Dec 7, 2018 | Exercise, Nutrition
This is the second and last part of my blog series on energy expenditure. In part 1, we looked into how the human body expends energy. The topics discussed in part 1 are critical for having a proper understanding of human energy balance. So if you haven’t yet, I highly suggest you read part 1 of the blog series first. (Click here to read part 1)
In this article, we will look into how you can determine your average daily energy expenditure and fat loss calories.
Your Daily Energy Expenditure
Now that you know how your body burns calories, it’s easy to see why online calorie calculators are not 100% accurate. A formula that takes a few general factors into account (e.g. weight, age, height etc.) cannot predict something as variable as your daily energy expenditure with 100% accuracy.
But even though calorie calculators are not 100% accurate, they do provide a good starting point. Instead of just maintaining a random number of calories, you at least get close to your “maintenance calories” (number of calories you burn per day) when using calorie calculators.
I would see using a calorie calculator as only step 1 in figuring out your maintenance calories. Based on how you progress with your calculated maintenance calories, you have to adjust your calorie intake.
I’ll take you through all the necessary steps of figuring out your maintenance calories one-by-one with myself as the test subject.
Step 1: Estimate Your Energy Expenditure
The Mifflin-St. Jeor equation is one of the most recent energy expenditure formulas. Because of this, it’s also considered one of the most accurate formulas. I’ve tried embedding a calorie calculator in this post, but it became a mess. So instead, please visit the link below to get an estimate of your maintenance calories based on the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation.
Visit this link to get a TDEE estimate
(Only look at the number of calories required to maintain weight, not the weight loss calories. I’ll cover those in a second.)
Let’s take me as an example. Once I’ve filled in the form, it says I need to consume around 2900 calories to maintain my weight. See the picture below.
Note: With 5 strength training sessions, several in-person PT sessions, and 1 recreational football game per week, my activity is high. For most people, the activity will be lower.
Step 2: Track BW Development For 2 Weeks
Now that we have an estimate of your maintenance calories, we could go straight into eating below this calorie level and probably expect some fat loss. But if you are specifically interested in figuring out your average daily energy expenditure, it usually can’t hurt to “test” your calculated maintenance calories for about 2 weeks and see whether you’ll truly maintain your body weight.
For me, this would mean maintaining ~2900 calories per day for about 2 weeks and tracking my body weight (BW) development. I suggest weighing yourself every morning right after you wake up and visited the bathroom. You take all your weigh-ins of the week and calculate a weekly average. Then compare your weekly average body weight of week 1 and week 2.
I did this once before at the start of 2018 and I gained about 0.4 lbs. in my weekly average. Check the screenshot from my body weight log below.
My calorie intake was within 2800-3000 calories on all the days. During your 2-week “test” period, I also suggest you do not deviate from your daily calorie target with more than 100 kcals up or down to get a good gauge of how your estimated maintenance calories affects your body weight.
Step 3: Adjust Calories Based on BW Change
If your average weekly BW has remained mostly the same (<0.3 lb. BW change), your calculated maintenance calories are close enough to your daily energy expenditure. If there is a significant change in BW between your two averages (>0.3 lb. BW change), you generally need to make calorie adjustments.
As a simple rule of thumb: Per 0.5 lb. change in BW, adjust your calories by 10%. This could be up or down. In my example, I gained about 0.4 lbs. in my weekly average BW measurement. For simplicity’s sake, we can round this up to a 0.5 lb. change. So I will need to lower my calories by 10% per day to maintain my body weight.
2900-2900*10% = 2610 = adjusted new maintenance calories
This is pretty accurate. From experience, once I eat around 2600-2700 calories, I maintain my body weight.
If you follow the exact same 3 steps described above, you will be able to get a good idea of how many calories you expend per day on average.
Setting Calories For Fat Loss
Once you know how many calories you expend on an average day. You need to eat below this calorie level to lose fat (a.k.a. be in a calorie deficit). But how large should your calorie deficit be?
One research review done to provide evidence-based nutrition recommendations for natural bodybuilders suggests that losing about 0.5-1% of total body weight per week is most effective for preserving muscle while losing fat at a good pace. An exception here is overweight or obese individuals. Weight loss rates up to 1.5-2% per week can be effective for these populations since they have more total fat to lose.
Losing 0.5-1% of total BW in a week can generally be achieved by maintaining a daily calorie deficit of 20-25%. For obese populations that have more fat to lose research shows that a more aggressive calorie deficit (up to even a 40% daily calorie deficit) is also effective for muscle preservation and fat loss.
Calculating Fat Loss Calories Example
Now that you know how many calories you burn per day on average and have a good idea of your desired calorie deficit, we can calculate your fat loss calories.
Let’s continue with me as the example again. I maintain my body weight at 2600 calories. To lose fat effectively, I need a 20-25% calorie deficit. This comes down to the following:
2600*0.75 = 1950 = 25% calorie deficit
2600*0.8 = 2080 = 20% calorie deficit
Effective daily calorie range: 1900-2100
Summary + Fat Loss Checklist
To sum up, if you want to figure out your average daily energy expenditure, you need to go through these 3 steps:
- Estimate your maintenance calories with the use of a calorie calculator
- Eat at your estimated maintenance calories for 2 weeks while tracking your BW
- Adjust your maintenance calories based on your BW development
Once you’ve done this, you have a good idea of how many calories you burn on an average day and you can set your calorie deficit for fat loss.
Your calorie intake is the most important variable when it comes to fat loss. So once you’ve got this right, you are well on your way to lose fat. But, of course, effective fat loss is more than just tracking calories. To provide you with a complete overview of the key points you need to consider in your fat loss phase, I’ve designed a free 4-step fat loss checklist. Fill in your email below and I’ll send to you!
Nov 30, 2018 | Exercise, Nutrition
When it comes to nutrition for improving your body composition, energy balance is the most important factor. Energy balance describes the relationship between calories in (a.k.a. energy intake) and calories out (a.k.a. energy expenditure).
If you consume fewer calories than you expend in a day, you are in a calorie deficit and your body will use mostly stored body fat for energy. If you consume more calories than you expend in a day, you are in a calorie surplus and your body will store fat.
Now, to figure out how many calories you need to eat in a day to lose fat, you first need to know how many calories you expend on an average day. Or in other words, we need a good estimate of your total daily energy expenditure.
Generally, online calorie calculators can provide a decent estimate of your total daily energy expenditure. But, as you can imagine, a generic formula can’t be 100% accurate. The human metabolism is too complex for this to be true.
In this article, we are going to look into how the human body expends energy so you can gain a deeper understanding of how your “metabolism” works and why just using a simple formula is not enough to accurately determine your maintenance calories. In part 2 of this series, we will delve deeper into how you can accurately figure out your average daily energy expenditure.
The Components of Energy Expenditure
Your energy expenditure essentially is the total number of calories you burn in a day. Some think that if they consume 2000 calories per day, they have to “burn off” 2000 calories through exercise in order to maintain their weight. Luckily, this is not true. The human body also expends energy while at rest and even after you eat.
In nutritional and exercise sciences, total daily energy expenditure is divided into 4 primary components:
- Basal metabolic rate
- Thermic effect of food
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
- Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT)
In the next few paragraphs, we’ll look into each individual component and its role in human energy expenditure.
Basal Metabolic Rate
Basal metabolic rate essentially refers to the number of calories you burn while at rest. Even when you’re just sitting around or sleeping, vital bodily processes occur that require energy. Think about processes like blood circulation, cellular activity, the process of breathing, muscle recovery etc.
For moderately-active individuals, the basal metabolic rate is by far the most impactful component of energy expenditure. For the average person, around 60-70% of total daily energy expenditure tends to come from the basal metabolic rate.
Fun fact: about 20% of your basal metabolic rate comes from vital processes dedicated to muscle maintenance. So the amount of muscle you carry has an effect on how many calories you burn at rest. For every pound of muscle you gain, research shows you burn an additional 6-10 calories per day. Basically, getting jacked can help you burn a small number of extra calories per day.
Thermic Effect of Food
The food we eat contains energy. But converting food into chemical energy that’s readily usable by the body also requires, you guessed it, energy. The thermic effect of food refers to the number of calories you expend to digest and process the foods you’ve eaten.
For most people, the thermic effect of food makes up about 10% of daily energy expenditure. The thermic effect of food is a perfect example that shows that the number of calories you consume (calories in) directly affects your energy expenditure (calories out).
Now, the thermic effect of food is not the same with every single type of food you consume. In fact, each macronutrient has a different thermic effect.
As you can see in the picture above, protein has the highest thermic effect. This is part of the reason why high-protein diets tend to be effective for fat loss (read more about protein & fat loss here).
In contrast, there’s also research showing that highly processed foods tend to have a smaller thermic effect than whole-foods. The difference is only about 10 calories per 100 kcals consumed, but this can have a small effect on fat loss if someone consistently eats mostly processed foods.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
NEAT is the most variable component of daily energy expenditure. Your NEAT refers to the calories burned during spontaneous activity. Think about walking to the store, walking up the stairs or fidgeting at your desk.
Research shows NEAT varies substantially across individuals. The same study found that variances in NEAT can be as large as 2000 calories per day between individuals of similar body size.
NEAT is reflective of someone’s lifestyle. A person who has an active day job and constantly moves throughout the day will have high NEAT. A person with a desk job that moves very little throughout the day will have a low NEAT. Because of the wide variance, NEAT can account for 15% to up to 50% of someone’s daily energy expenditure.
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com
The large variances between individuals in NEAT help explain why some people seem to have a “faster” metabolism than others. Those who can eat a lot and not gain weight generally just have a higher energy expenditure through NEAT.
One study shows this quite well. The researchers overfed non-obese individuals with 1000 extra calories per day. Some compensated for the increased calorie intake by substantially increasing their spontaneous activity (NEAT), whereas others experienced only a slight increase in their NEAT and gained a ton of fat.
Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT)
This one is simple. EAT refers to the number of calories you burn during training. Like NEAT, EAT can vary widely across individuals. Those who train more often expend more energy from EAT than those who train infrequently.
Unless someone practices an extreme sport or performs no form of exercise at all, EAT is generally around 15-30% of someone’s daily energy expenditure.
Calculating Energy Expenditure
Now that you know how your body burns calories, it’s easy to see why calorie calculators are not 100% accurate. A formula that takes a few general factors into account (like weight, age, height etc.) cannot predict something that’s so variable like your daily energy expenditure with 100% accuracy.
Now, even though calorie calculators are not 100% accurate, they do provide a good starting point. Instead of just maintaining a random number of calories, you at least get close to your “maintenance level” (number of calories you burn per day) when using calorie calculators.
I would see using a calorie calculator as step 1 when it comes to figuring out your maintenance calories. Based on how you progress with your calculated maintenance level, you have to adjust your calorie intake.
In part 2 of this blog series (which is live now!), we will delve deeper into all the steps you need to take in order to accurately determine your average daily energy expenditure. If in the meantime you want to play around with a calorie calculator to see where it puts you, check this website. Again, this is a starting point. For now, don’t worry if it seems a bit off.
Make sure you sign up to my mailing list below so I can notify you once part 2 of this series is online!
Oct 30, 2018 | Exercise, Nutrition
Most of us want to achieve a lean and muscular physique. To do this, you obviously need to build muscle and lose fat. We’ve been told that it’s impossible to do both at the same time.
”You need to be in a calorie surplus to build muscle!”
Less is true. Building muscle in a calorie deficit is not impossible for most people. There’s also a good evidence base to support this.
But whether you can build muscle optimally while in a calorie deficit, well, that’s a different story.
What Happens In A Calorie Deficit?
When you’re in a calorie deficit, you’re consuming fewer calories than your body requires to fuel your daily activities. This puts you in a catabolic state, which means your body is breaking down internal reserves for energy. The primary energy reserve your body taps into when it’s in a calorie deficit is body fat.
After all, the body gains fat when you overeat so it can use the fat in times of food scarcity. But body fat is not the only thing your body breaks down when you’re in a calorie deficit. Research shows that muscle protein breakdown also significantly increases.
As you’ve probably read in my post about protein intake, the human body builds muscle by synthesizing new muscle proteins. This is referred to as ‘‘Muscle Protein Synthesis”. The body also breaks down muscle proteins: ‘‘Muscle Protein Breakdown”. If the number of muscle proteins your body synthesizes exceeds the number of muscle proteins your body breaks down, you’ve gained muscle.
So, if you increase the number of muscle proteins you build and decrease the number of muscle proteins you break down, you gain more muscle. Unfortunately, maintaining a calorie deficit does the exact the opposite. Research shows protein synthesis rates drop and protein breakdown rates increase when you’re consuming fewer calories than your body needs. So muscle growth essentially slows down when you are in a calorie deficit.
Calorie Deficit Slows Down Muscle Growth
But just because muscle growth slows down while in a deficit, doesn’t mean muscle growth is completely inhibited. With effective training and moderate calorie restriction, most novice to intermediate trainees can still gain some muscle. This is supported by several studies.
When it comes to overweight populations, they can even see good results if the diet is aggressive. In a 2016 study, overweight volunteers gained 2 lbs. of muscle and lost 10 lbs. of fat on average. They did this while maintaining a daily calorie deficit of 40% in a 4-week period. So if you’re not a seasoned lifter and have some body fat to lose, you likely will build muscle in a calorie deficit.
But let’s discuss the exceptions for a second. Because trying to build muscle and lose fat at the same time is not for everyone. Two factors seem to mostly influence how well (or not) you can gain muscle in a calorie deficit.
- Strength training experience
- Your body fat percentage
The leaner you are and/or the more experienced you are in strength training, the harder it becomes to gain muscle in a deficit.
Advanced and/or Lean Athletes
The closer you are to your “genetic limit” for muscle growth, the harder it is to gain muscle. So muscle growth naturally slows down as you advance in your training. As you can imagine, being in a calorie deficit will then only further slow down muscular adaptations. This is why a lean bulking phase is generally the way to go for experienced lifters that want to gain muscle.
With that said, this again doesn’t mean experienced lifters cannot build any muscle in a calorie deficit. It just means that if there is any gain in muscle size while dieting, it’s probably very slight. So slight that it may not be noticeable.
When it comes to lean athletes, by definition they have little body fat to lose. Because of the limited amount of stored energy available from fat tissue, you are likely going to break down more muscle proteins for energy. This makes you more susceptible to muscle loss and makes it unlikely that you can gain significant muscle while becoming even leaner.
Based on my experience coaching a wide spectrum of people, the trend I’ve noticed is that those who have 2+ years of effective strength training under their belt and/or are below 12% body fat (20% for females), have a hard time gaining significant muscle while losing fat.
But let’s not forget that most people out there are not very lean or advanced strength trainees. So the general population probably can lose fat and build muscle through effective training and nutrition.
How Most Can Build Muscle and Lose Fat
We now know that even though a calorie deficit is not optimal for muscle growth, most people still can gain muscle while in a deficit.
But in order to build muscle in a calorie deficit, you need to have a few key points in place. We’ll discuss these points below.
Muscle growth is an adaptive response. By constantly training your muscle beyond their present capacity, they’ll have to adapt. Your muscles adapt to overloading strength training by increasing muscle size and strength.
This helps explain why there’s research showing progressive muscle tension is an important mechanism for muscle growth. There are several ways you can progress in your training. The simplest way is increasing the amount of weight you lift or the number of repetitions you do with a certain weight over time.
When trying to build muscle, you’ll often hear that you need to maintain a small calorie deficit, so your body has more energy to work with. From a short-term, ”muscle-building” point of view, this is true. But to lose a significant amount of fat you would need to stay in a deficit for a fairly long time. This is not favorable for multiple reasons.
Research shows that the longer you stay in a calorie deficit, the more your metabolism slows down and the more susceptible you are to muscle loss.
But then again you have to be careful because an approach that’s too aggressive can decrease the amount of muscle gain or preserve. Based on these three studies, losing 0.5-1% of total body weight per week is a good range for most people looking to improve body composition. This generally can be achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit of roughly 20-25%.
Protein plays an important role in muscle preservation when you’re in a calorie deficit. There are plenty of studies supporting this. Next to decreasing muscle breakdown, research shows that a high protein intake also increases the amount of fat you lose (in the same calorie deficit). So a high-protein intake helps with both sides of the equation.
A 2017 systematic review indicates that a daily protein intake of at least 0.7g/lb. (1.6g/kg) of body weight is sufficient for maximizing muscle growth. If you want to err on the safe side of things and want more of the satiety benefits of a high-protein diet, feel free to consume more protein in a day.
As you’ve read in this article, building muscle and losing fat at the same time isn’t impossible. It just gets harder as you get closer to your genetic limit and decrease your body fat percentage. If you have any questions about this article or have a question about your personal fitness, don’t hesitate to comment below!
Lastly, I want to finish off by mentioning my eBook that goes into how you can maximize your muscular potential. This book translates the currently available scientific research regarding muscle growth into “Simple English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.
If you are interested in learning more about how to maximize muscle growth, check out my eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth.”
Oct 26, 2018 | Exercise
It’s well-documented in exercise sciences that doing a lot of cardio can interfere with muscle and strength adaptations. This is often referred to as the “interference effect.”
The first study that found an interference between cardio and strength training adaptations dates all the way back to the 1980’s. This study found that when the participants did only 5 days of strength training, they gained more strength than when they added 6 cardio sessions to their weekly routine. Since this landmark study, several studies have supported the finding that doing a lot of cardio can interfere with muscle and strength gain.
But, as you can imagine, the interference effect is not the same with every type of cardio you do. By programming your cardio intelligently, you can still incorporate cardiovascular training into your fitness plan without significantly affecting muscle and strength gain.
Since most people do some combination of cardio and strength training, in this article we will look into how you can minimize the interference effect of cardio on muscle and strength gains.
But first, I’d like to look into how exactly cardio interferes with strength training.
How Cardio Affects Strength Adaptations
Cardiovascular exercise refers to any type of exercise that keeps your heart rate elevated for a continuous length of time and provides mainly endurance adaptations. On the other hand, strength training is a form of exercise that involves your muscles working against resistance to promote improvements in muscular strength, size, and power.
If we compare the two forms of training, we see that they directly oppose each other and provide divergent adaptations.
The body can’t adapt optimally in two opposite directions. Simple example: You can’t be the best marathon runner and strength athlete at the same time. If you try to optimize both cardio and strength training adaptations, you’ll likely end up somewhere in the middle.
A study by the Pennsylvania State University portrays this quite nicely. When trained males only performed 4 strength training sessions in a week, they gained more muscle and strength than when they did 4 strength and 4 cardio sessions in a week. The opposite held true as well. When the trained males only focused on endurance training, endurance performance improved more than when they also had a lot of strength training.
So in line with the “Specificity” training principle, if you want to become better at something, you keep your training specific to that goal. If the goal is optimizing muscle/strength gain, do primarily strength training. If the goal is optimizing endurance, do primarily endurance training.
Next to the long-term divergent adaptations, doing cardio can also have a short-term negative effect on strength training by influencing recovery.
There is only a limited amount of training you can recover from. Doing a lot of cardio will affect the amount and quality of strength training you can handle. This is because cardio training generates fatigue just like strength training does.
If doing strenuous cardio reduces the amount of quality strength training you can handle, it makes sense that your potential to gain muscle and strength also decreases.
A 2009 study provides a good example. When the participants performed strenuous sprint training, their lower body strength performance was suppressed for the next 2-3 days. This likely was because sprinting is physically demanding and requires recovery, just like you need to recover from a leg day.
So to sum up, excessive cardio can interfere with strength training in 2 main ways:
But as I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this article, the interference effects we discussed above do not have to occur if you somewhat limit your cardio and program intelligently. In the next paragraph, we’ll look into how you can prevent cardio from interfering with muscle and strength gains.
- The aerobic adaptations “compete” with strength adaptations
- The fatigue from cardio inhibits you from maximizing strength training performance.
Minimize The Interference Effect
The studies that show an interference effect between cardio and strength training have a few things in common. The commonalities are primarily related to the type, duration, frequency, and timing of the cardio. These are the four factors we need to take into account.
I will go over each factor one by one and eventually we’ll reach a conclusion on how to structure your cardio to minimize the interference effect.
Cardio Type: Low-Impact > High-Impact
A 2012 meta-analysis investigated the effects of cardio on muscle and strength adaptations. One interesting finding in this study is that running for cardio resulted in an interference effect, but cycling did not. This likely is because running is high-impact and has a high eccentric component, which causes greater muscle damage and requires more time to fully recover from. Cycling, on the other hand, is low-impact and requires less recovery time.
If we think back to the ways cardio can interfere with strength training, you’ll remember that excessive fatigue was an important reason. To minimize the fatiguing effects of cardio (and, therefore, its interference with strength performance) it makes sense to opt for a low-impact cardio modality. A few examples are listed below.
- Row machine
Cardio Duration: Keep It Short
As you can see in the graph below, the longer your cardio, the more cardio tends to interfere with muscle and strength gain.
This graph comes from the previously mentioned 2012 meta-analysis on cardio and strength training. Limiting your cardio sessions to only 20-30 minutes will have a minimum interference effect.
But as you can imagine, if you only do 20-30 minutes of cardio, the number of calories you can burn is limited.
This is why it could be beneficial to perform high-intensity cardio (HIIT). Next to the fact that HIIT allows you to burn significant calories in a short time frame, HIIT cardio also stresses the same energy systems as traditional strength training. So theoretically, HIIT should interfere less with muscular adaptations compared to moderate-intensity cardio.
What we should keep in mind here though is that HIIT can be fatiguing. Performing HIIT almost every day will take a toll on your recovery, so it should be limited to only a few times per week.
Also, an exception to this rule is low-intensity cardio like walking. When you walk, the intensity is too low to produce significant aerobic adaptations. The fatigue you accumulate from walking is also minimal. So if you want to go for 30+ minute walks as your cardio, that’s fine and most likely won’t interfere with strength training.
Cardio Frequency: Limit Cardio To Max 3x Per Week
Most studies showing an interference effect involve the participants doing 4 or more cardio sessions in a week. If we look at research where participants perform cardio less frequently, we see a minimal interference effect. A good example is a 2009 study. When the researchers made the participants perform two 30-min cycling sessions in a week, no interference with muscle and strength gain was found.
This makes sense for two reasons. For one, just a few cardio sessions per week likely won’t fatigue you much for strength training. Also, if we think back to the specificity principle, for maximizing muscle and strength gain you should mostly train like a strength athlete. So at least making sure you’re not doing more cardio than strength training is key for minimizing the interference effect.
Considering the current evidence, a practical rule of thumb is to limit your cardio to a maximum of 3 sessions per week if you want to maximize muscular adaptations.
Cardio Timing: Separate Cardio & Strength Training
Doing cardio before strength training impairs strength performance by fatiguing you. Doing cardio after strength training tends to impair post-workout muscle protein synthesis (MPS). MPS is the process through which muscles recover and grow. So if your schedule allows for it, you could benefit from completely separating your cardio and strength training sessions.
A recent experimental study supports this by showing that muscle growth increases if cardio and strength training is performed on separate days. Having at least 6 hours of rest between your strength training and cardio sessions is a good rule of thumb.
With that said, I understand that most people don’t have the time to go the gym on separate occasions for their cardio and strength training. So we need to find a way in order to perform cardio and lift weights in the same session while minimizing the interference effect.
There’s good evidence indicating the interference effect is local. Lower body dominant cardio (e.g. running, cycling) only interferes with lower body muscle growth. So one potentially effective way to program your cardio is by having lower-body dominant cardio if it’s done after upper body training and upper body-dominant cardio after lower body training.
This way, you can likely minimize the interference effect while still doing cardio and lifting weights in the same session. When it comes to upper body dominant cardio, think about forms of cardio like rowing, battle ropes, the ergometer etc.
Conclusion: How To Structure Cardio
If we take all factors discussed above into account, we eventually reach a simple conclusion. You can be pretty sure that your cardio won’t interfere with muscle and strength gain if you can tick most of the boxes shown below:
A simple way I structure my own cardio when I am in a fat loss phase and want to increase energy expenditure is by using 2-3 HIIT cycling sessions per week, usually timed after my upper body training. This HIIT session only lasts around 15 min, so it’s time-efficient. A huge benefit I’ve found from HIIT cycling is that there’s very little “pounding” on the lower body and the recovery requirements are relatively low.
If you’d like to experiment with HIIT cycling yourself as your form of cardio, you can receive my free HIIT workout if you sign up to my weekly mailing list below.
- You use a low-impact form of cardio (e.g. cycling, swimming)
- Your cardio sessions do not exceed 30 min per session (unless it’s walking)
- You limit your cardio to no more than 3 sessions per week
- You separate your cardio and strength training by at least 6 hours (or do lower body cardio after upper body training and vice versa)
Sep 13, 2018 | Announcement, Exercise, Nutrition
As many of you know, I’ve been running a successful online coaching program for a while now. Today I want to share the progress of one of my clients, Scott from New York.
Scott is 35 years old and has a full-time job. Around mid-April, Scott decided that he wanted to lean down for the summer. So we ended the lean bulk phase he was pursuing at that time and decided to get into a fat loss phase.
The progress pictures you see here in this post (including the thumbnail) are the result of a 15-week fat loss phase in which Scott lost 14 lbs while at least maintaining his strength on all of his lifts. The before pictures are from April 15th, 2018. The after pictures are from the 21st of July in 2018.
Below I’ll briefly go over the training and nutrition approach I’ve designed for Scott to achieve these results. After this, Scott will chime in on his fat loss journey by answering a few questions I’ve asked him to answer for you guys.
Scott performed a 4x per week Upper/Lower split with only two 30-min walks per week (so minimal cardio). Scott’s main goal is physique development. Essentially, being lean and muscular. In order to lean down and at least maintain muscle, resistance training needed to be prioritized.
Now, there’s not much wrong with doing more cardiovascular exercise, but it’s generally not that important for fat loss or muscle growth if you have your resistance training and nutrition dialed in.
The Upper/Lower split Scott uses contains primarily heavy compound lifts to promote progressive overload.
To lose fat, you need a caloric deficit. An easy way to ensure you are in a caloric deficit is by controlling your calories through calorie counting. Scott already was familiar with how to count calories and actually likes having more control over his nutrition. So calorie counting suits him quite well.
Scott had a lot of flexibility with his nutrition. I did not give him a strict meal plan, but a set of simple nutrition guidelines he needed to adhere to. The guidelines regarded his:
- Caloric intake (~25% calorie deficit)
- Macronutrient distribution (a minimum protein target + balanced carb/fat intake)
- Micronutrient density of the diet (minimum servings of fruits/veggies per 1000 kcals consumed + food variety)
As long as Scott stayed within his nutrition guidelines, he would tick all the nutrition boxes necessary to lose fat and perform well. This allowed Scott to be flexible with his nutrition and integrate it with his lifestyle. But he’ll tell you more about this. Below, you can read about Scott’s thoughts on how the fat loss phase went and his experience with my coaching service.
Q: What did you like most about the way we have set up your fat loss phase?
Answer from Scott: It was never static. If there was ever anything that posed a challenge or simply wasn’t enjoyable, we covered it during our consults and a minor adjustment here or there was all that was needed to correct the situation.
Q: What are the next steps in your fitness journey?
Answer from Scott: The beauty of this program is that it doesn’t feel like a “fitness journey” even though it is. My training and diet feel like a part of my daily routine that I’ve grown so used to that I don’t think of my lifestyle as inconvenient. I’m continuing to make progress and improve subconsciously.
Q: How does this online coaching service compare to others you have tried?
Answer from Scott: I’ve had two other online coaches and comparing those experiences to what Mounir offers is night and day. I’ve never seen any online trainers (or in-person trainers for that matter) offer the kind of 1-on-1 attention that Mounir offers 24/7. On top of that, the evidence-based and scientific approach that Mounir uses is truly a game changer to what’s historically been a confusing and unclear endeavor- fitness.
Q: Who would you recommend this online coaching service to?
Answer from Scott: I won’t give the cliché answer and say something like “anyone who is willing to put in the work!”..I think this service is best for someone who is willing to understand the science behind proper training and nutrition, and isn’t looking to be handed a workout or diet plan to blindly follow. You need to be willing to learn how to count calories, estimate food portions, and keep a daily tally of what you’re putting in your body. While it seems like a lot of work at first, it gets easier and becomes second nature.
Q: Can you give some final words of advice for those starting a fat loss phase now?
Answer from Scott: Patience. While these were my results over a 3.5 month period, I’ve been working out for much longer than that. It took some time, but once I stopped expecting results to magically show up one day, things started to fall into place. Patience is key, and before you know it the results will be here. Ok, now that sounded cliché 🙂
Final Words + Online Coaching Service
I want to thank Scott for allowing me to share his results and journey with you guys. I hope you got some motivation and helpful information out of this case study.
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Sep 5, 2018 | Exercise, Nutrition
Some people have clear fat loss goals whereas others want to focus on gaining mass. But there are also people that are stuck in the middle. If you feel like you currently carry too much body fat but at the same time still look skinny, let me introduce you to a concept known as being “skinny fat.”
Being skinny-fat refers to a physique that doesn’t look overweight, but lacks muscle mass and has fat stored in all the wrong places. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that you look “soft” while having a healthy body weight.
If you currently have this type of physique and would like to do something about it, this article is for you. In this article, I will give you a simple 3-step “skinny fat solution” that you can put into practice. But first, let’s look into what causes this skinny fat look.
Why You Are Skinny Fat
In essence, the skinny fat look is the result of a lack of muscular development and having a body fat percentage that’s slightly higher than desired. Having too much fat and not enough muscle is generally caused by the following two factors:
- You are (or were) eating too many calories
- You are not prioritizing resistance training
By eating too many calories, you are slowly accumulating fat, which makes you look “softer.” And because you are not resistance training, minimal muscle growth occurs so you remain to look skinny.
Also Possible: Dieting Too Aggressively
Another possibility is that in a fat loss phase someone is dieting down too quickly, prioritizing cardiovascular exercise as their form of training, and not eating enough protein.
We know that severe calorie restriction with a low protein intake results in muscle loss. There’s also research showing that cardiovascular training is not an effective form of training for muscle preservation.
So what potentially can happen is that you lose muscle in your efforts to lose fat. Combine this with the fact that you almost always leave some fat stored in the stubborn areas like your lower belly, hips etc, this can leave you looking skinny fat.
Your Simple Skinny Fat Solution
Now that we know what causes the skinny fat look, let’s look into the 3-step skinny fat solution. The 3 steps are actually quite simple:
- Maintain a caloric deficit and consume enough protein
- Prioritize resistance training
- Be patient and track your progress
Below I’ll discuss how to approach each step in more detail.
Step 1: Be In A Slight Deficit With Enough Protein
In most cases, having your focus on leaning down first when you are skinny fat is a good idea. What we are trying to accomplish is body recomposition (less fat, more muscle). If you are in a slight caloric deficit for fat loss, you can still gain muscle. But if you are in a caloric surplus (a.k.a. “bulking”) to prioritize muscle gain, by definition you cannot lose fat.
So the quickest way to break the cycle of being skinny fat is by focusing on losing the excess fat you have while consistently training with weights to stimulate muscle growth. You can always have lean bulk phases later on in your fitness journey to focus solely on optimizing muscle growth.
To lose fat, it should be clear by now that you need a caloric deficit. When you consume fewer calories than your body requires, your body mobilizes excess fat tissue for energy. But if you are a novice trainee who wants to also gain muscle while trying to lose fat, it’s important you don’t excessively restrict your caloric intake. Muscle growth is a high energy-demanding process. So moderate calorie restriction is desired.
Having a caloric deficit of 10-15% is what I’d recommend for most people. At this deficit, you can still lose fat at a good pace without overly restricting yourself. If you want to calculate your individual caloric targets, multiply your average maintenance level by 0.9-0.85. Use this calculator (click here) if you want an estimate of your average maintenance level.
To support muscle growth while in a caloric deficit, you obviously also need sufficient protein. Current evidence indicates that a good protein target for most people is around 1.6-2.2g/kg of total body weight.
Step 2: Prioritize Resistance Training
As we discussed earlier, a lack of muscular development is the main cause of the skinny fat look. So an essential part of the skinny fat solution is to start properly lifting weights.
There is good research showing that when novice-to-moderate lifters in a slight calorie deficit train with weights, they can gain muscle effectively. But this obviously requires some effort.
The way muscle grows is by continuously presenting more overload. If you impose greater demands on your muscles over time, they have to adapt (by gaining in size and strength) so that it can more efficiently handle the training stressors in the future. This refers to the principle of “Progressive Overload.”
So to gain muscle in a caloric deficit, you need to train in a way that promotes progressive overload. This requires at least three resistance training sessions with mostly major compound movements. For more detailed information on how to train for progressive overload, I’m referring you to my free “Novice Example Routine” (click here to download). This covers everything you need to know on how to start progressing as a novice trainee.
Now, as you saw earlier, doing tons of cardio is not desired when trying to get rid of the skinny fat look. You can still perform multiple cardio sessions in a week and gain good amounts of muscle, but it’s important to emphasize that your main form of training should be resistance exercise.
Step 3: Be Patient & Track Progress
This is arguably the most important factor. As natural trainees, we need to face the reality that muscle growth does not come quickly. So to prevent yourself from getting discouraged while working on your physique, consider that making noticeable progress takes time.
As a novice trainee, gaining 10-15 lbs. of muscle on your frame will help tremendously with getting rid of the skinny fat look. But depending on how consistently you train, this may take 5-10 months to achieve. So don’t expect change overnight. Like most things in life, you are going to have to put in the work first.
Now, to gauge whether you are on the right track throughout your fitness journey, I recommend you track your progress. After all, if you track your fitness progression, you can manage it.
I personally recommend three progress-tracking tools:
- Daily body weight measurements (so you can establish weekly averages, day-to-day fluctuations mean little)
- A training log
- Weekly progress pictures
These tools should be used in conjunction. Here are some examples of how tracking progress can help:
Scenario 1: If your weekly average body weight is not dropping and after a couple of months you don’t see any fat loss progress in your progress pictures, your caloric deficit is probably too small. Therefore, you may need to further lower caloric intake and/or increase energy expenditure for fat loss.
Scenario 2: If your strength is decreasing (you can analyze this in your training log) and your weekly average weight is dropping rapidly, you likely need to slow down the rate of weight loss by increasing caloric intake. This will likely help your training.
The point here is that tracking progress basically gives you control over your fitness journey. You can step in and change the approach whenever needed.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article on my skinny fat solution. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
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