I’m going to teach you some of the most basic concepts concerning diet and exercise and how you can incorporate these into a successful weight loss plan just for you. If you don’t get it the first time, by all means, read it again, or at least the parts you weren’t so sure about. There are tons of videos and entire websites devoted to weight loss but everything you learn here is all you need to know to lose weight effectively, if you do it of course. The rest is just gravy.
You can also watch the presentation here!
What affects my weight loss plan?
You probably already know this much: that the two main things that affect your weight loss plan are diet and exercise. How much you eat and WHAT you eat are both extremely important. Both affect what your body does with that food. Ever meet someone that is overweight and yet doesn’t seem to eat all that much? As you will see, it is not so much how much they eat as WHAT they eat.
Exercise is extremely important too. Not only does exercise burn calories but it also encourages your body to stay thin. You will learn about this as we go along as well.
Now, you might be wondering why I’m not mentioning hormones. After all, they can have massive effects, right? That is absolutely true but diet and exercise both affect your hormones directly. Short of the occasional case in which someone has a serious medical issue, a proper diet and exercise program initiate hormonal responses that encourage muscle storage and fat loss. On the flip side, a lousy diet and/or poor or non-existent exercise regimen cause hormonal responses that promote muscle loss and fat storage. In short, if you eat and exercise appropriately, your hormones are usually taken care of. It is possible that you do all the right stuff and still can’t lose weight because your hormones aren’t reacting properly to your diet and exercise, in which case you really need to see a naturopathic physician or a chiropractor that specializes in hormone therapy.
To start off, let’s talk about the nutrients you get when you eat food because WHAT you eat is at least as important as how much you eat. First off, there are 3 main classes of what we call macronutrients. Just as the word “macro” suggests, we consume these in pretty large amounts. You probably already know that these are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Together, these are the nutrients that are used to build cells and provide them with energy to do their jobs. We will talk about each of these separately as every bite of food you take will ultimately be made of at least one of these nutrients.
Let’s talk about protein and how it can help you in your weight loss plan. To understand protein, you must first understand amino acids because amino acids are the building blocks of protein just like a Lego car is made of a bunch of different types of Legos. I don’t know how many types of Legos there are but there are only 20 types of amino acids that make up the protein in our bodies. For example, insulin is made by attaching a particular sequence and arrangement of 51 amino acids. This particular sequence folds in a certain way so that insulin does what insulin does. One minute change in the sequence and it doesn’t work correctly.
This is important to understand because human protein requires all 20 amino acids. If you’re missing even one, you literally cannot make protein, which is kind of the main job of virtually every cell in your body. In the picture here, the entire structure is a protein and each little part is an amino acid. The arrow is pointing to a circle that is showing the size of a single amino acid in comparison to the protein.
Where protein comes from
This brings us to the next major point about protein and how it fits into your weight loss plan. Everything you eat will have at least some protein in it simply because it is a major building-block of all plants and animals, but not all protein is created equal. Your body can make 11 of the amino acids itself but only from the 9 others that are considered essential. This means that you must get, at the bear minimum, enough of those 9 every day.
When a food has at least these 9 essential amino acids, we call it a “complete protein.” If not, it is unsurprisingly referred to as “incomplete.” Most plant foods, for example are NOT complete but you can still eat a diversity of incomplete foods so that you ultimately get them all. For example, one thing you eat might be deficient in histidine and threonine but you might get those two amino acids in some other food.
On the other hand, there are animal proteins, all of which are complete. This shouldn’t be a surprise as animals are a lot more like people than plants are! Plus, there is generally a lot more protein in animal products than plants. For example, a 6 oz chicken breast has about 40 grams of protein whereas the same amount of green peas contains about 12 grams and of course, green peas are incomplete.
Now, ideally you should get your protein from both plants and animals for ideal health and for the best weight loss plan results. But I know some out there are averse to meat for one reason or another. That’s fine but getting the protein you need, especially to lose weight will be much more challenging but can still be done.
How much protein do I need?
Now the question is “how much protein should I be getting?” Well, Uncle Sam will tell you that as little as 50g a day is sufficient for many people but he’d be really, really wrong! That’s only about 8oz of chicken a day and no other food at all because remember, everything has at least some protein. We also have to consider the fact that our bodies are made of about 80% protein (if we ignore water) that is constantly being recycled and replaced. Every cell in your body is largely made of protein and their job is to make other proteins and many are replaced in as little as a day!
What does protein have to do with my weight loss plan?
In fact, most people, especially those trying to lose weight need about 1g for every pound of bodyweight that they are trying to reach. So, for example, let’s say you weigh 200 lbs. but you think your ideal weight is about 150lbs, then you should be getting about 150grams of protein every day. I know it sounds like a lot and it kind of is, but that’s simply what your body needs, especially to reach your weight loss goals. You see, protein is “anabolic,” meaning it has an effect on your hormones that promotes muscle building and fat burning. Have too little protein, like 50g a day, promotes muscle wasting and fat storage and that is exactly what will kill your weight loss plan.
This will be revisited shortly but for now, let’s talk about the next macronutrient; fat.
There are all kinds of fats, perhaps as many as there are misconceptions about them. There are 2 main types of fats that occur in nature, saturated and unsaturated and I’m sure you are at least a little familiar with both. You probably know that saturated is “bad” and unsaturated is “good”; or at least that’s what you’ve been told. But once again, wrong answer. As you can see from the picture, saturated fats are straight but unsaturated fats bend in at least one place. This makes them function differently but it doesn’t exactly make one better than the other.
In fact, research shows that there are not really “good” or “bad” fats as we have been taught for so long. The problem lies with having the wrong proportion of each. In America for instance, we tend to eat way to much saturated fat but not enough unsaturated fat (especially of a certain type which we’ll talk about in a minute). It isn’t that the saturated fat is “bad” but the lack of unsaturated fats is.
Types of fats
But now let’s get into some detail about fat in regard to your weight loss plan. There are many different types of saturated and unsaturated fats, which is part of the reason we can’t just call them all “bad” or “good.” In America, we actually do tend to get a decent amount of one type of unsaturated fat called Omega 6’s. You can see these in the image above. These are unsaturated fats but many of these type also tend to promote inflammation, like you might experience when you get a cut and it gets red and irritated for a couple days. On the other hand, there are omega 3’s. They just bend in a different spot but that gives them the ability to fight inflammation.
You’ve probably heard a lot about how bad inflammation is but this is not exactly true either. CHRONIC inflammation is bad but just plain old inflammation is your body’s natural response to irritation of some kind. Chronic inflammation is inflammation that keeps on going, like knee joints that hurt all the time and this IS bad. So although I did say a minute ago that it is important to balance saturated and unsaturated fat intake, more specifically, it is also important to balance omega 3 intake against omega 6’s.
How much of each fat should I get for my weight loss plan?
So this begs the question, what is that balance? Ideally, you want to have about half of your fats be unsaturated and about half of those from omega 3’s. Remember, saturated fats are good as long as you get enough unsaturated and unsaturated fats are good as long as you get enough Omega 3’s.
What does fat have to do with my weight loss plan?
Now your probably thinking, what does all of this have to do with dieting? The simple answer is that a body ‘in balance’ is a body that functions best, and burns fat best. But let’s be a little more specific. I mentioned chronic inflammation and how omega 3’s fight it but the rest of the unsaturated and saturated fats often do the opposite. If you have inflammation all over the place, things simply aren’t going to function like they should, including your body’s ability to effectively lose weight. Plus, virtually every disease is associated with or even caused BY inflammation.
Next, let’s talk carbs. To really understand carbohydrates, we first have to understand the relationship among carbs and sugars. Both are what we call saccharides in biochemistry. If there is only one sugar molecule, like glucose or fructose, we call them MONO-saccharides, meaning “one” sugar. If there are two sugars bonded together, we call them DI-saccharides, meaning “two” sugars, like sucrose. Longer ones, like starch, can be composed of hundreds or even thousands of sugars bonded together in a long chain and we call them POLY-saccharides, meaning “many” sugars. It is just like the relationship between amino acids and protein. If we attach a bunch of amino acids together, we get a protein. If we attach a bunch of sugar molecules together we get a carbohydrate.
The types of carbs
Now, when you eat any carbohydrate (or saccharide), it must be broken down into individual sugar to be absorbed into your bloodstream. So obviously mono-saccharides (or sugars) absorb almost instantly because they don’t have to be broken down at all. Di-saccharides take slightly more work because your digestive system has to break apart the bond between sugars but it is still a pretty quick ordeal. Polysaccharides may have thousands of sugars chained together and so they take a long time to digest. It is a slow process because only sugar can be absorbed.
How carbs affect insulin
So while a glass of Kool-Aid might absorb very quickly into your bloodstream, an equivalent amount of whole wheat rice could take hours. Think about that for a second. The Kool-Aid would mean a big surge of sugar over a short time. The rice would mean a trickle over several hours. Both would raise your blood sugar, but the Kool-Aid would do it almost all at once. That means the hormone insulin would spike because it’s job is to keep the sugar in the blood at a healthy level by telling cells to store it. The wheat bread would only slightly increase insulin but the increase would last much longer.
What do carbs have to do with my weight loss plan?
Spikes in insulin are a bad thing and are strongly associated with weight gain and diabetes, both bad news for someone trying to lose weight. On top of that, sugar is pro-inflammatory but carbohydrates, not so much. In fact, more and more evidence is mounting that suggests that an increase in sugar intake over the last century is a major cause of virtually all the heart disease, diabetes, obesity (including in children) and many other health problems that plague our society, not fat and cholesterol. The bottom line, avoid sugar if you want to stay healthy and especially if you want to lose weight.
How fiber, which is actually a carb, helps with weight loss
Some so-called experts will tell you that you should avoid all carbs but that is not at all what I am suggesting. My favorite type of carb is fiber. Yes, fiber is a carbohydrate, it is just one that we can’t digest very well or at all, like say a cow could. Naturally, fiber avoids the insulin spike problem because little to no sugar enters our bloodstream because of it. In fact, most fiber goes in one end and comes out the other having undergone very little change. But is does a couple very important things you need to understand so that you can adjust your weight loss plan accordingly.
First of all, it slows down digestion in general. Everything you eat gets “mooshed” together obviously, and if there is fiber in it, which is undigestible remember, then it inhibits your digestive juices from breaking down the food it is mixed with. This is good because then what you do eat takes much longer to absorb fully.
Fiber also creates a sort of sticky “gel” in your digestive system. As it goes along it sticks to any food particles that might be hiding in small cracks or crevices. If this DIDN’T happen, those loose food particles might sort of “rot” there and potentially cause some serious problems.
Lastly, fiber helps you feel fuller and avoid overeating. It sucks up liquid and gets bigger, sort of like those spongy little animals that kids put in water and they grow. Since your brain monitors your hunger based on how filled your stomach is, and fiber makes you feel full sooner, you tend to eat less and feel more satisfied.
Recommendations for carb intake
When it comes to carbs and weight loss, there are some general recommendations. First, you shouldn’t eat too many carbs in general and I know this isn’t a strict definition but high carb diets tend to be associated with being overweight. Now I know this seems a little counterintuitive because shouldn’t eating fat contribute more to gaining fat than carbs contribute to gaining fat? The simple answer, is “no.” In fact, carbs play a much larger role (excuse the pun) in storing fat than consuming fat does in storing fat, largely for hormonal reasons. You do need some carbs or polysaccharides and the real enemy is sugar (more in a second) but the take home message is to focus less on carbs than protein and fat.
Added sugar is bad news for your weight loss plan and health in general
The next point is to avoid sugar. And I really mean added sugars, like those you’ll find in stuff like sodas, candy bars, cookies and a lot of other stuff that comes in a box or bag at the grocery store. These sugars are almost always mono-saccharides. But careful here; I don’t mean sugar you find in natural foods like fruits and veggies. These are usually di-saccharides, or larger and don’t have nearly the insulin impact that added sugar does.
And according to research, added sugar intake correlates nicely with being overweight and obese, meaning that in studies, researchers statistically find that the greater the sugar intake, the greater the weight and disease risk. Of course that’s not good. Not only that, sugar is inflammatory, which is associated with every disease in the book. The more sugar you eat, the more inflammation you cause and the greater your risk of pretty much every disease.
There are different types of sugar
Oftentimes where there are natural carbs there is fiber too. For example, fruits and vegetables contain various fibers; some more than others. When consuming carbs you want to generally choose foods high in fiber. The more fiber, the “better” the carb is for you. This is because, as I alluded to a second ago, getting carbs in your diet is more strongly associated with weight gain and obesity than even fat because of its hormonal effect, namely on the hormone insulin. The more fiber a food has, even one with sugar, the slower it digests and the slower the rise and fall of insulin. It is recommended that you get around 40g of fiber per day.
Water and your weight loss plan
Now, let’s switch gears for a second and talk about another nutrient; water. You may not have expected to hear about it in association with any weight loss plan but it is extremely important. First of all, your body is about 60% water but if you were to drop to just 50%, there’s a good chance you’re already dead! Think about that for a second.
So, obviously water is crucial for your health because the chemistry of life occurs in water; lots of water! That includes the chemistry of weight loss too. If you are dehydrated all the time, your body just cannot function as well which doesn’t help with your weight loss goals at all. Plus, there’s another good reason that relates directly to weight loss. Water contributes to fullness in much the same way as fiber. It helps take up space in the stomach and makes you feel full with no calories at all. In fact, studies show this. Thus, drinking plenty of water, while great for your health in general, can also help you avoid overeating.
Now that we’ve covered the macronutrients, protein, fat, carbs and water, let’s talk about micronutrients for a minute.
These are nutrients that you need tiny amounts of; namely vitamins and minerals and each is either water or fat soluble. This just means that they dissolve in either water of fat. When you have more than you need of a water soluble vitamin, like vitamin C, it is sent to the kidneys and you pee it out. Fat soluble vitamins and all minerals, can be stored in the fat in your body if have more than you need at the moment.
Another group of micronutrients worth mentioning are called antioxidants. There are literally thousands of them, maybe millions and are largely found in fruits and vegetables and can be water or fat soluble. In some cases, they are both. They are not considered essential like vitamins and minerals because you don’t technically need them to run the chemistry of life but they do fight off toxic waste products known as free radicals which are a natural byproduct all of our cells.
The reason I mention them here is because antioxidants are strongly associated with health benefits and decreased disease risk. Like I said, they aren’t technically essential but they really are. Getting plenty of antioxidants, which you likely will if you eat plenty of fruits and veggies, means your body simply functions better. Again, a body that functions better, loses weight better too.
Some of the most common weight loss plan themes
Now that you have a grounding in the basics of nutrition, we can productively talk about some common diets and I will highlight my favorite. Keep in mind, this is a general outline of the main types of diets, not a specific diet. For example, when I say low carb diet, that is a type, or theme, while Atkins is a specific one which differs a little bit from other low carb diets, but they are all based on the main idea of controlling consumption of this particular nutrient. Thus, you would eat mostly protein and fats. These work by the way but some are a little extreme in that they want you to get almost no carbs at all. You’ll lose weight but it may not be very simple or sustainable, which are the main reasons people fail.
High protein diets
High protein diets are also common and also work. But again, going overboard can be a problem. A high protein diet is healthy and does promote weight loss but if it is done such that there is very little of other nutrients, it can be a problem for overall well-being. You don’t want to compromise your health to lose weight, like you would if you just ate meat all the time. Again, one of these diets might be simple but not very sustainable.
A vegan diet
Some people try to lose weight by going vegan. You probably already know this, but vegans don’t eat anything from an animal; only plants. Even eggs, milk and yogurt are off the table; literally. This can be an effective weight loss plan because it is almost impossible to overeat if your diet comes only from plants. The problem here is that it is also really hard to get enough protein from plants alone. But unless you do protein shakes (there are vegan ones by the way), there is really no practical way to get say 150grams of protein from plants alone. You could eat 4.5 lbs. of peas but good luck with that!
Fasting diets are really not my favorite but some people use them. The idea is that if you are aren’t eating food, you have to lose weight because “calories in calories out.” The problem is, that isn’t how it actually works. It completely ignores the hormonal factor. You see, fasting puts you in a what is called a catabolic state. The short explanation is fat storing and muscle burning. So although it might help you lose weight, at least on the scale, it might be because you are actually fatter and less muscular. Besides, these sorts of diets usually prescribe fasting multiple times per week. Talk about unsustainable!
The Macros diet
Now for my favorite, the macros diet. It is my favorite because it’s the easiest and most sustainable weight loss plan that is still relatively healthy. The reason that 90% of dieters fail is because their diet is NOT simple or sustainable, even if it works, but with the macros diet, you can (sort of) eat whatever you want. That’s a lot more sustainable, wouldn’t you say? Of course, now you’re waiting for the catch and naturally there is one because obviously you can’t just willy-nilly eat whatever you want and lose weight, so let me explain.
How Macros works in general
You have a certain number of calories that you can consume each day and a certain amount of protein, carbs and fats that contribute to that. You’ll have to determine what those numbers are but for women, it should be somewhere around 1200-1500 calories per day depending on your height. For men, 1500-1800. Your protein intake should be the number of grams that you want to weigh in pounds. You may remember I mentioned this earlier.
Let’s say you weigh 200lbs but you want to weigh 150lbs., you need 150 grams of protein per day. This will be 600 calories, so you’ll get 500 calories from carbs and 500 calories from fats. The thing is, in the macros diet, it doesn’t matter where those calories come from as long as you get them. Your carbs can come from Raisin Bran cereal or chocolate cake. It doesn’t matter but you only have a certain number of calories. Let me give you an example that will illustrate more clearly how this works.
Say you are a 6ft, 300lb man. Your goal is to get down to 200lbs. Because you are relatively large, referring to height, you would fall in the 1800 calories per day category. Since you weigh 200lbs, you need 200g of protein each day, which supplies 800 calories. The rest, you can split evenly between carbs and fats. That means 500 calories from carbs and 500 calories from fats.
All you have to do is get an app, and there are many out there, put in your stats, adjust it to 200g of protein (and usually the fats and carbs will automatically adjust) and just input what you eat every day. That’s it. Where the protein, carbs and fats come from doesn’t matter but you need get the prescribed amount of each. Thus, if I’m that 300lb. guy, I would get 200 grams of protein (which contributes 800 calories), 125 grams of carbs (which contributes 500 calories) and 56 grams of fat (which contributes 500 calories).
An even easier, albeit not quite as effective, way to do Macros
Now, this isn’t very complicated but you can make it even easier although it won’t be quite as effective. The idea is to still record everything you eat but just care about protein intake. Don’t worry about calories, carbs or fats at all. Just be sure to get enough protein. You see, if you are consuming enough protein, you are still getting the weight loss benefits associated with a higher protein intake and since it is so much protein, you just won’t have a ton of room for too many other calories anyway. Again, if I’m our guy, I track all the food I eat but the only thing that really matters is that I get 200 grams of protein every day.
But there’s also an even healthier weight loss plan but I don’t recommend it because it takes a lot more self-discipline to follow. So, unless you are really hard core, I’d probably stick with the original or simple version. Anyway, it is obvious that eating chocolate cake to get your carbs is not the most nutritious way to go but it works because while most diets blacklist such tasty treats, macros doesn’t. As a result, you are far less likely to give up because you ‘just can’t take it anymore.’
If you can NEVER have chocolate cake, you’ll probably end up quitting the diet, which is what most people end up doing. But if you are like me and are only influenced by what is the most productive and see eating as only a means to an end, then you can make the macros diet even healthier. Do everything like I explained, just be sure that your carbs are mostly complex (polysaccharides) and includes lots of fiber, and that your fats are at least half unsaturated with lots of omega 3’s, just like I implied when we were talking about nutrients.
There are tons of apps out there including free ones. You just set them up initially, input what you eat every day and it does the calculations for you so you always know how much of each “macro” you’ve eaten and still have to eat.
Can a magical diet pill help me lose weight?
Now let’s talk about magic diet pills. OK, there isn’t one but addressing supplements is relevant because they can help with weight, although there are often misconceptions about them. When it comes to supplements, let me be clear, and you have probably heard this before. Supplements do not and cannot replace a poor diet or exercise program. In other words, there is no magic pill. But, there are supplements that can enhance the results you get from a proper diet and exercise program.
That being said, let’s review a few of the most effective ones. First is what is referred to as a thermogenic. These usually have stuff like caffeine and green tea to boost your metabolism. You know what it feels like to be “wired” with something like coffee or an energy drink. This is because it causes your cellular machinery to work harder and burn more calories. Burn more calories and theoretically burn more fat. Hence, the weight loss. But a thermogenic can actually be counterproductive if your diet stinks.
Conjugated linoleic acid
Our second supplement, CLA, is short for conjugated linoleic acid. This is actually just a specific unsaturated fat that you can find in foods like apples, dairy and eggs. It has been proven to reduce overall bodyfat and is a common choice for dieters and bodybuilders because it just plain works. While the exact mechanism is not known for certain, it seems to boost metabolism but not by releasing adrenaline like caffeine, so there is no jittery side effect of any kind.
Number 3: A fiber supplement is a great option too, especially for folks that are struggling with hunger. Like I mentioned before, fiber helps you feel full sooner and also slows digestion. Both are helpful for someone trying to lose weight.
Lastly is a protein supplement. The truth is, many people feel like getting a gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight seems like more than a body needs or is even unhealthy. Neither is accurate but that still doesn’t mean you are used to eating that much protein. Thus, a supplement can be almost be a necessity.
It honestly isn’t easy to get enough protein from just food. If you can, more power to ya’ but a lot of people find it is much easier to just drink a shake sometimes. There are lots of different types of protein you can get like whey, egg, pea or casein. It isn’t that important which you choose but I will tell you that whey is almost always the least expensive, best tasting and fastest to absorb. It is also commonly sold as an “isolate,” meaning there are almost no fats or carbs in it, but of course it costs a little more.
Now to exercise, which of course seriously enhances the results of your weight loss plan. Obviously while you exercise, you burn calories and excess fat but you also literally change your body’s chemistry. These changes are more conducive to better health and a higher metabolism. In other words, you burn more fat when you aren’t even doing anything.
There are two types of exercise; the first we are going to talk about is aerobic exercise. This is anything that keeps your heart rate at about 55-85% of your max for 20 or more minutes. You can determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. So for instance, I’m 42, which means my maximum heart rate is about 178 beats per minute (220 – 42). 55% of that is 98 and 85% is 151. So, if I want to take part in aerobic activities, I need to keep my heart rate between roughly 100 and 150 beats per minute for 20 minutes or more.
An easy way to check your heart rate is to feel your pulse and count the beats for 6 seconds. Add a zero to the number you get and that’s your heart rate. For instance, if I count 13 beats over 6 seconds, that means my heart rate is 130 (13 with a zero added on), putting me in aerobic range.
One of the most common activities for aerobic exercise is running but anything that gets you to your target range for at least 20 minutes counts. Sports like basketball and hockey, rock climbing and rowing are also some examples
Intensity and duration
At this point you might be wondering what the whole range is about considering that I can get an aerobic workout as long as my heart rate stays between 98 and 151. After all, that’s a pretty big range. You would be right to ask about this, so let me explain. It probably makes sense to you that the longer an activity, the less intensely you can perform it. For instance, if you are running a marathon, you will probably be operating closer to 55% of your max heart rate rather than 85%, at least on average. Likewise, you could do more like 85% if the distance were only 1 mile.
Now think about running for 20 minutes. That’s short enough that you could take your time and not exert yourself too much (55%). You might instead do say 75% of your max heart rate. Which is better? Run slowly for 20 minutes or relatively fast? You might guess that more intensity translates to more fat burning and you’d be right. Research shows that this is the case.
That leads us to a conversation about intensity and duration. They are inversely proportion, which is a fancy way of saying that the more you give to one the less you can give to the other. Again, you can intensely run 1 mile but not for a marathon. More intense exercise means you work harder but you can’t keep it up that long. Less intense exercise means you work less but you can maintain it for longer.
Intensity, duration and fat burning
Since intensity translates to fat burning, it only makes sense that duration, or the amount of time you exercise, translates to endurance. Now Remember, it was pretty obvious that doing a 20 minute workout at higher intensity burns more fat than doing it at low intensity. Let’s take that further and do a 20 second, all-out, kill-yourself, balls-to-the-wall sprint. What do you think happens? Well, you burn an even greater amount of fat per unit of time. But of course, doing this means we’re trading time and thus the endurance benefits this brings. But it does burn the greatest amount of fat. In short, doing a few high intensity intervals, as these are called, is more productive in terms of burning fat than a 20-minute run.
Now, keep in mind that although doing these intervals may be the most effective for burning fat, the tradeoff is that there is less benefit elsewhere. Namely endurance and heart health. You’ll get a little bit of these benefits but these really come when you’re running say 10 miles. Thus, balancing between the intensity and duration of your exercise is important to consider. How much fat do you want to burn vs. how much do you want to improve your overall health? Short and intense burns the most fat but mild and long provides the most heart health.
Strength Trainng for your weight loss plan
Now let’s talk about our second approach to exercise; strength training.
There are a lot of methods to strength training and each has its strengths and weaknesses, excuse the pun. But the main idea is always moving or lifting heavy things, most often weights. First, let’s talk about what weight training does. We all know it helps increase muscle size but it also strengthens what is called the mind muscle connection. All of your muscles will only produce a certain amount of force. But what a lot of people don’t realize is you are actually using only a small fraction of the cells that make up any particular muscle at any one time. In fact, if you could use all of your muscles cells at the same time, you could lift about 20 tons, at least in theory. Let me give you an example.
The mind muscle connection
Let’s say you have 50 different groups of muscle cells that make up your biceps. When you lift a really heavy weight, we’ll say you use only 2 of them. This is a natural limit that your brain sets on you for your own protection. If you could use all 50, you’d could lift a car with ease. But it would also cause a lot of injury and use an enormous amount of energy. When you lift weights, it increases your ability to lift more by teaching your brain to use more groups, say 3 and eventually 4 at a time but you’d never get to 10.
In fact, if you lifted weights and never gained any muscle size at all, you’d still get stronger. You’d simply learn to use more groups at once. You can see this sometimes with small or skinny people that can lift far more weight than you’d expect. They are just wired that way. For instance, my brother bench pressed nearly 300lbs. In high school but weight about 125lbs at 6’1’. He had very small muscles but clearly a powerful mind muscle connection.
Now back to muscle size. This is the most important when it comes to weight loss as I will explain shortly. In any case, when you lift weights, especially heavy ones, your muscles experience tiny little microscopic tears. With proper diet and rest for a couple days to a week, depending on the circumstances, your body heals it. But it heals it by packing a little extra protein in there to prevent further tearing in the future. This translates to just a tiny bit more muscle. Over time and the accumulation of many of these healed tears, you end up with bigger, stronger muscles.
Let’s go back to those 2 muscle groups that we talked about before. Imagine that your body is only capable of using those 2 groups but lifting increases your muscle size. Now those 2 groups consist of more muscle, therefore more power and the ability to lift more weight, even without an improvement in your mind muscle connection.
How building muscle helps in your weight loss plan
Now, when it comes to losing weight, we really want to focus on building muscle size. The reason is that muscle uses about 50 times more calories than fat when they’re not even doing anything! When you build extra muscle through weight training, your metabolism goes way up because it takes a lot of energy just to keep that extra muscle going. Now, before you get worried here, I’m not talking about bodybuilding. More on that in a minute. But ideally strength training should only be part of your exercise program along with cardio and it doesn’t have to necessarily be lifting weights in the gym. Anything that makes you lift heavy things works but there is a good, better and best way to do it.
Common misconceptions about strength training
Before we get to that, let me also cover a few misconceptions about lifting weights that I find many clients are concerned about:
- You won’t get really big like the guy in the picture above. It’s just not in the genetic cards. That’s why the truly big guys have to use a lot of steroids and still spend 2-3 hours a day in the gym.
- If you don’t become a bodybuilder and get huge muscles, you also won’t get huge nasty veins, again, like the guy in the picture.
- Muscles don’t turn into fat. Sometimes, once muscley guys stop lifting weights and keep eating a ton, but don’t need all the calories anymore. They get fat, and hence the idea that muscle turns to fat.
- Lifting is also not bad for your joints. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Your joints, tendon, ligaments and even bones adapt to stress a lot like muscles and actually become stronger as well.
- Getting bigger muscles doesn’t limit your flexibly but may improve it. Of course, folks like the huge guy in our picture here might have less flexibility in some directions because their muscles are just so large, this won’t be a problem for you because yours just won’t get that big.
How to effectively do strength training
Now that we know a bit about strength training, let’s talk about how to do it. Like I said, there are many ways, but we will focus on what is most effective in terms of weight loss, not necessarily getting you to lift as much weight as possible.
Intensity = muscle growth = great weight loss plan
First of all, intensity generally translates to muscle growth. The only way to be forced to be intense is to lift relatively heavy weight. Imagine for a second that you are just lifting some weight off the ground. You push yourself to your limit and end up doing it 20 times in a row before you can’t do it one more time. You add a bunch of weight and do the same thing again a couple minutes later and push yourself to your limit but only manage to do it 5 times.
Which do you think is better? On the first lift, it wasn’t even that hard until you got to something like 15, 16 repetitions. But on the second lift it was getting hard by repetition 2. Both are fine for strength training but the second one will cause more muscle tearing. Let me use an analogy to help explain why.
If you have a thick rope and pull 1000 Smart cars out of a ditch with your truck, one-by-one, will it damage the rope? Maybe a little. What if you try to pull a single, much heavier bulldozer out of the ditch? It could tear the rope in half all by itself. Lifting weights isn’t much different. Of course you’re not likely to tear your muscle in half, no matter how much weight you try to lift, but heavier weight means more muscle tears and ultimately bigger muscles that require more energy to run, i.e. higher metabolism.
This has to be balanced with repetitions as well, though. I’m not suggesting that you lift a heavy enough weight that you can only do it once or twice. But what I am saying is that you should lift heavy enough weight that when you do it, you can only lift it about 6-8 times. If you can do it more than that, add some weight. If you can’t do it that many times, take some off.
How long you keep this up is also important. Clearly you can’t expect to go to the gym, lift a really heavy weight 6 times and expect any results. You should repeat it for at least 30 minutes but not much more than 60 with 1-3 minute rests in between. For example, you might go to the gym and after a little warmup, do a bench press for 6 reps (because that’s all you can do), wait 2 minutes and do it again. Keep doing that for about 30 minutes (don’t forget to hydrate as well) and then do the same with deadlifts. That’s all there is to it.
You may want to check out some videos to see the proper way to lift. Get some ideas and learn a little terminology if this is new to you. For the purposes of losing weight, your focus should be lifts that require multiple muscle groups or large muscles. For instance, bench press, squats, deadlifts, flies, shoulder press and rows. Look these up if you don’t already know what they are and how to do them.
Putting it all together
This brings us to the most important part of your weight loss plan; incorporating all this into your life. Ideally, for health and weight loss purposes, you should be doing cardo and strength training regularly but not necessarily together. You have to figure out how much time you have available and are willing to sacrifice. But at a minimum, you should be doing 20 minutes of aerobic 2 times per week and 30 minutes of strength training twice a week if you want to see some significant results. If this is all the time you have to give, it is extra important that you are intense. Remember, there’s a trade-off between time and intensity. If you have low intensity and low time, your results simply won’t be that good. Any time is less than none of course, but the more the better.
Which leads us to what I’d really like to see you do; 60 minutes, 3 times a week, of both aerobic and cardio. It will be impossible to be high intensity with your cardio if you are doing it for an hour at a time but don’t let this be an excuse to be low intensity either. Even low intensity for an hour is beneficial, but Remember, the higher intensity, the better the results, so try to keep it moderate if you can.
When it comes to weight training you should always be intense. You can do this because you’re only lifting for 6-8 reps, which doesn’t take long. Plus, you’re resting in between sets. You will become more fatigued and may even need to reduce the weight a little after a bit but when doing the lift, you should be giving 100%.
An example week:
Monday: Running for 60 minutes
Tuesday: 30 minutes bench press + 30 minutes squats (2 minute rests)
Wednesday: Running for 60 minutes
Thursday: 30 minutes shoulder press + 30 minutes flies
Friday: Running for 60 minutes
Saturday: 30 minutes deadlift + 30 minutes rows
If you don’t have that much time, your week could look like this:
Monday: Running for 60 minutes
Tuesday: 30 minutes bench press + 30 minutes squats (2 minute rests)
Wednesday: Running for 60 minutes
Thursday: 30 minutes shoulder press + 30 minutes flies
Friday: Running for 60 minutes
Saturday: 30 minutes deadlift + 30 minutes rows
Ease into it
Hopefully as we’ve been going along, you’ve been getting more enthusiastic about losing weight. You should because you can do this! But I want you to be careful about making huge changes right away. Even if you are in decent health and not that overweight, start slow. Unless you already exercise your body is not used to it and injury is likely to result.
Cardio at first may look like just walking and weight lifting may be 20 reps with a somewhat light weight. Eventually you want to get to the level we’ve been talking about but for some out there that might mean more than a month of building to that level. This is not an excuse either, however. Don’t convince yourself that because you are fat and out of shape that you need to take it easy for 9 months. You want to get to intense as soon as possible, But that should be at least a couple weeks but probably not more than a couple months for anyone.
Why cardio and weight training? Can’t I just do one or the other?
So here’s exactly why I want you to do both weight training and cardio. When you do cardio, you burn lots of calories, which can’t become fat because you are using them. Plus, doing cardio does about a zillion good things to your body such as increase blood flow, heart health, boost immunity and on and on. Plus, you continue to burn calories even after you’re done, at least for an hour or two.
Weight lifting does not provide nearly the same benefit to your body overall but it of course strengthens your muscles, improves flexibility and quite frankly, arguably the best part is that it makes you look sexier. But building more muscle is the real selling point. That’s because muscle requires a great deal of energy to maintain in comparison to fat. When you lift weights, you naturally burn calories because you are exerting lots of energy but because you are ultimately building bigger, stronger muscles, you are burning more calories overall, 24/7.
If you just want to do cardio or even just weights, you can and either alone can help you lose weight in conjunction with the diet stuff we talked about. However, a combination of both is just the best, quickest path to weight loss plan success.
The role of the scale
One last thing. You’ll notice the two men here, one you probably know, the other is a bodybuilder. Now, if you had to have the same body as one of them, who would it be? I suspect you wouldn’t choose Chris Farley for obvious reasons. Although the guy is legend for his humor, he’s was also a fatty. The bodybuilder is the envy of all. Here’s something interesting; both of them weigh about 300lb. A tub of lard or a muscle-bound god, but the same weight. That’s because muscle, by volume, weighs much more than fat. In fact, muscle weighs roughly 15% more than the same volume of fat.
On top of that, Chris’s metabolism is much lower than the body-builder’s. In fact, I can assure you that he eats far more calories because they are necessary to fuel his body. Farley could probably do just fine on 2,000 calories a day, although he obviously eats more like 3,000. But a bodybuilder like this one will typically consume 5,000 calories per day or more because he needs them.
What will they see on the scale?
So, if Chris Farley stepped on the scale and saw a big 3-0-0, he might correctly say “man, I need to lose a lot weight. I’m fat!” The bodybuilder, although he would see the same number on his scale, would say, “man, I’m buffed.” What he wouldn’t say is “geez, I’ve gotta lose some weight.”
Which brings me to the idea that I’m trying to imply here. The scale only matters if you have the right perspective. What sometimes happens is that people start eating right and exercising and either gain weight or don’t lose as fast as they thought they should. They look back at me and say “hey, I’m not sure you know what you’re talking about.” But in fact, I do. You are losing weight, as in fat weight, but you are also building muscle.
This is especially true if you start lifting weights and didn’t before. The human body adapts pretty quickly and you can have significant gain in the first 6 weeks. After that the process tends to slow down. The point is, don’t let the scale dictate your progress. Stand naked in front of a full-length mirror. That should give you more insight into your progress than a scale ever could, especially if you take a picture of yourself to compare with future pictures.
Don’t check the scale every day; it doesn’t matter that much
Only do this about once a month though. If you try to gauge your progress in the mirror, or even on the scale too frequently, you are liable to experience discouragement because you will see very little progress over a day, or even a few. But over a month, if you don’t see progress, it’s time to re-evaluate. Maybe review this weight loss plan to see what you might have missed.