When it comes to losing fat, guys often lose sight of the facts, confusing them with the rules for gaining mass and putting on muscle or just not understanding the role that calories play in the equation. It’s an understandable mistake. As teens, we’re only interested in adding muscle and we learn that eating lots of food results in growth. We go about our business of eating and training for the many years that follow and providing we’re not severely over-eating on a routine basis, we yield some pretty good results. Muscle is slowly added, strength increases and body composition improves.
It’s not until a little later in life – mid thirties or early forties for most – that we embark on a new mission of losing body fat. All those calories we’ve been used to eating aren’t producing the same results. There’s been no progress in the gym for the last few years – even though we’re considered strong for our age – and what’s this new sack of flesh that has permeated our skin around the belly button?
At this point, the logical conclusion is to add in a bit more cardio exercise and start eating a little better. Maybe we’ll throw in a morning jog and switch to diet colas.
These new changes allow for some instant results but several weeks later, a plateau is reached and we’re not sure what else we need to do?
Whether you’re seeking out fat loss advice on the internet or simply trusting your own instincts of what will seemingly yield results, you need to be aware of the five pitfalls that are keeping you from losing body fat.
There is a rigid dichotomy between working out and fat loss. Yes.. training will aid you in your fat loss goals, but understanding the synergistic relationship between working out and how your body metabolizes fat is key to losing fat. Ultimately, your body composition is determined by the number of calories you’re eating every day.
The Five Fitness Myths
Myth 1: Eat low carb to lose more body fat
The low carb craze has been around for years and years and it’s easy to see why. Going low carb will make the scale go down almost immediately – but let’s understand why this happens.
Carbohydrates are composed of glycogen. This glycogen gets stored in the muscles and becomes the primary source of fuel when training.
Two fallacies are derived as a result of this understanding and they’re repeated over and over again on fitness forums.
The first mistake is believing that since carbs are being used as fuel, by eliminating them, we’ll be using body fat to power through all our workouts. Seems logical, right?
Not quite. The whole “no carb” approach was popularized years ago by the Atkins diet. Dr. Atkins was correct in surmising that ketones – glucose generated from the breakdown of body fat – are used when the body is depleted of carbohydrates. This condition is known as ketosis. Unfortunately though, a no-carb diet becomes a high fat diet that does not yield any better results for fat loss.
While your workouts are being powered by fat, this fat is just as easily extracted from the foods you consume as it is from your body fat stores. After all, if your body could break down body fat and use that solely for energy, what becomes of dietary fat that we’re eating throughout the day.. and in greater amounts than most diets encourage?
Answer: It gets stored as body fat.
Ketosis means that your body will be using dietary fat or body fat for fuel. It doesn’t care which but if your caloric intake is too high, it has to store dietary fat as body fat. You can’t just magically use body fat for fuel and have dietary fat somehow disappear into a magical vortex.
The second flaw of the no-carb equation occurs as a misinterpretation of seeing the scale drop in weight. This “instant progress” is enough to convince many that a no-carb approach works but all is not as it appears.
Remember that glycogen stuff we talked about earlier? Well glycogen is always stored with water. In fact, it’s mostly water. For every gram of carbohydrate that you store, there are approximately three water grams stored with it!
Knowing this, we can understand that by eliminating CHO (carbohydrates) from the diet, we’re going to drop a lot of weight fast – but it’s water weight and we’ve accomplished nothing.
Rather you weigh 190 pounds on a no-carb diet or ten pounds more at 200 pounds while ingesting carbs every day, your body fat percentage will be the same. If you wish to eliminate carbs from your diet and feel sluggish and without energy most days for the sake of simply seeing a low number on your weight scale – a number that means absolutely nothing – ketosis may be just what you’re looking for.
Eliminating carbs has other negative implications, as well. You’ll be depleting your body of the absolute best source of muscle building material. Glycogen allows you to lift more (if you’re weight training – and you should be), and have the greatest potential for muscle growth. Carbohydrates have a significant impact on your hormones in helping to build a better body. They cause the release of insulin, which is arguably the most important muscle-building hormone in the body.
Now you won’t be building much (or any) muscle while in a caloric deficit but that insulin will also help preserve all that hard-earned muscle.
No-carb, keto diets do not work for increased fat burning. Don’t demonize carbs. Eat them and reap the rewards.
Myth 2: Sprints or HIIT increase metabolism, helping you to burn more fat while at rest
One of the most prominent online myths in the fitness world is that sprinting and/or doing HIIT workouts will somehow increase fat metabolism for the average Joe who takes up sprinting in his mid-forties.
Here’s what you’ll often read on fitness guru blogs: “Sprinting stimulates HGH (human growth hormone), which helps you gain more muscle and raises your metabolism, thereby becoming a fat burning machine! Just look at the body that most sprinters have!”
Sounds fantastic in theory, but let’s investigate.
First of all, it’s important to understand that being a great sprinter requires a very muscular, lean body to begin with. Sprinters are naturally powerful and genetically blessed with great bases from the start. They were beating all the other kids in track way back in middle school and they kept at it when they got older because their bodies were better designed for running at fast speeds.
The point is that the shape of a sprinter’s body is often attributed to the sprinting and while years of sprinting will no doubt effect overall body composition in a positive way, these athletes would almost certainly have great bodies if they had never sprinted a single day and simply chose to lift weights and eat right. They’re the genetic “cream of the crop” and that’s why they became sprinters in the first place.
It’s a classic case of “causation does not imply correlation”. Looking at the situation in reverse, it would be quite a stretch to assume that champion long-distance runners would be wielding large, muscular bodies instead of thin frames, had they chose to be sprinters instead. A more reasonable conclusion is that the long-distance runner was always good at running long-distance, because his body was always better suited for this endeavor.
Want to look like a sprinter? Lift heavy weights and eat lots of protein. It’s far more effective at producing a more muscular frame.
Let’s move on to the HGH argument and while we’re at it, let’s recognize that sprinting does stimulate fast-twitch fibers, which can lead to an increase in muscle mass.
HGH is released during sprinting but guess what? It’s also released during every set to failure while lifting weights in the gym. Asking a middle-aged guy to start sprinting for fat loss is first and foremost, almost guaranteeing injury. Sprinting requires great technique and it’s not something that provides as much benefit as weight-lifting, in terms of gaining muscle.
A new sprinter will see some immediate gains but they’ll quickly taper off.
Take two forty-year old twins who have never worked out, and have one sprint for a year while the other hits the gym, working out all his body parts on a regular basis with free weights. If both individuals eat the exact same diet, who looks more muscular? It’s not even close.
Sprinting vs weight lifting in terms of adding muscle? Weight lifting wins every time.
How about the metabolic advantages of sprinting? Surely all of those oxygen-depleted, soul-scorching uphill runs will raise metabolism and have the fat dripping off, won’t they?
At this point, we need to ask “by what mechanism will fast loss be enhanced?”. We know that HGH is increased in both sprinting and weight-lifting (and it’s not in slow steady-state cardio), so what else might be responsible for a hormonal response that would significantly raise metabolism?
If the thought is that sprinting simply burns far more calories, this is true – but again.. we’re examining whether or not an individual can see additional benefits in fat loss from sprinting. A person could just as easily not consume those calories in the first place.
Metabolism is one of the most misunderstood chemical processes in the fitness world. Millions of fitness sites preach the importance of raising metabolism through working out harder. The higher you raise your metabolic rate, the more fat you can burn.. and all it takes is losing more weight and increasing exercise.
Unfortunately, your RMR (resting metabolic rate – the rate at which your body burns calories at rest) is mostly determined by your genetics and body weight. There’s simply not a lot you can do to improve it. Muscle, despite popular opinion, has a very low metabolic rate at rest.
But even more surprising to most is learning that metabolic rate actually decreases as you lose weight and exercise more. Think about it.. If you shed 50 pounds of fat, that walk up the stairs or jog around the neighborhood now requires far less energy. You’ll burn a lot fewer calories doing the same activities that you did when you were much heavier. The number of overall calories you burn at rest (RMR) decreases as well.
[quote_right]Just because you workout harder than someone else doesn’t mean the workout was more effective at targeting fat loss.[/quote_right]Disagree? We challenge you to find one individual that has increased caloric intake by a thousand calories or more over the course of months or years, as a result of working out more intensely, and decreased body fat. Surely if it was possible to keep increasing metabolism through intense exercise, there would be hundreds or even thousands of people blogging about it – but this isn’t the case anywhere (the exception being users of anabolic steroids).
Metabolism naturally declines with age as well. Expect about a 25% drop in RMR from ages 6 to 16 and then another 2-3% each decade thereafter if you don’t regularly workout. Fortunately, we can minimize metabolic decline if we do continue to workout over the years.
Adding ten pounds of pure muscle will increase your daily caloric burn by about 50 to 60 calories. Not quite the the great metabolic advantage that so many believe they will be getting! That means your reward for adding ten pounds of muscle is getting to eat an extra Oreo cookie every day. Then again, if you lost twenty pounds of fat in the few years it took to gain that muscle, your overall caloric requirement went down. Packing on loads of muscle will do little to nothing for increasing metabolism and helping you to burn more calories.
We’ll finish our section on sprinting with some positives.
Sprinting is a superb way to keep the metabolism revved up if you have always done it. It’s most effective for individuals that sprinted in their teens and continue to do so as adults. It’s almost a sure bet that you’ll never gain fat if you’ve always maintained sprinting as part of your fitness program.
Sprinting is a great physical activity, and a fantastic form of fitness for those who derive pleasure from it. While it won’t elevate metabolism to any greater degree that far less strenuous fitness programs, it will work. It’s also a great way to burn the most calories in the quickest amount of time. Long boring sessions of steady-state cardio take up a significant portion of our day and even worse, the body adapts to these types of workouts, providing the least amount of benefit as time goes on.
Sprinting is also a great way to simply eat a lot more food. At the end of the day, you simply have to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat, meaning you must expend more energy than you consume. Hill sprints burn a lot of calories.. far more than weight training or just about any other activity.. and you just might enjoy eating all the more food every evening as a trade-off for all your hard work earlier in the day.
Myth #3: You must have your Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat Macros just right to lose fat
Getting the perfect macro balance is an absurd notion stuck in the mindset of extreme dieters everywhere and perpetuated by “buy a fitness plan from me for best results” online trainers. You can jump in to just about any fat loss forum and someone is asking if they should up their carbs by 30 grams or lower their fat by 10 grams?
Fat loss isn’t nearly so difficult as people make it. You need your protein for muscle sparing purposes, you need some fat because your body requires it to function and you can eat carbohydrates in moderation, only because eating too many simply means you’re eating too many calories.
Despite Trainer Joe’s attempts to persuade you that there’s a magical point of fat-burning that occurs if you pay him to calculate the exact amount of carbs and fats you need, the reality is that there will be no noticeable difference in body composition by small increases/decreases in fat and CHO.
If your goal is losing fat, you need to be sure that you’re getting at least one gram of protein p/ pound of body weight. After that, it’s easiest to simply calculate one gram of carbohydrate p/ pound of body weight and then fill the remainder of your daily caloric intake with healthy fats. It’s that easy.
You might consider lowering carbs and raising fat if carbs stimulate hunger too much, as they will in individuals who are addicted to sugar, but from a body composition perspective, it matters not.
You might consider raising protein (if you have no digestive trouble) if you want to eat a few extra hundred calories a day, as the TEF (Thermic Effect of Food – How much energy the body uses to process a specific macro-nutrient) is far greater with protein. Fat has little to no TEF at 0-3%, carbs have 5-10% TEF and protein has 20-30% TEF. For every 1,000 calories you consume, the body must use 200-300 calories to process those calories.
More food = greater satiety = happier YOU.
Remember that to burn fat, the only requirement is that you are in a caloric deficit for the day. If you require 1,800 calories, stay close to that and don’t go over. Calculate calories burned for activity and subtract from your BMR (basal metabolic rate). Grab an Amiigo and wear it every day to see how many calories you burn.
Contrary to what a lot of trainers will preach, you’ll find that your body actually responds better to a little more protein/carbs/fat one day and a little less the next, so long as total daily calories are maintained and you are in a deficit. Your body loves a variety of foods and a variety of macro-nutrient percentages.
Myth #4: Eat in the hour after a workout session for best results
Ah yes.. the “hour of power” myth has long been around and while there’s some merit to this, it plays no role in fat loss and this is what trips people up.
If your goal is to gain muscle, eating immediately after a workout is recommended – and even optimal – for achieving this goal. But if you’re trying to lose fat? Don’t even think about food for a couple hours after you weight train. There’s simply no logic in doing so.
To lose fat, you have to be in a caloric deficit and being in a deficit means you won’t be gaining muscle (a surplus is required for this) so the hour of power can only benefit you in one way.. by using it to maximize fat loss.
HGH is produced while heavy weight lifting and it’s likely going to be at the highest level all day. HGH is a fat burning hormone and high HGH coupled with low insulin (which stays down until you start eating again) is a perfect environment for fat loss. Take advantage of the post workout window.
Myth #5: Do More Abs to Get a Ripped Six-Pack
Thankfully, this myth is on the decline but unfortunately, there’s a crap-ton of guys in every gym who still don’t get it.
You’ve seen them… They’re the guys who are easily at 20-30% body fat but they bench a lot so they believe the only thing keeping their stellar physiques from being perfect is some ab work. Clearly, had they just been disciplined enough to be hitting the abs the last few years, things would be different (so they believe).
So there they are, suffering through ab exercises with some of the worst form imaginable, and no clue that they are at best, adding size to abdominals that live underneath a deep layer of fat. This ultimately makes the stomach stick out all the more and gives the appearance of being fatter.
Abs are only visible if you’re lean – and very lean. The average guy won’t see more than a shadowy silhouette of his abs unless he gets down to around 10% body fat or less. That takes a lot more work than the average gym rat, focusing on curls for the girls, will ever realize.
Abs are still great for core strength but if you’re doing them to get a shredded middle-section and you’re not focused on an every day calorie deficit, you might as well hit the showers.
Fat Loss Conclusions – What’s It All Mean?
There’s no tricking the human body. It was designed in such a way that you can’t beat the system. If you want to lose fat in the best possible way, you’ll need to expend more calories than you consume (but not so little that your body slows down metabolism to compensate), apply resistance to your muscles (weight training, CrossFit, kettle-bells, etc.), eat your protein and vary your diet and your workout routines.
It’s going to take time, patience and a balanced lifestyle of exercise and calorie control.
Don’t keep doing the same thing and don’t keep eating the same thing. Go out for an occasional jog, sprint once in a while, jump rope, climb a rope, hit the monkey bars at the park, jump on a trampoline, hit the punching bag – whatever you can do to mix it up. Get creative with your workouts
Mix your foods up but most importantly, stay a few hundred calories under the amount of calories your body needs to maintain homeostasis. If you don’t know what your BMR/TDEE is, use a fitness calculator to get started.
Overeat once in a while. Yes your body demands this for successful fat loss as well. Leptin is a hormone that is increased with the occasional overfeed and it helps in the whole process of losing fat. Just don’t overdue this rule or you can undo all you accomplished in the last week, in the course of a single day.
There’s hordes of bro-science fitness enthusiasts online that are doing a huge disservice to individuals who are trying so desperately to lose fat. They’ll have you focused on all the wrong things. They’re wasting your time because they simply want to build their business. Quit listening to the fitness forums and utilize critical thinking skills to achieve your fitness goals, as well as your own personal experience.
And finally, don’t focus on metabolism. This also means to stop blaming a slow metabolism on problems with weight loss.
Metabolism is nothing more than the sum total of all chemical processes that work together in your body to sustain life. Whether your metabolic rate is a little slower or a little faster, you can achieve your fat loss goals by manipulating your caloric intake. Don’t waste your energy trying to boost your metabolism by doing silly things like eating spicy foods and drinking green tea.
If your metabolism demands that you have to eat 1600 calories a day to lose weight while your gym partner gets to eat 2500 a day and still lose weight, that’s just the way it is. Accept it and eat less or do more hill sprints and eat more.
When it comes to fat loss, “slow and steady” works best. It takes a while to put on a substantial amount of fat and it will take a bit of time to take it off, but not falling victim to these fat loss myths will allow you to achieve your weight loss goals more effectively.