You’re really motivated for change, you can’t wait to see your abs or maybe you just want to feel better, more energised and more confident?
So you set about your new diet, starting on Monday (of course), full of motivation and even a little excitement at the thought of the end result.
But then only a few weeks and in you’ve had enough; you’re not seeing the changes you’d imagined a few week prior; you feel like crap; tired; lethargic; flat; you feel you’ve lost size and you’re ready to “sack it off”.
But why? It’s only been a few weeks!
Hang on, don’t panic, you’re not the only one.
This is something I see all the time, people wanting to get leaner; improve their body composition and with the best of intentions. However they simply cannot sustain the route they’re trying to take for whatever reason or they’re making a few mistakes along the way.
Maybe even both.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Here are some common errors that I see on a regular basis, and how they can be avoided:
1. Not lifting Heavy!
Of course fat loss is the main aim, however you want to maintain as much lean muscle as you can during this period!
There’s no point in losing a load of body fat if you lose a similar amount of muscle in the process!
In terms of the training you do in this phase, one of the key fundamentals to maintaining muscle mass is to continue with your strength training!
Countless times now I see individuals stop lifting heavy altogether and replace it with “high rep” training as soon as they decide they want to get “cut”.
The same heavy compound lifts that helped increase your strength and build your muscle is what is going to help you to hold onto it! Just like when trying to build muscle mass, heavy weight training is essentially the main stimulus!
Without this stimulus you risk losing lean muscle tissue that you want to maintain.
Now the overall volume of your weight training may have to be reduced at some stage during a fat loss phase, simply because you don’t have the same calories to help you recover as well, however the intensity must remain!
By all means “higher rep” training can certainly have itss place during this phase – in fact “metabolic circuits” for example are a time efficient way to increase energy expenditure and therefore help create a further calorie deficit, however they certainly shouldn’t be the main focus of your training!
2. Not accurately tracking food intake
There is plenty of research that suggest that many people are simply not very accurate when it comes to tracking their calorie intake on a consistent basis! (1,2,3)
Without knowing how many calories you’re consuming is of course likely going to be the difference between being in an energy deficit and not!
No calorie deficit, no fat loss (4). Simple.
This is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of set meal plans, simply because they leave too much room for error.
For example one person‘s understanding of “one tablespoon of peanut butter” or “one handful of nuts” is going to be completely different to the next person!
The same can be said for any foods with generic recommendations such as the ones above, however the more calorie dense the food, the greater an impact it’s going to have.
Another one being olive and coconut oils that people use on a regular basis to cook their foods in or add to salads and vegetables – just because they may be seen as “healthy” doesn’t matter! They still contains calories!
Even a couple of hundred calories each day could be the difference between being in a calorie deficit or not.
To give yourself the best chance of losing body fat at a steady rate you need to ensure you are tracking your daily calorie intake as accurately as possible on a consistent basis, especially the leaner you get.
Getting into the habit of weighing your food and tracking your intake by using apps such as myfitnesspal are big helps in this regard, however that’s not to say you necessarily need to do so forever. Just like everything this has to be context specific.
3. Dropping calories too low too early
We all want to see results, fast results ideally. In fact let’s face it, everyone wants to see results yesterday, however positive changes take time! They take patience!
People want four-week shreds that they see advertised on the front of magazines! However quite frankly this is just very rarely realistic , certainly not without losing a lot of muscle mass at the very least!
Another mistake regarding nutrition that I see on a regulars basis is dropping calories too low too early during a fat loss phase, or even starting on too low calories.
Now of course being in a larger deficit is going to cause fat loss, I mean come on you’re in a deficit!
However by doing this you can cause some negative effects such as drastically increased hunger, poor energy levels & training performance as well as potential muscle loss.
Again, be patient!
You want to be eating as many calories as you possibly can be whilst still losing body fat.
In order to maximize the retention of muscle during this phase, I’d recommend aiming for a net weight loss of 0.5-1% of your total body weight each week.
The leaner you get, the more you should aim for the lower end of the scale.
Then when you your fat loss has hit a plateau you can adjust from there as you have more to play with from the start.
Don’t drop your calories for no reason!
4. Doing too much cardio too early
This point basically goes hand in hand with the previous common mistake! It’s caused by a lack of patience or being over-eager to get leaner!
Just to expand on my point above, when you start your fat loss journey you want to be getting the most from doing the least amount of cardio (and eating the most).
If you can lose body fat on a certain amount of calories without adding in any cardiovascular training, then don’t add it in just yet!
Wait until it’s needed, until you’ve hit a plateau and need to cause another calorie deficit.
Don’t “use all your tools” too early when it’s just not necessary.
In the end, slow and steady wins the race!
In terms of what cardio you add in, well there is a place for both LISS & HIIT cardio, however I’d recommend adding in something you ENJOY doing.
If you hate running, then don’t do it. If you enjoy going for a bike ride or walking long distances then do that instead.
There isn’t one type of cardio training that causes “magical” fat loss results, at the end of the day it’s just another way to create a further energy deficit.
Plus, if you are doing something you actually enjoy then you’re far more likely to adhere to doing it in the long run!
5. Not eating enough protein
Last but by no means least is protein intake.
Now this seems kind of obvious and pretty simple, but it is still a mistake that many people make.
Consuming adequate protein by the end of the day is going to have a beneficial effect on helping to preserve lean muscle during your cut, plus as already discussed the last thing you want is to be losing it during this dieting phase.
So how much protein should you eat each day?
Based on current research, 2.3-3.1g per KG of lean body mass is what I’d recommend for total daily protein intake(5).
Also, ensuring that you eat a serving of protein in every meal is not only going to benefit you in terms of your body composition, but it’s going to keep you feeling fuller for longer!
Hunger is par for the course when it comes to dieting down, you have to accept that, however do all you can to try to negate this. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient after all!
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