It's official, man boobs and muffin tops have reached epidemic proportions – even amongst the "fit" crowd who regularly hit the gym.
Forget biomarkers of health and quality of life; that stuff might be important, but for now I just want better scenery at the beaches and pools before the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 and we all die.
Since I'm not the type of guy who just sits around and talks about what he wants, today I'm going to show you a foolproof way to slash some good ol' American flab. It starts with your diet, and with finding a plan that works for you, not the plan that supposedly works for everyone.
Dogmatic Dietary Systems Suck
I've a confession to make. I'm completely obsessed with the fat loss and physique development processes – so much so that it's not only my personal hobby, it's my chosen career path.
As a result, I've studied various approaches and methods related to the fat loss process – within the fitness industry, within the health and wellness industry, and outside of both. I've analyzed, applied, refined, and tested in the real world laboratory that is my friends, my clients, and myself, and multiplied that several times over by exchanging war stories with colleagues.
Here are three things I've learned about the fat loss game that will save you a lot of time and wasted effort, and ultimately help you reach your goals.
1. People get too caught up in dietary systems and nutritional dogma. I'm an 'x' eater, or, I follow 'y' diet. The result is that the psychological connection to that specific dietary system becomes infinitely more important than an objective analysis of their actual results. If making friends by joining the "in-crowd" is your goal, that's fine. But if your goal is to maximize your fat loss potential, then maybe that's not the best path.
Instead of learning, applying, absorbing what is useful, and rejecting what is useless, people sometimes blindly follow like sheep. They forget that dietary programs need to be tailored to the individual based on body type, activity levels, metabolic/hormonal variances, psychology factors, cultural influence, food preferences, and more.
2. People like to argue science and theory into eternity. For some, if they can sound smart while smoking a tobacco pipe in an office, it prevents them from having to do real work in the trenches. They'll quote study after study why their chosen approach is superior, and why they wipe their a$$ sideways with all other approaches.
That may be great to establish expertise, sell something, get an A+ in a classroom, or win a water cooler debate, but it doesn't always help people get results. And in the real world results matter most, not academic debate.
That's not to dismiss science as a foundation. I love science, and it can and absolutely should be used to help make informed decisions. But it shouldn't be the be-all end-all. In other words, every once in a while, researchers should actually step foot inside a gym to see if what looks good on paper works in real life.
And to be fair, every once in a while meatheads might think of opening a textbook and learning about their passion.
The most successful entrepreneur I know once told me that he hates hiring MBA's because he always has to shatter textbook myths and teach them everything that works in the real world.
3. Various approaches can work. Different, often completely contradictory approaches can and have worked in the real world. I've seen it many times, and you can't tell me something doesn't work when the anecdotal evidence proves otherwise. There simply isn't only One Way to lose fat, and multiple methods have produced equally phenomenal results.
The moral of the story is not to get caught up into rigidly following a specific system just based on claims. You have to apply, evaluate, and adjust based on your own personal feedback and results. What works for one person doesn't always work for another, and what works for one person may change over time.
Tweaks to the Systems
Following are a series of methods advocated for fat loss, and some suggested variations upon those methods that have proven beneficial for some in certain contexts.
But first, I must completely contradict myself with the first "tweak."
1. Cracking the Coaches' Code
You pay a coach to design a plan specifically tailored to you.
Stop trying to change it. If you're paying a coach to design you a customized diet, stop trying to outthink them, or change something because of something you've read, or because results are not coming faster than physiologically possible, or because you're getting lazy and want to somehow work that blueberry muffin into your plan, or because you have adult-dietary attention-deficit-disorder. You can't follow 70% of a plan, or a hodgepodge mix of stuff, and then wonder why the plan didn't work.
You're paying a coach because they know more than you, have compiled years of experience, can drastically reduce your learning curve, can objectively analyze your progress, and are doing all the assessing, individualizing, and refining/tweaking for you. If you have faith enough to pay them, you should have faith enough to follow them.
However, that's not saying you should blindly follow a program indefinitely. There are good coaches and bad coaches, just like any profession – after all, Jenny Craig is technically a diet coach right? But you need to give a plan its fair due and follow it for a designated time in order to accurately assess progress, or lack thereof.
At the end of a predetermined timeframe, then and only then, an evaluation process should take place. If the plan didn't produce results, then it's time to refine or move on completely. I believe any good, honest coach would agree with that.
Hiring a coach is a luxury. I get it. I didn't grow up with a lot of money. When I was starting out I certainly couldn't afford one. I can empathize with that situation more so than many, and thus want to provide an alternative option for that demographic.
If you can't invest money, you'll have to make up for it by investing time. Everything in this world has a price. You'll have to go through a period of education, self-experimentation, analysis, and refinement to find out what the optimum path is for you. Be patient, it doesn't happen over night or in "twelve short weeks."
2. Flip Flopping the Food Pyramid
2000kcals, 50g protein, 300g carbohydrates, 65g fat, 1 nightly snuggle with a refined food executive.
I doubt anyone reading T NATION is following this protocol, but we all have family and friends we care about, right?
I propose a simple one-month experiment: Flip-flop the protein and carbohydrate numbers. Instead of eating 50g of protein and 300g of carbs – mostly from refined foods and cereal grains – eat 300g of protein from lean animal sources and high quality protein powders (Metabolic Drive®), along with 50g of carbs coming from mostly vegetables and 1-2 pieces of whole fruit.
You shouldn't maintain this plan indefinitely as the numbers need to be adjusted to each individual, but it's simply a one-month educational tool. It should pretty much end the "calorie is just a calorie" debate conclusively, and show people that the metabolic, hormonal, satiety, and even thermic effect of foods all matter.
And if you really want to get crazy, visit your doctor before and after the experiment and keep an eye on your biomarkers of health (weight, blood pressure, blood work, etc.). Imagine the dumbfounded look on the typical doctor's face when all of the diet-related biomarkers likely improve by ditching "healthy" sugar-loaded refined products and cereal grains and eating "lethal" meats.
I had my brother try this experiment a few years back and he was able to get off blood pressure and cholesterol medications that were causing unwanted side effects. Furthermore, he's been able to stay off them to this day with a modified approach.
Let's see if your doctor really cares about your health & well being, or is more interested in adhering to archaic ADA standards.
Again, I'm not giving you medical advice, just good advice from one friend to another.
3. Carbing up the Caveman – Option 1
Remove processed, refined, man-made foods and eat only foods available in Paleolithic times: fish, lean meats, vegetables, whole fruits, nuts, and seeds.
If you're sedentary or over 25% body fat, no tweaks are necessary. Stick to the plan.
For the leaner athlete, I believe starchy carbs are a valuable commodity to support the fueling and recovery demands of anaerobic-based training. Add back in a select few carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, glucose) – roughly 0.75-1.0g per lb of lean body mass at periods where insulin sensitivity is highest – starting with peri-workout and then at breakfast.
4. Carbing up the Caveman – Option 2
If you've been following a chronic low-carb diet, there's an adaptation period that must take place when reintroducing starchy carbs back into the diet (usually at the enzymatic level).
Some people will experience rebound hypoglycemia and feel tired, lethargic, and useless at first with the reintroduction of carb-based meals, even at appropriately targeted times. Their body is just not yet readapted to handle starchy carbs (although you'll eventually adapt, and as an anaerobic athlete feel a lot better with some carbs in your diet).
Uselessness is fine if you're a meathead or diva, but not so good if you need to function in the real world.
A friend of mine contacted me and agreed it was time to add some carbs back into the diet for physique enhancement purposes. Option 1 wasn't working ideally because of the above drawbacks. So we settled on the following compromise.
Every third day, implement a carb load or re-feed to restore glycogen, boost the metabolism (as well as leptin and thyroid hormones), and get your body used to processing carbs again. That's right, commit "carbicide" and eat 1-2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of lean body mass. Eat those carbs in the last 1-2 meals of the day, so if you get rebound hypoglycemia you can simply go to bed and start the next day anew with stabilized blood glucose and insulin levels.
For the load meals consider including nutritional compounds that improve glucose disposal into the muscle cell such as green tea and Indigo 3-G®.
What you end up with is a plan similar to many "cyclical-based diets" – Cyclical Ketogenic Diet, Natural Hormonal Enhancement, the Metabolic or Anabolic Diet, or even as far back as Body Opus or the Rebound Diet. These methods worked 20 years ago and it's doubtful the human genome has evolved much since then.
As for my friend, after implementing such a plan for a few weeks, he broke an existing plateau and reached a new personal record low body fat percentage – by adding carbs back into the diet through this type of protocol. There's something to be said for thyroid, leptin, and metabolic boosts. It's not always about slashing and dashing.
5. Strengthening Up Sports Nutrition
Numbers vary based on the resource, but an average range would be 1.2-1.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight, 5-10g of carbs per kg of bodyweight, 20-30% of calories from fat, plus 0.4g protein + 1.2g carbs per kg peri-workout. 1-3 very cool sweat headbands optional but recommended.
Much of the available research is biased towards protocols specifically designed for performance athletes, particularly endurance. That's understandable, because that's where the money is. Studies generally use endurance-like protocols with endurance athletes, often times performing 2-4 hour training sessions on a daily basis, and with the caveat that most are not necessarily interested in elite body composition status (which at some point becomes detrimental to physical performance).
That said, the strength and/or physique athlete who trains with much less volume (although more intensely) and IS interested in physical appearance will generally need to adjust research numbers on energy nutrients downward (to create a deficit and facilitate a fat-burning environment), and research numbers on tissue construction nutrients upwards (to ensure maximal protein synthesis rates and/or prevent internal sources of amino acids being oxidized as a reserve fuel source).
Basing a fat loss plan around standard or even modified sports nutrition principles isn't for everyone. It should be reserved for those who engage in regular, intense anaerobic activity, have good-to-great insulin sensitivity, and thus are relatively lean – 15% body fat or less. A better starting ground for strength/physique athletes in a fat loss phase would be 2.0-2.5g of protein per kg, 2-4g of carbs per kg, 15-25% calories from fat, plus 0.4g protein per kg combined with 0.8g per kg carbs peri-workout.
Even the best diet systems are just starting points in your journey to fat loss bad-assery. Whether the flavor of the month is the Zone, carb-cycling, traditional cultural diets, Paleo, intermittent fasting, or avoiding any foods that don't have a face, every successful plan requires some modification along the way.
After all, buying a diet book from Amazon is the easy part. Reading it, understanding it, implementing it, and finally sticking to it are progressively harder steps that often derail even the most determined dieter.
But it's the final step, evaluating progress and making the necessary tweaks, that separates the fat loss champs from the also-rans. Absorb what is useful from this article and you'll be that much closer to your end goal.