Fat Loss Friday: 15 Lessons on Leaning Out
Written on May 22, 2015 at 8:44 am, by Eric Cressey
Usually, my "random thoughts" series focus on anything from corrective exercises to sports performance training. However, given the release of my buddy John Romaniello's great new fat loss resource, The Omega Body Blueprint, I figured I'd throw out 15 thoughts on the subject of leaning out. Here goes!
1. We often hear about how the average American consumes a certain amount of <insert unhealthy food or beverage here> each year. What I'd be curious to hear is how much of the excess consumption comes from "nibbles," "tastes," "bites," and "samples. In other words, I'd be willing to bet that people are getting a lot of extra calories with quick tastes throughout the day - whether it's a "preview" taste of whatever they're cooking, finishing a child's meal, or trying a sample of a product as they walk through the grocery store. I'd be willing to bet that just removing these tastes from one's diet would make a significant difference in portion control for the average person who struggles with his/her weight.
2. There's been some research on how sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, but I don't think it's gotten the attention it deserves. As such, I'll put it out there right here: poor sleep quality absolutely has a profound effect on body composition! Take it from a guy who has six month old twin daughters at home; the past six months have been "eye opening" from a training results standpoint, too!
This obviously happens predominantly through endocrine mediums that modulate appetite and where we store calories; this has been well established in research on night shift workers in the past. However, we can't overlook the indirect impact it has on training quality in a more experienced athletic population. If you're chronically sleep deprived, it's going to impact your performance in the gym. I, personally, found that while my "peak" fitness levels didn't fall off, my ability to display them consistently did. In other words, as an example, I could still go out and deadlift 600+ pounds, but I couldn't do it as often or as predictably. Over time, those hills and valleys add up to a detraining effect.
Additionally, when you're dragging and crunched for time, there is a tendency to cut corners on everything from warm-ups to finding quick pick-me-ups like energy drinks. This is a very slippery slope.
3. I've never bothered to confirm that the numbers are right on the money, but over the years, I've heard that 80% of North Americans are chronically dehydrated, and that dehydration is the #1 cause of daytime fatigue. If these are, in fact, true, how come nobody ever highlights drinking more water as a means of improving fat loss efforts? It improves satiety and "displaces" calorie-containing beverages - and that's on top of helping to optimize exercise performance and "normal" health factors. I wish more folks would look to water as a "magic pill" over anything they can buy on the shelf of a supplement store.
4. Fat loss is pretty simple, until you're 90% of the way to your goal. After that, EVERYTHING matters: macros, hormones, programming, timing, and a host of other factors. This was a key point John Romaniello makes in his new e-book. You wouldn't take your Ferrari to a mechanic who specializes in working on Honda Civics, so you need to make sure you seek out expertise from people who have actually helped people to finish that final 10% on the way to the goal.
5. Everyone has a few foods that they find irresistible - food that they always eat if they're in the house. If you're trying to drop body fat, before you take any other steps, you need to get these foods out of the house. The goal should be making "cheating" as difficult to accomplish as possible. For me, it's natural peanut butter.
6. A lot of people can only train three times per week - and that's totally fine. With that said, I'm still largely in agreement with Dr. John Berardi's observation that the most fit people you'll encounter get at least six hours of exercise in per week. In other words, if you've only got three hours to work out each week, your training definitely better be dense; you need a lot of volume and relatively short rest intervals. Don't expect to be in phenomenal shape doing a 3x5 program MoWeFr unless you have an awesome diet and are really busting your butt working hard during those three sessions.
7. When it comes to athletes, gradual reductions in body fat are the name of the game. You see, often, body weight – and not body composition – are what predicts their success. Pitchers are a perfect example; I’ve seen many who have just indiscriminately lost body weight, only to see their velocity drop considerably. This may come from the actual loss of body mass, the increased training volume that caused it, the type of training (extra aerobic activity?), or – most likely – a combination of all these factors. One thing is for sure, though: dramatic weight reductions rarely work out really well.
8. One of the biggest complaints of folks on "diets" (as much as I hate that term) is that healthy food gets too bland. Without even knowing it, a lot of them start adding sauces that are loading with extra calories, usually from sugar. Nobody ever seems to recognize that BBQ sauce and ketchup can be loaded with sugar, for instance.
Fortunately, a quick solution is to encourage them to gravitate toward using spices and herbs over sauces to add some flavor to meat and vegetables. I love turmeric, sea salt, and pepper on my eggs, as an example.
9. Avoiding liquid calories is the still, in my opinion, the biggest dietary game-changer most folks in the general population can implement. I wish I could go back in time and eliminate every soda I drank as a kid.
10. There is an inverse relationship between strength preservation and conditioning intensity during a fat loss training phase. In other words, if maintaining strength is a high priority, you'd be wise to leave the aggressive interval training out - and instead opt for lower-intensity supplemental conditioning. Obviously, this means results will come a bit slower - but you'll hold on to your hard-earned strength gains more easily.
11. My business partner, Pete, told me a funny story the other day, and I thought I'd share it here as a good fat loss lesson.
Pete did his first "big" presentation - to an audience of about 150 fitness professionals - last month. As luck would have it, he wears a watch that also tracks his heart rate - and Pete happened to glance down at it right before he went on stage to present. His resting heart rate is normally in the 55-60bpm range - and it was up over 120bpm at that moment!
Obviously, this is a specific challenging, unfamiliar incident that can get heart rate to spike. However, there are people out there who respond to most challenges like this; they are constantly "wired" throughout the day. This obviously has both short- and long-term health impacts, and you can bet that if you're always on edge, it's going to be a lot harder to lose body fat.
We don't have the option of just removing stressors from our lives, but we can change the way we respond to them. A few coping strategies to keep you mellow and unconditionally positive in the face of adversity might just help to get/keep you lean, too.
12. Speaking of stress, I'm a firm believer that sometimes, when it comes the war on excess body fat, we need to look at reducing stressors before we look to add stressors (via exercise and caloric restriction). Think about it: if you have a busy, overweight executive who is sleeping four hours a night and crushing terrible fast food, is the first priority to put him on a crazy high-volume exercise program? Shouldn't we try to add some quality sleep, better food, a little massage and/or meditation, and a moderate exercise program from which he can bounce back? In other words, isn't it a better bet - both for short-term health and long-term adherence - to "normalize" routines before getting on a crazy routine?
13. If you want to understand fat loss, you need to understand insulin management. For the real geeks out there, check out this paper I wrote for an exercise endocrinology course back in graduate school. There were enough references in there to last me an entire career...
14. It's very easy to fall off the bandwagon on the nutrition front when you're on vacation. If you're only going on 1-2 vacations per year, this probably isn't a big deal. However, if you're someone who travels extensively and does a lot of weekend trips, these dietary missteps can add up. Vacations are extra challenging because they often include all-you-can-eat buffets, plentiful dessert choices, and lots of alcohol. You'd be amazed at how easy it is to pack away 5,000 calories in a day if you're having two big ol' strawberry daiquiris while on the beach, and then enjoying a slice of cheesecake and two glasses of wine with dinner.
The last thing I would ever tell our clients to do is avoiding "indulging" while on vacation, so my strategy has always been to simply encourage them to get some exercise in first thing in the morning on half the days they're on vacation. In addition to the short-term metabolic benefits it yields, an exercise session has a way of keeping people accountable to their diets so that they avoid going overboard. If you work out early in the day, you're more likely to go grab a healthy breakfast - which will help to limit caloric intake later in the day. And, you're less likely to have that extra glass of wine at 11pm if you know you're going to be in the resort's health club at 8am.
Of course, this is coming from a guy who took a TRX to Costa Rica for his honeymoon, so take my recommendations with a grain of salt!
15. I'm constantly amazed at how many calories I need to eat to maintain my body weight - and I don't consider myself an ectomorph, by any means. In fact, I'm probably more toward the endomorph ends of the spectrum. What separates me from the rest of the endomorph population in this regard? To me, it's two things:
a. I eat a very clean diet - which means I need a greater quantity of food.
b. My daily non-exercise activity level is pretty high, as I typically walk 4-5 miles per day while coaching on the floor. I'm also not very good at sitting still, whether it's tapping my foot while I'm working on the computer, or constantly bouncing around the house doing different things. I'm actually more stressed when I'm sitting still!
To this end, I think most folks who struggle with their weight need to find ways to add a bit more movement to their daily lives. Wearing a pedometer can be a great initiative in this regard.
In wrapping this article up, if you're looking from some direction from a guy who has put far more time and effort into learning about the rhyme and reason for optimal fat loss approaches, I'd encourage you to check out John Romaniello's new resource, The Omega Body Blueprint. It's on sale for 50% off through tomorrow (Saturday) at midnight, and I really enjoyed going through it.
Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!