It was the night before the challenge….the fridge is overloaded with fruit and vegetables, cupboards groan with every “healthy”snack that could be found, exercise clothes are put out in anticipation of the day to come and a sense of nervous excitement keeps you from drifting to sleep.
Does any of this sound familiar? You’ve made your preparations the best you can. Whether you’ve dug up your old “diet” books with fresh determination or decided that you’re going to hit the gym or class you’ve been putting off for a while, you have some form of plan set out with regards to how you’re going to reach your fitness goals this time.
If you haven’t (or even if you have) then all is not lost as I’d like to share a rough framework with you to help set you off on the right path.
The most vital point to remember when designing any weight loss program is that everyone is different and it must be individual. What works for one person may not work for the next (even if they appear to be of similar weight and build). People will lose weight at different rates and respond better to some diets over others. Like our DNA we all have specific metabolic markers that respond better to some food groups than others. Optimal fat loss will depend on your ability to find out what nutritional build up works best for you. Over the course of the challenge, I’m going to guide you through that exploration process.
Set Your Goals
Like all good journeys we need a destination to aim for. These can be found short, medium and long term goals. In terms of body recomposition, the process is one of constant measurement and review of actions undertaken to that point in time. Let’s look at some examples based on how I might approach it;
Short Term (first steps)
Weekly reviews of your actions to date (i.e have you filled in your food diary honestly and eaten the correct amount of calories, nutrients, etc?).
Have you been active everyday or attended that class or gym session you committed to?
Note how there’s no hitting the scales or checking out body measurements to see how much they’ve moved. This is because it can often take three to four weeks for the body to start adapting to the change of diet and activity.
This is a monthly review of your progress. Now is the time to weigh and measure yourself to see what progress has been made to date. By now there has been sufficient time for changes to take effect and results to start appearing.
As each month is reviewed you should ideally be looking to attain a weight loss of around 1lb to 2lbs on average (the more weight you carry then the easier this should be). If not then its time to review those food diaries and/or raise your activity level. Don’t get hung up on “weight loss” as it’s your measurements that tell the true story.
This is around the 6 month mark (yes we’re talking long term here folks!). This is where you put the magic figure you’re looking to attain whether it’s a loss of 10lbs or 40lbs. You’ll know from your monthly checks as to whether you’re on target. Even if you don’t win the contest, your prize will be lasting health and fitness that won’t yo-yo.
Energy In v Energy Out
Yep I’m talking about good old calories (or kcals as they’re usually referred to). You’re going to have to start counting them! Some foods, like rice and pasta, have a massive amount of calories packed into a small space which makes it very easy to overeat.
Although choosing a “diet” to follow to lose weight quickly is popular, you must first ask yourself, “do I want to eat like this for the rest of my life?”. Likewise, many “diet” programs often reduce daily calories by removing food groups. This then creates an imbalance in nutrients and can cause issues in later life. I’ll talk more about coming off the “diet”in a later article.
Let’s look at some terminology to give you a deeper understanding of your health.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – The number of calories that your body needs to sustain daily life and what you’d need to consume if you sat in bed all day (sounds good eh!!)
Daily Maintenance Level – The number of calories required to maintain your body mass on a daily basis without exercise.
Total Energy Expenditure – The whole lot….exercise and daily life.
What you’re trying to achieve is a balance between the BMR and your Daily Maintenance Level with exercise being used to boost energy use and prevent metabolic slowdown. Drop under your BMR and your body goes into survival mode and resists fat loss (that’s the simple version!).
Let’s do some math to find out what these levels are.
Ladies BMR Calories (kcals) = 8.3 x Bodyweight (kg) + 846
Gents BMR Calories (kcals) = 11.5 x Bodyweight (kg) + 873
Example- If you’re a female weighing in at 60kg (132lbs) then the calculation would be as follows;
BMR = 8.3 x 60kg + 846 = 1,344 kcals per day
Not a lot is it?
Especially when a 14” tomato and cheese pizza is around 2,400 kcals! Now, let’s do a quick calculation to see what your maintenance level is likely to be.
Maintenance Kcals = BMR x 1.4 = 1,344 kcals (as above) x 1.4 = 1,882 kcals per day
(Note: this calculation excludes exercise)
We can determine through the math your target calorie intake for the day. A simple way to do this would be to aim at the halfway point between the BMR and the Daily Maintenance Level.
BMR 1,344 kcals
Daily Maintenance 1,882 kcals
Target Daily Intake 1,650 kcals
This would be a good place to start as exercise/increased activity would add to the energy deficit.
Exercise and Activity
This is the point where you go sign on for that 8 week bootcamp, book all the yoga and pilates places you can and scour the earth for personal trainers. NO! Stop right there…Lets just hold for a second think about it!
Just adding an additional two hours worth of activity to your day can boost your energy expenditure by at least 400kcals. This doesn’t mean you have to do it all in one go as you can spread it out over the course of the day. Here’s a few ideas as to how you can raise activity during the day.
• Walk everywhere you can.
• Use stairs rather than lifts or elevators.
• Use a small water bottle or glass so you have to keep getting up to fill it.
• Go for a walk with the kids or tell the driver two meet you two blocks away from where you pick them up.
Just a few ideas that can help you burn more in a day. I even had one family who would hide the remote control for the TV so mum had to go find it if she wanted to watch anything! In many cases your family is your best activity tool.
If exercise is your weapon of choice then you’ve a lot of choices. The key is to choose something you enjoy (or could learn to enjoy!) and keep your workouts to no more than an hour to prevent undue fatigue and catabolic muscle breakdown. Lets have a look at a few options as to what you might do.
Interval Training (or HIT as it’s often termed as)
This is a great way to expend large amounts of energy in a relatively small time frame. If you’re at home then DVDs like P90X, Insanity or Turbofire can help. If you’re part of a gym you might want to do intervals on cardio machines like the elliptical or rower, etc. You might do 40 seconds at an easy pace and 20 seconds flat out and then repeat to get the effect. If group fitness is your thing then classes like bodycombat, kickboxing, etc will often do the same thing.
Steady State Cardio
This refers to taking your body up to a level of intensity and keeping it there for a period of time. This might refer to a fast walk or run when the goal is to maintain a specific pace for a period of time. Zumba classes usually fall into this category as they maintain a relatively steady pace.
Resistance or Weight Training
This is where your push ups, band work and weight programs all fit in. Many people get so cardio focused on a weight loss program that they forget about resistance training. Now a 45 minute full body resistance program may only burn an additional 200kcals which may seem like a lot of effort for very little but here’s the benefit….resistance training will reduce the amount of muscle tissue lost during the dieting process (up to 25% of weight lost can be muscle tissue and not body fat). In addition it assists with maintaining your metabolic rate as well as a whole lot of other benefits.
Putting it together….lets say you raise your activity level generally, add four cardio sessions and a resistance session into your week so you’re exercising for around five hours in total….now you’re looking at an additional energy burn of around 3,500kcals. Add this to your “diet” and you’re looking at a 1lb to 2lb deficit a week.
Summing It Up
1. Set your goals in terms of what you targets/actions you need.
2. Do your energy calculations and set your daily calorie consumption target.
3. Commit to a daily or weekly activity and exercise plan.
4. Be accountable and DO IT!!
There you go, a (relatively) simple framework to get you going. Good luck!
Phil Lowes, Health and Fitness Consultant (Pudong, Shanghai)