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When looking to lose body fat, it’s typically best to not rush things. You want fat loss to be slow and steady to preserve as much lean muscle as possible. However sometimes slow and steady isn’t an option. Maybe you need to get lean for a competition or photo shoot, or perhaps a social event […]
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When you don’t have the luxury of time, how can you shed body fat quickly to accomplish your goals?
Carbohydrates are a great fuel source, but if you have glucose in your system and full glycogen stores, you will never be able to dip into that body fat for fuel. As soon as you know you are going to have to lose fat in a short time frame, start cutting back on your carbohydrate intake. You don’t want to cut them out right away because you risk losing a large amount of lean muscle and probably won’t feel or perform well. Unless you have already been consuming a lower carbohydrate diet, then you need about four weeks to complete this process.
To get things going, it’s smart to start by dropping your carbohydrate intake (excluding green fibrous vegetables) to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. For almost everyone, this will be a large drop but still high enough so you shouldn’t feel adverse effects or the “low carb flu.” After about 3-5 days of that, drop to .75g/lb for another 4-5 days. After this point, it will be necessary to go through a “refeed,” during which you increase the carbs to 2g/lb and lower the fat intake to .2-.3g/lb. When in a large caloric deficit and not consuming many carbs, your hormones are negatively impacted, and muscle loss may occur in the short term, with metabolic damage occurring in the long term. A refeed consisting of carbohydrates will boost metabolic hormones like leptin while lowering cortisol. Your muscles will also store glycogen, allowing you to workout with greater intensity. After the refeed, carbs will be lowered to .5g/lb for 4-6 days, followed by another refeed.
For the remaining time, consume around .25-.5 g/lb of carbs with a refeed occurring every 4-6 days. If you are aiming to lose weight so your body will not be exposed (like a suit for a man or a dress for a woman), then schedule the last refeed no sooner than four days prior to the event. This ensures you are not holding any additional water weight. If your body is going to be seen, then you will want to schedule a refeed starting the afternoon before and continuing until the next morning. These carbs are necessary to fill your glycogen stores and will make your muscles pop. Your skin will be tighter, and you will look more vascular and “full.” If you start carb loading too soon or overeat you may become bloated and lose some of your definition, so add carbs carefully. It’s always better to come in not quite full, but shredded vs. very full but bloated.
The carb sources matter as well. Since you are limited in the amount you can consume, it’s important to make sure they are good, natural fuel sources so your workouts are properly fueled. Overly processed carbohydrates and refined sugars can cause bloating and inflammation in the gut, which may take away from the definition or taper of the midsection. Primary sources of carbohydrates, in addition to large amounts of green, fibrous vegetables, should be from the following: sweet potatoes/yams, squash, quinoa, and rice. If including bread in your diet, stick to something less processed, like Ezekiel bread.
Fat is essential for your body to carry out its most basic functions. It helps keep hormones such as testosterone at optimal levels. When your fat intake is too low, muscle loss occurs rapidly. In addition to this, your levels of satiety will suffer, and your energy levels will be low or fluctuate. Typically .5g/lb is a good target when trying to lose bodyfat. However, if you are seeking to drop it quick, you should lower your fat intake to .3-.4g/lb. This is the minimum amount of fat one can consume for extended periods of time without severe adverse effects. On the refeed days, fat will be lowered to .2-.3g/lb.
Since fats are essential for testosterone and hormonal functions, and they are severely limited in this protocol, the types of fats matter greatly. It’s important to avoid all processed trans fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Saturated fat and cholesterol are precursors to testosterone, so consume a lot of whole eggs, olive and coconut oil, grass-fed beef, butter, raw nuts, avocado, and wild fish.
Many bodybuilders overdo protein. They drink shakes every 3 hours and eat 10 egg whites in between. When trying to gain muscle protein, food intake does not need to be excessively high. This is because your body is in a surplus and at a positive nitrogen balance (this determines whether you’re building or burning muscle). This is an anabolic state that will result in muscle growth as long as a minimum amount of protein is consumed of about .8g/lb. Unfortunately, when trying to cut body fat quickly, your body is not in that positive nitrogen balance and muscle loss is inevitable.
Protein is the only macronutrient that has a direct effect on nitrogen balance, so you must consume enough to keep the balance favorable for fat loss while preserving most of your lean muscle. With carbohydrates and fats low, you will use protein for fuel through a process called gluconeogenesis. Since your body is metabolizing protein for energy, you should consume 1.4-1.6g/lb to ensure enough left over to raise nitrogen levels. For the very lean or muscular you may need even more or risk losing hard earned muscle.
Ideal sources of protein will contain all the essential amino acids and include lean cuts of grass-fed beef, hormone free chicken, wild fish, tuna, eggs, and whey protein. Since you will be in a large caloric deficit, you should stick mostly to whole foods rather than rely on supplements and shakes. This promotes better satiety and mood.
Intermittent fasting is a method of eating where you consume all of your days calories in a 6 to 10-hour period. So if your last meal was at 8 pm, your next one would be between 11 pm and 2 am. This can be a tool you use to achieve better satiety and more stable blood sugar levels, which can improve mood. Also, there may be hormonal benefits that help preserve lean muscle and burn fat. The growth hormone increases greatly, as will the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. These particular hormones are excreted from the adrenal glands and increase metabolism and mobilization of fatty acids so you burn more body fat.
Another benefit of intermittent fasting is the psychological aspect. When cutting calories, satiety often suffers in part due to the small portions and frequent meals. When eating during a shortened feeding window, you can eat normal or even large sized meals that give you a psychological boost.
Once you have your diet in check, you should start a supplement stack to preserve lean muscle while helping to burn body fat. Try Sheer Strength BCAAs to help your body maintain the positive nitrogen balance mentioned earlier and preserve muscle. It also aids in your recovery from intense workouts.
Explore Thermogenics, like Sheer Thermogenic, to help fight the lethargic feeling that often occurs on a cut. Sheer Thermogenic utilizes a formula that includes green tea catechins, which have been shown in recent studies to burn stomach fat directly. It also has ingredients that boost mood and prevent you from becoming “hangry.”
Incorporate a low volume, heavy weight routine consisting of compound exercises. Target multiple muscle groups or even do a full body workout. Keep resistance workouts to no more than 3-5 days in a week. This helps preserve lean muscle during your caloric deficit. But, you must go heavy and incorporate some sets in the 1-5 range.
Cardio can be done a couple different ways. While it’s important to incorporate, it is probably even more important to make sure you don’t overdo it. One or two days a week of HIIT workouts will be plenty and should last no more than 20 minutes a session. Another method of cardio could be low-intensity aerobic work in a fasted state. Something simple like going for a walk or a hike. This can last 30-60 minutes and be done 2-4 times per week.
While this type of protocol is okay for a short duration, make sure to go through a maintenance or surplus phase after. It’s always better to go slow and steady, but if you are in a hurry, stick to the guidelines, and you will shed body fat quickly while losing minimal amounts of muscle.
Sample 4 week macronutrient breakdown:
|28 -day before event||2g/lb||1.4g/lb||.3g/lb|
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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