Fat loss goals need nutrition change to be the number one priority. Last time in part 1, I gave 5 eating tips for athletic fat loss. Here are 5 more.
6. Keep a daily food journal
Everyone serious about losing fat should keep a food journal. Many people who struggle with their weight eat randomly throughout the day without much conscious thought as to what goes into their mouths. A food journal helps you think about what you are eating. It is also a great accountability partner. No one wants to write, “1 bag of Oreos” on their food log.
7. Adjust portions, carbs & calories as needed
From time to time, it can be good to go beyond a food journal and actually measure food portions and count things like carbs and total calories. While proper food selection helps a ton and is the top priority, too much of even good foods can be problematic. The wrong ratios can also be a problem. Do you have to do this? My advice to people is don’t do it if you don’t need to (i.e. you are losing fat without it), but if you seem to be doing everything right and nothing is happening, then this can help. It is also good for people with really advanced goals (e.g. bodybuilding competition).
A good guideline with carb intake is that you earn your carbs by being lean. The leaner you are, the more carbs you can eat. Keeping track of nutrition is even easier than ever with websites such as FitDay and MyFitnessPal as well as several new apps for phones (if you know of a good one, please share it in the comments section - I'm not a cell phone guy and don't know much about apps.
Note for athletes: be careful not to go too low with your carbs as this can hinder training performance. Also, you can be more aggressive with lower carb eating in the early off-season. Do not go low carb in-season. Of the carbs you do eat, emphasize the very best ones for body comp (e.g. yams, quinoa, beans). Another tip for athletes is to look at nutrient timing. Eat more of your carbs in the morning and after training. Then, go more meat and veggies at other times. This allows you to improve/maintain body composition without hindering performance.
8. Consider increasing meal frequency a bit
Many people have found that increasing meal frequency helps in fat loss. One potential reason is that it may speed up your metabolic rate. Another benefit is that it helps remove the urge to snack on junk. However, do not get carried away with this or you can end up being enslaved to your lunch cooler and live a miserable life.
Note: a more recent popular trend is the intermittent fasting approach when you purposely go without food for some parts of the day and then re-feed at others. While there have been great results with this, it is likely not the best option for a high performance athlete as performance can suffer during fasted periods. Also, you need to be aware that trends tend to swing in opposite extremes (e.g. eating 6-8 meals a day to intermitent fasting). Be sure to keep an eye on new developments as this area will likely be researched more in the future.
9. Once on track, think treat meals and re-feeds, not cheat days
One of the techniques popular back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was cheat days. The idea was to eat clean for 6 days and then have a day where you eat whatever you want. While it did work for some who where able to eat very good on the other 6 days, it can be hard on your body and difficult for those trying to make permanent lifestyle changes. Also, in some cases “sabotage days” would be a better term than cheat days.
One benefit of cheat days was that it helped restore leptin levels (a hormone that helps burn body fat – leptin level decrease with low carb/calorie diets) and “kick start” your metabolism. However, a better approach to cheat days is re-feed days. After 3-4 days of low carb eating, have a day with higher healthier carbs (e.g. yams, oatmeal, quinoa, wild rice, etc).
Does this mean that you never get to have a treat? Of course not, but it needs to be limited or it will hinder you from making progress. I like Dr. Berardi’s 90% rule. 90% of your meals should be tailored for your individual needs and goals. 10% of your meals can include a treat or be less then perfect.
10. Learn to cook
Lack of quality food and creative recipes can make eating for fat loss a monotonous chore. Get a good fitness-appropriate cook book and you’ll be surprised at how good eating for fat loss can be. Dr. John Berardi has a fantastic performance nutrition cookbook called Gourmet Nutrition. If you are serious about your goals, don’t make the mistake of regularly eating out. When you do, you lose control over what goes in your food and your results can suffer. You have to cook your own food. Chris Shugart summed it up well: “The more you cook, the better you look.”
Find your best balance between sustainable change and get it done & maintain
When it comes to fat loss, many people make the mistake of waiting until the last minute (e.g. the season is starting in 2 weeks, the wedding is this Saturday, etc) and the trying to do an overnight nutritional overhaul (i.e. go from eating like a typical North American to a competitive bodybuilder overnight). This usually fails or works only temporarily and is followed by a rebound where people gain back all they lost and more. On the flip side, others seem to spend their whole life “trying” unsuccessfully to lose fat.
The trick is finding the right balance for you. Use these tips to help set some reasonable behavioural goals with your eating. Make some simple, sustainable changes. Do not try to progress too fast or you will likely find that your new way of eating is not sustainable. Remember the secret to permanent fat loss is permanent lifestyle change. However, be aggressive enough with your approach that you achieve your goal in a reasonable time and can move to maintenance – which is much easier.
Upcoming Fat Loss Seminar on Saturday, September 29th in Burnaby, BC Canada. More details to follow! For those not local, we are will look at making a DVD.