Wondering why your weight loss has plateaued? If you've been hitting the gym hard and sticking to your diet, but the scale still isn't budging, you're likely feeling fed up and defeated. Before you throw in the towel, take a moment to reassess your process. If your efforts to get lean have been met with nothing but frustration and disappointment, there's a chance you could be self-sabotaging without even knowing it.
Don't give up just yet! Remedy the situation, and find out where you might have misstepped, with a little help from two of NLA's super-fit athletes, IFBB figure pro Jessie Hilgenberg and fitness model Lais DeLeon. Together, they'll share their experience and help you steer clear of some of the most common mistakes they see people make on their weight-loss journey.
1. Going Crazy With Cardio
There's no question that getting sufficient cardio is key to looking great and burning fat, but it's important to be mindful of how you perform cardio in terms of type and duration. Grinding on the treadmill for 30 minutes is going to have limited effectiveness in the long term. Yes, it burns calories during the session, but the aftereffect is quite minimal, and it can get stale fast.
"It's important to mix it up in the gym and make sure you have a well-rounded fitness regimen," says Hilgenberg, who often sees women doing too much steady-state cardio, spending hours on the StepMill to no avail. "Being a cardio-machine bunny can jeopardize your muscle gains and burn you out."
Instead, Hilgenberg recommends a healthy mix of 1-3 steady-state sessions per week alongside two high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions. Not only is HIIT more efficient, allowing you to get in a heart-racing, sweat-pouring training session in a mere 15 minutes, but it also burns more calories post-workout and lessens the chance of tapping into your hard-earned muscle along with fat.
Just make sure to wind down after your intense cardio sessions by walking and stretching. Hilgenberg suggests you attend a yoga class to help your muscles relax and your body unwind. Remember, recovery is a two-way street. "Taking care of your body will allow it to work hard for you which, in turn, will help keep you motivated," she says.
2. Not Building A Muscle Base
A focus on weight loss rather than muscle gain could also be the reason your progress has stalled. "The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest," Hilgenberg says.
But this doesn't mean you have to skip cardio for weights. "If time constraints have you feeling stuck to choose between cardio and lifting, try combining them both!" Hilgenberg says. "An intense HIIT session that incorporates a lot of muscle power can burn fat and build muscle like you've never known before."
Two of Jessie's favorite exercises are pushing a weighted sled and sweating it out with the battle ropes. Looking to cut down on time even further? Take notes from this fitness pro. "Try adding your cardio between weight lifting sets," Hilgenberg says. "Jump squats, jumping rope, and plyometric training are prefect for that."
If you're going to try this technique, just make sure you swap your rest periods for bodyweight exercises that don't task the same muscle groups with which you're lifting. For example, throwing jump squats between sets of heavy squats may fatigue your legs too quickly, so try push-ups or something less lower-body intensive on days you train legs.
3. Failing To Dial In Your Macros
When it comes to your diet, you have to realize it's about more than just total calories—although that's definitely the place to start. Once you know your target daily calorie intake, break things down further into percentages—or even rough gram estimations—of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, with a special emphasis on protein.
"Make sure you're getting enough protein," Hilgenberg advises. "If you're not going to calculate it exactly, make sure that, at the very minimum, you're getting one gram per pound of lean body weight [daily]."
Protein is critical for muscle growth and repair, and it's especially important for preserving your hard-earned lean mass during a diet. "Getting enough protein will also help you feel full longer, making it easier to stick to your calorie targets," Hilgenberg adds.
If you don't know where to start, she recommends using an online calculator to help you as needed.
4. Fearing Fats
Protein's not the only macronutrient that can leave you feeling fuller longer. Incorporating the proper types of fat into your diet can play a role in keeping you satiated, as well. "Foods such as meat and dairy have saturated fat that you may only want to eat in moderation, but olive oil and avocados provide healthy unsaturated fats that you want to take in," Hilgenberg explains.
Jesse also recommends turning to a product such as NLA For Her Omegas if you aren't getting enough essential fatty acids (EFAs). "While you can get EFAs from some nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, supplementing with an omega-3 product can help you achieve the optimal amount," Hilgenberg says.
Adults should aim to consume about 2 grams of omega-3 EPA/DHA per day.
5. Eating Too Much Processed Food
In addition to your total calories and macronutrient breakdown, you should also pay attention to food quality. "Try and stay away from processed foods if you want optimal results," Hilgenberg says.
"Practice shopping just the perimeters of the grocery store instead of going up and down the aisles," she adds. "That's where you'll find the whole foods—think vegetables, meats, whole grains, and more—that your body will thank you for. Remember, filling your cart with healthier items means prepping yourself for quality gains!
Then, when you do have a cheat meal, make sure that it doesn't replace that day's healthy eats entirely. "If you eat food high in sugar or simple carbs, make sure to pair it with a food high in fiber," Hilgenberg says. "You'll do less damage that way."
6. Slathering Everything In Sauce
One of the biggest problems pro fitness model Lais DeLeon sees people making is neglecting to track the add-ons they use when preparing their meals. Long story short, condiments count!
"Dressings and sauces are full of hidden sugars and fats, so be sure to check them carefully," she says. "You may have the best of intentions eating that salad and chicken breast, but if you slather it in a heaping of heavy dressing, it changes the nutritional value of the meal entirely."
DeLeon recommends that you always ask for the sauces or dressing on the side and pick a lighter or sugar-free version whenever possible. "Try mustard, hot sauce, vinegar, or dry spices for added flavor without the calories," she says.
Cutting calories isn't always equivalent to cutting fat, especially if you cut too drastically from the very beginning. While you need to expend more calories than you consume in order to lose weight, if you go too far, dieting can work against you. You may begin to lose muscle, and your metabolism may eventually adapt to your new low levels of caloric intake.
"Not eating enough can cause the body to store or hold on to more fat," DeLeon explains. "Plus, the fatigue and bad mood associated with crash dieting will undoubtedly make it much harder to work out and stay positive about your goals and progress."
The take-home message here is that, when you do alter your caloric intake, do it incrementally and progressively. If you've hit a plateau and want to adjust your diet, start by trimming 100-150 calories a day from your calorie total, not 500. And give yourself at least 1-2 weeks at this new daily level for the changes to actualize.
8. Missing Key Micronutrients
If you don't cut smart, a reduced-calorie diet could leave you short on the vitamins and minerals your body needs. "Being in a caloric deficit may mean you aren't getting enough of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and amino acids needed to keep your body running at an optimal level," DeLeon says.
9. Relying On Sports Drinks
Finally, one last way that you might be sabotaging your progress is through an over-reliance on sports drinks, especially those with lots of sugar in them. Sure, you want that extra edge, but drinking down added sugar and empty calories isn't the best way to go.
"While some sports drinks provide great benefits during intense training and can improve your athletic performance, they are not necessarily intended for weight loss," DeLeon says. They're also not a substitute for whole foods, so don't think you can power through your day on liquids alone!