You want to get rid of that last layer of fat covering your abs. You want to bring out cuts and look like you’re ready for the beach. You don’t want to lose the muscle you’ve worked so hard for in the process of shedding fat. You lower your calories slightly, adjust your carbohydrate intake, and consume more protein, but nothing seems to help you break through this plateau. It is at this point that many people throw in the towel and abandon their fat loss efforts. As you will soon see, however, there is no reason to give up. A few simple adjustments and additions to your fat loss program can help you get back on track and lose those stubborn pounds.
After several months of strict dieting, you can be sure that your metabolism has drastically slowed down and now your body is in a serious state of starvation mode where it tries to hang on to as much fat as possible.
The Most Effective Supplements
Supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise, and they won’t miraculously cause fat to disappear overnight. There are, nonetheless, several supplements that can give you a real boost in the fat loss department. Unfortunately, marketing hype along with the sheer number of different supplement ingredients available today can make the choice of an effective supplementation protocol very overwhelming. Below I will address some of the most effective fat loss products you can find.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
BCAA’s have become a popular supplement in recent years and for very good reason. BCAA’s are made up of the essential amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine and are usually sold in a 2:1:1 ratio. BCAA’s can be used as fuel for the production of energy or to construct new proteins. As they are essentially calorie-free gram for gram, BCAA’s make a perfect pre-cardio supplement that can help prevent the breakdown of muscle during aerobic activity. Studies have been conducted that show supplemental BCAA’s can spare muscle during intense endurance exercise such as that involved in long duration cardio. This does not mean you should indulge in excessively long cardio sessions in your attempts to burn fat, but it does indicate that by using BCAA’s you can potentially spare precious muscle tissue from being used as energy.
If you want to use BCAA’s to prevent muscle breakdown from cardio, the best method is to use a powdered supplement such as Scivation Xtend or Controlled Lab’s Purple Wraath, which contains BCAA’s, EAA’s, Beta Alanine, Citrulline Mallate, and several other ingredients that enhance performance. We will look at these other ingredients in greater detail below. An optimal dosing strategy would be to use one serving pre-workout and one serving during and post-workout. You can mix up a large bottle or container with water and the desired amount of the product. Consume half of the container before your cardio session and the other half during and immediately after for best results.
Glutamine is another supplement that can be used to spare muscle from the potentially catbolic effects of cardiovascular exercise. Some people question the use of glutamine in supplement form because it can be obtained from whey protein, a supplement that almost everyone who is trying to build and preserve muscle uses. However, whey protein should not be consumed before, during, or immediately after cardio due to the high amount of calories that would be ingested. Free-form Glutamine, on the other hand, does not contain calories and will help prevent muscle breakdown as well as enhance recovery and decrease cortisol levels. Glutamine also enhances immune function which can be greatly affected by intense exercise. The aforementioned BCAA product, Scivation Xtend, also includes Glutamine in addition to Citrilline Mallate, which will be discussed next.
Citrulline malate is most commonly used to improve anaerobic endurance such as that required in intense weight training sessions. One of the little known benefits of this compound is its ability to enhance aerobic endurance such as that required for successful high intensity cardio workouts. Citrulline malate can blunt muscular fatigue, increase aerobic performance, and support faster blood lactate recovery after exercise.
Acetyl L-carnitine assists in the fat burning process by increasing fat oxidation. It is the acetyl ester of L-carnitine and aids in the transport of long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria. This helps your body use more fat for energy when exercising. The recommended dosage is usually 500mg taken three times per day. One of these doses should be taken before performing cardio.
Whey Protein Isolate
Although you do not want to consume a protein shake before or during your cardio workout due to the caloric content. However, whey protein is a great supplement for use after performing cardio. I recommend consuming whey protein isolate (WPI) about 30 minutes following your cardio session. WPI is a fast absorbing protein that is low in both carbohydrates and fats and usually contains only about 100 calories per serving. By consuming a serving after your workout you will refuel your body and help prevent catabolism.
Caffeine is one of the most frequently used stimulants in the world, and it is consumed in a variety of forms, particularly coffee, tea, and energy drinks. Most people use it to give themselves a jolt of energy in the morning and throughout the day, but it’s role as a fat loss enhancer is not well known. When caffeine is marketed in fat loss products, it’s usually promoted as a key ingredient that will give you more energy to burn fat through cardio. However, caffeine itself is very thermogenic, and according to researchers, can increase metabolism by as much as 10%. So even as a standalone product, be it a strong cup of coffee or tea, or a capsule of caffeine anhydrous, this is one supplement that should not be overlooked when you’re trying to melt the fat.
Green Tea Extract (EGCG)
Take Green Tea Extract, specifically one that is extracted for 45-50% EGCG. Although the research is not conclusive, there are studies indicating that EGCG may increase basal metabolic rate by approximately 4%. It may not seem significant at first glance, but the addition of a green tea supplement that costs less than $10 may lead us to burn 90-100 extra calories per day – all without doing anything more than taking a 500mg capsule 2-3 times per day.
Coleus Forskohli, in particular the 10% extract commonly sold under the trade name Forslean, is perhaps one of the most underrated and relatively unknown supplements that has been shown to significantly aid fat loss by increasing thyroid hormone production. Studies have shown that in can even reduce body gat percentage by over 11% in just 12 weeks. This supplement is a great option for anyone who has hit a plateau in their fat loss efforts. Look for a product that supplies 250mg of the 10% extract in each capsule.
Although relatively new to the supplement market, raspberry ketones are quickly becoming one of the most popular fat burning supplements on the market today, thanks to promotion by celebrity doctors like Dr. Mehmet Oz. There is not a lot of scientific evidence to support the use of this supplement; however, it has received a lot of anecdotal feedback that indicates it may be a very potent tool in the dieter’s arsenal. And the FDA has classified raspberry ketones as safe under their “generally recognized as safe’ category. Although many products on the market contain capsules containing 100-125mg of raspberry ketones that are to be taken 2-3 times per day, many people have made great progress by taking 250-500mg three times per day. As this is regarded as a safe and non-toxic ingredient, it may be worth giving the higher doses a try.
Some people shy away, often rightfully so, from products containing the DHEA hormone. Despite its numerous benefits in terms of losing fat and building muscle, it can have some nasty side effects that many people prefer to avoid. A byproduct of DHEA, called 7-Keto DHEA (3-acetyl 7-keto dehydroepiandrosterone) is a supplement that can deliver some impressive fat burning enhancement without the androgenic side effects of DHEA. 7-Keto does not stimulate the central nervous system; rather, it works by stimulating the thyroid to enhance metabolism.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)
EFA’s are not just a supplement for weight loss, but rather a staple that ranks up there with multi vitamins and whey protein. Fish oil or flaxseed oil (if you’re a vegetarian) should be on everyone’s “must have” supplement list. In addition to numerous health benefits such as joint health, heart health, and neural health, EFA’s can enhance fat loss.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
CLA is a supplement that has waxed and waned in popularity over the last decade or so, with numerous debates emerging as to how effective it really is. The scientific evidence to date, however, has demonstrated that CLA is a very effective product. It is not, to the dismay of many who have tried it, an overnight miracle supplement. When used in therapeutic doses of 3.4 to 6mg, though, it has been shown to increase lean muscle mass while simultaneously leading to decreases in body fat mass. A fatty acid occurring naturally in dairy and meat products, CLA is a relatively inexpensive supplement that can enhance fat loss.
Cut More Calories?
Don’t cut calories more than is necessary for reaching your fat loss goals. This common (and frequently misused) dieting technique should be avoided at all costs. You must burn more calories than you take in for fat loss to occur, but if you cut calories too much you will end up burning more muscle than fat. Drop the minimum number of calories necessary for fat loss to occur. Calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR), factoring in activity levels, and begin by cutting 200-300 calories from your diet. At the same time, make sure you increase the amount of protein you consume to at least 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight.
Eat First Thing in the Morning
During the eight hours or more you spend sleeping each night, your body’s metabolism decreases by about ten percent. This is at least eight hours in which you are not eating. Many people wake up and skip breakfast all together or wait until they have completed their other morning rituals. Considering that your metabolism can drop by 40 percent after twelve hours of not eating, this is a recipe for fat loss failure. In order to combat this extreme drop in metabolism, you should eat as soon as you wake up without delay. The morning doesn’t have to start with a gigantic meal. If you are pressed for time then opt for a whey protein shake or meal replacement powder. An AM protein shake can deliver much needed amino acids and stabilize blood sugar levels, all beneficial to anyone who is seeking to lose fat.
Ear More to Increase Fat Loss
Eat more frequently. Each and every time you eat, your body reacts to the intake of food by increasing metabolism in order to use the food for energy. Those who eat “three square meals per day” will experience only three “metabolic surges” and thus will spend a large portion of the day with their metabolism operating at less than maximum capacity. When you divide your food consumption into six meals each day, you ensure that your body is constantly working to process food. If you are eating anything less than six meals each day, and not eating every 2-4 hours, then you’re body is not optimized for fat burning.
It is also important to avoid the convenient trap of planning meals that are equal in calories from day to day.
Every few days it is advisable to send your body a false alarm signaling that your days of strict dieting are over. You can do this by spiking calories as well as carbs every 3-4 days. The body will respond to the extra calories by turning up the metabolism.
Up the Protein
The body uses up more energy in protein processing than carbs or fats, and increasing protein can lead to an increase in the body’s metabolism. In addition, protein is the primary fuel for muscle recovery. The more muscle you build, the more metabolic your body becomes. Some studies indicate that individuals who consume whey protein shakes in between meals experience greater levels of satiety and thus eat less food. Cholecystokinin and glucagonlike peptide-I, two hormones found in whey that decrease hunger, are believed to be responsible for this appetite reduction effect.
By having high carb, low carb, and moderate carb days, you essentially keep your body from ever getting too adjusted to a diet, which leads to a slowing of the metabolism. Many nutritionists speak of this effect in terms of the body having to “guess” what you are going to do next. Although the human body probably doesn’t literally do much “guessing”, it does tend to keep your metabolism revved up when this macronutrient intake isn’t so predictable.
Similar to carb cycling, there is a very effective strategy of cycling overall calories on a daily basis. A mistake many people make when attempting to lose fat is to eat almost exactly the same amount of calories each day. This mistake can be even more pronounced for people who are trying to meticulously map out their diets. In planning each day’s meals, some people may end up eating almost exactly the same amount of calories each and every day. Not only are they often eating too few calories, but they are also eating almost the same number of calories, and this is a recipe for a metabolic slowdown. “Outsmarting” your body by not eating the same number of calories and carbohydrates can go a long way to preventing your metabolism from slowing down.
Call it Quits… Temporarily
Give up on dieting for 10-14 days. Cut down or eliminate cardio completely. Lower the volume and frequency on your weight training schedule. Are you kidding me?!
Although it seems counter intuitive at first glance, the idea of getting off a diet for a limited period of time can work wonders in terms of resetting the metabolism and putting the body back into a fat burning state. The body is extremely efficient at hanging on to as much fat as possible, and an extended period of dieting can lead your body to drastically slow down metabolism. When you hit an insurmountable fat loss plateau, one in which you cannot continue losing weight by cutting calories further or increasing cardio, then you can be sure that this is a surefire sign that you need to take a break from dieting and recharge your metabolism.
When this happens it is important that you increase your calories. If your maintenance level of calories is 3,000, then a week or two of eating this amount may lead your body to reset the metabolism. Some have even reported losing fat while increasing calories during this time.
But you’ll gain weight, right?! Possibly. But as some nutritionists and trainers have pointed out, it may be necessary at some point in a diet to risk gaining five pounds in order to lose ten. You can save yourself a lot of frustration and misery if you take 10-14 days to eat at maintenance and let your metabolism reset. Just imagine being able to lose weight again like you did when you first started a diet months ago. This is what breaking a diet in a systematic, controlled way can allow you to do.
Cardio: How Much, How Intense, How Often and When?
There has been a great deal of debate as to how much cardio should be performed, how intensely it should be performed, and what time of day is most conducive. My take on the debate is that your cardio regimen should be based on what is most convenient for you. Some experts believe that cardio performed first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is optimal. Many people, however, cannot or will not wake up early enough to exercises before going to work. If you already have to wake up at 5AM to get ready for work, then you may not take too kindly to the idea of waking up an hour earlier at 4AM just to get cardio in. The bottom line is this: if cardio in the evening works best for you, then by all means do it. Cardio in the PM is better than no cardio at all.
It’s perfectly fine to do cardio on the days you weight train but there is one body part that cardio has to be worked around: legs. If you train your leg with heavy weights you know how incredibly hard it is just to walk from the gym to your car after an intense leg workout. You also know how sore your legs will be the next day. Therefore, you should refrain from cardio immediately after your leg workout as well as the day after. Walking on a treadmill, running through the neighborhood, stair climbing, and just about every other cardio exercise is a bad idea when your legs are in the process of recovering. Give them some time to recuperate before your next cardio session.
It is a common belief that cardio should be performed first thing in the morning on an empty stomach if your purpose is to lose fat. As far as preserving muscle is concerned, this is not always the best strategy. As long as your diet is sound, cardio can be performed effectively any time of the day. While you should refrain from eating at least one hour prior to cardio, you do not need to begin your session in a completely fasted state such as of that when you awake in the morning. Doing any kind of intense exercise after 8 or more hours of not consuming food can potentially result in catabolism. It is good idea to consume fast acting protein, such as whey, or a sufficient amount of BCAA’s prior to cardio.
High intensity interval training (HIIT) has become very popular over the last decade, and a large number of exercise scientists believe that this is an excellent way to burn fat while sparing muscle tissue. One of the problems for many people who are not in sufficient physical shape is that HIIT requires a significant level of aerobic conditioning that many people do not possess. If you do not feel prepared for something as intense as HIIT, then start off with steady state cardio (ie walking, jogging) until you are able to maximize intensity.
If you are trying to lose fat and preserve (or even gain) muscle simultaneously then a cardio workout of high intensity and shorter duration is the best option. Long distance running will help you lose fat, but if you have ever seen the guys who run marathons, you will know that this is not the best type of cardio for your purposes. Cardio should last between 20-30 minutes per session and should be done between 3-5 days per week. This will help you expend more energy, thus burning more calories, yet will not put you at risk for having muscle eaten away provided your diet is solid. Avoid the temptation to succumb to the “more is better” attitude when it comes to cardio. Performing cardio for too long will only lead to diminishing returns in the long run.
High intensity cardio need not be sustained for the full duration of the workout which should not need to be extended beyond 15-20 minutes. High intensity periods should be punctuated with moderate intensity periods throughout the workout. You will want to spend a minute or two getting warmed up by working at a low intensity pace. Once you feel thoroughly warmed up you should increase the intensity of cardio to about 75% of your maximum heart rate for about 30 seconds before returning to a moderate pace for about one minute. For example, if you are using a treadmill you would sprint for those 30 seconds. If you are on a cycling machine you would cycle vigorously during that time. You can adapt the way you increase intensity for whatever cardio exercise you choose. Whichever you choose, you should work at high intensity levels for around 30 seconds before returning to a slower pace for about one minute.
Ultimately, cardio should not be shunned nor should it strike fear in the hearts of bodybuilders and others who seek to maintain muscle while losing fat. Cardio can certainly be done effectively and free of any adverse effects such as loss of lean muscle. When done properly, it is an absolutely invaluable tool for getting the body you want. Follow the guidelines in this article and you should never again have to live in fear of cardio
“But I Hate Cardio”
You have probably heard these words before. The people on who utter them, however, are dead wrong. Many people who have such a disdain for cardio are more than likely engaging in aerobic activities that are monotonous and uninteresting. A jog around the neighborhood or a thirty session on the gym’s treadmill can indeed be a frustratingly boring endeavor for many people. The good news is that cardio can be a lot of fun, and indeed something you look forward to. You can even multitask these days and accomplish such things as watching your favorite television program or talking on the phone.
– Embrace gaming technology. The Xbox and the WII are not just for kids any more. With the invention of motion technology such as the Kinect for Xbox and the balance board for WII have opened up a new realm in gaming, one in which you can use games to perform fun and engaging cardio activities. Games like Active II and NFL Training Camp allow you to compete against friends via an internet connection and gauge your progress through wireless heart rate sensors that send data to the gaming console.
– Talk on the phone. If you train at home on a treadmill, elliptical, or recumbent bike, this can be a good time to chat with friends and family while getting your cardio on. One of the real benefits to this, aside from being able to accomplish two things at once, is that time really flies. Before you know it you will have finished your workout and enjoyed a good conversation.
– Watch a movie, TV show, or news program.
Despite some remnants of conventional wisdom, the high rep/lower weight “tighten and tone” protocol is by no means optimal for losing fat. Muscle is muscle, and there is no such thing toned and non-toned muscle-you either work them or you don’t. Another element of this conventional wisdom is the idea that lifting heavy weights will cause you to pack on too much muscle. Unless you are genetically predisposed to gain muscle extremely easily, you have nothing to worry about hear. Adding a significant amount of muscle is the product of meticulous dieting, extended periods of heavy weight training, and the right hormonal balance.
The truth is that if you want to lose fat then you should be lifting heavy weights. The real benefit of this is not what you may have heard-that muscle burns more calories than fat-but that heavier weights result in a higher resting metabolic rate. This means that a heavier weight training program will lead your body to burn more calories 24-36 hours after a workout than using lighter weights. By some estimates, you may burn an additional 300 calories per day just by going heavy.
Cardio after a Leg Day
After an intense weight training session of working the legs (quads, glutes, hamstrings), it is advisable to take a couple of days off from cardio in order to allow optimal recovery of the leg muscles. If, for example, you were to train your legs on Friday, you would want to make sure you avoided cardio on Saturday, Sunday, and possibly Monday (if the legs are still sore). And although cardio sessions should be avoided during these 2-3 days of muscle recovery, this does not mean that you cannot throw in some calorie burning activities in order to keep the fat burning furnace stoked. If you have some light house or yard work that needs to be completed, this is a good time to do it. Even running a vacuum can burn calories!
A Few Additional Tips and Tricks
Drink cold water. There is still much debate about how much of a metabolic enhancing effect this has; however, we all need at least 6-8 glasses of water per day, so there is absolutely nothing lost with implementing this strategy. The logic with using cold water is that the body has to exert energy to heat the cold water up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chewing sugarless gum in between meals may lead you to eat less. In addition, chewing gum for one hour can burn upwards of 10 calories. Although this may seem like a completely insignificant number of calories, many people enjoy chewing gum all day and don’t consider it a task. While a small amount of calories burned, everything counts and adds up to help you create the caloric deficit you need to start shedding the last few pounds of fat.