Fat loss or more specifically, lipolysis, refers to the breakdown of stored fat from either visceral (around the organs/torso) or sub cutaneous fat, so that it can be converted into usable energy. Once broken down and then transported to the muscle cell known as the mitochondria, Free Fatty Acids (FFA) are burned in the presence of oxygen predominantly throughout daily activity and during steady state low intensity exercise as the preferred substrate (energy source) for fuel.
But how do we burn fat and better yet how do we keep it off? The four key steps to initiating fat loss and then maintaining it are:
- Calories – Ensuring we eat the right amount
- Macronutrients – The balance of protein/carbohydrates/fats
- Weight training – Maximising muscle retention is critical for metabolism
- Compliance – A plan not followed is a failed plan
According to the 1st law of thermodynamics, which states that energy can be transformed from one energy source to another but can neither be created or destroyed, we can draw a parallel to human nutrition and simplify it by referring to the energy balance equation, stating: energy in = energy out = body fat maintenance. While this may be the simplest approach to looking at human nutrition, of which it doesn’t account for the non-static nature of human metabolism, meaning that our metabolic rates are always changing depending on the thermic effect of food, our physical activity level, our RMR and other factors, it is still considered to be the number 1 determinant of whether there is a net gain or a net loss in body weight or more specifically body fat.
In order for us to lose fat through the oxidation of FFA, we must consume fewer calories than we burn.
But how many do we need?
As a starting point you could use this simple equation, however please note this is simply a guide and does not account for individual variations.
- For Women - aim for 12x your body weight in pounds (70kg = 1848kCal)
- For Men - aim for 14x your body weight in pounds (90kg = 2772kCal)
*Courtesy of Lyle McDonald
Note: this will put you in a roughly estimated calorie deficit of 15% and is a great way to begin your fat loss journey.
So we know that calories determine net weight gain or loss, but how do we minimise the net loss of muscle and maximise the net loss of fat outside of just controlling the calories we consume?
We do this by looking at the effect each macronutrient has on the energy balance equation and the resulting body composition changes we can expect to see when in a calorie deficit. Traditionally when we look at the goal of weight loss, primary importance is placed on how much fat we can lose, when realistically the most important factor in my opinion should be how much muscle you can maintain, which will then directly have an impact on the amount of fat you can burn as well as the amount of calories you can consume (more muscle = a better metabolism).
Knowing that muscle is the most metabolically positive tissue, the first step to setting your macronutrients is to set your protein target for the day in grams.
I would suggest beginning with the following:
1.8-2.2g of protein per kg of lean body mass (LBM)
2.2-2.7g of protein per kg of LBM
Secondly we want to ensure our heart, hormones, brain, blood lipid profile and the entire family of cells in our bodies are healthy by allocating a fat target in grams by using a percentage of our target calories. Aim for 20-30% of calories from fats, remembering that 1-gram of fat has 9 calories.
And finally the remaining calories can be divided into your carbohydrates, which have the same amount of calories per gram as protein does, at 4 calories per gram.
And there you have it! By ensuring the most optimal intake of macronutrients are consumed within your allocated calorie target, you can maximise muscle retention, ensure your immune system is healthy with good quality fat intake and that you have enough carbohydrates for energy to perform in the gym.
Weight training is the exercise pinnacle for having a direct positive effect on body composition when compared to other methods of training. In as little as 35 days we see positive muscle changes in individuals placed in a resistance protocol, resulting not only in new muscle growth (hypertrophy) but also muscle fibre orientation (muscle strength)(1), which will not only have a positive effect on performance long term but one could also argue a positive effect on metabolism.
Similarly, resistance training has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, essentially meaning we have a high affinity to stores carbs as muscle glycogen. By increasing insulin sensitivity and muscle density, an individual involved in resistance training can expect to see faster, more positive body composition results when compared to other methods of exercise such as doing primarily cardiorespiratory work.
While cardiorespiratory exercise is still advised for the benefits of cardiorespiratory health (heart and lungs), it is my recommendation to ensure that resistance training is still your primary mode of exercise, as studies indicate the positive effects of weight training include but are not limited to, an increase in muscle size, increase in insulin sensitivity, increase in metabolic rate, increase in cardiac health, increase in bone mineral density, a reduced risk for falls in elderly and an overall improvement of movement quality in all individuals.
Aim for a minimum of 2 sessions a week, with a maximum of 6 sessions and aim to train through varying intensities, use different levels of strength, focus on good technique and above all try and progress in either the total volume of your session (sets x reps x weight) or the intensity of your training (weight lifted).
Despite the 3 above factors of calorie balance, macronutrient distribution and weight training being the dominant factors for controlling body composition change, none of them will work if compliance is not managed.
A great plan not followed is a failed plan.
Set yourself some SMART goals and ensure your training, food and social balance is healthy.
Make your goals:
- Specific – I want squat 100kg and lose 5kg
- Measurable – Setting a numbered goal is great
- Achievable – Are your goals realistic?
- Relevant – Are your goals relevant to you?
- Timely – I want to squat 100kg in 8 weeks and lose 5kg in 10 weeks
Write your SMART goals down now and if you want more clarification on why goal setting is important, check out my other article on Smart Goals.
Above all… HAVE FUN.
If you’re not enjoying your training, your food and your work/life balance then find your WHY.
Why do you want to squat 100kg and lose 5kg of fat?
Once you know your WHY you can set SMART goals and achieve whatever you choose.
Achieving weight loss is not about suffering and it’s not about putting yourself through hell to achieve an arbitrary number on the scale, but instead should be about a change of mindset and lifestyle.
Make your weight loss journey achievable by ensuring it is also maximally enjoyable where possible.
Seynnes, O. R., M. de Boer, and M. V. Narici. "Early Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy And Architectural Changes In Response To High-Intensity Resistance Training". Journal of Applied Physiology 102.1 (2006): 368-373. Web.