The Science Behind Losing Fat Effectively
Bulking season is over and it’s time to start the cut. Maybe beach season is just around the corner - or you are just looking to lose a couple pounds. When your goal is fat loss there is a ton of information available online, and finding what works can be difficult. Fortunately, the answer doesn’t have to be complicated. In this article, we’re going to talk about some no-nonsense actions you can take to start burning away those extra pounds.
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand what fat is.
What Is Fat?
Let’s get one thing straight - eating Fats does not necessarily make you “Fat”. In fact, you’re more likely to gain weight from the blood sugar and insulin spike caused by eating sweet treats.
There are three macronutrients we consume on a daily basis:
Fats are an essential part of a well balanced diet and is vital for maintaining a healthy body.
What Fat Actually Does:
- Is a concentrated source of energy
- Helps to protect your organs from damage
- Provides essential fatty acids which boosts brain function, skin health, hair growth, your immune system, heart health and your metabolism.
- Allows you to process fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K
- Works to balance hormones
- Increases protein synthesis
The Calorie (Myth) Crusher:
Simply put, a Calorie is a measurement of energy. Nothing more.
Each type of macronutrient you eat contains a specific amount of calories. Fats contain the most amount of calories per gram (9 kcal/gram) which provides your body with a large amount of energy to draw from. This higher calorie count is the reason many athletes swear by a high-fat diet for optimal energy.
Fats store energy, protect vital organs and insulate us - without an adequate amount of fat in our diet we would struggle as athletes.
The main reason we run into problems with gaining weight is because we don’t adequately use the energy from the foods we consume, or we eat foods that limit our body’s ability to metabolize that energy before it gets stored as “Fat”.
The reason we run into problems with losing weight is because we’re not giving our body what it needs in terms of nutrition and exercise to properly access that stored energy. Stored fat is not your body’s primary source of energy.
Now that we understand that fat is an essential component of a well balanced diet let's discuss how to optimize fat loss.
Low Intensity, High Duration Exercise
Recent years have seen a rise in Tabata style exercise - short bursts of high intensity exercise. This is a great way to add variation to your training regime, but when it comes to fat loss nothing beats low intensity, high duration bouts of exercise, aka endurance training.
High intensity exercise will stimulate weight loss and fat loss through an increase in muscle tissue and burned calories, however fat is not the primary fuel source.
How To Target Fat Energy:
In order to utilize fat as fuel we must enter a state of fat oxidation - oxidizing the lipids found within the fat we eat so that our body can metabolize (a.k.a. ‘Burn’) it.
The best way to burn fat through exercise is with low-intensity exercise. Short duration of really tough exercise will use glycogen as fuel (sourced from carbohydrates). Since fat loss is our goal we need to lower the difficulty of exercise and extend the time in order to use fat (long duration cardio).
Optimize Your Fat Loss:
- 30-45 min workout sessions.
- 2-3 sessions of low intensity endurance based training per week.
- Maintain target heart rate: 60-70% your max heart rate.
- Calculate your heart rate here.
Pro Tip: Use up your Glycogen stores quickly with some weight training before taking a run on the treadmill to maximize energy usage from fat stores.
Eat Clean Sources of Fat
There are multiple types of fats. Our primary concerns are:
- Unsaturated (Good)
- Saturated (In Moderation)
- Trans Fats (Bad)
The average diet contains high amounts of trans fats which have been shown to promote obesity and related illnesses. Our goal on any fat loss program is to limit our fat intake to sources found in unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats can be found in avocado, olive oil and many nuts/seeds. Studies show that when a diet contains higher amounts of unsaturated fat (up to 45% of calories) weight loss increases. This weight loss is because of greater fat oxidation.
What are Saturated fats?
In contrast, diets high in saturated fats have been shown to promote weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease.
Saturated fats are found mainly in animal protein sources. Many red and processed meats are great sources of protein and their respective amino acids, yet take care to consider healthy meat sources such as fish, chicken and turkey over red meat or processed meats.
It is important to remember that all nutrients in your diet are essential - including saturated fats.
What about Trans Fats?
Trans fats are created artificially through hydrogenation - an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.
You will find trans fats in baked goods, margarine, and snack foods. Trans fats are regarded as some of the most unhealthy fats you can consume - do your best to stay clear of these.
Amino acid supplementation has seen a huge rise in the fitness industry for a reason. Specific nutrients have been shown to produce great benefits to performance and overall body composition.
Among amino acids responsible for fat loss, L-Carnitine is king.
There is a significant amount of research to show that athletes who supplement L-Carnitine not only work harder, for longer, but also achieve greater states of fat oxidation - our ultimate goal in any fat loss program.
L-Carnitine works in two major ways:
1. Buffering Lactic Acid
If you've ever trained in difficult cardio you will know the effect of hitting the wall - lactic acid builds up and you lose the ability to produce force (you feel exhausted). L-Carnitine helps the body to buffer lactic acid, which can help you train longer without hitting your threshold in exercise.
2. Greater Fat Oxidation
Research shows that when L-Carnitine is supplemented and utilized during endurance based activities fat oxidation can increase by up to 11%.
This evidence suggests that fat loss can be optimized through adequate supplementation and training with L-Carnitine.
The tried and true method for fat loss is a caloric deficit. On a fundamental level, the only way to lose weight is to maintain a caloric deficit, just as weight gain occurs in a caloric surplus. In order to maintain a caloric deficit we must first calculate our energy demands.
The average athlete needs about 2500-3000 calories a day to maintain weight and build muscle over time. Fat loss is also a goal that should occur over time - rapid weight loss may sound appealing, but it could be more harmful than good for you.
Maintaining a caloric deficit of 10-15% will enable you to continue exercising without feeling tired and promote fat loss.
Increase the Frequency of Meals
Recently, we’ve seen a rise in high-fat diets that promote one or two large meals throughout the day. Although these diets are very effective for short-term weight loss, when it comes to optimal losses in long-term fat a higher frequency of smaller meals is most effective.
Eating a high frequency of meals, four to five daily, balanced in nutrition, with an emphasis on higher intakes of fat from unsaturated sources can promote the greatest effects in fat loss.
In addition, the specific macronutrient ratio of your meals have been shown to promote fat loss.
Entering a state of fat oxidation earlier in the day is also an effective tool in a complete fat loss program. The average american diet is typically comprised of large amounts of carbohydrates early in the day, which elevates insulin levels and promotes weight gain.
BONUS: The Meat and Nuts Breakfast
The diet’s claim to fame is in eating high amounts of nuts and lean meats as the first meal of the day. This diet has been shown to promote strength adaptations through restoration of amino acids and an increase in fat oxidation.
The most underrated method for fat loss. Sleep is essential to any strength program and is a strong factor in determining your success in fat loss.
A recent study compared the effects of getting 5.5 hours/night compared to 8.5 hours of sleep and their effects on strength and body composition. Participants who had 8.5 hours of sleep saw an increase in fat loss and weight loss, when compared to 5.5 hours per night.
Benefits of Sleep
- Promote weight loss and fat loss
- Regulation of testosterone.
- Increased energy for each workout
- Decreased recovery time
The science is in: more sleep = more fat loss and greater retention of muscle tissue.
Bringing it all Together
The human body thrives in a state of consistency and regulation. Eating a variable diet from week to week may work but will not lead to optimal fat loss. A well balanced diet rich in lean protein sources, unsaturated fats and high fibre carbohydrates is essential to your goals of losing fat.
Of course there are many tricks that can work, but consistency and balance is the key. In order to optimize your fat loss you should maintain a caloric deficit, train with low intensity - high duration exercise, supplement with L-Carnitine, increase the frequency of our meals and sleep more. Combining these principles together will enable you to train hard and improve body composition over time.
See you at beach season!