Despite what you see in your social media feeds of dramatic fat loss results, training and eating for fat loss is hard. Like really hard. Ronnie Coleman said that everyone wants to get big, but no one wants to lift heavy weights. Something similar could be said for fat loss. Everybody wants to lose fat, but nobody wants to push themselves away from the dinner table.
A caloric deficit is the number one tenet of any fat loss program. Without it, your fat loss efforts will be for naught. There’s tons of conflicting fat loss information, but that “fact” of fat loss never changes. Overeating will always be the number one mistake when training for fat loss.
Mistakes are part of the learning process. You make a whopper; you learn from it and hopefully never do it again. Or you could learn from the experts beforehand, even before you start.
That’s way better.
The following three fat loss coaches, who have been around the block or two and have coached hundreds and hundreds of fat loss clients, tell you of the biggest fat loss mistakes they see. It would be best if you listened to them so you can get back to enjoying ice cream again.
Overcompensating With Cardio
Jason Leenaarts: Owner/Head Trainer: Revolution Fitness & Therapy
You may have heard the adage that you can’t outrun the fork. That’s only partially true. Yes, you can commit to long-distance and frequent endurance training to create a total energy deficit, but the fact is, most people won’t do that. So, while you absolutely are encouraged to increase your step count and to have a good strength training plan that you can stick with, my advice is not to treat your cardio as a means to punish yourself for your diet plan.
It’s not just about your exercise either.
Intense training can hurt your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) levels, and many people burn more calories with daily NEAT than with exercise. The other issue is that intense training can drive up your hunger, making it potentially more challenging to stick to your diet. If you find that you are absolutely ravenous on training days, take inventory and consider a few possibilities:
1. You may be training with too much intensity too often, and you need to pull that time/effort back.
2. You’ve given yourself too aggressive of a calorie deficit and need to push your calories up a bit.
3. You’re not eating enough protein and adhering to a diet that has a balance of satiating carbs and healthy fats.
Overestimating Your Activity Levels
Dr. Allan Bacon: Maui Athletics Iron-Forged Doc
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (N.E.A.T) plays a critical role in weight management. NEAT levels measure all activities you perform throughout the day that are not directly part of your exercise routine.
This includes fidgeting, walking, dancing a jig, out-running venomous animals if you are Australian, picking up your child, etc. They are also the main reason people tend to clump themselves into the categories of “fast” or “slow” metabolism. Those with desk jobs are especially at risk of having low levels.
NEAT variance can account for an over 2000 calories per day difference in energy expenditure!
As you lose weight and fat, your body attempts to “protect” itself from this change by subconsciously lowering your NEAT levels through metabolic adaptation. The greater the caloric deficit and weight loss, the more significant the reduction in NEAT.
The end result is that you move less. To put this into perspective, a sedentary person burns, on average, 77 calories per hour resting. The mere action of walking 1 mile per hour can increase your energy expenditure by nearly 2.5-3 times that amount!
This means it’s something you better be tracking.
The best way to monitor your NEAT levels is to invest in a pedometer/accelerometer. During your fat loss journey, always wear your pedometer when you are not exercising. Using a pedometer in this manner gives you a distinct gauge of how active you are when you are not working out.
Since people tend to stay relatively consistent with their exercise routine, the significant variance in physical activity will often come in the form of decreased NEAT levels that may go unnoticed. This will allow you to identify a subconscious drop in your daily activity, which will give you an idea of how to adjust either those activity levels or your food intake to compensate.
Neglecting Strength Training
Gareth Sapstead: CSCS, Physique training specialist And Olympic coach
One of the biggest lies you’ve been told is that cardio is for fat loss and that strength training is for building muscle and strength. This often results in the belief that strength training just isn’t that important when trying to lose body fat. If you believe this, then be prepared to lose some of your hard-earned muscle and end up with that “skinny-fat” look you’ve been trying to avoid.
Even when your priority switches from building muscle to losing body fat (e.g., bulking versus cutting), strength training should still be your primary training mode. The truth is that it’s extremely hard to build any muscle when you’re sitting in a caloric deficit. However, by striving to build muscle and strength through intelligent training, you are more likely to retain it as you continue to leaner.
Here’s the deal: Don’t lift weights to burn fat!
Sure, there’s an argument for things like circuits and metabolic-style resistance training in some cases. But these types of training aren’t ideal for building or retaining muscle. See these as more high-intensity forms of cardio and a way to burn some bonus extra calories if your workout time is limited.
Instead, program your strength training workouts as if you were trying to grow muscle maximally. This will far better help you retain your size and strength, while other things like diet, cardio, and daily activity targets help to create a caloric deficit and unveil the muscle you’ll have retained.