Major confession: I’m an eavesdropper at the gym.
I got in the habit as a young trainer strolling around the floor. I’d listen to see what quality fitness info people were exchanging. Helping strangers sort through the unregulated waves of fitness info on the internet was a great way to meet new clients. I never felt guilty about my snooping because the goal was always to help someone. Even if they didn’t become a client, I could give them more reliable information.
In my walkabouts, fat loss was almost always the topic of conversation and it got a little depressing at times. I’d walk by 5 different people and hear 5 completely different ideas about how to lose fat. One person gets info from a men’s magazine that exclusively preaches going low carb. One gets info from a scientific journal that says any kind of calorie deficit will do. Another person takes advice from Gwyneth Paltrow for some reason. And so on and so forth.
I’ve helped melt fat for years. I’ve had clients lose anywhere from the last 5 pounds to unleash some abs, to dropping 165 pounds and unleashing a completely new person. The results in any case are hard won, but totally worth it.
There is a system to fat loss and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Hell, you don’t even have to count calories if you can be patient (or hate calorie math).
To help you get started, I’ve put together this free Fat Loss Cheat Sheet.
So, without trainer/science jargon, here is how you lose fat.
Yes. You do need a calorie deficit. The standard starting calorie deficit is 500 calories per day. So if a person needs 2000 calories per day to maintain their current weight (that daily need is NOT universal by the way) then they would subtract 500 calories per day and live on 1500 calories per day. One pound of fat is 3500 calories, making the goal of the deficit to lose 1 pound of fat per week.
This deficit is not the only important nutrition factor. Your macronutrient (protein, carbs, fat) ratios are important. We could get super technical and make you a calorie accountant, but losing fat is rough enough without having to tediously document every tiny morsel you consume in your life.
There is a better way – and it’s very simple.
To find your maintenance intake:
For Women – Each meal should have 1 palm size serving of protein, 1 fist sized serving of veggies, one cupped hand of complex carbs, and 1 thumb-sized serving of healthy fat.
For Men – double the serving sizes of the Women’s meal. (2 palms of protein, etc.)
For both – Eat 3-4 meals per day.
To make your calorie deficit:
For Women – subtract a ½ serving of carbs and/or fat from 2-3 meals throughout the day.
Example meal: 1 palm protein, 1 fist veggies, ½ cupped hand carbs, ½ thumb of fat.
For Men – subtract 1 serving of carbs and/or fat from 2-3 meals throughout the day.
Example meal: 2 palms protein, 2 fists veggies, 1 cupped hand carbs, 1 thumb of fat.
Choosing whether to eat 3 or 4 meals like this per day depends on the individual. You’ll just have to try it and see what result you get the first month. Hence the patience. But once you dial this in, it’s much easier to maintain than constant calorie tracking.
EPOC Inducing Exercise
Ok, so there is one training term that’s important to reference. EPOC is Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption and it’s super important to your fat loss.
There are 2 times when your body primarily burns fat: when you are at rest, and when you perform super low intensity exercise for a ridiculously long duration.
Pretty much, fat burn is for sleeping and strolling.
Don’t even get me started on the “fat burning zone” on every cardio machine. It’s crap. Don’t buy into it.
Moderate activity uses carbs as an energy source. The good news is those carbs will be used. (Unused carbs are eventually converted to and stored as fat). The bad news is, you can only use one source of energy at a time. Meaning if you’re burning carbs, you aren’t burning fat. This means the majority of your fat burning isn’t going to happen during your workout, it’ll happen after.
This is where EPOC becomes important. After you work out you have an oxygen deficit. Your metabolism rises while your body soaks up oxygen like a Sham-Wow. After your workout, when you’re back at your desk or lounging in front of the TV, you are at rest. So your body will start to use fat as an energy source again, while you have a raised metabolism thanks to EPOC.
The goal is to pick a form of exercise that causes the most oxygen debt, leading to greater EPOC. This can be as simple as doing each set until your target muscles burn.
There are techniques to maximize that burn. The ideas are simple, but remember that simple doesn’t equal easy.
The most common is circuit training. Grouping three or more weight training exercises together without rest will definitely cause EPOC. Pick compound exercises (lifts that use two joints) to maximize your effort.
Another common strategy for causing maximum muscle burn is accentuated eccentrics. That means drawing out the lowering phase of a rep. So, for a push exercise like a bench press, lowering the weight to your chest is the eccentric phase. Slowly lower the bar for a count of 2 or 3, then press the bar up at normal speed.
In any case, short rest between sets is important so you don’t let your muscles fully recover between sets. This way, oxygen debt will increase over the course of the workout.
Combine these techniques for the best results. For example, if it’s leg day, your workout could look like this:
As a circuit (no rest between exercises)
A1 Squat: 12-15 reps, (2 sec down, 1 sec up)
A2 Romanian Deadlift: 12-15 reps(2 sec lowering, 1 sec up)
A3 Seated Leg Curl: 12-15 reps (constant tension)
A4 Sled Drag: 40 yards with max weight
– Rest 60-90 seconds and repeat 3 or 4 times
HIIT, Circuit Training, Crossfit, and even bodybuilding workouts all use some variation of these principles. Just remember that the emphasis is on the burn and energy output, not the amount of weight you move.
You will be wiped out and panting the whole work out.
The intensity is important, but there’s no need to puke.
This is the kicker. You have to do this regularly. As in almost daily. The workouts don’t have to be super long, 30-45 min should be plenty. You have to do this 4 or 5 days per week, though.
Knowing when it’s ok to quit or skip is a very important decision to make ahead of time. The tired and wheezing version of you is a lot more forgiving than the calm, rational you. So define your quitting criteria beforehand and stick to it.
I get more into the idea of intelligent quitting in this post.
Schedule your workout times for the week and make them high priority. Let nothing get in the way of your workouts unless it’s on the quit list.
Your Fat Loss Rosetta Stone
Eavesdropping on conversations on the gym floor is a hard way to help people. Not everyone is thrilled to receive unsolicited advice and that’s fair.
However, the folks who were open to some professional guidance saw results and you can, too. I know that even this simplified article can be hard to put to use, so I’ve got some helpful gifts for you. For your Fat Loss Cheat Sheet, follow this link and I’ll send you a packet of 3 useful guides.
- A build-your-meal serving size chart, courtesy of the folks at Precision Nutrition
- I sample week of total body circuit workouts
- My “The Art of Quitting” worksheet