Fat Loss Planning, Pt. 2: Macronutrients & Dieting Strategies
Fat Loss Planning, Pt. 2: Macronutrients & Dieting Strategies
Using metabolic and psychological factors to increase your fat loss.
In Fat Loss Planning, Part 1 we discussed how calorie restriction is the foundation of any solid weight loss program. However, if you’ve dieted before, you probably know your body responds to calorie restriction by setting-up weight-loss roadblocks. So, to keep the fat loss rolling, here are some ways to bypass those barriers.
The Supporting Cast: Macronutrients and Going Off-Diet
Macronutrients are the energy-providing nutrients that make up most of what we eat and are classified as proteins, carbohydrates, or fats. Each has different physiological effects that a good diet takes advantage of in order to maximize fat loss, so let’s break them down.
Protein is a dieter’s best friend. It makes you feel full, so sticking to your diet is easier. It’s the building block of new muscle tissue when stimulated by weight lifting, and will help you improve recovery after workouts. It also takes more energy to digest protein than fats or carbs, which helps with meeting calorie goals.
Thus, establishing proper protein intake should be next on your list after setting a calorie target and workout plan. Here, the old bodybuilding rules are helpful: aim for a protein target of about 1 gram of lean protein per pound of bodyweight every day. Calculating protein intake based on bodyweight almost ensures you’ll eat enough, and as your diet progresses (and you get leaner), it will become an increasingly large portion of your daily diet.
Fats and Carbs
Do yourself a favor and clear your mind of carb/fat hype. When scientists lock people in metabolic chambers and test calorie-equivalent versions of low-carb and low-fat diets against each other, there’s almost no distinguishing between the two in terms of results. This paper examines the research on these diets (and reiterates the importance of protein).
Low-carb and low-fat diets have similar results because fats and carbs have offsetting benefits and handicaps in aiding fat loss. Fats are most-easily stored as body fat, while carbs are generally stored as glycogen, which is a source of muscle energy. Fats can lower appetite, while carbs can stimulate metabolism. Each has health effects, both positive and negative, that can vary between people. Even the aesthetic benefits are complicated: cutting carbs causes your body to shed water and look thinner, though your muscles will look smaller without glycogen to pump them up.
Fortunately, you don’t have to stress over carbs and fats as lowered calories and a higher protein intake makes your diet automatically both low-carb and low-fat. You’ll get most of your fats from cooking oils, condiments, meats, eggs, and nuts. Your carbs will come mostly from fruits and vegetables, though bread (or occasional processed junk food) is fine if you meet your calorie and protein targets. Just make sure the majority of your food is baked, grilled, boiled, or lightly sautéed and not deep-fried, pan-fried, or covered with cheese/sauce.
Taking a Break from Dieting
Once you’ve got calories, exercise, and macronutrients set, you can figure out how to intentionally go off your diet in order to boost your fat loss. Here are the most-common ways:
Cheat meals area free-pass meal to eat just about anything you want. Just make sure you don’t completely go off the deep end and undo your progress. Cheat meals give you a short mental break from dieting, and are almost never done more than once-per-week. A weekly cheat meal could be a few slices of pizza, though not enough to miss your weekly calorie target, with some vegetables or a protein shake to control appetite. A monthly cheat meal can be less stringent, but don’t go on buffet binges.
Similar to a cheat meal, with the focus on increasing your carbs. Since carbs aren’t readily stored as fat, many dieters will chow down on carbs (and eat as little fat as possible) after exercising. This is a good alternative to a cheat meal if you have a weakness for sugar or starches that needs to be addressed regularly, and may increase your recovery between workouts. During a typical refeed, you’ll add carbs —candy, soft drinks, pasta, etc.—to your normal diet on a workout day, which can put your calorie intake for that day over maintenance. On non-refeed days, you’ll be strict with your diet in order to hit your calorie targets for the week.
A weekly or twice-weekly refeed is a good start for beginners. Using frequent refeeds, called carb-cycling, is for experienced dieters.
Rather than altering a meal, the diet break involves eating at maintenance levels (or just below, to account for lowered metabolism) for a period of time at your new weight. Diet breaks of two or three weeks are prescribed to normalize thyroid hormones, which are the body’s most important metabolic regulators.
We don’t know as much about resetting your brain back to normal after a diet, though experimental and anecdotal evidence suggests settling anti-diet impulses takes around a month or so in most people. For this reason, a monitored and controlled diet break of at least a month is the best way to end your weight loss program, as it’ll keep you from overeating while your metabolism returns to normal.
Planning weight loss is important, though even the best diet plan is worthless without discipline and knowing how to measure your progress. In Part 3, we’ll explore other ways to stay on your fat loss program.ShareThis
About the Author
Brandon Patterson is a writer and recreational lifter. His work focuses on research, training/adaptation theory, injury prevention and rehab, physique and strength improvement, and American football training, tactics, and strategy. You can follow Brandon on Twitter @BPSportScience for news and commentary on the evolving world of athletics; 1R readers are welcome to send questions, comments, and article requests. Gridiron fans can read his Second Level Football blog at secondlevelfootball.wordpress.com.
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