Losing unwanted body fat can prove exceedingly difficult, depending on our genetic propensity for storing fat, access to proper nutrition, and ability to train without injury or any other limiting factor. But, as is more often the case, many the difficulties we face when carving the excess are of our own making. Often we become so fixated on blasting our fat stores that we neglect the fundamental prerequisites that are of greater importance when burning adipose than are the endless bouts of cardio which often comprise our fat loss plans; namely, resistance training and optimal nutrition.
By trundling away on treadmills to nowhere for extended periods of time we deplete energy reserves that would be better devoted to building lean muscle tissue. By employing lengthy cardio sessions on a daily basis we also dig into our muscle protein reserves, provided sufficient energy from either carbohydrates or fats is not readily available (though all cardio activity utilises a combination of fats, carbs and proteins, muscle is degraded to provide energy when cardio is overdone, making it far from anabolic compared to weight training protocols, which stimulate muscle regeneration). Although cardio is an important muscle building and fat burning component, to truly become leaner than ever we must emphasise lean mass gains over the direct targeting of stored body fat.
Muscling up to lean out
Cutting the cals, reducing the resistance and upping the cardio will almost always stifle the fat burning process. The fewer clean calories we consume and the more cardio we do, the less energy we are left with to train hard and heavy and the lower the anabolic response post training (without enough protein sparing carbs and fats circulating in our systems, the protein synthesis process is likely to be shortchanged). In other words, whenever we overdo dieting and cardio we sacrifice lean muscle tissue and may create metabolic damage which is closely connected to adrenal fatigue and weight loss resistance. Muscle depletion is counterintuitive to weight loss. Rather than steadily decreasing calories to where we our body is placed in a caloric deficit, begin by cleaning up your diet, and slightly reducing your overall nutrient intake. Add more lean proteins (which must be maintained at 1-2 grams per pound of bodyweight per day at all times) and starchy, complex carbs, including many of the fibrous kind. Eliminate simple sugars (with the possible exception of those taken directly post training) and include around 20% fat calories per day (essential fatty acids primarily, but also some saturated for optimal hormonal functioning). Muscle, as opposed to fat, is active and its development and maintenance requires sufficient daily calories. Given extra recovery time, a higher caloric intake, and a surplus of protein to repair and rebuild we become more muscular and greater muscularity means faster fat loss and a more pleasing shape.
Photo:The Fit Housewife
Instead of performing cardio each day, as many trainees, in their quest for fat loss, do (many are also turning to twice-daily aerobic activity to strip excess fat) it is important to keep cardio consistent at 4-5 daily sessions per week, max (for no more than 45 minutes per session of steady state and no more than 25 minutes of HIIT). By replacing those additional cardio sessions with an extra bout or two with the iron, we are better able to address weaker muscle groups, and build more muscle overall. Given the extra recovery time we have and, with the higher caloric intake, a surplus of protein to repair and rebuild we become more muscular and greater muscularity means faster fat loss and a more pleasing shape.
Because muscle is the most metabolically active tissue we have, the more of it we can build, the faster and more effectively we may blitz stored body fat. Building muscle also feels good and is motivating. A major barrier to fat loss success is our unwillingness to stay the course; that lack of motivation to continue doing all that is necessary to fulfill our mission. Slaving away on the treadmill and eating the same boring foods day after day, aside from being ineffective ways to achieve long-term weight loss success, can also negatively impact our motivation to continue. Being creatures of pleasure, most of us will either take the path of least resistance to achieve our goals or do whatever is most pleasurable regardless of the consequences. Such strategies often place us back where we began. This two-steps-forward, two-steps-back approach may help to explain why optimal fat loss is considered by many to be an impossible task. By properly balancing weight training with cardio, to where cardio does not take precedence over the iron, and by eating a wide range of foods to stave off hunger and allow for full recovery (harder and more frequent weight training sessions allow us to consume more calories), we begin to enjoy the fat loss process. We also have more energy, which can be applied to further fat loss efforts.
Become a fat burning machine
Many people feel that to optimally burn fat they must prioritize cardio training. Change this thinking now! Take a look at the average long distance runner. Such competitors have cardio schedules which, by comparison, make the average fitness trainee look positively sedentary. They also have a scrawny, flabby look characterized by much protruding bone, making them, at least in appearance, undesirable representatives of the fitness lifestyle. Though the average fitness enthusiast does not overdo their cardio to the same extent, we can learn a valuable lesson from the examples set by such athletes: cardio alone does not create a positive physical transformation. Unfortunately for many, cardio is over performed to such a degree that excessive protein is depleted, workout intensity is diluted, and recovery time is minimised. This is clearly not conducive to achieving one’s dream physique. So back off the cardio, increase the weights, up the (clean) calories and watch as your transformation unfolds.
This post was written by David Robson in conjunction with Gym and Fitness Australia. David is a specialist health and fitness writer who has written professionally for such publications as Muscle & Fitness magazine, FLEX, bodybuilding.com, New Zealand Fitness, Inside Fitness, ALLMAX Nutrition, and Status Fitness magazine. As Founder and Managing Director of the New Zealand Wheelchair Body Building Federation (NZWBBF), Fit Futures Charitable Trust (both not for profit organisations set up to provide sporting and exercise options for people with physical disabilities), and Advanced Personal Training, David also doubles as a trainer, health and fitness educator and mentor to both established elite athletes and novice trainees alike. A competitive bodybuilder, David believes in leading by example.