The Five Pillars of Successful Dieting
- Calories still count
Calorie-count has forever been the gold standard of fat loss “accounting”. Ask anyone on the street what a calorie is and most will know at least something (“umm…it’s something you don’t want a lot of”) but most have a far dimmer understanding of macronutrients (the carbs, fat, and protein that those calories are made up of). In the bodybuilding world though, we’re much smarter than that. We know that macronutrient profiles have different effects on hormones and ultimately, whether we lose (or gain) fat or muscle.
What many of us “smarties” have lost sight of though, is that CALORIES STILL COUNT. This applied to both gaining muscle and losing fat. If you’re not eating more than you expend, regardless of how the macronutrients are set up, you will not gain muscle optimally. So remember to not only pay attention to the fancy carb/protein/fat percentages and meal profiles, but also total energy intake- it still makes a difference.
- Train Hard and Heavy
If I get asked one more time about changing training while dieting, I’m going to tear my hair out.
When you diet for fat loss, it’s IMPERATIVE that you do everything you can to maintain (and possibly build) muscle. If you lose muscle, you not only look like crap, you also slow your metabolism, making it even harder to lose fat. So don’t switch squats to leg extensions, deadlifts to seated rows, and bench presses to cable crossovers. Don’t go from 6 to 10 reps, to 30 to 50 reps. Don’t go from what built the muscle to some nonsense that you think will l Letch in more detail”. It’s diet and cardio that will whittle way the fat give you a harder, denser look- it’s your training that will keep your muscle while you get there.
- Ok, hormones do count too
Though calorie control is necessary for progress, you will never see optimal results unless you marry that with proper macronutrient setup, to support an optimal hormonal environment. A low-calorie diet of 90% carbs, 5% protein and 5% fat will do a terrible job of maintaining muscle and stripping off fat. You’ll lose weight for sure, but it won’t be the weight you want to lose. Setting up your diet so you take advantage of hormones, rather than having them take advantage of you, will make a huge world of a difference in terms of results. Keeping carbs low most of the day is a perfect example-- by keeping insulin levels low, we facilitate fat burning. Post workout is a time when carbs are desired though (for anabolic and anti-catabolic purposes), so we add them in there. Protein and fat can be manipulated similarly, to take advantage of hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.
- Take Baby Steps
All too often I see people getting really aggressive with dieting right from the get-go. They jump right into doing cardio twice a day, reducing carbs to the bare minimum and doing all sorts of things to get in shape, as if they are stepping on stage this weekend. While I respect their motivation, it’s certainly not the smartest way to diet by any means. Not only will it send your metabolism into the dumps very quickly, and put you at a huge risk for muscle catabolism, it also doesn’t leave you with any “tricks up your sleeve” to implement when you hit the inevitable plateau. If you start right off with zero carbs and two hours of cardio per day, where you are you going to go when you get stuck? Three or four hours of cardio per day? No thanks! So make your changes slowly incrementally, to maximize muscle retention and ensure that you can keep continuing progressing for the duration of your diet.
- Don’t Dig Yourself a Ditch
Even the best-constructed diet will eventually lead to metabolic slowdown, not to mention mental stagnation (who likes dieting forever?). To avoid “digging yourself into a ditch” with prolonged dieting, make sure you schedule periodic breaks to relieve some of the physical and mental pressures of a diet. For some, just a cheat meal or reefed/carb-up meal once every week or two works fine to replenish glycogen levels, stimulate the metabolism and leptin a bit, and stave off catabolism (not to mention satisfy cravings and give the dieter a feeling of “fullness” that is often missed on a diet). Others might want to schedule longer periods of time (upwards of a couple weeks to raise their calories a bit so as to avoid metabolic slowdown and the mental drudgery of a continuously hypo-caloric diet. Oftentimes dieting success comes down to working smarter, not working harder. Taking one step back can mean two steps forward when done properly.
To wrap up, we have the following:
Eat the right stuff, but not too much.
Slow and steady (and SMART) wins the race.
Still train like you’re building muscle.