By Matthew Gagliano – Barrington, RI
The average exerciser attends a gym, hires a trainer, and goes on an extreme diet in order to do one thing: lose weight. So they think. In reality, they really want to lose body fat. A high percentage of people would prefer looking good, being healthy and fit, and fitting into smaller sized clothing rather than being obsessed with the scale. So how do we achieve the best results in order to burn fat and start looking and feeling great? The good news is that it’s not the complex process some people make it out to be. The bad news is that it takes hard work and committed lifestyle change to accomplish these gains in body composition. There are three main points I’ll highlight in order to achieve maximum fat loss.
The first part of the fat loss equation is to have a good, not perfect, diet. A diet low in processed foods (especially processed carbohydrates), low to moderate in calories (minimum of 1,200 calories), and a diet with frequently spaced, low-calorie meals produced the best fat loss results in studies that monitor fat loss. A study conducted by William Yancey, MD that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that a diet low in carbohydrates resulted in significantly greater fat loss than a low-fat diet, with both diets being calorically equal. Eating often, up to 5 or 6 times a day, has been backed by scientific studies as well. A Japanese study completed in 1996 showed that a group eating 6 meals a day lost more fat than a group eating 2 meals per day, despite calories being equal.
The second area of importance for fat loss is to perform exercise that promotes metabolically active tissue (building muscle). I’ll get into cardio next, but strength training trumps cardiovascular activities for fat loss. You don’t need to be training for a bodybuilding competition to see benefits of strength training. Focus on big muscle groups in order to produce the best gains. I also recommend workouts that are full-body in nature rather than working on different muscle groups on different days. The goal is not muscle mass, it’s development of lean muscle tissue. A landmark study conducted in 1997 and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that strength training had a greater effect on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption.
The last and final piece to a fat loss plan is to perform activities that burn calories and elevate metabolism. However, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) produces much better results than typical steady state cardio. Not only is it more effective, but it’s also much less time consuming than steady state aerobic activity. Consider the study performed by exercise physiologist Martin Gibala from McMaster University in Ontario. The subjects in the study cycled as hard as they could for 30 seconds followed by four minutes of rest, repeated four to six times. This workout was performed three days a week. Compared to a group of exercisers who cycled at the same rate for an hour per day for five days, the HIIT group had similar gains in exercise capacity, muscle metabolism, and cardiovascular fitness (VO2 Max). You can go full throttle for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of rest or light work, one minute hard followed by a one minute easy, one minute followed by two minutes, etc. The important thing to remember is to go all out.