Most regular gym-goers are there for one thing and one thing only: to lose fat. While there's absolutely nothing wrong with that goal, many people aren't training for it in the most efficient ways and thus struggle to make real progress. What's usually to blame for these ineffective fat-loss plans is a whole bunch of misinformation.
Get the real fat-loss facts right here! These six Optimum athletes know just what it takes to uncover those muscles hiding out under your body fat. Here's what they have to say about some of those pervasive fat-loss myths.
FAT-LOSS FALSEHOOD: "If I train abs really hard every day, I will lose belly fat and get a six-pack."
REALITY: Everyone has a six-pack. It's a muscle called your rectus abdominus. The only reason it's not visible on everyone is because it's usually covered with a layer of body fat. You could do 1,000 crunches seven days per week, but that won't help you burn that layer of fat.
In order to lose fat, you must monitor your caloric intake and eat fewer calories than you expend. That way, your body will use stored fat for fuel. When your body burns fat for fuel, you don't get to pick which parts of your body the fat will come off. Eventually, your entire body will be leaner, including that coveted abdominal area!
FAT-LOSS FALSEHOOD: "You can turn all of your body fat into toned muscle by lifting weights."
REALITY: It is not possible to turn your body fat into muscle. Fat is fat and muscle is muscle—you can't magically turn one into the other by lifting weights or doing cardio. However, weight training is the easiest way to control the shape of your body. The more muscle you have, the more fat your body will burn.
Keep in mind, though, that you can have a lot of muscle and still have fat covering it up. That's why you need to do weight training, cardio, and have a clean, nutritious diet to maximize your weight loss and body-shaping potential.
FAT-LOSS FALSEHOOD: "When trying to lose weight you need to drop your carbs and fats, but keep your protein intake high."
REALITY: Fats and carbs both play a role in fat loss. Fats are responsible for hormone production, joint lubrication, and many other important health and muscle-building factors. Dropping your fats too low could compromise your health and your goals. Everyone's body and metabolism is different, so it's crucial to know how many grams of healthy fat you need to eat for a balanced nutrition regimen.
Carbs are always perceived as the enemy, but they too have a significant role in fat loss. The body needs glucose to work, and to a certain level, your brain requires it to think and function optimally. Some will argue that technically we don't need carbs, but many of your body's basic functions will decrease in performance without the right amount of carbs at the right times.
As for protein, a high-protein diet could benefit people in a caloric deficit.
FAT-LOSS FALSEHOOD: "Eating fat makes you fat."
REALITY: Fat doesn’t make you fat—consuming too many calories does. Foods that contain fat are part of a healthy diet, help maintain your lean body mass, and assist with metabolic function. Healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, can be found in extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, almonds, avocados, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, flaxseeds, and more. If you want to lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories and/or burn more calories.
FAT-LOSS FALSEHOOD: "Cardio is all I need for fat loss."
REALITY: Every gym has the guy or gal who does an hour and half of cardio but never seems to make physique changes. They're living proof that if you don’t change things up, steady-state cardio will become less and less effective at reducing your body fat.
Most people will be able to quickly lose a few pounds when they start a cardiovascular program. Usually, this "program" is a long, drawn out battle with the treadmill or my most-hated machine, the elliptical. The initial drop in body fat is due to the new stimuli, but that trend quickly begins to taper off until eventually the individual is able to go longer and longer distances without any change in body composition. As you get "better" at doing cardio, your body makes specific adaptations to the stress being placed on it in order to become more efficient. Your body will increase your ability to transport and use oxygen, create more capillaries to deliver blood and oxygen to the needed muscles, and will strengthen the bones and muscles being used.
Simply put, as you get better at the activity, you stop expending the same amount of calories. Eventually, you'll reach a point where you simply stop burning fat. This is a necessary adaptation from our ancestors who had to travel long distances without the amenities that we have today. (Of course, they weren't eating any donuts or Big Macs.)
Once your body adapts to the stress you put on it, it's time to change the stress. Personally, I'd only run for a long distance if I were being chased by a hungry lion, so it's unlikely you'd catch me on the treadmill. I prefer to do weight training circuits combined with calisthenics, sprints, and jumps to keep things interesting. You can mix things however you wish, as long as you find it challenging.
Little to no rest between exercises
Rest 3-5 minutes between circuits
Repeat circuit 3 times
20 box jumps
30 air squats
Bear crawl: length of gym
Crab walk: length of the gym
Rope drills (waves, slams, etc.): 4 sets of 30 seconds
Agility ladder drills: 4 sets
This should be about a 20-minute cardio session that yields 10 times the results than an hour of boredom on the treadmill.
FAT-LOSS FALSEHOOD: "Eating small meals frequently speeds up your metabolism so you can burn more fat."
REALITY: Bro-scientists will insist that eating small portions every 2-3 hours will increase your metabolism. They base this on the thermic effect of food (TEF), which refers to the energy (calorie) cost of your body processing the food you consume. On average, 15 percent of the calories you consume are burned by processing them (although the rate varies by macronutrient). Someone took this idea and assumed that the more frequently people consume their meals, the more frequent TEF will take effect and thus increase fat oxidation.
This seems like a good thought at first. But numerous research studies have proven this to be false and simple math reinforces what these studies already show. Here's an example:
Let's look at two people consuming 1800 calories. The 0.15 represents the thermic effect of food.
Person 1 consumes 6 meals of 300 calories: 300 x 0.15 + 300 x 0.15 + 300 x 0.15 + 300 x 0.15 + 300 x 0.15 + 300 x 0.15 = 270 calories burned.Person 2 consumes 3 meals of 600 calories: 600 x 0.15 + 600 x 0.15 + 600 x 0.15 = 270 calories burned.
As you can see, the amount of calories oxidized through digestion is the same no matter how frequently a person eats.
Eating more frequently holds no metabolic advantage over eating less frequently. Of course, if spreading your meals across six feeds per day is more comfortable and easier for you, then do it. The key is to choose a meal frequency that fits your lifestyle. That way, you'll be more likely to stick to your plan over time.