This post is the last of a three-part series for those who adopted a New Years Resolution to lose some fat. The first post discussed the issue-difficulty-of losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time, and the second post talked about how to measure the effect of our efforts on our fat (BF) and muscle (LBM). This post will discuss the practical implications of our body composition measurement routine. We will explore several combinations of fat and muscle gain/loss from our measurement process to see how we might adjust our fat-loss program to make it more efficient.
“Stick with it!” As soon as they find themselves “off course,” many toss in the towel and quit their fat-loss program. The key to success in this fat-loss business is to re-work our thinking to embrace the idea that “there is no such thing as failure; only feedback/results!” Per Paul Pritchett, author, “failure is a sign of progress…everything looks like failure in the middle…if you send a rocket to the moon, about 90% of the time it is off-course…it ‘fails’ its way to the moon by continually making mistakes and correcting them.” If we measure our BF and find there is no change, or even an increase, we haven’t failed; all we did is produce a result on which we can act/correct. If what we do is not working, we need to do something else.
Here are the possible outcomes of our bi-weekly body comp measurement routine:
LBM remains the same and BF decreases-This is about as good as you can expect. Don’t change what you are doing-it’s working!
LBM remains the same and BF remains the same- We are stuck! The first thing is to check our math in calculating our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and see if we actually reduced our calories by 15 to 20%. Then look to see if you dropped the junk from your diet and have added quality protein to provide at least 0.80 grams of protein per pound of your targeted weight to help burn fat and maintain muscle. What we want to do is “burn the fat.” not “starve” it. In that regard it is generally better to up the intensity of exercise rather than upping the duration. In our strength training element, “training to failure” may be the best way to do this. Also, just adding lunges to a walking routine is a simple way to step up intensity. Perhaps the most effective way to increase the intensity of exercise is to adopt a “high intensity interval training” protocol to your exercise element. Even working out with one of the new weighted hula hoops can be a simple way to up your exercise intensity. Drop the bad carbs from your diet and lower your carb intake for a while in addition to upping your whey protein uptake. To really shake up your program consider something called, “zig-zag” or “carb-cycling.” This entails significantly dropping your carb intake for no more than three days and then upping your carb intake for two days. This will usually break the log jam of no fat-loss results.
LBM remains the same and BF increases- You are in a caloric surplus. Reduce calories on a step basis, but do not go below your caloric minimum. Also increase the intensity/duration of your exercise protocol.
LBM decreases and BF decreases- If this is your first or second progress measurement don’t panic, as much of the LBM loss may be water weight. But, if this situation persists, up caloric intake a bit more to stimulate your metabolism. Do not starve yourself
LBM decreases and BF stays the same or increases-This usually indicates that you are burning muscle instead of fat for energy. Do not skip meals and up your caloric intake on an incremental basis. Add more protein to your diet
LBM increases and BF decreases- Hard to do.But, if you accomplish this; “good on you!”
LBM increases and BF stays the same- This is fine if you are on a muscle-gaining program. But, if you are on a fat-loss program, you should check/increase your caloric deficit and/or up the intensity of your exercise element.
LBM increases and BF increases- This indicates that you are taking in too many calories. Get rid of the “bad carbs” in your diet and replace them with protein. Also, increase your exercise intensity/duration.
The above suggestions are for general guidance only. Each of us processes nutrients and responds to strength training and exercise a bit differently. As with almost everything in the wellness area; try and adjust! What works for one, will not necessarily work for others. Overlay the principle of individual “doability” on top of this and you will get a better idea of the difficulty of the “fat-loss” quest. Don’t quit if the fat does not melt off as promised by hyperbolic ads for “quick weight loss.” In the early going, much/some of the weight loss will come from water-weight. After any initial water weight loss you want to see a fat loss of up to 2 pounds/week and after you settle into the program you should see a fat loss of about 1 pound/week.
Thanks to Tom Venuto in his e-book Burn the Fat; Feed the Muscle for much of the above.
Ron Ringlien is a Senior Wellness Coach, a Certified Fitness Nutritionist (CFN) and a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-463-1720