In the era where an aesthetic and lean physique is the preferred look, there has been an explosion in the use of social media where hundreds if not thousands of Instagram fitness models and dieting fads constantly popup leaving many of us confused and unsure of what approach to take when going for that ultimate fit body.
It is a goal many want to achieve but rarely accomplish. Many start and because of lack of results or frustrations from not seeing the changes they expected, the dieting phase is abandoned. In this article I will discuss common mistakes that can slow progress, resulting in loss of muscle instead of fat, causing us to feel weak and unable to train effectively.
Does this sound familiar?...
“The scale hasn’t changed.”
“What is the best fat burner?”
“I lost X lbs already but I still look soft.”
The process of losing body fat for a bodybuilding competition, looking good for that vacation, or to be shredded on the beach is exactly the same. For those starting out, there are few things to consider while gauging your progress. Many of us rely on the use of a scale as a sole point of reference when it comes to dropping body fat. The scale is useful at gauging weight loss but it does nothing to track body fat percentage. And while there are tools such as calipers, handheld devices that claim to measure electrical conductivity through a process called bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA), and hydrostatic weighing, the best tool to use is the mirror. The scale is certainly a useful tool, but it is only a piece of the puzzle. If you want to succesfully and efficiently track your progress, I suggest you take photos and take them often and date them from week to week.
Imagine a month has passed since the start of your cutting phase and efforts are not yielding expected results. The solution for many is to resort to the use of a fat burner to increase fat expenditure and get the process moving along a bit more. When the proper nutrition and training regime are in place, which is followed as part of a daily lifestyle, a supplement or combination of supplements can improve your end result. However, I have yet to see a product that single handedly improves the composition of an individual without change in diet or lifestyle. If such a product existed many of us would be walking around shredded all year long! Nothing replaces consistent training and proper nutrition.
Another common mistake made is actually under eating. The human body is incredibly efficient and built for survival. While simply restricting calories will result in an initial weight lose, you will quickly find yourself hitting a plateau because the body interprets this calorie restriction as starvation and responds by slowing down the metabolism. Ever hear someone say, " I've lost 10 lbs but I can't seem to lose any more weight, I'm tired and I can't train hard anymore." You will find yourself spinning your wheels, which will most likely lead to losing muscle tissue. Remember we aren't after weight loss. We are after fat loss while maintaining as much muscle tissue as possible.
So how does one lose fat while maintaining as much muscle as possible? The key is nutrition.
Carbs and Protein
“How many carbs should I be eating?”
“How much protein should I be consuming?"
Carbohydrates are the one nutrient that is to be restricted when pursuing the shredded physique, but how much to restrict can vary greatly from person to person. Factors such as muscle mass, job and daily activity, intensity, level of training experience, and insulin sensitivity all come into play when creating your plan.
( **Be careful to not over restrict carbohydrates initially. You will have to resort to dirty tricks, lots of extra cardio, and restriction of other nutrients to get the body to respond as the metabolisms slows during this cutting phase.)
Another variable to consider is the timing of your carbs during a cutting phase. The philosophy or idea of consuming most of your carbs around training, pre and post workout, has shown to be beneficial to those looking to maintain training intensity, greater amounts of muscle mass, and improved fat burning effects rather than eating carbohydrates consumed at other times of the day. The reasoning is that the body is most efficient with using glycogen during this time by increasing insulin sensitivity. Find what works best for you and your lifestyle.
Another method that can be used is called carb cycling. The restriction of carbohydrates for several days (2 - 5 days accompanied by 1- 2 days of a carb loading phase.) The philosophy behind this is that total calorie intake is restricted over the course of a week and that the carb loading days also increase insulin sensitivity thus preventing the body from detecting the restriction in calories, keeping the metabolism moving along throughout the whole cutting phase.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN?
The amount of protein you consume should be the same every day. They are the building blocks of muscle, support healthy immune system, and require the body to expend more energy through the digestion process than carbohydrates alone. There are many competitive athletes that "grow" into a show by increasing their protein intake as the contest prep continues and progresses forward. The more muscle you carry the faster your metabolism becomes and more fat burning you do at rest. Proteins should come primarily from whole foods during a cutting phase, though shakes can be used to supplement daily nutrient requirements only if necessary.
Daily Protein intake for men: 1 to 2 grams X lean body mass
Daily Protein intake for women: .8 to 1.5 grams X lean body mass
TRAINING AND CARDIO
There is a myth that has circulated for years and still continues to be spread around in the many circles that in order to get “Cut” you need to train lighter and perform more repetitions. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Muscle growth is directly affected by the stimulus applied through weight training and proper supply of nutrients, which aid in adequate recovery and repair. Increase in intensity by the means of reduced rest periods between sets, the addition of drop sets, forced reps, and other techniques increase the amount of calories burned and will aid in fat loss while keeping muscles full.
As mentioned earlier, the body is extremely efficient and adapts very quickly to any changes that are made in nutrition as well as changes or increases in cardio performed. The body simply adapts. Use cardio as a tool to aid in the fat loss. There are several debates and discussions on this topic. Some will argue HIIT style cardio is superior to any other form of cardio while regular cardio is not as effective. My personal approach to this, which has worked consistently, is to perform low intensity cardio while incorporating HIIT style once or twice a week depending on how I feel and my level of conditioning.
Knowing when to pull back at times just as important as being mentally strong and pushing through heavy sets when calories are restricted. Always use a spotter when training heavy, especially while dieting for long periods.
Be realistic with your goals and understand that this may be a long-term process for some people. Eating to look a certain way is part of a lifestyle that is adhered to year round. Learn how to adapt fitness as part of your lifestyle, listen to your body and how it responds to food. This requires time and effort on your part. There are many ways to achieve those ripped set of abs, it may take a bit of patience on your part but once you understand your body, the process will become easy and well worth your efforts. Happy Dieting To All of you!