This is Part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 here.
“I need to lose weight!”
If you are obese and just need to make sure your heart doesn't explode, then yes, "losing weight" would be a solid goal; there’s a point where your overall health is more important than looking shredded. However, most people are just trying to “tone up” (which is also a dumb phrase) or get their abs to show a bit more, and they want to look somewhat fit/muscular once the weight loss is achieved. The problem is that a lot of these people don’t approach their goal correctly and just end up looking skinny-fat. How do you avoid ending up in skinny-fat purgatory? By recognizing the difference between losing fat and losing weight.
Losing weight is not the same as losing fat. Losing weight is all about the number on the scale and does not discern between the types of weight lost. There are basically three categories of people who achieve weight loss: those who do so for medical reasons (ex: an obese person just needs to take some of the stress off of their heart), those who are sick for extended periods of time, and those who mess up on their fat loss goals. If you hear Big Bird and Susan in the back of your head right now, hopefully you’ve realized that the last thing on that list doesn’t belong.
People tend to make the mistake of losing weight when they should be losing fat, but a lot of that can be fixed with how you eat and train. If fat lass is your goal, you can (and should) eat and lift weights. Eat food, that is, not the weights (and I’m totally not saying someone should send in a video of themselves trying to eat a weight). As I discussed in Part 1, starving yourself is not going to do you any good, especially in the long run. We should be setting ourselves up for the goal we want to reach, so we need to make sure we eat and train for fat loss. How do we do that?
The eating part is a lot more nuanced than the training part, so I’ll begin with this: it all starts with protein. Eating sufficient amounts of protein while in a caloric deficit helps our bodies maintain muscle. The old bodybuilding adage of consuming at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body-weight (so 200g of protein for someone who is 200 lbs) is actually what I follow since meat is delicious and protein helps me stay full. Various studies have shown that there is merit to lower amounts getting the job done as well (I’ve seen anywhere between 0.67g/lb of body-weight and 0.85g/lb body-weight mentioned), so you don’t necessarily have to go full carnivore. However, the added satiety and thermogenic effects of protein consumption are helpful benefits for fat loss. As someone who has successfully implemented a high-protein diet for fat loss (but who is also not a doctor), I tend to recommend at least 1g of protein per pound of body-weight.
What about fats and carbs? If anything you’ve read online or in magazines is true, one of them is the devil and the other is, at best, a prominent figure in the political party that you do not associate yourself with. However, sometimes you should listen to the other side and occasionally the-- wait…this analogy is quickly falling apart. Nevertheless, my point is that regardless of whatever that magazine with a Kardashian on the cover says, you don’t have to get rid of carbs or fats. With these two macronutrients, it more so comes down to personal preference; after you’ve figured out how much protein you need, you can fill out the rest with fats and carbs. I personally prefer keeping my carbs higher and my fats lower, so I do just that. I feel like if my carbs dip too low that my weight training suffers immensely, and I just enjoy fruits and rice more than nuts and avocados. However, some may prefer higher fat and lower carb, while some may prefer a more balanced approach. It will take a bit of time to figure out what exactly works best for you and your body, but I tend to recommend starting with a balanced approach with a slight lean in favor of carbs.
To help give an example, I’ll take you through what I did to figure out my daily intake to start my cut. I began at 200 lbs, so I knew I needed at least 200g of protein. I also know that my maintenance calorie level is around 3400 calories, so I set my total caloric intake at 3000 calories. Since 1g of protein is 4 calories, this would leave 2200 calories between fats, carbs, and more protein. Then, I picked 300g of carbs as a starting point, leaving 1000 calories to be assigned. I then chose to do 90g of fat (for 810 calories) and put the remaining 190 calories back into protein. I know that my body sometimes has undesirable responses to fat intake, so I kept that a bit lower. My final numbers? 3000 calories made up of 248g of protein (I rounded up half a gram), 300g of carbs, and 90g of fat.
I keep track of all of this each day by logging what I eat in the MyFitnessPal app and using a food scale to weigh out my portions. This helps me make sure that I'm actually eating what I think I’m eating. Also, you don’t have to exactly hit your target numbers every single day, but you want to get close to the macronutrient totals and avoid going over your calorie total. You also don’t want to end up too far under your calorie total either, as you don’t want to put yourself into too much of a deficit. Calories clearly aren’t the whole story since I wrote this discourse on how awesome protein is, but they do still matter.
Weighing and tracking your food helps keep you on track
Now, onto the point about lifting weights: it’s not necessarily as simple as “use it or lose it,” but staying on a weight training program while in a caloric deficit helps combat muscle atrophy. I aim to maintain my strength during a cut because it helps keep my muscles in use and it sets me up for a better bulking phase due to the fact that I don’t have to retread at all. Along with that, weight training provides the benefits of the “extended burn,” as some call it. Both cardio and weight training burn calories during the exercise, but when you lift weights, muscle breakdown occurs and your body spends the next ~24-72 hours after that recovering. The recovery entails extended energy consumption/usage by your body (i.e. it is burning calories the whole time) and an attempt to partition nutrients in a way that is optimal for recovery (which can help reduce the likelihood you store those carbs as fat). This is the “extended burn” involved with weight training that is not present with most cardio (I say “most” because cardio involving high resistance can provide some of this “extended burn” as well).
These fat-burning benefits are part of why I advocate weight-training during a cut, but there is also a huge fallacy about getting lean that I absolutely can’t stand. Find out which training myth really grinds my gears in Part 3 of this article series.
Part 3 coming soon.