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On Thursday we discussed The Secret to Building Mass, discussing the primary principles of how to build solid muscle mass in a straightforward, no-nonsense matter. In today’s post, we’re going to go in the opposite direction, and talk about the principles for burning fat and/or losing weight. Again, this is a no-nonsense, no-frills, science-based approach to how to burn fat while preserving as much muscle mass as you can (more on that in a bit.) Let’s take a look at the principles of weight loss and fat burning!
Eat Fewer Calories
When we talked about gaining mass on Thursday, the first thing we touched on was food intake. The same is true for losing weight. Body composition is about what you eat more than anything else! If you are not losing weight, it it because you are consuming too many calories, period. Composition and nutritional value of food matters, sure, but you don’t need to eat “healthy food” to lose weight (it just makes life waaaay easier and more pleasant for you if you do.) Plenty of people have demonstrated this by going on “Twinkie diets” or “McDonald’s diets” to prove you can lose weight just by making sure your calorie intake is lower than your calorie expenditure.
Bottom line: You need to eat fewer calories in order to force your body to rely on its fat stores for energy. Calories in>calories out. Anyone who’s telling you otherwise is just selling you something.
Eat Better Food
Now, like I said, you don’t have to eat healthy foods to lose weight, but it sure does make you feel a lot better while you’re doing it. Notice, above, I said eat fewer calories, not eat less food. Frequently a problem people have when they’re trying to burn fat away is they have a hard time feeling “full.” The fact is, you can fill your belly with lettuce, cucumbers, and broccoli literally every time you feel hungry, and you’ll never enter a caloric surplus. That’s the benefit of adding low calorie, nutrient-dense food to your life when you’re trying to lose weight. You can eat more of it, without pumping up your calorie count. A belly full of pizza’s probably going to break you calorie target, a belly full of vegetables (as long as they’re not covered in sauce/dressing) is not.
Similarly, resorting to lean protein sources (fish, chicken, some cuts of beef/pork, soy,) is going to help you feel full, and keeping your protein intake high has the added benefit of helping to preserve muscle mass while you’re burning your fat away. Finally, high fiber foods like beans and legumes can assist as well, and if you drink plenty of water with them, they’ll clean your system out way better than any “juice cleanse” that one friend on Instagram is always trying to get you to buy into.
Repeat after me, folks: Leans, greens, and beans!
So, obviously any kind of exercise burns calories, which helps you burn fat on its own. However, strength training has the added benefit of helping to preserve muscle mass, and build new mass as well. Yes, even on a caloric deficit you can still build some mass, assuming you keep your protein intake high. This is great, because overall muscle mass is one of the main things that boosts your natural metabolism. Muscles require a lot of calories to keep running, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body needs every day just to exist. More calories required means it’s easier to enter a caloric deficit.
Just remember, you can’t outrun your fork! Never justify over-eating by saying you’ll just work it off in the gym! It doesn’t work like that, and you’ll be setting yourself up for failure!
Cardio. Every day.
This might sound a little crazy to you, but the fact is, nothing actually burns fat better than regular, steady-state cardio. This doesn’t have to be crazy, though. For most people, if you walk an extra thirty minutes every day at a decent pace without increasing your food intake to compensate, you’ll lose weight naturally without doing anything else! As long as you’re moving at a pace to keep your heart rate even slightly elevated, your body will resort to burning fat within twenty minutes. Half an hour is a magic number. If walking is getting too easy for you, jogging is fine, too, but the key is to keep the cardio easy and painless, so you’ll want to do it.
Be consistent, and persistent.
We discussed both of these in the “mass gain” article, but we’re lumping them together, here. Just as with gaining weight, one day of a massive caloric deficit isn’t going to do anything for you in terms of real fat burn. If you want to lose weight, you need to have many, many days of small-to-moderate caloric deficit. The key here is that you want your lifestyle changes to be manageable, and relatively painless, so you can stick to them without hating life. For more on that, check out Losing Weight is Not a Side Quest.
Persistence is key here, too. You’re in this for the long haul. If you screw up and overeat one day, don’t punish yourself and get negative – that’s self defeating. Instead, take a deep breath, tell yourself tomorrow is another day, and get right back on the bus. The person who falls off the bus twenty times and gets back on twenty-one times will always succeed. The person who falls off once and never gets back on, won’t. Accept that this is going to be a long journey, make peace with the fact that there are going to be days when you slip up, and then forgive yourself for them.
Some people even schedule in “cheat days” a couple times a month when they get to go hog-wild on their favorite foods. It’s not a bad idea, if you’re the kind of person that can get right back on track the next day!
And really, that’s it! As with mass gain, burning fat is simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. If anything, most people have a much harder time losing weight than they do putting on mass. Don’t get down on yourself if you mess up sometimes, everyone does! It’s okay! Just be persistent! Let’s review the principles of burning fat one more time:
- Eat fewer calories.
- Eat better food.
- Strength training.
- Cardio. Every day.
- Be consistent and persistent!
I hope one of these two articles (or even both of them) helped you out. They are, by far, the most common questions I’m asked on a regular basis. I’ll see you again on Thursday with a post about my experience pacing an ultrarunner! (Patrons can read that post right now!) Until then, remember to live boldly, change the world, and continue to be awesome!