fit, but I can't seem to lose the little bit of belly fat that I have carried
for years. I eat right, have done P90X, P90X2, INSANITY, and now P90X3…but my one-pack is still there…Help!"—Jeff R.
The beginning and the end of your fitness program are the two most difficult
times, with the latter being by far the most frustrating. Losing those last few
pounds, whether it's off of your stomach, hips, thighs, shoulders, or triceps,
can be brutally hard. Let's take a brief look at why, and then we'll go into
some strategies you can employ that will guarantee you're ready for summer.
First, your trouble area can't be "spot reduced." You've likely heard this
before but let's be clear. We all hang onto our last vestiges of body fat
somewhere. It varies, but the process to get rid of it remains the same for all
of us: You must reduce your overall body fat percentage. This means all of your
training (i.e., working out or exercising) should work the whole body, and
you're going to need to turn the screw a notch when it comes to diet.
Weight Loss 101
The beginning of a weight loss program is pretty
straightforward. If you eat less and exercise more, you tend to drop pounds at a
fairly consistent clip. This is because when you instill healthy habits, you
bring your nutrient and hydration levels back to normal and this creates a
flushing effect on your body. This results in dumping excess water and
undigested food, generally leading to good results out of the gate.
Next, under-feeding your body and exercising simultaneously trains your body
to use its fat stores for energy more efficiently. For a while, this results in
increased performance, which leads to further weight loss.
But then something counterintuitive happens. Your body composition—ratio of
muscle to fat tissue—changes, further increasing your metabolism. While as
logical as 1, 2, 3, the process results in a situation where you need to eat
more in order for your weight loss to continue, something that's always hard for
first-time dieters to adjust to.
This can happen long before you're at your final stage of weight loss, but
that's irrelevant. Once your state of fitness indicates you need to eat more,
follow the steps below in order to keep the weight falling off and your six-pack
chiseling into form.
1. Lose weight slowly. You probably lost weight quickly when
you began working out but you need to redesign your attack on the last hurrah.
By targeting a 1 to 2 pound per week loss, you can eat enough to fuel workout
performance and recovery, which will keep your metabolism revving, which is the
key to everything you're after. Shoot for a caloric deficit of 300–600 calories
a day. Sometimes less, but never more.
2. Zigzag your calories. Also called "refeeding" in
bodybuilding lexicon, zigzagging means eating more calories on some days and
less on others to determine that number of calories that works best for your
goals. For example, if you've been eating a low-calorie diet you can assume you
need to add calories. To find out how many, try increasing by 300–600 a day
(depending on your size). Eat that way 4 days per week while keeping calories
where they are now on the others. Pay very close attention to your body's
performance and keep zigzagging up (or down, it works both ways) until your
performance and recovery feel right (workouts are great, sleep great, weight
moving how you'd like, etc.). This will mean you're at your weight loss (or
gain) sweet spot. Keep in mind that, as your fitness increases, so do your
caloric needs. Zigzagging should be done periodically (every month or so) as
your training and fitness is increasing (or decreasing, but we're not talking
about that here).
3. Train on an empty stomach. Work out three to five hours
after your last meal (depending on the size of your meals). This ensures you've
been able to convert that meal to muscle glycogen, so you can train your hardest
and maximize your body's ability to use fat for fuel. A University of Birmingham
study bolstered the effects of this long-time sports practice in 2010.
4. Eat small meals often. One of the oldest weight loss
tricks in the book is to eat less, more often, to keep your blood sugar steady
in order to stave off bingeing. In spite of the proven effects of different
methods, particularly intermittent fasting, it's still the go-to protocol when
weight loss is the be-all-end-all goal.
5. Train easy after a longer fasting period. Adding some
morning exercise on an empty stomach also improves fat mobilization and is a
good way to burn some extra calories and not negatively affect your hard
training session of the day. When you're looking to cut the last few pounds,
this "trick" is effective, but be careful. Too much exercise, especially when
your diet is lean on calories, can make you catabolic (burning muscle as well as
fat) and that's something you probably don't want. The catabolic risk means that
this is probably not a great tactic for those with figure and bodybuilding
goals, and should be saved for those whose ultimate goal is weight off of the
scale. Note that this is the reason we have an FAQ for what to do when you're
bonking when you do your hardest workout upon waking up (small carb
snack before or more complex carbs at dinner is the answer).
6. Get enough protein. Not only is protein vital for muscle
building; high-protein diets increase the body's ability to burn fat for fuel.
While the notion of needing a gram of protein per pound of body weight has been
disproven for performance, it's a good strategy for cutting diets or last
hurrahs, as Tony Horton likes to call them.
7. Don't cut out carbohydrates. Strategic use of
carbohydrates for fuel is vital for performance, and performance is how you
gauge how your diet is working. While dramatically cutting down your carb
consumption can be helpful in the initial stages of weight loss because your
body isn't fit enough to train very hard, it's a huge mistake to cut carbs once
you're fit. Carbs fuel both your muscles and your brain. They are also more
muscle-sparing (slowing muscle breakdown) than either proteins or fats when
you're training, so you need them so that you don't go catabolic (see tip #5).
Carbohydrate intake should be strategic, however, since excessive carbs are
stored in adipose tissue (visible body fat). Somewhere in the 40% area,
depending on your training, is best for this stage in your nutrition
8. Don't cut out fat. Dietary fat is vital for
performance-enhancing hormone production, which is key for both muscle gain and
fat loss. Studies indicate that diets consisting of less than 15% fat can
inhibit testosterone production (the male gold standard in natural PEHs), and a
safe range for dietary fat seems to be the 20–25% range. Since fats have more
than double the calories of proteins and carbs, keeping them this low means your
diet should hyper-focus on the healthiest choices: fish, avocados, olives, nuts,
9. Do cut out junk. Look, there's just no simple way to get
your body to weigh less than it naturally wants to, which is what you're
attempting when you go for a chiseled look, without some sacrifice. Notice I
just cited the importance of every macronutrient food group. Junk foods have no
importance, except (arguably) for pleasure. If you want to nail the tips above,
something's got to go.
10. Periodizationally diet. Periodizational dieting is
eating differently throughout the year with different goals. Essentially, don't
keep your diet super-lean all the time. Like your fitness training, it's good to
have some variation. Periodizational dieting is eating for what you do, and
you're not always competing (which is what you're doing when you're trying to be
a chiseled as possible). Make sure there are periods in each year when you eat
more. Using this example, adding carbs and reducing protein is where you'll
start. All athletes spend at least part of the year eating all they want (within
reason), perhaps even more than they need, to ensure they have the reserves to
train as hard as they can. Fighting weight, race weight, or competition shape is
a phase. Bodybuilders and fitness trainers don't walk around in contest shape
all the time. It's not because they're lazy. In a recent online chat Shaun
Thompson said he doesn't like the feeling of being in ASYLUM shape all the time
as it's too draining. Six-packs look awesome in photos and impress your friends
at reunions, but your body functions better with a little more "reserve."
by Steve Edwards