As May turns to June, it's time for many of us to take a look in the mirror and assess the results of our physique-enhancing regimen for Summer 2023. How far have we gotten in shedding excess fat and getting lean and extra-defined for the beach days and nights out of the long, sweet season ahead?
Did you achieve your goals? Do you like what you see? Then congratulations are in order. Go forth and turn heads wherever you go. You earned it. Many of the rest of us, however, are discovering the age-old harsh reality of summer weight-loss efforts.
In February and March, the pounds just melt right off as we put new summer clothes in our online shopping carts and research tropical destinations. These pounds are the easy ones, and part of us knows that. They're water weight and the excess fat most recently gained since last summer or over the holidays.
Surely the fat loss will continue until we reach our goal, right? Unfortunately, our bodies have other plans in store for us. Faced with caloric deprivation (what are ancestors experienced as famine) our bodies take countermeasures to preserve what excess fat remains.
Our metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure slow down. The needle on the scale stutters and stalls. Our mood suffers and we may actually begin to feel cold. We have less energy because, frankly, our bodies aren't going to expend energy they don't have.
Welcome to the last days of calendar spring. The challenge is real and the finish line is so close. What's needed now is a few not-so-extraordinary measures to fire up fat loss, restore vitality, and attain the ideal physique we aspired to in the cold months of winter. Let's take a look at seven of those strategies for a strong finish.
Maybe you love running. A lot of people do. It relieves stress, can improve both agility and bone density and can even enhance your creativity. It's also excellent for cardiovascular health. But it won't help you lose a single ounce of body fat. And if you're doing it, now is the time to cut down on it, particularly steady-state running over extended periods of time.
Steady-state cardio actually burns very few calories. Your body acclimates to this kind of treadmill plodding very quickly. Even if you keep your heart rate elevated (which not many people do) you're burning at best maybe 100 calories per mile. You'll replace those calories with the energy drink you consume afterwards.
Worse yet, you're not building any new muscle. When you engage in low-resistance exercise like cardio, your body tends to spare fat stores, quickly burning through the muscle glycogen available and then tearing down existing muscle mass for fuel. 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.
Instead, if f you want to burn fat, you have to lift weights regularly to increase your training volume and add muscle mass. You're probably already doing this, but in these last days of spring you should rely on weight training exclusively to get lean. The more muscle mass you have, the more fuel it takes to maintain, the more fat you will burn.
What about your cardiovascular health? The truth is, if you're maintaining a brisk pace, keeping breaks between sets to a minimum, using supersets to work opposing muscle groups (and thus keep moving), you're already getting a cardio workout.
You're sweating and your heart rate is elevated for the duration of your workout. It's the best of both worlds -- getting cardio AND adding muscle mass. Forty-five minutes, three to four workouts a week with an emphasis on keeping rest intervals short, should be more than enough.
If you're not already doing this, trust us, you're consuming many more calories per day than you think. Most people just don't have a realistic concept of what constitutes portion size. Dial in your macros (50% high-quality low-glycemic carbs, 30% protein, 20% healthy fats), weigh your food, and set it aside into pre-arranged meals. (If this seems like a lot of work and your budget allows it, there are plenty of fitness-oriented meal services out there that will do this for you.)
Keep a log of what you eat. Doing so may seem like busywork, but it will help you maintain an accurate picture of your eating habits and avoid cheating. You're less likely to cheat on portion sizes if you have to write the cheat down. And you're certainly less likely to grab a bag of chips at the Quickie Mart if you have to write that down too. Successful dieting doesn't just mean eating less, it means eating better.
Every pound of muscle in your body burns about 50 calories per day at rest. So it makes sense to maintain as much of it as possible. Unfortunately, muscle mass is the first thing to go when your body shifts into survival mode. To keep it, you have to use it, which is where resistance training comes in. You also have to feed it.
High-intensity resistance exercise literally destroys muscle tissue. When we destroy muscle tissue during exercise, we do so with the intention of building it back, bigger and better. We can't do that, however, if our bodies are under-fueled (as during caloric-restrictive dieting).
But there are calorically efficient ways to fuel the protein synthesis that is the foundation for muscle recovery and repair.
Branched-chain aminos (the essential aminos leucine, isoleucine and valine) facilitate protein synthesis in muscle tissue. Leucine, in particular, is a primary activator of the mTOR anabolic pathway that governs protein synthesis and consequent muscle repair and growth. Restoration and growth of muscle tissue, in turn, results in increased metabolism and increased fat mobilization for energy.
You can supplement with BCAAs without adding much to your daily caloric intake by simply incorporating a daily high-quality protein formula into your meal regimen. A single serving of a high-quality whey isolate formula contains high amounts of BCAAs with little more than 100 calories or so, with negligible amounts of fat, sugar and lactose. Or you can supplement with a straight-up BCAA supplement pre- or intra-workout. Again, every ounce of muscle you can retain will inch you closer to your beach body ideal.
Several weeks into your beach body diet, energy becomes a problem. You may be feeling lethargic and your workouts are suffering. Prioritizing the highest-quality food sources will help you bridge that energy gap, but to keep your workouts maximally productive, more is needed.
Strength is the key to maintaining and increasing workout performance and output. To support strength, you need to consider creatine supplementation, if you haven't added it to your regimen already.
Many people (especially women) seeking fat loss shy away from creatine because they associate it with water retention and weight gain. This is a mistake. Creatine plays an important role in helping to synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in muscle tissue, a compound that releases energy used for muscle contractions.
Creatine, especially in its monohydrate form, has been associated with positive effects on strength and endurance increase, training capacity, muscle mass, and body composition in literally hundreds of clinically studies conducted all around the world. Again, the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn. Creatine monohydrate is a calorie-free secret weapon in your quest for a lean, rock-hard physique.
If you're adhering to the same training regimen day after day and week after week, you're most likely bored with it and your body is too. Your body will acclimate pretty swiftly to a stagnant routine, which will make maintaining muscle and leaning out difficult to achieve.
So it's time to change it up. If you're hitting the same circuit of machines and free weights every time you hit the gym, sign up for a group exercise class. Or try high intensity interval training as a substitute for long-interval, static distance running. Swimming, yoga and tennis (or pickle ball) are all worthy alternatives as well.
The key is to challenge yourself, both physically and mentally. Whether you're lifting weights or executing a perfect warrior pose, be mindful of your heart rate. Try maintaining a heart rate that's around 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate. To establish your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. But most of all, remember that variety is the spice of life and essential to your beach-body goals.
Lack of proper sleep doesn't just interfere with proper muscle recovery and overall wellness, it can actually lead to fat gain. Observational evidence has long suggested that people who report irregular or fewer hours of quality sleep are more likely to be overweight.
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 set aside any electronic devices.
Intermittent fasting is all the rage these days, with dieters, athletes, and even bodybuilders employing it to reach their physique goals. 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 more responsive insulin production, which could 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.
Change, flexibility and willingness to adapt are key attributes to achieving your summer beach body goals. Stay focused, stay active, give your body the nutrition it needs to thrive, and power your way across the finish line. Your Beach Body Summer is at hand!
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