The Ultimate Fat Burning Guide
Was your new year’s resolution to shed some fat?
If so, you’re in the right place!
This article is all about turning your body into a fat burning furnace, getting rid of that Christmas spare tyre and replacing it with some well-defined abs.
But it’s also about staying trim, and not getting those ‘podgy’ bits back as soon as the summer’s over.
We’ll talk about the key principles of weight loss, how you can take advantage of them and making your fat-loss journey as pain-free as possible.
First, we’ll learn about fat, why it accumulates, how it melts, and why it can seem so hard to keep it off.
Then, you’ll discover the best fat-loss workouts, nutrition, supplements and recovery. All play a big part in shedding fat, so it’s important not to neglect any of the areas.
Losing fat won't be easy. But with the right knowledge, attitude and dedication, you can turn those resolutions from wishful thinking into real results.
WHAT IS FAT?
There’s no such thing as just ‘plain’ fat. There are different types.
There are several differences between Body Fat and Macronutrient Fat contained in food.
Macronutrient fat can be further divided into Saturated and Unsaturated Fats.
Macronutrient fat comes from either plants (e.g. oils) or animal products. If you want to stay healthy you must consume fat, but not to excess.
Eating fat doesn’t make you fat, so long as you eat a balanced diet.
All food is broken down through digestion and then the body then decides what's it going to use, store, or excrete.
Body fat is amazing. Perfected by evolution, it is the body's natural way of storing energy to be used in case of an emergency. If it wasn't for fat, the moment an animal uses up all the energy gained from the last meal, it would enter starvation mode and die soon after. The same would happen to us humans.
Fortunately, we’ve evolved a system that stores excess energy around the body, for use later when food is scarce - unfortunately, our bodies are unwilling to break down fat unless we really need to. That's why it’s so hard to shed fat.
Basically, storing fat is a survival mechanism and our body views burning fat as a catastrophe.
The problem is readily available in today’s world and quite often addictive due to the addition of refined sugar. So, we don’t stop eating, pile on the pounds, and struggle to get rid of the excess fat.
We’ve developed these protective mechanisms over thousands of years. Therefore, it’s impossible to change the way our body functions just because we want to get below 5% of body fat and look great on the beach.
Luckily, there are things we can do to help the process and to ‘trick’ our bodies into cooperating with our fat loss goals. More on this later.
UNDERSTANDING CALORIES AND METABOLISM
Calories are a measurement of energy. Energy is your body’s fuel to function.
Think about calories as a way to accurately compare how much energy there is in different types of food.
Generally, proteins and carbs have around 4 calories per gram, while fats have more than double - 9 grams. That doesn't mean that you should automatically ditch fat from your diet. Fatty food fills you up really quickly and doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes. There’s no need to demonise fat. Remember, it’s necessary for a healthy organism to thrive.
Let’s look at a balanced 2,000 calorie diet to see how the amount of calories in 1 gram of protein, carb or fat change the daily requirements. Fat only makes up 67 grams because it’s heavier in calories than protein and carbs.
Metabolism relates to the number of calories your body requires throughout the day just to maintain its present weight. If you’re more active your body needs more energy and will have a higher metabolism, and vice versa.
Determining your body type can help you understand the speed of your metabolism, and how many calories you should allocate to protein, carbs and fats, and how to adjust or increase your activity level while on a restrictive diet if you want to lose fat.
WHY SOME PEOPLE NEVER SEEM TO GET FAT
First, gaining fat is easy for most - but not everyone.
There are three body types: Endomorphs, Mesomorphs, and Ectomorphs.
Your body type determines how quickly you metabolise energy, the higher the metabolism, the faster you are using energy. When energy is not used, it is stored in fat cells for future use.
Determining your body type can unlock the mysteries of why you gain or lose weight easily - or both - as well as how to build a diet that works for your body type and your goals.
Mesomorphs are built athletically, and they can get fat, but they get buff even easier. Because Mesomorphs metabolise carbs at a normal rate, they can eat a balanced diet:
Endomorphs are big and bulky by nature, they can build massive amounts of muscle, but they get fat even quicker. Endomorphs have a hard time metabolising carbs so they should have less calories from carbs and, ironically, more from fat.
Ectomorphs are leaner by nature, with thinner bones and narrower shoulders - for them getting fat is equally difficult as getting buff. An Ectomorph’s high metabolism means they burn through carbs the fastest, so they need to consume a lot of carbs just to maintain weight - and a lot more to gain.
As you can see - for ⅔ body types it’s easy to gain fat, especially with the modern lifestyle. But, ectomorphs are an exception. For them, gaining fat is pretty much as difficult as losing it is for endomorphs.
GETTING RID OF FAT
Fat is excess weight, and to lose weight you need to enter a caloric deficit. In other words, you need to eat less than your body requires to maintain your current weight.
But, before you start something extreme such as a 500 calories per day diet, think twice. Extreme dieting works for weight loss, but not so much for fat loss. The reason why is that a calorie-restricted diet is a form of starvation, at least our body registers it that way.
If you drop your total caloric intake by 50%, your body will enter self-defence mode. It will immediately start burning away muscles, as they require the most calories (and are a protein source).
After weeks of dieting alone your bodyweight will significantly drop, but there’s a good chance you’ll end up looking even worse. You will lose a lot of your hard-earned muscle, and a lot of liquid, while the majority of the fat will remain, especially around your waistline.
To counter that you need to do 3 things.
- You do need to restrict your calories, but only by around 20%. Take these calories from carbs - not fat.
- You need a diet rich in protein - that way your body won't need to burn muscle in order to get the nutrients it needs.
- You need to train with weights alongside your dieting.
Weight training will signal to your body that the muscles are needed and are used regularly. If you don't use them, or if you lack protein, your body will try to get rid of them. What's more, through weight training you’ll also increase muscle mass, which is a good thing as muscles burn a lot of calories just to maintain them.
REDUCE CARBS FIRST
Out of all three macronutrients, the one you need to reduce the most is carbohydrates.
We have already explained how proteins are essential for maintaining and growing muscles, which means you shouldn't cut them. So that leaves you with fats and carbs.
Fats, being the most energy-dense with 9 calories per gram look like an obvious choice. But the truth is that you can't really eat that much fat, as they leave you feeling full for longer which helps to prevent binging.
Carbs are a different story. When you eat carbs, your blood sugar rises giving you a big energy kick. After all, carbs are our body's primary energy source.
But, it’s so easy to overeat simple carbs. And when you do, your blood sugar levels go through the roof. The effect is that your pancreas will release more insulin to reduce the blood sugar back to normal.
But for most people, too much insulin ends up in the bloodstream, causing blood glucose to drop suddenly. When this happens, your hands might start shaking, and you’ll feel weak and light-headed. You’ll start craving more sugar, which can trigger a big carb binge.
The best approach to reduce carbs is by ditching simple and refined sugars entirely - white table sugar, starch, and limit fructose and glucose. So, no sweets, soda, alcohol and limit your fruit intake.
Instead, you can indulge in healthy complex carbs, like whole grains, veggies and some fruits. Once you switch to pumpernickel or rye, you’ll wonder how you ever ate white bread.
Read more about choosing the right carbohydrates here.
NUTRITIONAL FAT LOSS IDEAS THAT DON’T INVOLVE COUNTING CALORIES
Counting every calorie is necessary only for a small number of people who are looking to get super shredded, or to achieve a competition or athletic level of body fat. In other words, those who want their body fat to be below 10%.
For most of the population, counting every single calorie is way too extreme and not necessary to trigger fat loss. Here are some simple nutrition tips that might work for you:
- Leave 12 hours between dinner and breakfast - If you eat your dinner at 7 PM, don't eat breakfast before 7 AM. No food in between! So, no midnight snacks not even fruit or salads. Fast for the full twelve hours and then you break your fast with something healthy – avoid sugary cereals and drinks.
- Eliminate liquid calories - In other words, drink water only, with the exception being (protein) shakes and black coffee or tea. Sugary beverages such as soda and concentrated fruit juices fill you with calories, without you actually feeling full. Although soda contains an enormous amount of calories, you’ll still end up eating the same amount of solid food after drinking it. What's even worse, because most soft drinks are filled with sugar, your blood sugar will rise and crash after a few hours, causing you to crave more, and binge, ruining your diet.
- Reduce eating out - You don't have to ditch restaurants completely, but try to bring home-prepared food such as salads to work at least three times a week. This will not only reduce your caloric intake but will be much healthier as most fast food is junk. Also, it’s hard not to eat the whole plate at a restaurant and the portions are often quite large.
- Increase water intake – This is especially important before meals. Water has no calories, but it fills up your gut, taking up "food space". So, if you drink a large glass of water before a meal, you’ll end up eating less. This will also help you meet your daily hydration goals. Thirst is often confused with hunger, so try drinking a glass of water the next time you think you’re hungry - it may be all you need.
WHAT TYPE OF EXERCISE IS BEST FOR LOSING FAT?
45-60 minutes of low to medium intensity cardio ("aerobic" exercise) works best for fat loss.
That is exercising at about 70% of your maximum heart rate.
To calculate it, you need to subtract your age from 220. Keep your heart rate around that number for 45 minutes, and you’re good.
If you want to supplement fat loss with weight training, doing total body workouts is your best bet. These workouts revolve around compound movements such as deadlifts, squats and presses, which burn a lot of calories during, and after workouts.
Perform them 3x a week, with a day in between, at higher rep ranges, 12+, with short rest periods, up to 60 seconds.
Another option is to try supersets and giant sets - doing exercises in sequence, one after the other, without taking breaks in between.
Working out like this ensures your heart rate stays up throughout the workout, which burns a lot of energy. You also engage different muscle groups in one workout, requiring your body to work extra hard in order to recover the micro tears, which also burns calories.
Unfortunately, traditional bodybuilding training, a.k.a. splits is not ideal for weight loss. Yes, you can do supersets to increase the calorie burn, but isolation training is simply ineffective when losing weight is the goal. Biceps, triceps, delts, traps, and even pecs are small muscle groups, at least when compared to leg muscles.
Your chest/bis day will burn an insignificant amount of calories when compared to any total-body routine. Not only during a workout but afterwards too.
To burn fat, you need compound movements, with a lot of lower body activity. Combine total body workouts, moderate intensity cardio with a quality diet, and you’ll notice your gut disappearing, week after week. It's not easy to train hard when you are on a calorie restriction, but it’s incredibly effective for fat loss.
SO, YOU'VE HIT A WALL?
You eat clean, do cardio, and adequately train with weights, and still your weight remains the same? Don’t worry - it happens. Good news is, there are things you can do to get over the wall.
1 | MAKE SURE YOU ARE NOT JUST USING THE SCALES.
Regular scales only show your weight, nothing else. Muscles are heavier than fat, and if you’ve increased muscle mass while losing weight at the same time (yes, it is possible), the scales might even show an increase in total weight making you think you need to cut down food further.
It’s a better idea to use a tape measure and record your waist circumference alongside your weight. Those two numbers will give you more information, indicating whether you’ve lost or gained fat, muscle, or just water.
2 | TRY NOT TO MICROMANAGE YOUR WEIGHT.
Measuring yourself once per week in the morning is more than enough. If your weight remains the same after two consecutive weeks you need to address the issue. Stepping on the scale every morning and adjusting your diet accordingly is not a good idea as so many factors can influence your short-term weight.
Having said that, real plateaus do happen and to break them you need to change things up. The plateaus occur when the body adapts, and it needs a new challenge if you want the fat to start dropping again.
Diet-wise this can be something like changing the protein-to-fat-to-carbs ratio, reducing the total intake by 100 calories, or simply adding another meal while the total number of calories remains the same.
Whatever you do, don't be tempted to drastically cut the number of calories, as you don't want your body to enter self-protect muscle nuking mode.
3 | INCORPORATE HIIT TO YOUR EXERCISE PLAN
Instead of your regular long-distance cardio, try adding High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to your workout plan. This will require 100% effort from your body (and mind), and it might shake things up enough to kickstart the fat loss process again.
4 | SLEEP - THE FOUNDATION STONE OF HEALTH
If you want to have a healthy body and fast metabolism, you better take care of sleep. 7-9 hours every night is an absolute must if you want adequate recovery, hormone levels and appetite.
This is often neglected, but it’s a crucial part of fitness. After all, muscles are built while you rest, and we have already explained how important that is for fat loss.
Also, if you’re sleep deprived, you’ll have less energy during the day and will unconsciously try to compensate by eating more - primarily carbs. Furthermore, with lower energy levels, your workout performance will suffer, and you’ll burn fewer calories in the gym. Increasing caffeine will help with that, but the best bet is to go to bed an hour earlier rather than search for workarounds.
WHAT ABOUT FAT LOSS SUPPLEMENTS?
Supplements are not a miracle pill. They are only supplementing your goals, as their name suggests. So, don’t expect miracle that will solve all your fat loss struggles. But they definitely have their place and will help you reach your goal a bit faster.
Here are some good fat-loss supplements to consider:
Proteins supplements are ideal for any fitness goal, including fat loss. They are an essential component of muscle building, thus very important to increase when you weight train. Also, proteins are almost impossible to end up stored as fat, making them a perfect diet companion. Getting enough protein (1g per pound of body weight, daily) will make sure your muscle mass stays constant or even improves as you lose weight. For post- workout shakes, whey is the best choice as it gets quickly released. If you want a nighttime protein, try casein. It is digested slowly, releasing proteins into your bloodstream over an extended period, making it perfect for a bedtime shake. And if you want something vegan-friendly, pea protein is your best bet.
Taking caffeine-based pre-workout, or caffeine isolate will make your workouts more intense, as this supplement boosts energy, and fights tiredness. Moreover, caffeine has fat-burning effects too, as it increases heart rate, helping you to get rid of a few extra calories while training. It all adds up! Just make sure not to drink anything caffeinated six hours before bed, as it can mess with your sleep patterns.
This supplement helps fat oxidation or the process of utilising fat as energy. That's why you will find a lot of pre-workout supplement containing carnitine. Fat stores a lot of energy, and once it's released you can work out with more intensity. This burns even more calories, creating a win-win situation.
These supplements have a bad reputation that mostly comes from their name. People misuse them, thinking that taking fat burners is enough to burn fat. But it isn't - they are still only supplements after all. They often contain carnitine, caffeine, capsaicin and other components that aid fat loss. Feel free to use them, they are perfectly safe. Just don't expect miraculous results without putting any extra work in.
As you can see, there are many factors that contribute to fat loss and it may seem a bit overwhelming. But, fortunately, you can boil it all down to a few simple principles:
- Reduce your caloric intake
- Eat more protein
- Increase your activity level
- Weight train
All the rest is secondary. Follow the four steps above and you’ll not only lose fat, but improve your body composition and muscle-to-fat ratio. You’ll look and feel much better and healthier.
And remember, if you don't follow those steps - no amount of fat burners, cardio or extreme diets will shed that fat. If you take a radical approach, you’ll end up burning something that is valuable and hard to obtain - muscle. Not all weight loss is equal, and your only focus should be losing fat, even if the number on the scale sometimes stays the same.
It’s all about body composition, lean muscle mass, and long-term health. It's ok to chase that shredded physique or bikini body and speed up the fat loss for summer, but only if you retain your muscles and your health. Risking those is just plain silly, and unnecessary – remember, a year has 351 days outside that summer holiday.
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