December is here and, if you’re anything like me, you’ve been thinking (or trying to avoid it) about all the goals you didn’t meet and what you want to do better in the new year. I’ve talked about the problems with New Year’s resolutions before and I’ve made the same mistakes as everyone else. So for 2016 I have been doing my homework and making a plan.
What kind of plan? Well, I kind of want to compete again if the stars align. I wasn’t lean or built enough in May. My placings were disappointing and I felt overall miserable about the whole experience. Since then I have dropped the coaches I was working with and started putting in the time and effort to learn enough to be my own coach. Obviously, being a certified personal trainer, I can put together an exercise plan but I knew I had to go deeper. I need to understand how my diet, my lifting, my cardio, and even my sleep patterns affect everything down to a hormonal and cellular level.
I read every study I could get my hands on. I talked to competitors I admired and those that I didn’t want to emulate. I took their advice back to the books and tried to figure out the why behind how it worked (or didn’t). After learning so much (and still having so much more to go) I decided to share some of what I’ve found to help my fellow athletes and those who just want to look or feel better in the new year. If you’re ready to throw out everything you’ve ever believed about losing weight then keep reading.
Every diet (I hate that word) starts with counting calories. As long as you eat less than you burn you’ll lose weight, right? WRONG! Studies show that people who restrict their energy (calorie) intake long term will basically adjust to the new ‘normal’. Hormones like leptin, insulin, testosterone, and T3 (a thyroid hormone) will all decrease. The ‘bad’ hormones, ghrelin and cortisol, which encourage fat storage, will increase. Over time you have to eat less and less to continue losing weight until your body is in a chronic state of starvation and you can no longer maintain your ‘diet’. You will inevitably overeat at some point and gain weight quickly because your metabolism is in the toilet.
This is where calorie cycling and refeeding come into play. Periodic refeeding (having that cheat meal or dessert) can increase the hormones that encourage fat loss temporarily. Taking this a step further, refeeds should happen on a day that you lift weights. Why? Because then your body uses those extra calories to preserve muscle (or even build a little bit more) instead of storing them as fat. Keeping your caloric intake on rest days lower than on training days will further balance out the refeeds and keep fat loss steady.
This still doesn’t mean you can starve yourself the rest of the time. A weekly loss of no more than 0.7% of your weight is ideal. So, at 140 pounds, this would be 1 pound a week. As you get smaller, the amount you can safely lose without sacrificing lean mass (muscle) will also shrink. This is why a long, slow ‘cut’ is much better than a crash diet. I made this mistake (well, my coaches did) during my competition prep. I lost 12.5 pounds in 25 days going into my show and I was tired, weak, and mean. It took months for me to regain the strength I lost and find my motivation again. And I still didn’t look as good as the other girls on that stage. So, overall, I gained nothing from the deprivation and misery.
Any bodybuilder or powerlifter will tell you that decreasing your weight will also decrease your performance. One way to fight back against this is to consume most of your carbs each day around your workout. Carbohydrates are turned into glycogen and used for energy during exercise. When your carbs run out so does your motivation, strength, and performance. Make sure your body is supplied with enough energy to get through each workout and don’t do cardio before weights. Studies have shown that cardio, especially HIIT (high intensity interval training), will leave your muscles too fatigued for resistance training.
The summary of all of my research basically comes down to what you likely already knew. Losing fat is a long, slow process. Eat enough, but not too much, and exercise often. If you were looking for the shortcut to your dream body I’m sorry to tell you that there is no legal method that will get you there any faster than good old-fashioned hard work and commitment. So get to planning ahead for your 2016 goals and, by 2017, you’ll probably be shopping for a new wardrobe.
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