In the noise of the world today, it can be difficult to tease apart what will actually work for you when it comes to fat loss. There are plenty of effective workouts and eating plans out there online and in social media. But there are also a ton that won’t work for you, for one reason or another.
We are bombarded with new information all the time, and that hasn’t changed. If anything it’s just gotten to be more constant.
That’s the point of this article – to help you recognize that figuring out your path can be a bit of process. But in the end it’s ok because it’s the same for everyone else out there, and that doesn’t mean it has to be hard. Figuring out what strategy or strategies are best not only for your current situation, but also your personality – and lifestyle as well – should be your goal.
I’ve found there’s always going to be experimentation when it comes to fat loss. Sure, there’s always more information coming out that I want to try and inject into my current strategies or ideas about how to lose weight or shed fat. But that’s not even the only issue that forces you to have to “try things out” versus just automatically knowing what will work.
What’s been more challenging for me over the years with my own fat loss goals is actually looking at how my life and body has changed and then from there breaking down an approach that will work best. So instead of looking at it purely from a biological standpoint, I now consider other factors like my current state of mind, my current stress levels, my lifestyle at the moment, and my goals – both short and long term.
In the past I might not have analyzed things so deeply, but doing a quick run down of where I’m at in my life and what I think could work best is pretty damn valuable. And if it helps me reach my goal faster, that’s even better.
It could be that I need something easier or more simple. Or there are times where a harder, more aggressive, or even faster approach is what it is. It all just depends.
Or it might be that I need to go back to the basics and forget all the new info I might have picked up in the preceeding months. Whatever the case, it’s a constantly evolving process.
The trick, I’ve found, is accepting that, and then moving forward.
So with all that being said, here are a few things that I’m focusing on now to optimize fat loss. Hopefully they can help you, whether you implement them yourself or just start to think a little bit more about some of your habits when it comes to health and fitness.
1. Use Modified Eating Patterns to Increase Fat Loss
What do I mean here? Yep, it’s about as confusing as it sounds. Nah, I’m kidding.
This little “trick” if you will has been all about shifting the times that I’m eating, and breaking a few “rules” in the process. Let me explain. While I’ve posed the question is intermittent fasting is right for you recently, that’s not quite what this is (even though it confers some of the same benefits).
What I’m referring to here is experimenting with a two meal a day approach and, more importantly, focusing on consuming the vast majority of my calories prior to my workouts. To help you understand, let me start with what I’ve tried in the past (among other things), which is also what most people out there do all the time.
Then I’ll go into what I’m doing now.
So, in the past, I would have 3 or maybe even 4 meals per day, give or take. I would also likely include some sort of snack or smaller meal in the mix as well.
The other thing that I would do, almost without fail, is have a meal after my workout. There were times when I would also have a snack or meal before, effectively “bracketing” the meals around my workout, but that wasn’t always the case.
What was a near constant was my consuming a meal (and normally a big one) right after my workout.
Now, just to be clear, I wasn’t doing this for any willy nilly reason. There is not only anecdotal evidence out there from the mouths of muscle heads the world over that this is an anabolic or muscle building strategy – but, there’s also scientific research showing there are benefits to eating after exercise (or benefits to exercising before you eat, however you want to spin it).
In my mind it was a clear cut, soundproof strategy: do the workout, and then refuel the body. Makes sense right?
While it’s certainly reasonable – and supported – the strategy I’m tinkering with now is a little different.
It goes as follows: eat a late breakfast or lunch as my first meal, while only consuming water and / or coffee prior to that. Later in the day, consume a decent size dinner prior to working out. And then, after dinner and the workout either eat nothing or only a small portion of carb and protein.
While this may not seem that crazy for many, let me explain how it differs from what most people are doing and how I think it will help me and could help you:
- It includes within the first part of the day a fast. While it isn’t traditional 8:16 intermittent fasting, there is definitely an intermittent fasting element to it. This helps with fat loss in many of the same ways as full on standard style fasting. In fact, it’s very similar.
- It provides fuel for my workout. Eating prior to my workout gives me more energy and motivation when I get to the gym and I’m finding I don’t feel as much of a need for coffee or other pre workout products. It’s different from how I often approached things when I was doing a traditional fast, where I would almost always workout with little to no food in my stomach. I got used to it, and sometimes it was ok, but I’m realizing now that I may have been leaving money on the table, so to speak. My workouts feel stronger and I feel more energized after I’ve eaten.
- It may give you the same benefits of eating post workout, but also allow your body to use more fat for fuel immediately after your workout, than if you ate a meal right after your workout. Let me explain. So, when I say “benefits of eating post workout” what I’m referring to is the recovery and refilling of glycogen and the hormonal benefits – not to mention the increased protein synthesis that occurs from this approach. When you eat before a workout, what many people forget is that those calories can go not only towards supplying energy for the workout, but also towards recovery post workout. With this approach (especially if you consume enough nutrient dense calories and protein), you’re jump starting the recovery process before the workout even starts. It’s essentially the same idea as consuming BCAA’s before a workout, but in this scenario you’re getting more calories than if you just took an amino acid supplement such as BCAA’s.
Although the above strategy may seem unusual, it’s worth a try if you’re looking to mix it up. I think one of the main benefits here may be indirect: it stops you from consuming a huge amount of calories later in the evening. If you’re prone to over doing it like I was, then eating the bulk of your calories before your evening workout may be a better a option than what you’re used to.
2. Try Adding Brief High Intensity Exercise at the End of your Workouts
This is a proven fat loss strategy that can be implemented if your workouts aren’t already difficult enough. I say “difficult enough” because if you’re already leaving the gym feeling totally shot, this may not be the right angle for you.
But, like many, if you’ve fallen into a predictable and less than challenging routine, you may benefit from increasing your exercise intensity in a strategic fashion.
Still to this day I often find myself going through periods where I push myself initially when starting a new routine, but then back off once my body adapts to the new workout plan. The other thing that happens is, well, just life.
If my mind is somewhere else or my energy is low, it’s hard to focus on focusing and being productive in the gym.
While there are times where you want to feel like your workouts aren’t very difficult, there is definitely a need to feel like you are challenging yourself. It’s this, combined with proper nutrition and recovery that actually elicits changes in your body and appearance.
It’s this that actually causes fat loss. It doesn’t just happen by itself without a least a little bit of focused effort.
The problem for many, including myself at times, is going on auto pilot and getting into a routine where you have less and less of that intensity at the gym. And it’s not just about pushing yourself in one specific way and then backing off in other areas.
In fact, that’s sort of what I’m getting at here. If you push yourself only in particular ways but not others, you’re not going to give yourself the stimulus needed to cause the body to burn more fat. For instance, some people find that they’re able to push themselves during their weight training, but don’t like cardio.
While I don’t mind cardio, the trap of focusing on one exercise stimulus over another is still one I’ve fallen into. Getting used to hoisting heavy weight and challenging myself that way – while still a challenge – leaves the body needed variety.
Specifically, heavy weight training often leaves people in a position where they’re not burning enough calories or depleting enough glycogen to actually spark the fat loss fire.
An easy way to solve this problem?
For me, I know I’m getting into too much of a bodybuilding-only focused approach when I don’t sweat that much during my workouts. It doesn’t mean I’m not working – I definitely am. It just means that my workouts are probably producing more of a muscle building effect, and less of a fat burning one.
And while that’s ok, and necessary, it’s not comprehensive enough when you look at the big picture.
And sure, some people have the opposite problem where they’re doing too much cardio and not enough muscle building work, but for now this is aimed at people with the opposite problem.
So here’s how you fix it:
At the end of your weight training workouts try a high intensity circuit that lasts for between 10 and 15 minutes, and leaves you feeling out of breath. This will be different from weight training for strength and uses only light weight or even your own body weight.
The idea here is to be able to move from exercise to exercise or movement to movement quickly. Note that if you can push yourself to feel the “burn” and really get your heart rate up, that’s great, but it might depend on how hard you’ve worked before.
You can also try this as a workout unto itself.
There are actually a few options, and really it depends on how much energy you have and how much you want to push yourself on a particular day. You can try any of the following:
First try the circuit on it’s own. Great for beginners, or if your weight workouts are already pretty brutal.
Secondly you can try the circuit after your weight training workout.
If you want to create more of a calorie deficit from this approach, try adding cardio afterwards. I recommend 20 minutes or so of steady state cardio such as walking on the treadmill at an incline or a very easy hike.
The idea is that the high intensity circuit “sparks the fire” or “opens the gateway” for fat burning to start and then the cardio afterwards continues the process of actually taking your body fat and using it for fuel – burning it off your body.
3. Try Ten Minute Walks
Ten minute walks are an easy but effective add-on strategy in helping your body burn more fat. The great thing about this strategy is that it’s super easy to do because everything it involves is in the name. The idea here, of course is that you walk for ten minutes.
The purpose behind it is pretty simple as well. In doing these ten minute walks (which can be done once or twice a day, whenever you want really), you’re actually accomplishing a couple of things.
First of all, you’re burning some extra calories, which may be in the form of fat. This may seem obvious to some people, but for others they may be scratching their head wondering how a ten minute walk is going to provide any real benefit. While that’s a pretty reasonable thought, it’s actually pretty off base.
The idea is that if you’re doing one or two walks per day you’re actually doing between 10 and 20 minutes per day times 7 days a week of extra low intensity cardio work. So, yea, in the end it actually adds up to a lot of extra fat burning.
The other benefits to this little activity are less obvious but just as significant.
First off you get a reduction in stress and possibly even cortisol from walking, especially if you’re doing it during the day when you would otherwise be sitting and stewing in your own stress hormones from work or other life demands.
Secondly, walking provides simple but important benefits in terms of mobility and posture as well as brain function and focus.
The other thing I’ve noticed, which is likely due to the increased blood flow and activation of the lymphatic system, is a decrease in muscle soreness from workouts when implementing ten minute walks into my day.
Again, the idea is super simple: just walk once or twice per day, preferable outdoors at an easy or moderate pace for ten minutes.
While many of us want to lose weight and shed fat, we often go about it the wrong way or rarely thing strategically about how to get it done. Many times little changes in how you approach your lifestyle can have a big impact. It’s all about what works for you and trying things that are new if what you’re currently doing doesn’t work. To review, here are three ways to optimize fat loss that you’re probably not trying:
Modify your eating patterns and try reducing the number of meals you’re eating per day and increasing the time between meals, while also reducing over eating at night (if that’s currently an issue for you).
Add some form of high intensity circuit after your weight training workouts, on it’s own, or before your cardio activity. Focusing on challenging yourself and feeling out of breath for a 10-15 minute duration.
Throw ten minute walks into your day, whether you’re currently doing a lot of activity or not. They supplement what you’re currently doing and help with recovery if you’re currently training hard regularly, and they will help you start to increase your overall physical activity bit by bit if you’re currently doing less activity than is ideal.