As a fitness model and former successful natural bodybuilder, I have tried every diet in the book to get lean while holding on to muscle – carb backloading, carb cycling, ketogenic and even paleo. Each has its pros and cons. But just “dieting” isn’t enough. There are multiple branches of that tree and there are some particular training protocols that need to be observed along the way. The truth is that there are a number of factors that contribute to real fat-burning – the kind put on display by the guys you see on these pages. Here are five fundamental strategies that you can piece together to speed your shred.
1 LISS OR HITT? BOTH.
That dreaded word: cardio. Still, you must build cardiovascular training into your routine because it helps to create a needed calorie deficit and can speed metabolism. But which form of cardio is best? Traditional, low-intensity steady state (LISS) or high-intensity interval training (HIIT)? While HIIT is finally gaining momentum as the preferred method of cardio, both have their place in a fat-burning program.
Steady-state cardio allows for a longer fat-burning session (read: more calories burned) but HIIT training cranks up your metabolic rate and increases fat oxidation rates for hours after the workout is done. Both of those are desirable qualities.
Instead of choosing one or the other as your “exclusive” form of cardio, try doing a few sets of HIIT then move into steady-state training, as this will allow you to reap all the benefits of both in one workout. You get your interval work in while your energy stores are high and the steady state cardio will burn even more fat than usual because the intervals will have led to glycogen depletion.
Another option is to do LISS while fasted (pre-breakfast) for a minimum of 40 minutes and perform HIIT cardio in a separate session. A recent study from the UK published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that when subjects were fasted when they did morning cardio, they burned 20 percent more fat than when they had a meal before the cardio.
2 EAT HEALTHY FATS
When trying to drop fat, it may seem appropriate to reduce dietary fat. At 9 calories per gram, fats are a denser caloric investment than carbs or protein. But fats are, in fact, good for you, and consuming enough of the good fats will help you lose fat, build muscle, and recover faster from your workouts. Healthy fats also have numerous health benefits, including being good for your heart and cardio-battered joints.
Polyunsaturated fats, such as those from fish and nuts, and the monounsaturated kind, such as those from peanut butter, olive oil, egg yolks, and fish oil are the ideal choice (especially omega-3s).
3 ADD A HIGH-CARB DAY
When dieting down, most people turn to low-carb diets. (We can see you nodding your head in affirmation.) But what most seem to forget is that carbs are your body’s preferred fuel source and adding a high-carb day now and then can really rejuvenate the metabolism and get that engine revving again.
A low-carb diet long term can actually end up having adverse effects as leptin – the satiety hormone -- levels fall faster when on a low-carb diet and this in turn ends up slowing down metabolism and actually making you feel more hungry.
Try to plan your high-carb days around your more intense sessions, such as leg day, and take down those higher-carb meals pre- and post-workout. Adding 1-2 high-carb days will essentially mean you are carb cycling and will help you avoid any plateaus that may be on the horizon.
4 EAT PROTEIN…AND MORE PROTEIN
This is a no-brainer, right? At only 4 calories per gram, protein is an ideal choice for keeping your calorie count in check. It also keeps you fuller longer and rebuilds and preserves muscle. Research has also found that a high-protein diet increases fat loss because it increases metabolic rate and decreases hunger.
You’re probably familiar with the M&F recommendation of 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. If you’re already hitting this quota, then consider increasing that slightly, adjusting as necessary elsewhere for your target calorie count.
5 WATER, WATER, WATER
You can try to will yourself into eating less at each meal, or you can put some proven science to work for you at the dinner table. A 2010 study found that participants who drank a full glass of water before dining typically consumed 75-90 fewer calories from that meal. It’s not complicated – the extra water made them feel fuller.
Drinking more water will also ensure your metabolism is running smoothly and will ensure that you stay hydrated. Additionally, consuming more water keeps your body shedding more water. Some athletes find that they retain less water when they begin consuming more. Aim for half your bodyweight in ounces per day. So a 200-pound individual should strive for 100 ounces.
Mehmet Edip is an internationally published fitness model, writer, actor and competitive athlete. He is a one of the UKs leading fitness models and has worked with some of the best photographers in the industry. He has been featured as a fitness model in publications such as Muscle & Fitness, FLEX, Ultra Fit, XF Sports, The Beef, and Miami Pro. As a writer, he has contributed to Muscle & Fitness, Mens Physique.com, Ultra Fit Magazine, XF Sports Magazine and Miami Pro. You can visit his personal website, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.