What’s the most important and overlooked factor in a diet phase?.
Hint: it’s not cardio, macros, thermogenics, sleep (although that’s a big one), but pre-framing!
We have to set ourself up for a successful fat loss phase.
If you’re a little bit overweight, or just looking to chip away at those last 10 lbs, here is where you can start.
Tracking: start tracking your macronutrient intake over the course of 2 weeks. Try not to change a thing!
Eat exactly how you have been, even if that’s like an asshole.
Then, take the weekly average of those total calories.
If you’re not eating at least 15x your current body weight in calories.
And maintaining at that intake…. you should start by raising calories.
For example: a 140lb female who’s fairly active (trains 5x a week) should maintain at around 2100kcals.
Give or take 100kcal.
This is a rough estimate, but if you do this to learn that your 140lbs, maintaining your weight on 1500kcals, then Houston, we have a motherf*ckin problem.
The best thing you can do at that point is to eat more. Where, and how to do this depends on the individual, but I advise working with an experienced coach to help you settle in.
Next – I want to address the term “metabolic damage”. It’s true that this is a “myth” in some ways.
Our metabolisms are dynamic, and cannot be “damaged per se”. However, metabolic adaptation is extremely real.
Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or just not informed. This has been observed, and documented in dozens of studies spanning multiple decades, and has always shown a disproportionate drop in energy expenditure relative to changes in lean mass.
– Millions of years of evolution have engineered and adapted our systems to resist weight loss as a survival mechanism.
– These systems and adaptations affect our hormonal environment.
– So what we see is, sometimes coaches and athletes can get way too aggressive at the beginning of a fat loss phase, and drop into an immediate 600-700-even higher calorie deficits.
– The body will quickly adapt, and downregulate to make that deficit around 200-300, which if put in place of the start, would lead us with a lot more room to adjust when we see plateaus.
– We’ve actually observed metabolic adaptations in individuals even 4-6 years after prolonged dieting phases. So this is where “damage” is often implied and could be argued, but it’s not correct from a scientific standpoint.
– Hormonal adaptations in hormones which stimulate metabolism include thyroid hormone and leptin.
– Along with this, we have found that in a deficit our metabolic processes for generating ATP become more efficient. Both at rest, and while exercising. So energy expenditure you usually get through hard training is decreased. Therefore fewer calories are burned to create a given amount of cellular energy (ATP) while at rest/ training.
– Reversing these unfavorable adaptations are important, as it will allow you to minimize the amount of fat regained after a diet phase, and ultimately provide way less stress on your system.
– This is ESPECIALLY important in females, as they tend to have a harder time recovering. Women simply cannot be trained in the same fashion as males.
– We see a lot of times coaches used to working with chemically enhanced males, trying to apply the same approach and principles to the natural bikini athletes – which is extremely problematic.
– Following an active weight loss phase, it’s important to get that individual back to a maintenance level of caloric intake, and trying to improve their maintenance level through reverse, or recovery dieting.
– ways to minimize these adaptations are to focus on a long fat loss phase, aiming to lose a conservative amount of weight each week. Then applying diet breaks (returning to maintenance for a period of time), as well as refeeds (increase in calories to around maintenance for a 48-72 hour period, mostly with an increase in carbohydrates.)
– Refeeds will also improve training response which becomes lessened during a deficit.
– The extreme shock to the system in regards to too much cardio can also cause a cascade of issues.
– Evolutionarily speaking, when we’re pushing hard at cardio, while already in a deficit early in a fat loss phase, the body will want to “lighten its load” so to speak. It will do this by targeting the heaviest available form of energy, along with freeing up fat lipids, it will start to catabolize muscle.
– For this reason, cardio should be used as a tool to increase energy expenditure when necessary.
– It is helpful in pulling triglycerides and freeing them up to be burned off, but an hour of cardio 6-7x a week is going to be overkill.
– I like to start someone off with 10-15 min LISS post-workout 3-4x a week, with maybe one day of HIIT, only if they don’t seem to respond to the LISS right away.
– Avoiding unnecessary amounts of cardio, especially early into a fat loss phase is a great way to avoid these adaptations.
How do these adaptations take place?
Lets first look at total daily energy expenditure.
1. BMR – Existing – even our brains are burning calories. Mostly genetic, as well as the amount of lean body mass/ muscle you have. – Fat-Free Mass is actually the largest determiner of BMR. So when we are in a fat loss phase, we’re going to lose tissue, ultimately reducing our BMR.
2. EAT – exercise activity thermogenesis – again this is reduced because as we’re going into a deficit, we have less available energy to produce. Along with our bodies ability to provide ample ATP at a more efficient manner, means less overall calories burned while training. Also as we get deeper in a fat loss phase, the volume is often reduced to help with recovery. Intensity and loads should be a focus on remaining constant or trying to improve to prevent excess muscle loss.
3. TEF – Thermic effect of feeding – around 10% – protein, and fibrous carbs both being a higher TEF. As food is reduced, so are the number of calories burned from eating.
4. NEAT – Everything else, such as fidgeting….. This often is reduced also just due to less overall energy and active behaviors.
Now let’s get after it.