Level – Intermediate
Words – ~2000
Reading Time – 8-10 minutes
You should have a good understanding of what the different macronutrients are and the roles they play in performance, body composition and health as discussed in Part 1.
You should also now have a baseline calorie intake to start with as calculated in Part 2.
In an ideal world, this is all you would need. Just stick to the calories and macros you calculated and job done but as with everything, it’s never that simple.
You will need to monitor and adjust throughout to make sure you are seeing the right adaptations, whether that be losing fat whilst maintaining muscle and performance or gaining muscle whilst minimising fat gain an improving performance.
It’s easy to “dirty bulk” and put on a ton of muscle (along with 2 tonnes of fat) by simply training and eating as many calories as possible. Similarly it’s easy to lose weight by simply not eating and exercising excessively.
Unfortunately, neither of these are going to give you the body you want, which is exactly why regular monitoring and adjusting is necessary.
Note: We’re going to approach this from a fat loss standpoint. Muscle gainers need to pretty much just do the opposite.
Why Do We Hit Plateaus?
A bigger body more active body requires more calories per day in order to maintain a certain body weight. It “costs” the body more calories to move around more weight, hence why larger people can seemingly eat more and not gain weight.
Let’s say for example you were eating 2000 calories per day to lose weight at a body weight of 80kg. You then go on to lose 10kg of body weight and are now 70kg.
Whilst 2000 calories was the right amount to lose weight at 80kg, because you are now a lighter and more efficient body, it may be too much to continue to lose weight.
What were previous your fat loss calories, have now become your maintenance calories.
Here is an interesting table to show how lighter people are more efficient and burn less calories when doing activity.
Creating The Deficit
If you want to continue losing fat, you will need to create a calorie deficit, meaning you will need to be expending more calories than you are consuming. This will coax your body into using fat for fuel.
We can create a calorie deficit via increasing expenditure, reducing intake or a combination of both.
When people think of increasing expenditure they instantly think of the dreaded “C” word;
This is definitely a valid tool in the tool box for increasing expenditure but it doesn’t mean slogging it out on a treadmill or cross trainer for hours on end. If that’s your preferred way of increasing expenditure then by all means go for it. It’s not harmful and may be enjoyable for many. Stick a film on your iPad, listen to a podcast or throw on some catch up TV and get it done.
For others though, it may be a complete drag in which case you need to think beyond the hamster wheel. Here are some of our top forms of cardio:
Why not burn calories whilst do something you love?
You don’t have to be competitive, even just mucking around with your mates or going for a stroll on the golf course is getting you out and about and burning calories. Here are just a few ideas:
- Football (5 aside or 11 aside)
- Darts (okay maybe not)
If you enjoy an activity then you’re not only much more likely to do it but you’ll also put much more effort into it, double whammy!
The new cardio kid on the block are barbell complexes. Great for those of you who can’t get enough of the weights or are tight for time and want to tag some cardio onto the end of the workout.
You may have heard some people joke that cardio is simply “lifting weights faster”. While it started as a bit of tongue in cheek, it’s actually a pretty efficient way of burning extra calories whilst also improving work capacity and technique in certain lifts. Here is just one example of how you could do it:
Grab an empty 20kg bar and perform the following as a circuit with 2-3 minutes rest in between for a total of 20-30 minutes.
- 10 x Romanian Deadlifts
- 10 x Bent Over Rows
- 10 x Cleans
- 10 x Front Squats
- 10 x Overhead Press
- 10 x Back Squats
As you never have to let go of the bar you can quickly transition to the next exercise without stopping and making it a pretty tough workout! To progress this you could either add a bit of weight, do more rounds or reduce the rest time in between sets.
Circuits / Classes
At The Performance Project HQ we’re fortunate enough to have the space to offer some alternative ways of getting cardio in such as battle battle ropes, prowler pushes (pictured), sled runs and sprints. It may be worth seeking out a of class or bootcamp that offers some more novel ways of increasing your heart rate and getting you out of breath.
You could even try a gym class at your local leisure centre. Whilst they may not be the most efficient way of adding lean muscle, they can serve as a great way of burning calories with relatively low impact and fatigue.
Stop Being Lazy
Most people are surprised that the biggest contributor to energy expenditure for most people (after your resting metabolic rate) isn’t necessarily your time in the gym, it’s the time you’re outside the gym doing everyday things.
So whilst the uneducated are busting a gut trying to see if they can burn an extra 20 calories during their spin session, the more sensible of us are trying to see how we can burn more calories without all the effort.
Here are just a few ways you can increase your calorie expenditure through daily activity without being shouted out by someone in a skin tight leotard and a headband:
- Walking/Cycling to work or the shops
- Taking the stairs instead of the lift
- Doing the housework/gardening
- Parking further away
- Going out for walks/hikes
In our experience, there seems to be quite a large correlation between those who move more and those who have “fast metabolisms”. They may have slightly higher than average metabolisms but usually those who can seemingly eat much more simply move more on a daily basis.
You’ve probably heard all this many times before but it really can make a difference. Even if you did all of these and it burned an extra 100 calories a day, it all adds up and no one ever got less healthy by moving around more.
There seems to be an influx of fitness trackers recently which we think is a really positive step in the right direction (no pun intended) for increasing day to day activity and making sure everyone is moving a minimum amount.
As they are relatively new and considered “first generation” there are some issues regarding accuracy but this will only get better and along with tracking you intake using apps such as MyFitnessPal we will soon be getting much more objective data to make decisions.
When we say objective, we mean stone cold numbers. “I eat healthy and do lots of activity” means different things to different people so the more objective data you can get the better.
If you’re doing everything you can to increase energy expenditure or simply don’t have the time to add any additional activity to your day then the other option would be to reduce your calorie intake.
This is the cornerstone of the majority of weight loss and/or fat loss programmes. All the FAD diets you see or hear about are simply creating rules to have you reducing calorie intake:
Atkins Diet > Reducing Carbs > Reducing Calories
Dukan Diet > Reducing Carbs > Reducing Calories
5:2 Diet > 2 “fasting days” > Reducing Calories
Lighter Life Diet > Low Calorie Meal Replacements > Reducing Calories
Weight Watchers > Points System (which is basically calories) > Reducing Calories
None of these diets are magic. None of these diets “work for you”. They work for everyone if you stick to them as they are simply reducing your calorie intake.
How Much To Cut?
Most of these diets will have you cut calories pretty drastically, it looks better for the product and allows them to promote before and after photo’s with impressive results in short time frames.
That’s all well and good but we’d be more interested in seeing how that person looks 3,6 and 12 months down the line.
Cutting calories too rapidly presents a couple of issues;
- You are at a much higher risk of rebound due to being so restricted
- You are at a higher risk of performance loss
- Which subsequently results in a higher risk of muscle loss, which isn’t beneficial for improved body composition
These drastic diets can help you lose weight but we want to lose fat and the best way to do that is to lose fat at a sustainable rate whilst maintaining or even improving gym performance.
If you hit a plateau, we’d typically recommend reducing calories by around 5-10%. So a person eating 2000 calories would reduce their intake by roughly 100 – 200 calories. Which should be more than enough to get you moving in the right direction again.
Where Should Those Calories Come From?
The million dollar question which can only be answered in a way that any respected fitness professional can answer;
Similarly to when you were calculating your macros in Part 2, you need to ask yourself a few questions to determine which is the best option for you and here are rationales for reducing from each;
Reducing Fat Intake
- If you prefer carbohydrates
- If you find reducing carbohydrates has a significant impact on performance
- If you are eating enough fat to not dip below 0.3g/lb of bodyweight
Reducing Carbohydrate Intake
- If you prefer fatty foods
- If you find performance isn’t affected by carbohydrate intake
- If you are already on the lower end of the fat scale
Alternatively and often the best course of action is to reduce a little bit from each. This way, you aren’t drastically reducing one macronutrient as the more drastically you cut a macronutrient the more pronounced the effects will be.
Hopefully you are also beginning to see that whilst things definitely need to change in order to make change, you want to do it with the least resistance possible which means less drastic measures!!
Rate of Fat Loss & Muscle Gain
We covered rates of fat loss and muscle gain in a previous blog which you can see HERE.
The most important things to remember are;
- You can only lose a limited amount of fat per week before you start losing muscle
- You can only gain a limited amount of fat per week before you start to gain fat
Small steps in either direction are the best way to go for favourable body composition which means less fat and more muscle.
5 Key “Take Home” Points
1) Everyone’s intake will be different, it’s up to you to experiment and find what is right for you.
2) Calculating your macros is simply a starting point, you will need to adjust them depending on your results, as your energy intake and expenditure is a moving target.
3) Weekly or bi-weekly monitoring and adjusting is essential to make continued progress.
4) Macro splits should be largely dictated by personal preference and not the latest FAD diet, calories in/calories out is still the biggest dictator of muscle gain and fat loss.
5) Don’t do anything too drastic like cutting out whole food groups or foods (carbs, fat, bread, grains etc.) or cutting calories excessively. It will only increase the chances of you rebounding.
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