The body composition goal for most is to reduce fat and increase muscle. But is a strict diet the only way to accomplish this? The basics - losing fat requires a calorie deficit - burning more calories than is consumed. Yes, diet is the most influential factor for fat loss, but a restrictive diet can also lead to muscle loss. The good news - you don’t have to rely on a strict diet to get desired results.
Three primary factors impact your metabolism:
You can create a calorie deficit through diet or exercise which requires you to monitor your progress. Under-eating combines with over-exercising is just as damaging and harmful as overeating and under-exercising! Here’s how to create a healthy balance and create a healthy calorie deficit with strict dieting.
Eat your carbs. Many people drop carbohydrates first in order to lose fat, but there is a better way. Lowering your total overall calories (rather than one food group) is what creates a deficit for healthy fat loss. Your muscles need carbs, protein, and fat. Use carbs to fuel intense weight training and aerobic sessions, restore muscle glycogen, and support overall energy requirements, motivation, and positive mood (never underestimate mental health!).
Low to moderate intensity cardio. Add 30-45 minutes of low-level cardio on your off-days, keeping your heart rate within the moderate zone (60-70%). This helps avoid overtraining your muscles and over-exerting you energy systems. You’re working hard to build muscle strength training - this strategy preserves muscle mass, keeps your metabolism happy, and allows you to adequately recover between intense workouts.
Sleep 7-9 hours. Quality sleep is strongly correlated with cognitive output i.e. willpower), balanced hormonal processes, lower body fat, and lower stress responses (chronic stress = more cortisol = holding onto fat). Deep sleep also activates the release of human growth hormone (HGH) right after you fall asleep, which helps regulate body composition, stimulates muscle and bone growth, and improves sugar and fat metabolism.
Lose the scale. Use photos and how your close to fit to track progress - not just a scale. Weight fluctuates like the wind for various reasons and water weight can mask fat loss. The scale will not always reflect changes in body composition, especially if you’re increasing your muscle.
Remember, athletic/fitness levels of body fat range 14-24% for women (6-17% for men) depending on your body type. All of us are not meant to (or can be) incredibly lean - and that’s okay. Go for a fat loss goal that is realistic and supports your healthy habits.
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