Fat loss made easy: proven strategies for effective and long term body fat reduction
3 Part Article Series:
- General Tips for fat loss for athletes: food choices and minor adjustments to maximise fat loss
- Flex; Maximising Performance whilst reducing body fat: eating in phases enhances anabolism and promotes fat loss, at the same time – learn how to achieve this and peak for competition
- Hardcore fat loss: rapid fat loss strategies for stubborn long term fatties or to get ahead during periods of injury
10 Tips for fat loss for athletes
In an earlier article on carbohydrates and diet we looked at keeping a diary as a base line measurement.
Adjustments are better made from a point of knowledge or awareness; examples of a diet diary are included later in this article.
1. Nip and tuck
Once you have quantified your daily intake, simply ‘nip and tuck’.
This is a basic approach which always works, it requires little skill just a small amount of will power.
It goes like this: if you are eating 4 slices of toast at breakfast – eat 3.
1 baked potato at lunch eat a ½ instead.
Sugar in your tea
Switch to no sugar or use a low calories sweetener
Tuck the fat
Look through your diet and cut down or reduce all sources of saturated fat; Use less butter or a benecol reduced fat spread.
Use less cheese, trim the rind on animal fat, eat less red meat, & more fish.
Beware though low fat products as these tend always to be higher in sugar: 99% fat free = 99% sugar.
When nipping and tucking keep you protein intake the same and in meal where there is no protein then add some in.
2. Train hard
Timing your training to maximise fat burning is easy, simply train when your blood sugar and insulin levels are low.
These are lowest generally when you first wake up as this is the longest period the body goes without food during the 24 hour feeding cycle.
This will encourage more calories to be burnt from fat, and also promote favourable hormonal release if you train at the right intensity (above LT threshold for more than 10 minutes).
3. Use sports drinks instinctively
Routine and unmeasured intake of sports drinks can add a significant amount of high GI carbs to the diet.
If you want to stay lean and improve you body composition you should look at the amount of these drink you are consuming.
For training which is aimed at fat burning don’t consume these until after the session, stick to an electrolyte drink instead.
When training for maximum performance – you need these drinks, without them performance will suffer.
Generally I suggest using the sugary drinks after 45 minutes into a session to sustain effort and performance.
If absolute performance is not an issue and maximising the growth hormone and fat-burning effects of the session is, then leave these drinks until afterwards.
4. Fruit Intake
Fruits and vegetables are good for you, but fruits contain lots of sugar and many people take the 5 servings of fruit and vegetable a day to mean 5 pieces of fruit.
It’s portable and sweet tasting and convenient, but it may be hampering you ability to lose body fat if you are over doing it.
To maximise health benefits and enjoy fruits aim for 9 servings of fruit and vegetable each day, but try to keep to 3 fruits and 6 vegetables.
As far as I’m concerned fruit is an important part of a healthy diet, but perhaps not as important as vegetables, hence I always recommend vegetables and fruit as opposed to the other way around.
The GOV recommendations of 5 pieces a day should be 6 veggies and 1-3 fruit depending on activity levels and the time of year – it’s more common to eat more fruit in the summer and autumn for instance.
Remember that these recommendations are based on body composition management, so those without body fat problems can usually bend the rule a little but the underlying philosophies stay the same.
Fruit as it was traditionally eaten (autumn in this country) would have been gorged upon throughout the harvest supplying useful energy to work the fields but also building up body fat reserves for the difficult winters – it really was a feast famine cycle for most people.
Biochemically fructose, the most commonly occurring sugar in fruit is preferentially turned to body fat in the presence of normal carbohydrate metabolism – in English this means if blood sugar levels are normal i.e. you’ve just eaten much of that glucose and fructose will turn to body fat.
Bad idea then to eat fruit salad following spaghetti bolognaise! Much better is to eat fruit on it’s own or better still with protein containing foods nuts, seeds, yoghurt or cottage cheese, eat it earlier in the day or following exercise.
Fructose will replenish liver glycogen quickly so it’s very, very good for athlete or those doing multiple exercise sessions or any type of manual job.
5. Grains and glycemic load
Eat high GI carbohydrates, including grains only if you’ve exercised.
Eat low GI carbs and keep grains to a minimum the rest of the time.
Grains particularly wheat can make getting lean difficult due to additional detrimental effects associated with intolerances.
Wheat can lead to water retention and digestive bloating and sluggish digestion.
It’s not uncommon to eat a wheat based cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner – maybe some biscuits in between.
Keep wheat and other grain intake to time when you’ve trained or to fuel intensive training, look at you overall wheat burden.
6. Eat slowly
Ok, your eating is spot on, good and adequate protein, loads of vegetables and essential fats – frequency of feeding and hydration perfect.
But you eat too quickly and as a result you eat too much.
This is a surprisingly common issue, and can thwart an otherwise sound nutrition and training plan.
Even if you are eating all the right ratio of low GL macronutrients if you eat too much you’ll still get a rise in insulin and store the excess as fat.
To change this try to:
Put less food on your plate.
Chew food properly don’t put another forkful into until you’ve finished the first one.
Put your fork down between each mouthful; this is hard but begins the process of slowing down eating.
Try not to eat when doing something else like watching T.V; you’ll eat more and won’t be conscious of what you are eating.
Plan meals to be sociable; taking time to have family all present at the table in the evening and discussing the day is helpful for relationships and it’ll be good for your body composition too.
Stop eating once you are no longer hungry, and stop eating if you get more thirsty than hungry.
If you find this real difficult, then you can drip feed your calories before the meal whilst cooking through raw veggies leading into the meal and starting you meals with soup.
These strategies take the edge off hunger and result in fewer calories being consumed in the main meal.
Yes flex as often as possible.
Flexing your nutrition to fit your training is crucial to maintaining performance and staying lean.
In simple terms you eat according to what you are going to do in the next 3 hours or what you have just done.
Many athletes eat the same day in day out, and they recover the same for all sessions – this approach is flawed as some days they will over recover and some days they won’t eat enough to recover.
This is very true of the transition from pre-season to in season training when appetite remains but training volume drops off.
It’s also particularly true on rest days, where many athletes fail to keep to regular meals and can quite often under eat at these times.
Eat more following intensive training session and less following less intensive training sessions.
For guidelines on amount of macronutrient to eat please see the flex nutrition plan later in part II of this article.
8. Keep protein intake consistent, but not consistently high
Most athletes don’t eat enough protein regularly enough.
Protein will help to preserve your lean mass whilst cutting calories and it keeps you full so you are less likely to over eat. It is also the most thermogenic of all the macronutrients.
However many athletes eat too much protein all the time.
This does 2 things:
- It can provide additional and unnecessary calories from saturated fat.
- It means you need to keep eating a high amount to sustain muscle mass as the more you eat the higher the rate of protein breakdown enzymes.
Better to eat higher amounts of protein when you muscles need then most and then drip feed the protein through at other times.
So on days when you are training at high intensity and involved in breaking down lots of muscle tissue eat more.
On days when you train less or do not have the same recovery requirement eat a lower amount.
It’s also a good idea to go on a low protein phase from time to time to reset your catabolic enzyme level.
9. See if you are suffering from syndrome X
Metabolic syndrome or syndrome X is the name given to the collection of symptoms associated with insulin resistance and poor carbohydrate metabolism.
In simple terms, the fatter you are the more insulin resistance you cells will exhibit.
Higher levels of insulin resistance mean more insulin is secreted to get the glucose into your cell, but high insulin levels also pre-dispose our bodies to gain fat.
To make matters worse, insulin resistance tends to occur in stages, first the liver becomes resistant, then the muscle cells and finally when you are really, really fat, your fat cells start to become resistant.
If your body fat is higher than 15-16% for men and 25-26% for women you will be at the beginning stages of syndrome X.
As such you need to eat carefully to control blood sugar levels.
Symptoms of poor blood sugar regulation can include:
Irritable or shaky when hungry
Rapid mood swings
Stubborn body fat which does not seem to shift no matter how restrictive you are with your diet
Tiredness after meals containing even small amounts of grains or high GI carbs
Drowsy, tired or hungry during the day
10. See if you are deficient or require supplemental support
Now, large numbers of people in the western world who are deficient in various vitamin and minerals.
Athletes are less likely to be deficient because they should eat more food because of higher activity levels and better quality foods due to higher levels of nutritional understanding.
In practice this tends not to happen for 2 reasons:
- Many athletes eat like the general public, they may eat more but the quality of the food is poor.
- Many athletes under eat according to their activity levels – which compounds the problem.
For fat loss you need to consider the following areas of deficiency:
An imbalance in omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids will contribute to insulin resistance as well as a host of negative health implications.
If you cook with vegetable oil (olive oil is fine) and don’t eat oily fish or pumpkin, linseed, hemp or walnuts – there is a likelihood of deficiency.
Blood tests are available for those of you who want to have a more precise look at the levels of essential fats in their cells.
Other important nutrients for blood sugar regulation include chromium, zinc and magnesium to mention a few.
Low levels of these minerals will make it more difficult for the body to regulate sugar consumption and all refined foods are low in these minerals.
There have been many studies showing most athletes to be deficient in these minerals.
Athletes should actively increase foods linked to these minerals (see sheet) athletes who under eat or who have had poor eating habit for some time should consider supplementation with a good quality multi vitamin, or mineral complex. Many athletes report beneficial effects from taking a ZMA formula.
More specific formulas aimed at blood sugar regulation are available; ask your nutritionist or sports Doctor for more information.