The public is always fascinated when our favorite celebrities shrink. Whether it's an actor getting ripped for a new action role, an actress who dropped a couple of dress sizes, or, well, Oprah, there's never a shortage of star power when it comes to weight loss.
Often lost in the "if they can do it, you can too!" translation, however, are a few simple facts:
- Celebs have gobs of money.
- Their assistants coordinate their schedules.
- Nutritionists plan and cook their meals.
- Trainers travel the globe with them.
You may not be able to form your own fat-fighting team exactly like a celebrity, but that doesn't mean you can't have the next best thing: a group of pro fitness athletes in your corner who know what it takes to get cut.
We've gathered a wide-ranging group of experts who are more than happy to share everything you need to know to star in your own weight-loss success story!
Current Residence: Miami, Florida
Occupation: Founder of Farm Boy Fit, Inc.
Current Residence: Carroll County, Virginia; Baghdad, Iraq
Occupation: Diplomatic security, LEO; founder of Police Fitness
Current Residence: Madison, New Jersey
Occupation: Founder of Muscle Mates
Current Residence: Miami, Florida
Occupation: Personal trainer, NPC figure competitor
What's the most important first step to take to lose weight?
Fat loss starts with the decision to be 100 percent committed. I call this the "mind pump." People must psychologically prepare themselves to be self-motivated, take action, and stick to a game plan without distractions. This attitude will guarantee success and speed up the results in ways no trainer or nutritionist can. Nothing is more powerful than a changed mind.
The first step to fat loss is accountability. Most of my clients come to me with a plan and the desire to get lean for summer or drop some weight, but with little to no accountability. They find an awesome workout online, but within a few days or weeks, they're back to their old diets and skipping workouts. A good trainer or gym partner is essential.
I think developing good motives is vital. This means you need the right reasons to lean out. It's something you should do for you, not because you're comparing yourself to another or trying to be better than someone else.
The most important step you can take toward losing weight is simply believing you can. Once you believe, you have to accept that losing weight is a constant process that takes time.
What's the best way to gear a weight-training program toward getting lean?
Maintain an elevated heart rate by minimizing and monitoring your rest time between exercises. To do this, consider circuit training. Set up anywhere from 2-8 exercises to perform back to back with minimal rest, for 4-8 total rounds. Include primarily free-weight and bodyweight movements, because these require multiple muscles and joints working in tandem at the same time. As for reps, stay near the hypertrophy-training zone of 10-15 reps per set. That may sound light, but talk to me four rounds from now!
Remember that your goal is weight loss. Many guys go into the gym and are too concerned about looking macho. If your goal is getting lean, you should be too busy wiping up sweat to worry what your one-rep max is. When you cut your diet and modify your rep range, you shouldn't be surprised if your working weights go down a bit. You're training with a different goal in mind: losing fat, not so much building size and strength.
What are the most common training mistakes you see when people try to lose weight?
The number one mistake almost all people make when initially trying to lose body fat is trying to do too much too soon. This is a process that takes time! I often hear trainees say, "I just spent three hours in the gym." Remember, it's not about how many hours you can spend in the gym, it's about doing a little bit every day to work toward your goal. Remember, change starts at home with your nutrition, which is the most important aspect of all.
One common mistake is prioritizing cardio over weight training. Cardio helps you burn calories mainly at the moment of action, but not for too long after your workout. Weight training not only burns calories during your workout, but an intense session also burns calories long after the workout is completed. Second, understand that more—in terms of length—is not better. Shorter, more intense workouts create better results for burning fat.
They overlook the importance of simple things, like taking your dog for a run or a family bike ride. Especially for people just getting started, every calorie counts. Something as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work or a brisk 15-minute walk during your break can add up by the end of the week. These things matter!
Is there a best method of cardio for burning fat?
The best cardio for fat loss is HIIT, alternating intense periods of activity with slower, recovery ones for a given length of time, like 20 minutes. These are short interval bursts, such as a very fast pace on a treadmill, doing the battle ropes, or combining sprints with walks. It's more anaerobic in nature. For example, do a 30-second all-out sprint followed by 90 seconds at a recovery pace. The best way to track interval-style cardio is using a heart-rate monitor, so you can keep your heart rate elevated to a level higher than you'd achieve with steady-state cardio.
The "best" cardio is something you enjoy and will actually do! If you hate a type of exercise, don't be surprised when you start skipping it. My personal go-to is the jump rope. Too many people get stuck on sprints or walking long distances with the treadmill at max incline. Simply pick an exercise that allows you to measure time, distance, or reps, and rejoice when you continue to improve and push yourself. There are also a lot of routines that can be done in a bedroom, such as jumping jacks, air squats, or push-ups, meaning you have no excuses.
Until recently, the fitness community considered low-intensity cardio to be the most beneficial for fat loss because a greater percentage of fuel came from fat stores and triglycerides. But with HIIT, you can burn more total calories, and even more during recovery, because it takes your body longer to return to normal, so ultimately it burns far more total calories than low-intensity activity. Here's an example of what one of my routines look like:
Interval Treadmill Routine
|5 min||4||0 percent|
|3 min.||4||15 percent|
|2 min.||4||10 percent|
Intervals: 3 rounds, 30 sec. "rest" walking
Intervals: 5 rounds
|30 sec.||9 MPH||0 percent|
|5-10 min.||Cool-down||0 percent|
Scale the workout as necessary to your experience and fitness level.
When it comes to cardio, how often is best?
It all depends on what you're trying to achieve. Moderate-intensity cardio can be done most days of the weeks for 30 minutes, either before or after a weight workout. HIIT-based workouts should be kept to 2-3 times per week max.
I do some form of cardio daily. On days I'm lifting, I'm doing jump-rope double-unders between sets, or I'll do 100 jumping jacks while waiting for a piece of equipment. This way, I keep my heart rate up, and at the end of the workout, I'm drenched in sweat and have burned double the number of calories. If I have the additional time, I'll go back for some rowing or biking—something low-impact that elevates my heart rate.
Finish this sentence: The key to a successful nutrition strategy is...
Making sure you're eating enough of the right things at the right time. Never skip a meal or be poorly prepared by not having something healthy to eat on hand. Not being prepared leads to stopping at fast-food restaurants and overeating things we shouldn't be consuming in the first place. Tap into all the major food groups by the end of the day. Stay away from foods that have no nutritional purpose.
Eating 5-6 small meals a day rather than 2-3 huge ones. I believe most people make the mistake of not monitoring their intake carefully. If you're serious about weight loss, you should weigh your food and count your macros. Everyone is different, but if you know exactly what you're putting into your body, you can more accurately understand what will and will not work for you.
Having balance. I have a sweet tooth, so I plan my daily meals by eating my full nutrient-rich meals throughout the day, gauged around when I'm training to ensure I'm fueled, but I save some of my allotted macros to give myself a little dessert at night. My desserts tend to be protein-based, though. For example, I'll have something "clean" like protein pancakes, and then maybe an Oreo or two, depending on the macros I have remaining for the day.
Where do people go wrong when building a fat-loss meal plan?
They restrict themselves too much or crash diet to chase immediate results. I also see people start categorizing "good food versus bad food," which is when we overwhelm ourselves and get too strict. It's OK to have the foods you love each day in moderation. It's all about balance, and a little bit goes a long way.
Be realistic. Don't try to cut everything all at once. When starting out, you can see great success by changing little things, like cutting out sugary sodas. Everyone is different, but most of my clients who've tried to cut all sugar cold turkey normally fail. When I was starting, I'd cut sugar one week, and then reduce total carbs the next. Eventually my body adapted, and after a few months I stopped craving both.
Is there a macronutrient ratio "rule of thumb" you prefer?
A good starting place for counting macros is 40 percent protein, 30-40 percent carbs, and 20-30 percent fat. You'll see your body respond to different diets and ratios, so the key is finding which one works best for you and adapting it to your lifestyle. Personally, I've had to change my diet many times, and only recently found what works best. You can help yourself by keeping a daily log of your consumption and every so often taking progress pictures so that you can compare.
This is something that's goal-specific and different for everyone. Use trial and error to find the percentage that fuels your body efficiently, and then tweak it if you want to cut, maintain, or bulk up. The percentage for my body tends to be around 50 percent protein, 30 percent carbs, and 20 percent fats.
I've had success in raising carbs before and after my workouts. When I'm leaning out, I cut most of the fats and minimize my carbs except right before and after my workout. I've never measured food, counted calories, or written out a meal plan. I just eat healthy, stay away from sugars, work hard, and control my portions.
Is there room for fruit on a fat-loss diet?
Fruits are important to keep in your diet no matter what your goals are. Fruit—not just the juice—is perfect for the morning, as it will aid in hitting your micronutrient targets, it will energize you, and it's a great source of fiber. Stay away from the higher-sugar fruits when leaning out. Instead, opt for strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, and blackberries, all of which have lower amounts of sugar. When I'm cutting, I'll limit it to no more than a cup of fruit daily, and I'll try to eat it only in the earlier part of day.
When I'm leaning out, I cut down on carbs and limit fruit. I've found that my body reacts better to a low-carb diet. I have some clients who feel better when 40 percent of their daily caloric intake is from carbs. What little carbs I do eat are right before and after my workout. You should listen to your body. Try one thing, and if it's not working, switch tactics.
How do you fix lagging motivation?
I'd go back to step one: remind yourself why you're leaning out. We all have those days where we don't feel our best, but being able to come out of that only makes you stronger. Consistency and habit building are what give you success in the long run. This is when you need to reiterate the small goals you've set, so you can look back at the progress you've made.
When I have a client, friend, or workout partner who is fading, I invite them to a group workout to remind them that workouts are supposed to be fun. I add exercises that inspire a little healthy competition and can be learned and improved upon in a single session. These can be balance-based or skill-based and set the user up for an immediate, rewarding session. And I'll time sets instead of assigning a weight or rep range. I give clear direction on what I expect and how long they have to do it.
When my enthusiasm starts to fade, I seek more knowledge. I read and research, go to seminars or switch up my routine, my training environment, or goals in general. Remember, greatness takes time to achieve, and time is all we have!
What supplements do you take when trying to lose weight?
I rely on a pre-workout like RSP Nutrition's Fast Fuel. While I use RSP DyNO—which I find to be a little more powerful—for my heavy days, Fast Fuel has helped me push through fast-paced, cardio-based workouts. It doesn't upset my stomach during training, and is no problem with sprints, legs, or abs. In addition, most people forget about the other "small" things like fish oil, glutamine, and a good multivitamin.
My daily fat-loss supplements include CLA, L-carnitine, raspberry ketones, and Garcinia cambogia. QuadraLean by RSP Nutrition incorporates all these ingredients to help support the fat-loss process. I think taking a few other supplements that help with recovery and muscle growth are also necessary helpful on a cut. These include protein, creatine monohydrate, glutamine, a multivitamin, branched chain amino acids (like RSP ReGen), a zinc product like RSP Z-Elite, Vitamin D, and dandelion root.