When I’m discussing goals with clients fat loss is often high on many peoples list. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all the pills, shakes, wraps and exercise gadgets that we see on the internet and in magazines did what they said they would. We’d all be able to able to “boost our metabolism” by simply adding an exotic sounding supplement to our breakfast!
In reality most of us know that the only way to lose fat in a healthy and sustainable way is through proper nutrition and exercise. There are however some tried and tested “tips” that will certainly help anyone wanting to reduce their body fat to lose weight.
This is one thing few people think to look at when trying to lose weight, but stress levels really can make a huge difference to fat loss. Stress comes in many guises whether it’s the obvious like work or home life, or less obvious stresses like lack of sleep, dehydration and malnutrition. Whatever the root all stress has a similar effect on the body. When the body is stressed cortisol is released by the adrenal glands. Repeated elevation of cortisol causes the body to store fat particularly in the abdomen and around organs! Cortisol also upsets the blood sugar-insulin balance which results in hunger signals being sent to the brain and possible overeating. So what can you do to manage stress and cortisol production?
Stress management strategies include getting quality sleep for 7 solid hours a night, staying hydrated (see below), eating a healthy balanced diet low in saturated fats, caffeine and alcohol but high in fiber, antioxidants from fruit and vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids, and getting regular exercise.
If most gym goers were honest with themselves they would have to admit to the occasional easy low intensity sessions. Although low intensity workouts have their place for recovery and for people maintaining weight, the truth is taking it easy won’t help you with fat loss.
We have all heard the expression “no pain no gain” and this is where interval training (high intensity training) comes in. Short spurts of exercise at maximum intensity creates an oxygen debt that needs to be repaid to your body. As a result your metabolism is elevated and you continue to burn fat long after your workout is finished. When planning your next session try adding running or cycling sprints. If you are new to interval training start by sprinting for 10 seconds followed by 20-30 seconds rest for a total of 15 minutes, and work your way up to a longer sprint followed by a shorter rest.
Statistics show that most of us aren’t drinking enough water (1). We are hearing more and more how important it is to stay hydrated especially during exercise, but for people trying to lower their fat percentage staying hydrated throughout the day has extra significance. If you consider that the body is mostly comprised of water, and that most of the bodies systems rely on water to function, it is easy to see why staying hydrated can help you lose weight. The full list of hydration benefits is huge and far too long for this article so I will name just a few linked to fat loss.
Dr. Brenda Davy, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, found that people who drank water before a meal consumed an average of 75 fewer calories at that meal. This is partly because it can be difficult for the body to differentiate between hunger and thirst, staying hydrated helps makes sure you only eat when hungry. Its is also worth remembering that muscles are 80% water, exercise physiologist Fabio Comana (American council on exercise) says dehydration diminishes blood flow to the brain, the delivery of nutrients to your muscles and slows your recovery processes (2). People can sometimes get obsessed with exact figures, so I’m not going to set an exact amount to drink just try and remember a few rules. 1) if you are thirsty it’s too late. 2) try and keep your urine a clear pale colour or the colour of straw (some supplements or vegetables can discolour your urine). 3) drink a glass as soon as you wake up, this helps get the system going.
You may wonder why people are always talking about the importance of eating breakfast. It’s because your body needs regular nutrition to function at optimum levels and when you wake up (hopefully after a good 7 hours sleep!) your body needs to start eating and drinking to stop it trying to protect itself from starvation and dehydration. If you don’t eat breakfast you are only encouraging your body to slow its systems down and store any extra energy it consumes. When you finally do eat your body will store as many calories as fat as it can, this protective mechanism dates back to Neolithic times when food was often scarce and coco pops didn’t exist.
A protein based breakfast is the best option as studies have shown that not only will it keep you feeling fuller for longer, but that it also reduces brain activity that is responsible for controlling food cravings. Eating a high protein breakfast actually impacts what you feel like eating later in the day and will reduce cravings for high fat, high sugar options. I recommend a 2-3 egg omelette with broccoli as a healthy filling breakfast, if you get bored of eggs try natural yoghurt with nuts and seeds.
Effective resistance training (training with weights) can help activate lean muscle tissue growth in the body, which is the key to burning fat. Muscle tissue is very metabolically active and requires energy (calories) to be maintained. The more lean muscle tissue in the body the more calories needed to maintain it – this means dipping into your fat stores! Cardio exercise is said to burn calories during your workout and for 1-2 hours afterward, resistance training is said to burn calories up to 12-24 hours afterwards and cardio and resistance together can burn calories up to 24-48 hours afterwards.
I’m not saying ditch the cardio, after all you’ll burn more fat by doing 30 minutes of cardio than you will sitting still with extra muscle, but I am saying that you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need resistance exercise to lose fat. And for those who think that weight training will make you big and bulky, I can promise that it will not unless you specifically train in a way where this is the goal, it will simply build the type of body tissue that will support fat loss and give you a good shape.
Piecing It Together
So in conclusion it’s not about quick fixes and gimmicks when it comes to fat loss. There are some fairly simple steps that you can take to maximise your fat loss potential:
- manage your stress levels as much as possible
- drink plenty of water
- eat a healthy breakfast preferably protein based
- don’t take it easy in the gym. A good mix of intense cardio and hard resistance training is most effective.
© Blueprint Health and fitness, 2015