Ok so, first things – Let’s agree that most of us want to have good firm muscle tone, nicely shaped arms and legs, and less jiggle in the right places when we jump up and down. There is nothing wrong wanting to feel proud and happy in your own skin. Regardless of how you look… as long as you’re proud and happy, that’s all that matters.
In this article, I’m going to be talking about muscle so I urge the ladies to remember that ‘tone’ is a term for how a muscle looks at rest. You can’t shape or tone fat.
Ladies, if it makes you feel better you can replace the word muscle with “tone” anytime you like throughout this article.
If you have a decent amount of muscle but a moderate amount of fat covering that muscle, you won’t be able to see any muscle tone. It’s covered up. Simple enough.
In my 15 + years as a strength & conditioning coach & helping people lose body fat, I have seen many impressive looking outlines while t-shirts etc are on… however I think we can all relate, this doesn’t always transfer to looking that great naked and more importantly having the mental confidence of feeling good in your own skin.
For most, to look good naked, being lean is the key. Without it, our true shape and curves, as well as hard work can’t really be seen.
People trying to achieve their best bodies will want plenty of muscle tone. But simply having muscle isn’t enough to look good if we still have stubborn fat mass covering it up.
On the other hand, few of us want to compete in bodybuilding or even reach anywhere near that level of extreme leanness. Getting there requires sacrifices, suffering, nutritional strategizing, discipline, and the willingness to feel like crap most of the time.
The good news is, losing enough fat to look awesome in everyday life isn’t that complicated.
But it still requires discipline, which is why most of us who love food (and not always the good kind) could use a few tricks to help us along the way.
These are extra tips that go above and beyond the foundational must-haves for anyone wanting to lose body fat. These work and make a massive difference. Yes, they may seem a little bit extra, but then again not doing them will leave you potentially looking a little bit extra. We all have choices to make 🙂
Do Something Before You Eat for 7-15 Minutes.
I was probably my leanest when I was 22 -26 years old. I used a calorie restriction to achieve my lean physique however the calorie tracking wasn’t very strict and my diet wasn’t that great where food choices were made. I ate a lot each day however, I exercised more. This means that although I ate a LOT, my energy expenditure was still higher than my calorie intake – therefore putting me at a caloric deficit.
While I did use caloric restriction (no diet is magical enough to allow you to lose fat while eating more than you burn), I can’t say that my diet was great. I tried to make good food choices, but I also ate things that are typically considered a no-no when trying to lose fat.
There is a very simple strategy for these “no-no” foods: You can eat them, but you need to do some sort of physical activity prior to having them.
It doesn’t have to match the calories in that food or anything fancy like that. It also doesn’t need to be a full-on workout. It just needs to be SOMETHING.
The only rule? If it is going to be a low-intensity activity, like brisk walking or playing with a football, it had to be done for about 12-15 minutes. If was a bit more intense, like a mix of push-ups, crunches, jumps, sprints, and resistance band exercises, it needed to be done for 7 minutes, with more work than rest time.
I’m not saying you can counteract a McDonald’s trio by getting on a stationary bike for 30 minutes. The purpose of the exercise period prior to eating has nothing to do with burning more calories. It’s only a strategy to help you eat less.
The fact remains that when it comes to losing fat, although there are many important factors (macro ratio, food selection, meal timing, etc.), the caloric balance remains the key element. And the main problem most people have is simply eating too much – meal frequency or portion control.
Why does this strategy work? Here’s what it does:
1) It drastically decreases boredom and psychological eating most of us experience.
2) Doing something physical will also help you get your mind off of that perceived craving.
3) Being physically active can help decrease hunger even a short burst of activity can increase insulin sensitivity.
Of course, your inner devil’s advocate will argue that you have a busy schedule and you don’t have time for this. Really? Do you train? Well, that counts for one.
Don’t you have time to do 3 sets of push-ups, crunches, and air squats in the morning upon waking before breakfast? Can’t you take a short 15-minute walk or run up and down the stairs at the office a few times before lunch? Can’t you go take a short 30-minute walk with your wife to unwind after your workday, before dinner?
And if you think about it, the intense physical activity will actually amp you up for your day. Or if you choose the less intense route, it may help you relax and decrease cortisol and other stress hormones.
Other than that, it’ll make you more conscientious about that extra meal because you’ll need to invest a little bit of effort and time. But since it can be done in 7 minutes it shouldn’t be a problem at all.
There is a quote by Jim Wendler. Jim was asked what he thought about kids eating fast food. To which he answered: “It’s fine if they push the Prowler to get there.”
Speaking of Jim Wendler, this next tip comes from him. It’s amazingly simple and will greatly help with portion control; it might even help you build muscle in the process.
Prior to your main meals of the day, drink a protein shake, ideally 5-10 minutes before the meal.
Once again the true key to fat loss is eating less. Most people have problems with portion control and that’s why they do better when they resort to extreme diets. Take the keto diet, for example, a high-fat and moderate-to-high protein meal is a lot more satiating than a high-carb, moderate-protein meal. A higher fat meal also takes a lot longer to digest, which reduces hunger.
Intermittent fasting uses a different approach. While most variations of it don’t control portions, by having a long period without food you can control total daily food intake. It’s harder to overeat when you can only eat within a 4-hour window of time. This being said, if you do overeat in your ‘eating window’ of your intermittent fast.. you’ll still get fat.
If you can find a way to decrease caloric intake without feeling like crap, your chances of success are greater because it’ll be easier to stick with it in the long run.
Drinking a thick protein shake 5-10 minutes prior to a meal will decrease appetite, especially if blended with a good amount of ice and water. Contrary to popular belief, not all protein shakes are the same. Different ingredients do different things and there is a variety of sources that proteins can come from. Look for casein, which is a protein that will digest slowly and blunt hunger for longer.
When you’re on a diet and your portions are reduced, having that shake will leave you satisfied even if you ate less than usual. And if you are “free-eating” (no planned portions) the pre-meal shake will prevent you from clearing out the buffet.
Drink the shake before the meal or it will defeat the purpose. You’re not using it merely for additional protein, but as a tool to reduce subsequent food intake.
Now, people who struggle with basic logic and reasoning will say this: “Nick, you said that the key to fat loss is creating a caloric deficit. Protein shakes have a caloric value, don’t they?”
Of course, they do. Each gram of protein provides roughly 4 calories of energy. However, since protein is extremely difficult to use for fuel as it needs to be converted to glucose and even harder to store as fat, consuming more of it will not negatively impact fat loss.
The purpose of consuming the shake before mealtime is to make you want to eat less at the dinner table, so you’ll end up consuming fewer total calories.
Strategy #3: No Training? No Carbs!
This is a pretty common approach in physique sports. Matt Porter, for example, one of the smartest men in bodybuilding, uses this approach during contest preps. And it’s been around. Thirty years ago the late Dr Fred Hatfield, who squatted 1014 pounds at age 45, wrote, “Eat for what you’re going to be doing and not for what you’ve done”.
If you aren’t going to train hard, and your goal is fat loss, then you don’t need “fast fuel” that day. Note that if your goal is to build maximum size, not get lean, I recommend having carbs on off days. But when trying to get lean this is a very simple approach. You don’t even need to necessarily count calories, just don’t eat any carbs.
Keep It Simple
If you’re trying to get completely shredded it’ll be necessary to follow a precise diet plan.
If your objective is simply to get leaner, you don’t have to be that strict about it. It all comes down to food reduction, which is a matter of portion size and meal frequency.
The key here is reducing hunger and modifying the psychological behaviour that makes you crave food for non-essential reasons – boredom, stress, emotions, habit, etc.
If you want to get lean simply:
1) Eat mostly unprocessed food.
2) Keep your protein intake high.
3) Keep your daily activity high
4) Try the tips above.
5) Kepp you glucose levels in range – ALWAYS
If you’d like my help and guidance regarding your own specific diet and training plan visit my 3-week FREE training and nutrition plan for diabetics by clicking HERE.
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