3- Nutrition for Fat Loss
Let’s face it: What you eat and how you eat it can make or break the
effectiveness of your program, regardless of how good it is. As the saying goes, although you can improve your fitness, you can’t out-train a poor diet when it comes to fat loss (i.e., improving your physical appearance). In this chapter I’m going to share some simple-to-understand and easy-to-apply nutrition strategies to ensure that each meal you eat will help you accelerate your metabolism, more effectively burn fat, build muscle, and improve your overall health.
Knowledge is power. And, applied knowledge is empowering! I don’t want you to follow the advice in this book just because Coach Nick says so. I want to help you to become an informed consumer. The goal of this chapter is to empower you with a solid rationale of not just what to eat but why to eat it. I also want you to understand that the nutritional information in this book is based solely on proven principles of the way the human body works not based on opinions, diet fads, or unsubstantiated claims.
How the Body Processes Food
As with exercise, there are some general principles for how the body processes food. Let’s take a look.
Metabolism is the speed at which your body burns through the food you consume. Although we are stuck with our genetic makeup, we do have some control over the speed of our metabolism. Along with your age and gender, here are three factors that regulate metabolic rate:
- Activity Level This is how much and how often you perform physical activity.
- Thyroid function A calorie is a measure of heat, the body is a heat machine, and the thyroid regulates body temperature. Thus, it’s obvious that thyroid function influences the speed of your metabolism. So those diagnosed with hypothyroidism can experience a slower metabolic function. The good news is this issue can be resolved through doctor- prescribed medication that works to normalize thyroid function.
- Body composition This is what your body weight is composed of, including muscle, fat, water, and so on. You obviously want a muscular physique, because, as we’ve established in the previous chapter, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn over a 24-hour period, even while you sleep!
As you can see, two out of the three factors just described are things we have direct control over. If we follow an effective metabolic strength training program, such as those provided in this book, to increase activities levels and improve body composition along with the nutritional strategies provided next we can take control of our metabolism and accelerate it as fast as our genetic potential will allow.
In addition to the three metabolism factors listed in the previous section, there are specific characteristics that can affect minor variables within your training program and eating choices. I’m referring to this as your individuality: It’s what makes you different from the next person. Some of these variables include the following:
Profession (active versus sedentary) Food preferences (what you like to eat) Workout preferences Even though we all are slightly different, we are made of the same raw materials, our bodies operate in much the same way, and thus the concepts in this book can work for everyone. Some of the minor specifics explained here as aspects of your individuality get worked out as you go along and discover more about yourself. Remember, you are the world’s foremost expert on your body!
The Truth About Diets
When it comes to fat loss, most folks go on some sort of diet. Although it may seem like there is an endless variety of diets, the predominant amount can be classified in one of the following 4 types of diets:
- Diets that cut calories
- Diets that cut fat
- Diets that cut carbohydrate
- Diets that cut out certain types of foods
For the most part, I don’t recommend any of them. Let me explain why.
Everyone knows the word calorie. Many people even know how many calories they are consuming per day. You may be one of them!
First, let’s start with what a calorie is. Do you know? I’m always shocked at the number of people who talk about how many calories they eat, yet they don’t actually know what a calorie is. A calorie is a unit of energy equal to the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C. In short, a calorie is a unit of heat, and the body is essentially a heat machine— hence the phrase, burn calories.
Now, before going any further, I want to make it clear that the relationship of how many calories you consume per day to the number you burn per day is the single most important factor when it comes to determining whether you lose fat. The concept that you need to be in a caloric deficit in order to lose fat isn’t personal opinion nor is it up for debate by so-called diet gurus. This is the first law of thermodynamics, which states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed (conservation of energy), only changed from one form to another. And, this is validated in science as research looking into the potential advantages to diets emphasizing protein, fat, or carbohydrates have found that reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful fat loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.
Although it’s well-established that fat loss is determined by burning more calories each day than you consume, I’m still finding that most people don’t need to bother with counting calories because if you follow the eating method I recommend, called complementary meals, you’ll end up taking in fewer calories and burning more without ever actually counting calories, which is a pain in the you-know-what. I will explain complementary meals later in the chapter.
The main reason I’m not big on counting calories is the simple fact that not al calories are created equal. Some calories are more nutrient dense than others; we’ve all heard the term empty calories before.
Here’s an example of why successfully losing body fat is not just about how many calories you consume. Let’s say that we put two women of fairly equal size and fitness level on the same training program and allow them to eat
2,000 calories per day. Woman A can only get her calories from lean meat, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, sweet potatoes, and rice. Woman B can only get her calories from candy, ice cream, and fast food. After 6 weeks, who do you think is going to look better, perform better, and feel better? Obviously woman A, because the calories she has been consuming are more nutrient dense and therefore contribute much more to her energy, strength, digestion, and so on. Both women may very well lose weight if they burned more calories each day than they consumed. But, woman A will still likely lose fat faster, keep more muscle, and have much better overall health because her fuel (food) kept her insulin levels more level and gave her more energy to fue her activity. Let’s face it you don’t have to be a nutrition expert to predict that even though both women trained the same way and ate the same number of calories, they will almost surely end up with different results. You understand this because it is easy to see how one can be well-fed but still not be well-nourished.
This is why when it comes to calories, my approach is to first emphasize the quality (i.e., nutrient density) of the foods you eat over the quantity (i.e., number of calories) and see where that gets you it spells success for most people.
It’s certainly possible to eat too many calories from nutrient-dense, high-quality foods, so I will address counting calories later in this chapter as the second strategy to try after you’ve been using the meal formula described later in this chapter because, as I alluded to previously, when you concentrate on the quality of the calories you consume, you end up taking in fewer total calories anyway because most high-quality foods (e.g., chicken breasts, veggies) are lower in calories. But, for those who’ve found their fat loss has plateaued or haven’t seen much fat loss to begin with, counting calories is the next step needed.
Put simply, too much fat in any form provides excess calories in the diet. However, simply cutting out all fat in your diet is not a good idea, either. Keep in mind that 1 gram of fat equals 9 calories, while 1 gram of protein or carbohydrate equals only 4 calories. So, if your current diet consists of 30 percent fat (or more) and you decide to simply cut it all out, you have just eliminated a significant portion of your overall calorie intake. If you drop your calories too low, you will drastically slow your metabolism and your body will likely start to feed off your muscle tissue for the energy it’s no longer getting from the food you eat. In fact, most studies have found that the larger your caloric deficit, the more muscle you’ll lose.
When your body begins to feed off muscle tissue, it’s called a catabolic state. This is not good because, as we’ve discussed, muscle is not only metabolically active tissue the place where fat is burned but it also is what gives you an athletic shape and keeps you strong.
Additionally, we all know how bad we feel when we don’t eat enough and become malnourished. It becomes hard to concentrate on a simple conversation, much less perform well at work, hit it hard in the gym, or engage in sporting competitions.
In the nutritional eating formula provided later in this chapter, I give some advice about minimizing your carbohydrate intake to maximize fat loss. That said, manipulating carbohydrate consumption and cutting it out altogether are two very different things.
To better understand why just cutting carbs is not the answer to fat loss, you must understand some basic facts about carbohydrates:
The human body is fueled by glucose. All food must be converted into glucose before it can be used as fuel.
Carbohydrate is more easily converted into glucose than protein or fat and is the body’s preferred source of energy and the brain’s essential source of energy.
Glucose is stored in the blood, muscles, and liver as glycogen
One gram of glycogen holds approximately 3 grams of water.
It’s no wonder why people who cut carbs lose so much weight so fast glycogen holds more than double its weight in water. It’s therefore likely that they lost mostly water weight. This is why only using the scale to gauge your progress is a bad idea: The scale doesn’t know the difference between muscle weight, water weight, and so on. In other words, there’s weight loss and there’s fat loss. When people say they want to lose weight, they mean they want to lose fat.
As you burn glycogen throughout the day, eating carbohydrate simply refuels your tank. If you suddenly stop refilling the tank, your body still needs a source of fuel for the brain, so it makes its own glycogen by breaking down muscle tissue and using it as energy. Again, this is a catabolic state, which is not good!
Food-Elimination Type Diets
In every fad diet there is always some specific enemy. In these diets, it is not a type of nutrient (fat, carbohydrate, etc.) that is the enemy, rather, it is a
specific type of food or foods. Many of these diets take foods that a small portion of the population are allergic to, like foods containing gluten or dairy and advise everyone to avoid them as well, which is not only scientifically unjustifiable, it’s like saying that since some people are allergic to dogs, no one should get a dog. Other diets demand that you eliminate a whole host of common foods that they claim are the “cause” of sickness and disease.
Interestingly, these diets often make mutually incompatible claims as to which foods cause disease and which they claim to “prevent” disease.
In other words, some of the foods that are on the “no-no” list in one magic- bullet cure-all diet are emphasized as “good” to eat in another different magic-bullet diet. If this alone isn’t enough to highlight why these “cure-all” type diets are based more on great marketing than they are on good science, keep in mind that every few years, there seems to be a new “cure-all” diet that claims to be better than the last. It’s no wonder these diets never seem to gain any credibility among the legitimate medical and scientific community. Let’s face it, if these diets worked as advertised, those who came up with them would get the Nobel prize and their methods would become standard practice in medicine and nutrition.
The fact is, what all of these elimination type diets do is take an extreme approach to problems that can be solved with good old moderation. In short, unless you have a genuine food allergy diagnosed by a real doctor then there’s no need for you to fully eliminate any type of food or ingredient from your diet. You just have to consume the foods that aren’t so healthy in moderation. If there is an exception to this I’d say it would be to eliminate trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils, as even small amounts of trans fat in the diet can have harmful health effects. For every extra 2 percent of calories from trans fat daily, the risk of coronary heart disease increases by 23 percent.
The No-Diet Diet Solution
When all is said and done, the long-term solution is not to simply cut certain foods out of your diet but to replace what you’re currently eating with better and more thermic foods that your body can use. This is what I call complementary eating. Complementary eating is a simple, practical, and realistic eating strategy you can use to ensure that each meal you eat will help you more effectively burn fat, build muscle, and improve your overall health.
What Is Complementary Eating?
A complementary meal consists of four components:
- Protein (eggs, chicken, fish, bison, beef, and so on)
- Fibrous carbohydrate (fruits and vegetables)
- Starchy carbohydrate (sweet potatoes, rice, oatmeal, and so on)
- Fat (avocado, nuts, olive oil, and so on)
We call this strategy complementary eating because each component of the meal complements the others to maximize nutritional benefits.
Protein is the building block of muscle. Starchy carbs are a great energy source.
Fibrous carbs move it all through the body and provide energy.
Fat decreases inflammation, improves joint and heart health, and aids in
disease prevention and cognitive function.
Additionally, complementary eating can help you emphasize fresh, local fruits and vegetables and high-quality meats, eggs, and fish while limiting
processed food, simple sugar, hydrogenated oil, and alcohol. There’s nothing wrong with having a glass of wine or a beer here and there when you’re trying to lose fat. Just understand that alcohol is the simplest sugar there is.
Figure 3.1 is a list of recommended foods based on the idea of complementary eating. It is not an exhaustive list but just a few food choices to emphasize.
With complementary eating, try to eat three to four meals per day. Meal size differs for everyone and should be based on how you feel and how much fuel your body requires that day. In general, size your complementary meal portions in this manner:
Make the protein and fibrous veggies the largest portion on your plate. (Note: High-protein meals create a sense of fullness, which helps to reduce excessive caloric intake and promote fat loss.)
Make the starchy carbohydrate and fruit smaller than the protein and veggies.
Make the healthy fat the smallest serving on your plate.
If you feel hungry within an hour or so after finishing your meal, you probably didn’t eat enough. On the flip side, if you feel full for hours, you probably ate too much. It comes down to common sense, intuition, and simply listening to your body. Also, the concept of eating five to six meals
throughout the day is unrealistic for most people, and the evidence doesn’t support this eating habit. Research has shown that those who ate six meals a day exhibited significantly higher blood sugar levels than those who ate three
meals a day.15 That means that eating fewer meals throughout the day allows your body to lower blood sugar levels more efficiently, create a physiological environment more conducive to fat loss.
Most of us are familiar with the glycemic index by now. The glycemic index was designed as a quick and convenient way to find out how
fast your blood glucose levels rise after you eat various carbohydrate containing foods.
Many of us have been told to eat foods that are lower on the glycemic index. What you probably have not have been told is that the glycemic index only applies when the food is consumed by itself. In other
words, if you eat a fruit, let’s say blueberries, alone, you will get a boost in insulin production . However, if you eat the blueberries with some cottage cheese, your insulin production won’t increase nearly as much because of the protein in the cottage cheese. So, if you are going to eat fruit, eat it with some protein. Starchy carbs also cause an insulin spike when consumed alone. This is why it’s so important to eat complementary meals as described earlier in this chapter.
Additionally, most vegetables, especially green ones, don’t do much to elevate your insulin levels. So, go nuts with the green veggies!
How Does Complementary Eating Work?
As discussed previously, a calorie is a measure of heat, and your body is a heat machine. The term thermic effect of food, or TEF, is used to describe the energy expended by our bodies in order to consume (bite, chew, and swallow) and process (digest, transport, metabolize, and store) food. In other words, certain foods require us to burn more calories than others simply by eating them. Here’s the general breakdown:
Fat is easy to digest. Your body simply keeps breaking down the fat molecules smaller and smaller, which does not require much work. It has a ratio of 100:5, meaning for every 100 calories of fat you ingest, you burn approximately 5 calories in the digestive process.
Complex carbohydrate takes more effort to digest because of the glucose molecules. It has a ratio of 100:10, meaning for every 100 calories you ingest, you burn about 10 during digestion.
Protein requires about 25 percent more energy to digest because it is made up of 20 different amino acids nine of which are essential amino acids supplied through food. It has a ratio of 100:25, meaning for every 100 calories you eat, you burn approximately 25 calories to digest it.
Based on TEF, if most of your meals are complementary, it is easy to see how you end up consuming fewer calories and burning more. Plus, there’s no unrealistic dieting and no need for additional calorie counting!
As stated previously, fat loss does come down to calories in versus calories out (i.e. the first law of thermodynamics). And, since one pound of fat has about 3,500 calories, you need a 500 calorie per day deficit in order to lose one pound of fat.
Now, there are two ways to create a caloric deficit. You can either eat less calories or you can eat the same amount of calories and increase your activity level to burn more calories. This is yet another reason why cardio works
faster than weight training in these short term studies comparing cardio training to weight training for fat loss fat loss, because cardio burns more calories during the workout than strength training. However, instead of spending the extra time doing cardio to burn (let’s say) 300 calories, you can simply cut 300 calories out of your diet each day and end up with the same result without having to bother with all the potential side effects and boredom issues involved with cardio, which I covered in the previous chapter. This is yet another reason why cardio training isn’t emphasized in the strength training for fat loss system, as in most cases, you eliminate the need for it (from a fat loss perspective) when you simply eat less calories to create a deficit.
As I stated earlier in the chapter, I don’t recommend counting calories right off the bat when you begin integrating in the complementary eating strategy into your normal lifestyle because simply by using this strategy you’re eating less calories and burning more. However, if you reach a point where you’re using the complementary eating strategy and you’re not losing roughly one pound of fat per week, then I say it’s time to begin counting your calories to ensure that you’re in a caloric deficit needed to lose fat.
It’s worth mentioning that just as a caloric deficit is needed to lose fat, a caloric surplus is needed to build muscle. So it stands to reason that one can’t build muscle while losing fat. However, keep in mind that stored fat is stored energy, so those stored fat calories are available for the body to use as fuel for the muscle-building process. No! Your body can’t turn fat into muscle or vice versa. Fat is fat and muscle is muscle. But, if you’re overweight, it can use your stored energy (i.e., stored fat is the caloric surplus) to fuel the muscle building process when that fuel isn’t coming from additional food intake. This is still consistent with the first law of thermodynamics.
However, if you’re already fairly lean, a large caloric deficit will generally make you lose some muscle even with strength training and adequate protein.12,13 So, the goal, for everyone, especially when you’re not overweight but just looking to lose that extra bit of fat, is to make sure your diet delivers plenty of protein and that you’re doing regular strength training
as I’ve directed you in this boo. When you do that you’ll limit muscle loss to a very small amount, if any.
The Lowdown on Supplements
One thing even fitness professionals often have a distorted view of is supplements. Put simply, supplements should be taken in addition to something; they are not the thing itself. That said, once you get situated with complementary eating habits and a comprehensive training program, there are a few scientifically proven safe and effective supplements we recommend because they boost your workout performance, which will help to accelerate your fat loss.
A quality protein powder can serve as the protein part of meal, a snack, or a pre- or postworkout shake. We recommend either a 100 percent whey protein isolate powder or a combination of casein and whey, because research has shown them to be the most superior forms of protein. If for some reason you aren’t interested in whey protein, then other supplements such as soy and egg have been shown to be beneficial as well.
To go into all of the specifics about protein is beyond the scope of this book. But, I will tell you that there are lots of myths and misconceptions about protein regarding how much is too much, potential side effects, and so on.
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most researched supplements on the market. It’s also one of the most misunderstood—the scientific evidence doesn’t line up with many of the common claims we often hear about its side effects or potential dangers.
The science has clearly shown that creatine monohydrate is 100 percent safe
for both men and women, and even for kids, and it’s effective at boosting your workout performance giving you better results from your workout efforts. Plus, creatine works fast and is affordable.
If you’re a coffee drinker like me, you’ll love to hear that research has shown
- 400 milligrams or less increase muscle strength and endurance, blunt pain, and burn more fat (14);
- caffeine does help to mobilize fat;
- caffeine does increase your heart rate, but it’s a nonissue if you’re healthy and free of blood pressure and heart troubles;
- caffeine does not dehydrate you; and
- 100 milligrams per day before training will help if you aren’t already a regular caffeine user. The more you use caffeine, the higher the dosage must be to have an effect.
Here’s how I recommend you put these supplements to good use by including them as part of your preworkout nutrition to ensure you get the most out of each and every workout. Around 30 to 60 minutes before training, consume the following:
- 100 to 400 milligrams of caffeine (sources include coffee or supplementation)
- 20 grams of a fast-digesting protein such as whey
- 20 to 40 grams of a slow-digesting carbohydrate such as berries (optional)
- 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
Sure there are a multitude of supplements on the market, but many, like fad diets, are based on good marketing and little-to-no science. So, I caution to stick with the supplements that are highly researched and proven effective like the ones I listed above. And, do your homework and look into the
research on any other supplements before you even think about spending your hard earned money.
We can’t talk about eating for fat loss and not discuss splurge meals.
We all have high-fat, high-calorie foods that we love to eat. And, if you want to keep your sanity and you want your (healthy) eating to be manageable, you absolutely must eat those not-so-healthy foods you love every once in a while. My advice is to follow the 85–15 rule.
This means that if 85 percent of the time you eat in the way I’ve described in this chapter, then 15 percent of time you can eat whatever you want. In real world terms, that’s about 1 in every 7 meals. And, if you’re eating 4 meals per day, that one of your meals every two days. That’s how moderation works and that’s how you do a no-diet diet!
If you’re actively training for a physique show or a sporting competition, then you may need to be stricter than 85–15 for the short time you’re in prep phase. But for the most part, life is too short to always be stressed and unhappy because you can’t eat the foods that you enjoy.
Before wrapping up this chapter, it’s important to note that although the title of this book is Strength Training for Fat Loss, all of the exercise protocols and programs provided are also great for improving your work capacity (i.e., conditioning). There is usually little to no difference between fat-loss exercises and metabolic conditioning exercises; both are intense in nature and demand a total-body effort for extended periods of time, which is what you get from the workouts provided in this book. The only thing that separates a conditioning program from a fat-loss program is the diet. You most certainly can improve your work capacity without going on any special calorie-restrictive diet.
But in order to lose body fat, some diet adjustments need to be made and adhered to (i.e., the 85–15 rule), such as the nutrition advice provided in this chapter.
Finally, as far as follow-through goes, that’s on you. No one is perfect and neither are the typical situations life throws at us through work, travel, and family responsibilities. I don’t expect every meal you eat to be perfect, and neither should you! Just try to use the simple eating strategies in this chapter to do as best you can, do better than you’ve done before, and to empower yourself to see through the confusion created by infomercials, conflicting information, fad diets, and confusing industry jargon. It’s no wonder even health professionals are confused about what to eat when there are 500-page nutrition books on the shelves that rarely provide more practical eating knowledge than I just did here in a single chapter.