There's no doubt about it: Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly will help you burn fat and build muscle, provided you stick to one goal over time and remain consistent. However, once you hit your primary goal, chances are you won't be satisfied. (If you give a mouse a cookie, right?) You may even set your sights on sculpting a more hardcore physique!
That's when you have to make some more advanced changes to your workout and nutrition regimen. This sounds well and good, but figuring out the right changes to make can often be confusing and overwhelming.
The good news is that you don't need to try every approach under the sun—and there are hundreds, if not more—on your quest to losing fat. The following seven tips are meant to help you get through those last 10-20 pounds to put the finishing touches on your hard body!
Try Carb Cycling
Reducing your carbohydrate intake will definitely help you burn some extra fat as fuel, especially at first. But long-term carb depletion can cause some people to feel lethargic and mentally fatigued. Unless you're really committed to living on extremely low carbs for a long while, a low-carb diet may not be the best thing for your body and mood.
Instead of going on a consistent low-carb plan, try carb cycling. You can do this in a few ways: One way is to rotate high-, medium-, and low-carb days throughout the week. On the days you perform ultra-intense workouts (like a leg workout), you'll eat more carbs. Rest days become low-carb days, and normal training days turn into medium-carb days.
Organizing your carb intake this way provides enough energy to crush those tough workout sessions while helping you burn fat for the rest of the week. It's an attempt to reduce carbs without hampering your performance.
You can also cycle your carbs throughout each day, or simply be strategic about timing them. If you like to work out at night, you can limit the amount of carbs you eat in the morning and afternoon, and then add carbs to your meals in the evening before and after you train. Placing your carbs around your workouts is the simplest way to time this important nutrient.
If you want to try carb cycling, remember that it may take awhile to see any results, and you may have low energy levels on low-carb days, so don't pair those with intense workouts.
Add Cardio Intervals
If the goal of your workouts is primarily fat loss, a great way to increase the amount of calories you burn as you train is to add cardio between your sets of resistance exercises. Insert bodyweight moves like burpees, mountain climbers, jumping rope, or high knees between sets of standard lifts.
Adding conditioning to your weight-training workouts will make them much more difficult. That's why it's important to decide what your goal is before you throw cardio into the rest periods. If you're training primarily for strength or growth, then wasting calories and energy on extra cardio isn't advisable.
If, on the other hand, you're training for fat loss, you can adjust the amount of weight and reps you use to include cardio between sets. It's important to make your weight-training sets a little less intense so you can utilize cardio without performing poor reps or increasing your risk of injury.
I prefer to do my cardio intervals on my upper-body days, but if you have a different split, make those intervals work for you! Stick to intervals of 30-60 seconds, and aim to work hard between every set. Rest? You can do that when the workout is done.
Supplement With Fats
The "cut fat to lose fat" advice isn't the most current—or the most accurate. Although some people do well on a lower-fat diet, there is a lot of evidence supporting the idea that utilizing the right dietary fats can indeed help decrease body fat.
The trick to eating fat is utilizing the right fats. Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is a specific type of fatty acid that may help reduce body fat and promote lean mass. One study published in The Journal of Nutrition noted that when overweight subjects supplemented with CLA for six months, both fat mass and overall body weight significantly decreased. When subjects continued supplementing for an additional 18 months, weight loss was maintained, suggesting that CLA may be beneficial in preventing weight regain, an all-too-common side effect of yo-yo dieting. 1
A high-quality omega-3 fatty acid, or fish oil, is also a great supplement choice. Omega-3 fats are great for improving cardiovascular and metabolic health, and can also help reduce body fat when combined with regular exercise.2,3
Armed with this knowledge, it's clear that you should use fats to your fat-loss advantage, not fear them in your diet!
Bump Up Your Protein
Cutting fat while you maintain muscle mass isn't easy. Put simply, if you want to burn fat, you're going to have to eat fewer calories. However, making sure you're cutting and keeping the right calories can help you maintain lean mass while losing weight.
Most of the time, people cutting calories for a competition or for the summer season do so by eating fewer grams of carbs and fats. The leaner you become and the fewer grams of carbs and fats you take in for energy, the more important protein becomes. Keeping your protein intake high—at least 1 gram per pound of body weight in a cutting phase—will help rebuild and preserve the muscle tissue you have, which is critical for sustaining a higher metabolic rate and looking great during competition.
If you don't provide enough protein to maintain your muscle mass, your body could potentially turn to skeletal amino acids for energy because it has no other source for fuel. Make sure your diet is rich in lean sources of protein like chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef, low-fat dairy, and seafood.
On top of that, adding a protein powder, as well as a branched-chain amino acid supplement, will help guarantee your muscles get everything you need so you can exercise hard, lose fat, and maintain your hard-earned muscle.
Although some people think removing dairy completely from a diet plan is a great way to spark fat loss, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity actually found the opposite to be true.4 Researchers noted that when dieting subjects consumed dairy as part of their overall diet plan, they showed greater overall rates of fat loss, especially from the abdominal region, as opposed to the nondairy group.
Choosing low-fat products like skim milk, cottage cheese, or Greek yogurt may actually help you get and stay leaner. These dairy options are great because they provide a big dose of protein without many additional grams of carbs or fats.
According to the researchers of the IJO study, it appears that protein isn't working alone. Calcium has also been linked to positive changes in body composition, and the combination of protein and calcium found in dairy products may help to amplify its fat-burning effect.
So have some Greek yogurt and berries to get on your way to better fat burning!
Add a Fat Burner
The truth is that a fat burner is not going to deliver results unless your training and diet are impeccable. Fat-burning supplements simply aren't magic pills. They can augment your nutrition and exercise and help give you a slightly stronger fat-burning edge, but they won't lift weights or choose clean foods for you. If you do those things, fat burners can help give you a boost.
When you're ready to add a little extra oomph to your hard work, look for a fat-burner that contains caffeine, green coffee bean extract, green tea extract, Hoodia gordonii, Garcinia cambogia extract, or acetyl-L carnitine. These ingredients generally help stimulate your energy, reduce your appetite, and increase the efficiency of how your body uses fatty acids for energy.
Whether you use a combination product or just one or two of these ingredients separately, they may help you better manage your fat-loss goal.
One Tip at a Time
Although it may seem like a good idea to throw all of these tips into your program at once, I suggest implementing just one at a time. Choose one you think you can use most effectively, and then continue with it for 2-3 weeks to see how it's working.
If you see positive effects, then keep going! After a month or so, implement another tip and follow the same process.
- Gaullier, J. M., Halse, J., Høye, K., Kristiansen, K., Fagertun, H., Vik, H., & Gudmundsen, O. (2005). Supplementation with conjugated linoleic acid for 24 months is well tolerated by and reduces body fat mass in healthy, overweight humans. The Journal of Nutrition, 135(4), 778-784.
- Hill, A. M., Buckley, J. D., Murphy, K. J., & Howe, P. R. (2007). Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(5), 1267-1274.
- Couet, C., Delarue, J., Ritz, P., Antoine, J. M., & Lamisse, F. (1997). Effect of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 21(8), 637-643.
- Zemel, M. B., Richards, J., Mathis, S., Milstead, A., Gebhardt, L., & Silva, E. (2005). Dairy augmentation of total and central fat loss in obese subjects. International Journal of Obesity, 29(4), 391-397.