Nutrition and exercise is a vast field filled with endless amounts of information. Just when you think you have everything figured out, something comes along that challenges the foundation of your knowledge. I have studied nutrition for a large part of life and have learned a lot, but I know that there is no way I know everything and I don’t pretend to either. I want to remain open minded and after trying out many different things myself, I feel like I have a good grasp on what works and what does not.
In this article, I want to lay down some pillars that I feel are what everyone needs to use to evaluate their progress. These are much more useful than arbitrary instructions that cant possibly apply to everyone. Just because something works for one person, doesn’t mean it works for another. I feel like these are good general guidelines that almost anyone can follow to achieve success. Also, these pillars are not in order meaning each pillar is just as important as the other, no matter where they fall in the list.
Pillar 1 – Enhance Fat Mobilization:
Unless your genetically gifted, maintaining a low body fat is going to take some work. People look much better at a low body fat and maintaining this will increase confidence and improve self esteem. Many people know this already, but go about it the wrong way. To burn fat at a healthy and sustainable rate you need to eat around a 10-20% calorie deficit from your total maintenance each day. This is the sweet spot.
Why not go lower? – Lots of reasons. When the energy balance gets too low, especially once you dip below your BMR (Bodyweight x 10 for most people) negative things start to happen.
- Cortisol increases too much leading to decreased testosterone or progesterone and increases stress hormones
- Increases cravings
- Increases muscle loss
- Increases chances of rebound weight gain (yo-yo dieting) (many people guilty of this)
- Short term results long term weight gain
- Plateaus are likely to occur
- Leptin a chief fat burning hormone is lowered after 3-4 days after which your fat burning effectiveness is decreased by 50%
- Your body can’t synthesize all energy it needs from bodyfat. This means if you eat zero calories your body and brain needs glucose that it literally cannot get from body fat. So it borrows from your muscles instead. This means that your body can only burn so much fat on any given day, so to prevent muscle loss it literally needs glucose from protein and carbs.
- Induces depression
- Many, many more…
This is a short list, but many people attempt to get ripped or skinny by starving themselves, because they want results NOW. Unless they are prepared to face all these negatives and live on their low calorie diet for the rest of their life, its not a wise idea.
By eating a small deficit and eating over their BMR, it may take them a bit longer to reach their goal, but they get to keep their results once they reach them. By the time the person that takes their time and does things right reaches their goal, the person that tried to rush things will already be experiencing rebound repercussions and rebound fat gain.
Pillar 2 – Increase Muscle and Decrease Protein Breakdown
This is an overlooked part of a diet. As I just stated there is more to keep in mind than just a drastic cut in calories for health and hormonal reasons. The next step is to increase lean muscle and drastically decrease protein breakdown by eating enough calories and protein.
If protein synthesis is greater than protein breakdown, lean muscle can be built. So yes muscle can be built on a calorie deficit if the deficit is small enough and protein, carbs and calories are high enough.
How to achieve this?
- Eat enough protein to match your bodyweight. If you are overweight than eat your goal weight in protein.
- Maintain a small deficit under 15% of maintenance, to burn fat while building muscle.
- Eat enough carbs to spare the protein and prevent protein breakdown. Eat the same number of carbs as protein.
- Eat regular meals with protein to supply a steady stream of amino acids to muscles and prevent blood sugar from getting to low an increasing cravings for fattening food.
- Oh and the most important step is to lift weights. 😉 (No matter how much protein you eat, if you dont lift weights you won’t maintain or gain muscle mass)
Pillar 3 – Maintain Metabolic Rate
If I had to pick the most important pillar this would be it. The one thing that everyone ignores when trying to successfully lose fat and keep it off. You have to keep the deficit small enough to allow your body to burn fat while maintaining metabolic rate.
How to do this? (this is going to be a very similar list to the previous two lists)
- Eat enough calories and maintain a small deficit (10-20% under maintenance)
- Eat enough carbohydrates (you need at least 120 grams a day to maintain brain glucose. Please do not fall victim to low carb information. Every major researcher I see that preaches low carb is overweight and for good reason, because the diet is ineffective and provides only short term results.)
- If you feel start to plateau attempt a carb refeed every 1-2 weeks.
Pillar 4 – Hormonal Health
This is another big one people ignore. Constant calorie deficits, especially large in nature hurt hormones.
- If your sex drive sucks, then your not eating properly. This is one of the best ways to test whether your dieting a little too hard.
- You start to crave and obsess about food. This means cortisol is getting too high and your blood sugar is starting too get low. It also means your body needs food and is sending you that signal.
- Thyroid health. Go too low in carbs is the fastest way to tank this. The best way to tell this is getting low is feeling tired all the time, no motivation and start to feel cold in warm conditions.
- Fighting your hormones on a diet is like trying to fight Rocky with two hands tied behind your back. You can try, but you will lose. Your much better working with your hormones, not against them.
Pillar 5 – Consistency and Patience
This step took me awhile to master, but is critical to success. Some motivational phrases: Changing your body is a marathon not a sprint; Rome wasn’t built in a day neither was your body; A 10,000 mile journey starts with a single step. These mean a lot. It shows that achieving something great takes time. Nobody wins a marathon by sprinting from the starting line, these people are usually the ones you see passed out on the side of the road after 4 miles.
By eating a smaller deficit, you are ensuring your body makes slow and consistent progress without negative repercussions. You may not notice changes immediately, but 1-2 months down the road you will look and feel incredible with more energy, less fat and more muscle tone.
This is also a time to learn more about your own body. There are people around my weight and height that eat over 3000 calories to maintain their weight. I maintain on about 2300 calories a day. If I took calorie advice from this person I would gain weight. But after learning my own body, I know what works for me and what does not.
One final thing to note is to master the mirror test. Forget scale weight, focus on the mirror. In a successful body recompostion plan, you should wake up each day looking better than they day before. If you wake up looking bloated and puffy, you ate too much. No need to take drastic measures just eat a bit less to make up for it. On the other hand, if you wake up and look pale, muscles look flat, skin is dry and wake up starving, then you ate too little and need to increase calories to get back to the sweet spot.
The Summary of Getting Results:
- Eat at a small calorie deficit (10-20% from total maintenance) to enhance fat mobilization. (Ex – Total calories with exercise = 2500 calories. 2500-500 = 2000 calories to lose fat)
- Maintain metabolic rate and muscle mass by eating your bodyweight or goal bodyweight in protein and carbs. (Ex- Bodyweight is 180 lbs = 180 grams of protein and 180 grams of carbs)
- Keep hormones in check by maintaining a healthy sex drive and preventing big calorie deficits.
- Be patient and consistent with your plan and don’t rush results.
- Use the mirror for biofeedback and skip the scale.
- If all of these pillars are achieved results should come.