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Welcome to part II of the Principles of Fat Loss. If you haven’t read part I yet, I recommend starting there and returning to this one after.
If you have read part one, here’s a quick recap of the first three principles of fat loss:
- Fat Loss Principle #1: Maintaining a Caloric Deficit
- Fat Loss Principle #2: Understanding the Difference Between Weight Loss and Fat Loss
- Fat Loss Principle #3: Strength Training
The Cliff’s notes of part I is that you have to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight, losing fat (not just weight on the scale) is what’s going to get you the look and health you’re after, and strength training promotes fat loss instead of muscle loss.
On to the next three principles of fat loss.
Fat Loss Principle #4: Protein
Everybody knows strength training and protein go together like peanut butter and jelly. What they don’t know is that fat loss and protein do too.
Strength training helps prevent muscle loss when you’re losing weight, and protein does the same.
Think of protein like bricks and muscles like brick houses. Muscles are made of protein just like a brick house is made of bricks.
During times of weight loss your body naturally begins breaking down muscle to use it for energy. It’s a protective mechanism, kind of like if you were going broke you’d start selling things in your house to get by. Not ideal, but you do what you gotta do.
Just like your bank account is in a constant cycle of money going in and money coming out, your body is always in a cycle of building muscle and breaking muscle down at the same time. Your muscles grow when the rate of protein synthesis (muscle building) is greater than the rate of protein catalysis (muscle breakdown).
It’s a constant balance, like a teeter totter. The teeter totter is tipped in favor of muscle building if protein synthesis increases or if protein catalysis decreases. Likewise, the opposite is also true. The teeter totter tips towards muscle loss if protein synthesis decreases or protein catalysis increases.
The name of the game then is increasing protein synthesis and decreasing protein catalysis. Strength training dramatically increases protein synthesis, which is why it’s really important for keeping muscle around and forcing fat loss when you’re losing weight.
Eating a boat load of protein decreases protein catalysis (muscle breakdown), keeping your teeter totter tipped towards muscle building. It’s as if your body says “I already have so much protein from my diet, I don’t need to get any more protein by breaking down my muscle.”
The end result is taking one step closer to the body and health you want.
So how much protein do you need to eat then?
General guidelines are one gram per pound of body weight. So however much you weigh, eat that many grams of protein per day.
Some studies have found eating even higher amounts of protein than that lead to even better results, but the general consensus right now is eating more than one gram of protein per pound of body weight probably won’t give you much of a better result.
At the same time, there are no known negative side effects of eating too much protein. No, unless you have an actual kidney disease, protein isn’t going to make your kidneys explode.
For more on protein and its effects on muscle gain and fat loss see this review written by a prominent protein researcher named Erik Helms.
Take home: eat at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight to force fat loss, keep your strength and muscle, and achieve the look and health you’re after.
Fat Loss Principle #5: Sleep
Ever wished your fat would melt off your body in your sleep?
Well, today, right here in your email inbox, dreams come true.
A team of researchers once put people in a caloric deficit to guarantee they would lose weight and then messed with their sleep to see what would happen.
Some people got 5.5hrs sleep, others got a full 8.5hrs each night.
They all lost weight, of course, because they were in a caloric deficit, making it physically impossible not to.
But what was most interesting is where that weight loss came from.
The people that slept 8.5hrs per night lost 2.3x more fat than those with only 5.5hrs sleep, and the people that slept only 5.5hrs lost 1.6x more muscle than those with full nights of sleep.
Yes, you read that right: a full night of sleep meant 233% more fat loss.
Keep in mind both groups lost the same amount of total weight. The number on the scale went down just as much for both groups of people.
But where that weight loss came from was a lot different. The people who got full nights of sleep literally slept fat away while their under-slept counterparts lost more muscle.
This is just one benefit of sleep. Let’s not going to dive into the other ways sleep loss screws you up, like decreasing strength and muscle gains and motivation, negatively affecting mental health (like depression and anxiety), decreasing your ability to learn, and that after a certain point being sleepy at the wheel is more dangerous than driving drunk.
Suffice it to say poor sleep basically makes everything in your life worse. There’s no plus-side to not resting your head nice and cozy for as long as your body wants every night.
If you have to wake up with an alarm, you’re probably not getting enough sleep. Your body will wake itself up when it’s ready to.
Take home: sleep more to lose more fat and transform your health, performance, and confidence.
Fat Loss Principle #6: Stress Management
The more stress you carry, the harder it is to lose weight.
One reason is because stress makes you more impulsive and makes it harder to make good decisions.
I clearly remember one night when our son was 8-months old, sick, having a hard time breathing, and waking up every half hour. My wife and I were both exhausted.
If you have kids you know exactly what I mean. If you don’t, just know that waking up every half hour to your poor baby crying his eyes out is akin to Chinese torture.
My wife asked me a simple question and I snapped back at her pretty sharp. She was only trying to help, and I didn’t mean to snap at her, it just happened.
Later that night she did the same to me.
We apologized in the morning and moved on, but that night was a good reminder that stress makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do. It decreases your patience and depletes your will power, putting you in a worse position to make good choices.
When you’re stressed to the max do you really want to spend a few hours grocery shopping and meal prepping? Or would rather curl up on the couch and binge watch The Expanse all night (it’s good)?
One is clearly more productive and healthy than the other, but after a long day at work or an argument with a loved one, the couch, a bag of popcorn, and Netflix sounds pretty darn good.
We get in even more trouble when that bag of popcorn turns into a pint of ice cream, a bag of chips, some Oreos, and a series of missed workouts.
That’s why stress management is crucial. Being able to deal with stress in a positive way puts you in the mental state where you’re most likely to make good decisions.
Some good strategies are meditation, taking walks, talking to loved ones, reading, and exercising.
And look—I’m not against sweets by any means. I love a good brownie topped with ice cream as much as the next guy. But using a sweet tooth as a tool to de-stress is a slippery slope.
Think about how awesome it will be to swap a negative stress management habit with a positive one like exercise. Instead of making things worse for yourself, you’ll get two birds with one stone by exercising your way to a better mood. And along the way you’ll put yourself back into the success state of mind—not the impulsive, make bad decision that will derail your progress state of mind.
Success Behavior #3 is learning to love the process rather than only loving the outcome. The more you love the process, the more exercise itself will become a de-stressor for you. See the Success Behaviors for tips on learning to love exercise.
Take home: managing stress minimizes the likelihood of making bad decisions that will prevent you from reaching your goals.
So what should my plate look like?
I’m so glad you asked.
Now that you know the six principles of fat loss we can begin talking about how to put it all together and focus on what foods you should be eating to get the health and body you want.
That’s coming in the next article. Stay tuned.