3. How do I keep track of all this – it seems complicated?
Go here: http://www.fitday.com. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it is pretty reliable. I would ignore the calories burned sections, because it seems to over-estimate a lot of stuff, and it counts some activites twice. As a purely calorie counting website, however, I haven’t found a better one yet.
Counting calories is too hard – I can’t count.
Geez, suck it up! Counting calories is actually a great way to push the point home in the beginning about how crappy your old diet probably was. But lets say you actually can’t count – you’re that daft. Here’s a link to a plan that Adam Campbell popularized over at jpfitness.com. From what I understand, an expanded version will become a book in the near future. But he posted it on a public forum, so I’m going to assume that he doesn’t mind people reading the condensed version online:
Go down about a sixth of the page, to where Kaiser has posted a long chunk of text in italics. That’s the actual diet, originally posted by Mr. Campbell.
4. I’m doing all this, and I’m not losing fat!
First, make sure that you’re not eating too little. That seems to be a common problem. Someone does the calculations, finds their maintenance to be 3500 calories, decided that 2500 calories is too much because they ‘feel stuffed’, and drops to 2000 calories. They quickly hit a plateau where they can’t lose anymore fat, and so they think “Well, I should cut more”. When that doesn’t work, they do it again.
You’re not a bird. Stop eating like one.
I take this approach when I hit a plateau. I immediately increase calories by 250. Maybe a few bigger portions. Maybe another snack. Then I track my body fat % for two weeks. If I have kickstarted the fat loss, sweet. If I have gained fat weight, then I cut by 250 calories, and track for 2 more weeks. Play with the calorie levels – go up, go down. Give each change a few weeks so that you can accurately gauge results. Eventually you’ll find the answer. In my experience, 9 times out of 10 it’s eating too little, not too much. This is where Fitday.com becomes an invaluable website.
Ok – so you’ve got your nutrition dialed-in. Now, what to do to help lose the gut? Cardio right? Lots of gruesome, long, boring bike riding?
Losing fat has very little to do with the type of exercise you do – it’s mostly related to the food you take in. You can’t throw junk on the fire and hope to exercise the fat off – it rarely works that way. If you’re using one of the methods above to determine your calorie needs and you’re eating the right stuff, you’re already losing fat.
The addition of exercise does one of two things: a)it exacerbates the calorie deficit, or b)it helps to preserve lean muscle tissue. While making the calorie deficit larger seems like a good idea, remember that if it gets too big, you start to burn muscle as well. It is my opinion (again, pretty well researched) that the main goal of exercise in relation to fat loss should be to preserve lean muscle mass. This means hitting the weights.
Lifting weights will not make you huge. A few weeks in the gym will not get you big and bulky, and I’m sorry, but you do not have the ability to get ‘too big’ just from tossing the iron around. When eating at a calorie deficit, and eating the right kinds of foods, lifting weights will allow you to help your body avoid eating muscle for fuel – you may even get stronger in the process.
Does this mean cardio is bad? No. But cardio tends to be a catabolic activity (it eats muscle as well as fat), and my goal when losing fat is to avoid eating muscle. It takes longer to get the scale weight down, but who cares? Scale weight means approximately zero in the real world.
To boil it down to the bottom line . . . cardio by itself will help set the wheels in motion for a yo-yo in weight when you stop dieting. By burning muscle instead of fat, you’ll be slowing your metabolism, and unless you continue to eat like a bird after the diet, you will gain the weight back.
So lift weights. Suck it up and do it.