As the weather gets warmer, many of our pool side day dreams are slowly becoming a reality. You’re thinking of it now, lounging back with a cold drink, warm sun on your face, and rocking that bathing suit you’ve been eyeing all winter! But sometimes coming off the holidays brings on a few unwelcome pounds. Many of our minds may go straight to a restrictive calorie diet paired with high intensity workouts. Though this may lower the number on the scale, we run a high risk of breaking down muscle rather than the fat we’re trying to target. In this blog, I’ll go over my 3 favorite tip for burning fat while still maintaining muscle.
Understanding Weight Loss
Firstly we have to understand how we lose weight. In order to burn fat and lose weight, we HAVE to eat at a caloric deficit. Calories equal the amount of energy in each of our foods. Intaking more energy than we expend in day will cause the body to store the excess energy as fat. Knowing our estimated Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) can help approximate how many calories we need per day. Our TDEE is composed of our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), physical activity, and Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
Our BMR represents the amount of calories we burn in a 24 hour period…well just being YOU! This includes all your involuntary processes like your heart beating, breathing, digestion, and many others. BMR can make up a whopping 70% of our TDEE! Another 20% of our daily expenditure is composed of our physical activity. This can include anything from chores around the house, taking the stairs, or planned exercise. As you can imagine not all exercise types are created equal, we’ll get into more detail as we read on. Finally, the last 10% of our TDEE is from Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). TEF represents how much energy/time it takes to break down a given macronutrient (i.e. carbs, proteins, fats). Proteins have the highest TEF while fats have the lowest, meaning we’ll burn more calories digesting and breaking down protein than any other macronutrient. This is why eating a sufficient amount of protein is key.
Tip #1: Increase Your Daily Protein Intake
Since protein has the highest TEF of any macronutrient, increasing your daily protein intake will keep you satiated for longer. Fats and simple carbs breakdown quickly, meaning meals high in these fats and simple carbs will only keep you satisfied for short periods of time, making you feel hungry an hour or two later. Increasing the amount of protein in your meals is a simple and efficient way to keep you full and help you increase your TDEE.
It’s recommended that active individuals consume a ratio of 0.7-1:1 of protein to body weight. For example, a 200lb active individual should try and consume 140-200g of protein a day for a favorable metabolic effect. Protein intake at these levels typically require supplementation, as it may be difficult for individuals to achieve this amount with just food. This is why protein powders and protein bars are such a popular option. Protein intake at higher levels require an increase in fluid intake (0.75-1 fl oz per 1lb of body weight) and should not be undertaken in the presence of any medical issues that contraindicate high protein diets, such as kidney disease.
Tip #2: Make Sure You’re Eating Enough
Gone are the days of restricting yourself to less than 1200 calories. This may lower the number on the scale for a short time, but sustainability and composition of what was lost is most important. The initial loss is most likely due to loss of water weight and or muscle breakdown. Contrary to what some may believe, heavily restricting calorie intake increases the frequency at which fat deposits. This isn’t a bug in the system, but a very important feature. If your body only receives a limited amount of energy per day, it will adapt and enter “starvation mode.” This means it recognizes it will only be receiving small amounts of energy, so it must begin storing its most efficient energy source. As discussed, fat is the slowest burning and most energy dense macronutrient, so increased fat storage is required to further maintain proper bodily function.
For efficient fat burn, we want to aim for a 200-400 calorie deficit from your TDEE. The amount restricted will depend on a few factors like BMR and daily activity, but will generally be enough for you to safely burn 1lb of fat per week. We have to remember our TDEE is primarily made up by our BMR and physical activity. So if an individual has a BMR of 1600 calories and burns 400 calories during a workout, their TDEE will be approximately 2000 calories. To eat at a healthy deficit, they will consume 1600-1800 calories on this day, giving their muscles enough protein and energy to perform proper protein synthesis and grow, while still being at a calorie deficit to burn fat. On less active days, use your BMR as a baseline. In regards to the person with a BMR of 1600 calories, eating at a 200 calorie deficit on a not so active day is favorable for sustainable fat burn.
Tip #3: Utilize LISS Training
When talking about effective ways of burning fat, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is often referred to. But low intensity steady state (LISS) training is just another face on the same coin. LISS works by maintaining a “steady state” heart rate (HR) which uses fat as a primary fuel source. Steady state refers to an elevated state at which the body maintains a relatively stable HR and oxygen consumption. LISS aids in fat burning, while improving your body’s ability to use fat as fuel instead of using glycogen that is stored in the muscles.
To find your steady state range, you have to first find your maximum HR, which can be estimated by subtracting your age by 220 (HRmax = 220 – age). Remember this is only an estimation and doesn’t take into consideration other factors like resting HR, gender, or physical fitness. Our steady state range is approximately 50-65% your HR max. Anything at or below this range uses fat as a primary fuel source. However, once your HR becomes higher we begin to rely more on carbs (glycogen) as our main fuel source.
We must remember fat is an incredibly energy dense fuel, meaning it burns very slow. We can expedite this burn, however, by maintaining a HR within our steady state range for 20-60min. The longer we are in this range, the longer we will utilize fats as a fuel. An efficient way to use LISS is immediately after strength training. Adding the minimum 20 minutes of LISS after strength training will ensure you receive all the muscle building and fat burning benefits of both. Popular LISS exercises include walking, hiking, biking, and jogging.