We live in an age where information is more freely available than ever before. This is definitely a good thing in many respects. Answers to complex questions are just the click of a button away. However, with this mass of information can come confusion. 'Paralysis by analysis' often sets in and we do not know where to start. So when it comes to fat loss, where is the best place to start? Take a look at the diagram below...
So as you can see, the order of priority should be as follows: -
1. Create a Calorie Deficit:
Ensure that this deficit is SUSTAINABLE and one you can CONSISTENTLY stick to. It is no good being 100% perfect 5 days of the week, only to undo all your hard work and eliminate your calorie deficit with a large splurge at the weekend. Often the weekend can be the downfall. Sometimes it is late-evening snacking. Either way, you have to try and find a way of creating and sustaining a calorie deficit that does't leave you feeling starving and bereft of energy the whole time. Here are some tips to creating a calorie deficit: -
- Be more aggressive with your deficit on non-training days (conversely, fuel performance on days you train).
- Don't be too aggressive with your calorie deficit - this will only leave you feeling hungry and won't be sustainable in the long-term.
- Focus on foods that you can eat, rather than foods you can't (focusing on foods you cannot eat will only serve to make you crave them more).
- Minimise liquid calories
- Be wary when eating out (grilled food instead of fried food; side salad instead of fries etc)
- Be smart with food choices. Focus on foods that will provide a high volume per calorie (green vegetables, lean white meat and fish, pumpkin, sweet potato, white potato, cauliflower, melon etc). These foods will allow you to eat a high volume of food without a ton of calories.
- Counting calories can help develop an understanding of how much food you can eat per day. Using apps like 'MyFitnessPal' can be extremely useful in these instances.
2. Lift Some Weights:
Resistance training is second on my list of priorities, which may surprise some people. Cardio has typically been seen as 'fat burning' exercise as opposed to lifting weights which is just to 'build muscle'. Thankfully these perceptions are beginning to change, however these perceptions definitely do persist. So why should someone start to lift weights?
- Lifting weights can improve insulin sensitivity, which means that carbohydrate can be stored in muscle tissue more readily.
- Lifting weights can improve bone density, which is especially important to older populations who lose bone mineral density as they age.
- Lifting weights can help people retain and build muscle mass which is crucial to fat loss. Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you expend at rest to keep the body alive. The more lean body mass you have, the more calories you will expend at rest.
- Lifting weights can help to improve posture, especially when the training is programmed in a way that helps to mobilise tight areas and strength weak muscles.
- Lifting weights can help improve strength. Improving your strength will help to burn more calories during training sessions (the more weight you can lift the more metabolic damage you can induce). For example, performing 3 sets of 8 reps with 60kgs on a squat will be far more metabolically demanding on the body than 3 sets of 8 reps with only 40kg.
So as you can see, lifting weights can be highly beneficial and should be prioritised over cardio when it comes to fat loss.
3. Perform Cardio:
Cardio comes last on my list of priorities. This is for a number of reasons, including: -
- Burning calories through exercise is much more difficult and time consuming than controlling calorie intake.
- Performing cardiovascular exercise can lead to the loss of muscle mass which can be highly detrimental to fat loss. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest, so losing muscle tissue should be avoided at all costs.
- Performing cardiovascular exercise can lead to compensatory behaviours such as moving less in day to life and eating more. For example, Drenowatz et al (2015) found that those subjects performing cardio decreased their non-activity physical activity, whilst those subjects performing resistance training actually increased their non-activity physical activity. The authors conclude: "Results of the present study suggest a compensatory reduction in PA in response to aerobic exercise. Resistance exercise, on the other hand, appears to facilitate non-exercise PA, particularly on non-exercise days, which may lead to more sustainable adaptations in response to an exercise program."
- Performing cardio can interfere with your ability to recover from training sessions, hampering strength and muscle gains. This is known as the 'interference effect'. This occurs as a result of the muscle trying to adapt in two very different directions. Given the importance of strength and muscle mass, these should be maximised at all costs when it comes to losing fat.
Cardio can be very enjoyable for some people (I enjoy performing cardio, as outlined here) and shouldn't be dismissed when trying to lose body fat. Rather the point I am trying to make here is that, when it comes to losing fat, cardio should be used as a tool to be used as and when necessary, and only after a sustainable calorie deficit has been established and a resistance training program is being followed.