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Often when something is just not working out, when we’re not getting the results we want, the temptation is to double down on whatever we’re doing. Are we not losing any weight or excess body fat? Is our physique staying stubbornly more or less the same, month after month, year after year? Then probably we’re not doing ENOUGH exercise. We’re not cutting ENOUGH calories. If we only do a lot more of what we're already doing, success will be ours.
The hardest thing to do in these situations is to take a step back and think outside the box. The solution to our problem often lies not in doing something more, but in doing something differently. A good number of our most cherished beliefs about how to achieve fat-loss and physique transformation have fallen into disrepute in recent years, and yet many of us still pursue strategies of weight-loss that are, in many cases, actually counterproductive to our goals. Here’s ten things you may be doing wrong in your pursuit of the ideal physique.
You’re Running Too Much
Seriously, get off the treadmill. Running is excellent for cardiovascular health (and increasing lung capacity), but it isn’t going to help you lose a pound of fat. Why? Because running, particularly steady-state running over extended periods of time, releases significant amounts of cortisol into your system. Cortisol actually is helpful over the short term because it regulates the energy levels in your body by providing energy from fat stores to muscle tissues that need it. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, this fat-burning process only occurs for a relatively short period of time and tends to spare abdominal fat, for reasons that scientists are still investigating. Also, as your run time expands, cortisol is also providing protein for conversion into energy, which means you’re tearing down more and more muscle mass for fuel as you pile up the miles. Muscle mass is the furnace that you’re depending on to burn fat. The less of it you have, the more challenging fat loss will be. The secret? Keep it short. Fifteen or twenty minutes of alternating sprints and fast walking, preferably done outside in the fresh air twice or maybe three times a week, should do it. If you absolutely LOVE long-distance running (and many people do) you must take into account its counterproductive effect on muscle mass, and take steps to counter that. (Yes, we’re getting to that.)
You’re Not Strength Training Enough
This cannot be emphasized enough. If you want to burn fat, you have to lift weights regularly so you can get stronger, increase your training volume, and add muscle mass. Muscle mass is the engine of fat loss. The more of it you have, the more fuel it takes to maintain, the more fat you will burn. Particularly as we grow older, we tend to lose muscle mass. This is called sarcopenia, and it results in the loss of between 3% and 5% of total muscle mass in the bodies of inactive adults each decade after the age of 30. This is why it’s relatively easy to lose weight (and body fat) at age twenty-five and much, much harder at fifty. Notice we said “inactive adults." Muscle mass decrease over time is NOT inevitable. In fact, recent studies have indicated that sedentary adults over 50, over 60 and beyond, can grow significantly stronger and increase muscle mass within weeks of taking up a modest resistance training regimen. How modest? A simple three-days-per-week split (upper body, lower, and core) will do wonders. As in the running strategy outlined above, keep it short. Forty-five minutes of fairly swift-paced lifting, with an emphasis on keeping rest intervals short, should be more than enough. After that, you’re spinning your wheels, tearing down what you’re trying to build.
You’re Stopping By the Smoothie Bar After Your Workout
Is there anything more satisfying than sipping a well-earned fruit smoothie after your workout? It’s got fruit in it! And fiber! And it’s got to be good for you or they wouldn’t have a smoothie bar right here in your gym! Well, maybe. But mostly no. Unfortunately, there’s all kinds of things that can go wrong with your post-workout Mango Tango Surprise. First of all, it’s got a lot of fruit in it, but not so much fiber and a surprising amount of sugar calories. Some fruits (apples, berries, kiwi) have a lot of fiber and some (bananas, grapes, most melons, grapefruit and, yes, mangoes) do not. What your fruit smoothie does have is a lot of sugar. How often do you sit down and eat the equivalent of four servings of fruit? Not often, right? But that’s what you’re getting in a tall, refreshing smoothie that could easily have 600 or 700 sugar calories in it. A good-sized dose of sugar will certainly be helpful for triggering insulin release that will speed nutrients to rapidly catabolizing muscle tissue, but you also need muscle fuel to actually deliver to those famished muscles. You can accomplish this by adding 20 grams of your favorite protein formula to your fruit smoothie. Or you could just skip the smoothie and shake up some protein.
You’re Not Consuming Enough BCAAs
When you're operating under a caloric deficit, your body will prioritize fat stores over muscle tissue. Why? Because muscle is calorically expensive to sustain; fat just sits there being fat. So, given a choice, your body will break down existing muscle tissue into component BCAAs (the essential aminos leucine, isoleucine and valine) for fuel. You can combat this process by taking a high-quality whey protein formula well-fortified with essential BCAAs. Branched-chain aminos facilitate protein synthesis in muscle tissue, support increased metabolism, and even encourage the release of insulin when taken before your workout. Don't let your fat-loss regimen mutate into a muscle-loss regimen. Take your BCAAs!
You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
We say this all the time here. Physique transformation is a three-legged stool: training, diet, and rest. The last leg of that stool is usually the one that gets the least attention. Lack of proper sleep doesn't just interfere with proper muscle recovery and overall wellness, it can actually lead to fat gain. Indeed, observational evidence has long suggested that people who report fewer hours of quality sleep are more likely to be overweight or obese. Recent clinical studies are backing that up. In a weight-loss intervention trial published in the journal Obesity, researchers sought to determine the association between sleep characteristics and weight loss in overweight or obese women enrolled in a randomized clinical trial of a weight-loss program. In the study, 245 women were randomized and asked to complete a Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index at baseline and 6 months. Researchers found that better subjective sleep quality increased the likelihood of weight-loss success by 33%. How much sleep is optimal for a typical adult? At least seven hours of high-quality sleep per night. So draw the shades, turn off the TV (or better yet, put the TV in another room), set the temperature on the cool side, and turn off any electronic devices.
You’re Not Consuming Enough Healthy Fats
Don't fear the fats! Your body is much more likely to utilize healthy dietary fats for energy, as opposed to carbs, which are more likely to be stored as body fat. This is especially true of high-glycemic carbs like processed white flour, short-grain rice or potatoes. Healthy fats such as omega-3 fish oils, CLA and MCT oil have even been linked to weight-loss benefits. Fats also take longer to digest which can reduce appetite, and help you absorb the vitamins A, D and E, which are essential to proper nervous system function. Fats should occupy 25% to 30% of your daily caloric intake, and the majority of these should be monounsaturated fats like those found in olives, canola oil, almonds, cashews, peanuts, peanut butter, sesame seeds, and avocados.
You're Not Supplementing With Creatine to Support Strength
Getting more productive workouts from decreased caloric intake is one of the toughest dilemmas you'll face on your road to a better physique. Unfortunately, many people intentionally eliminate one of the most powerful tools at their disposal as soon as they starting trying to cut excess fat. Creatine gets a bad rap from dieters because they associate it with bloating and fluid retention. But these outcomes are vastly overestimated, especially with the purest and most advanced forms of creatine monohydrate, and extremely temporary in any case. On the other hand, the strength and power increases long associated with creatine supplementation are long-lasting and essential to enhancing your workout capacity and productivity.
You’re Not Taking a Probiotic
Probiotics are all the rage these days in the fitness/wellness media and in scientific circles, and for good reason. It turns out that the bacterial content of our "gut biome" has far-reaching effects on every physiological aspect of our lives, from physique to immunity to mental health. Keeping your intestinal bacteria as robust and varied as possible is also a key factor in your fat-loss regimen. In fact, one meta-analysis published in 2018 in the scientific journal Obesity Review considered the results of 15 randomized, placebo-controlled trials and found that test subjects who supplemented with probiotics experienced significantly larger reductions in body weight, fat percentage and body mass index compared to those who took a placebo.
You're Skimping on the Caffeine
Unless you respond really negatively to caffeine (and yes, some people do), you're missing out on a number of potential fat-loss benefits when you cut back on nature's most versatile performance enhancer. Caffeine is more than just the perfect cure for the energy slump that befalls you when you enter into a prolonged caloric deficit. Caffeine has also been shown to enhance the breakdown of fatty acids for energy and accelerate the release of fat from storage. It will also blunt the perceived pain associated with intense exercise, allowing you to press out that all-important extra rep or two. As with any supplement, it pays to use caffeine wisely. Don't overdo it (about 200 mg of caffeine is plenty) and don't take it within five or six hours of bedtime. Whether you get your caffeine from a pre-workout (many advanced formulas now feature an organic, plant-based caffeine called PurCaf), a fat-loss supplement, or a good, strong cup of black coffee, caffeine is a powerful tool in your fat-loss arsenal.
You’re Missing Out on the Fat-Loss Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
For many years, nutrition experts advised the notion of eating small portions throughout the day as a sound strategy for slimming down and shedding excess fat. The theory held that spreading five or six meals out would keep your metabolism revving at an optimal rate, while preventing the body from downshifting into fat-conserving starvation mode. Now, however, the possible benefits of intermittent fasting are beginning to intrigue researchers. Firstly, it turns out that fasting may actually increase metabolism due to increases in serum norepinephrine caused by caloric deprivation. Fasting has also been linked to increases in growth hormone production, which would support both fat loss and muscle gain, and decreases in insulin secretion, which may facilitate fat burning. Which kind of fasting is best for you? You might try the 16:8 Method, which entails skipping breakfast each day and eating during an eight-hour 12 noon-to-8pm window. Or try the 5:2 Diet, in which you would consume only 500-600 calories two days per week and eat normally otherwise. You could also fast entirely for one or two 24-hour periods per week. No matter which method you choose, make sure you don't overcompensate by eating much more during non-fasting periods.
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The articles featured herein are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein.