Can you possibly lose fat or even gain muscle while on vacation? Absolutely. It’s not easy of course. You are on vacation after all, so you probably want to indulge and eat and relax. Here are some tips to actually lose fat and/or gain muscle and STILL have a fun indulgent vacation.
Let’s say you are taking a one week or two week holiday. You can do a lot of damage to your body in 14 days of eating junk, drinking, and laying around the beach. Don’t let that be you! You can be the person who comes back from vacation not just well rested and rejuvenated but also in better shape! An important step is to plan ahead – waiting until you are on vacation is too late. So good for you for reading this article now.
These are notes partially to myself (I’m on vacation as I write this). And as with many of the approaches I take, I need to thank Tom Venuto and his Burn The Fat ebook.
1. Find A Gym – Chances are, there is a gym near your vacation spot. Search before you leave, find out if they have a power rack or squat rack. (Yes, you’ll still do the Big Seven as your primary lifts). Find one with day passes.
2. Time Your Workouts around the “indulgent” meal. You’ve heard me (and countless others) talk about how important it is to feed your muscle within that 1 to 2 hour block around your workout. You need protein and carbs to start the repair process. Many people advocate eating most of your calories for the day around this window (shake before, shake during, big meal afterwards). Well, if you are on vacation and you love big, crazy breakfasts, then workout in the morning before you indulge. If instead you are going to go hog-wild over dinner, then workout beforehand.
3. Count Calories – Calories do still count. There’s no magic here – if you eat more than your body uses then you will gain fat. I believe it’s more complicated than just counting calories (hormones play a huge role) but for some people, the logical process of counting calories let’s them eat crazy for a meal, then dial it back the rest of the day. Which brings me to… (more…)
Nobody wants to be a fatty. Whether you are now fat, on your way to being fat, or just want to get leaner, there are countless things to keep in mind.
With so many tips, I’ll overrule my usual verbose nature and dive in, somewhat tersely, with the 25 Ways To Be Unfat. Each of these could be its own article (or even its own book!). But I’m just giving you a sentence or two for starters. We’ll break these down into 5 categories: Overview, Attitude and Behavior, Eating, Lifting, and Cardio.
Since I focus worldfitnessnetwork.com on weight training and running, you might expect this article to be focused on weight lifting and running, right? Well, for sure, those are both part of the picture to be unfat. But eating habits are the most important factor for getting trim.
Final preamble: these are written for the person who wants to be lean, not super-lean. If you want to get into cover-model shape, there are more subtle techniques that come to play. But if you want to look good enough for the beach, these are for you!
1) 80% of the battle is what you eat – the cliché is true: you can’t out-train a bad diet. Eat smart and you’ll be lean.
2) 10% of the battle is resistance training – training with weights can help by burning some calories, increasing metabolism, and changing your body composition. Even for women. But many guys fall into the trap of building muscles that are still covered in fat. More on this later…
3) 10% of the battle is cardiovascular training - cardio (e.g. running) can help with calories but is only one-tenth as important as how you eat. And too much of the wrong running can burn muscle in addition to fat so you can’t over-rely on it.
All of these are mostly mental; if you learn the right techniques and then have the discipline to act on that education, even when you don’t feel like it, then you’ll win. Your attitudes and behaviors are key:
4) Don’t strive for perfection – getting your psychology about fitness right is most important; until you want to get ultra-lean, you are shooting for a 90% compliance; do the right thing 90% of the time and you’ll get lean.
5) Set goals – if you don’t set targets, it’s hard to know if you are making progress and it’s hard to know when you’ve “arrived” at your destination. Forget complicated goals – keep them simple by focusing on Measureable and Timebound. An example of a good goal for a woman: I will weight X pounds, at less than 20% bodyfat, by July 4.
6) Adjust your social life – avoid other fatties or soon-to-be fatties; who you surround yourself with influences who you become. If you’ve already had a junk-food meal this week, say ‘no’ to the group going out for a Chinese lunch.
7) Keep a log – write down what you eat, when you exercise, what you did, etc. Think of it as your fitness diary. You can do this online or on paper, I don’t care. But keeping a log will keep you on track even on days when you are less motivated.
8) Eat frequent small meals – eating smaller meals more frequently will (more…)
You’ve heard the preachers, including me, talk about how important it is to eat every 2 to 3 hours. And how important breakfast is.
But are we right?
Two counter-approaches contradict the above recommendations:
a) Intermittent Fasting (complete fasting for at least 24 hrs once a week or so)
b) Semi-Fasted Cardio (first thing in the morning after about 12 hours of not eating)
Today we’ll cover the pros and cons of intermittent fasting. Then next week we’ll cover “semi-fasted cardio”.
Here’s today’s outline:
- Pros and Cons of Fasting
- Roots of Fasting
- Fasting for Fat Loss
- Fasting for Muscle Gain
- Making Fasting Easier – 10 Tips
Let’s start with a summary, then follow with the details:
Pros And Cons Of Fasting For Fat Loss And Muscle Gain
Pros For Fasting
- Possibly very effective for fat loss, as studies show increase fat burn compared to carb burn, during fasting (much more detail on this in the rest of the article!)
- Easier, for some people, than being in slight caloric deficit each day
- Most people get a natural “high” on those days; better attention; surprising increase of energy
- More time for life; less time cooking, eating, and doing dishes
- Increased natural growth hormone: potentially good for muscle gains (much more detail on this in the rest of the article!)
- Disrupts the body’s expectations about food, thus preventing diet plateaus (hypothetical)
- Confidence – any time you try something difficult, and then turn that into a habit, you will feel more confident in yourself; this will lead to you accomplishing more over the course of your life
- Bragging rights – most people are impressed with someone who has the discipline to fast one day a week
- Potentially clears the body of toxins and waste
- Anecdotal benefits to a whole range of health issues, from reducing arthritis and migraines to improved skin and hair
Cons For Fasting (more…)
Are you trying to lose fat? Or to gain muscle?
That probably seems like a big question, huh? In fact, I get questions from readers all the time asking things like “what are the best guidelines for eating when you want to lose fat?” or “I’m trying to add a lot of muscle – how should I eat?”.
It seems that people consider these two goals to require vastly different strategies.
What I might have to say about this may surprise you:
It’s that the two plans are not so different as you might think.
In fact, whether you are trying to shed fat or gain muscle, your eating plan would be nearly identical!
In both cases you want to:
- eat frequent meals (every 2 to 3 hours or 5 to 8 meals a day)
- eat natural foods – plants or animals that are in a form close to how they occur naturally; a box of Fruit Loops obviously is as unnatural as Mark McGuire’s homerun record
- each day you want 30% to 40% of your calories to come from proteins, 30% to 60% to come from carbs, and 15% to 30% to come from fats; more carbs on workout days, less carbs on non-workout days
- eat protein with every meal
- eat a veggie or fruit with every meal
- eat breakfast!
- eat more carbs around your workouts, less other times of day
- eat protein around your workouts
- don’t eat high fats and high simple sugars in the same meal
- eating fat doesn’t make you fat! eating too many calories makes you fat, and you need to eat healthy fats
- pick one meal a week that is fun and breaks the rules (but don’t go overboard)
- lift weights [ok, not an "eating plan" but still critical so that your body composition ends with muscle and not fat]
- total calories eaten in a week; if you are trying to shed fat, you want to average about 300 to 500 calories below maintenance per day and if you are trying to gain muscle, you want to be above maintenance level for calories by about 300 to 500 a day on average
- adjust your cardio; for fat loss, more cardio will help burn more calories and intense cardio (like HIIT) may burn more fat; on the other hand, if you are having trouble adding muscle, you might want to just do short, intense cardio
That’s about it!
Note that I specifically say “calories eaten in a week” because there are some advanced strategies that involve high days for calories and low days for calories. Some people call it calorie cycling. We’ll address that in a future post.
Clearly, I’m Oversimplifying
Of course it’s more complicated than this. Otherwise all those diet-book authors wouldn’t have anything to write, right?
Sarcasm aside, there are certainly some subtleties I’m leaving out. That’s because people make this stuff WAY too complicated. It’s not that hard to get 80% of the way there. If you are fat, the above plan is 80% of what you need to know. If you are trying to gain muscle, the above plan is 80% of what you need to know. When you reach a plateau (when you stop making progress after many weeks or months of great progress) then there are some more advanced things you need to consider. But let’s focus on the simple stuff so that you can make some real progress and gain the confidence that you can really do this ok? I know you can do it!
Questions? Post them here!
I know I just sent you Tom’s incredible article critiquing the TV show The Biggest Loser. Well, I happened to just see this week’s episode.
Overall, I enjoyed it. I won’t repeat Tom’s list of all the positives here. But I do have one specific that astonished me…
One of the trainers mentioned to a contestant – a woman over 300 pounds – that she needed to be eating 1200 calories that day.
Wait a minute – 1200 calories? Only 1200????!!!???
That is a HUGE calorie deficit. At 300+ pounds, that’s about a 3000 calorie deficit! (See p. 106 to 108 in tom’s book for calculations.)
The show didn’t explain if that was this woman’s target every day or just for that day. It could be that they are doing some sophisticated calorie cycling where you have some very low days followed by more moderate low calorie days. But it didn’t sound like it. And the show didn’t take the time to explain.
So what is the average fat person watching the show supposed to think? They’ll blindly think they should have 1200 calories and they’ll lose fat. Wrong!
Now, we know people on that show lose a lot of weight.
But DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!
These contestants have nearly full-time supervision. They get constant feedback from trainers and technology about what is working and what isn’t. And if something goes wrong, they can get help. You don’t have a support system even close to that. For you, 1200 calories every day would be dangerous and might even backfire!
1200 calories is wicked low for anybody. Even a normal sized woman not trying to lose weight should be at least 1800 to 2000 or so. But if you are fat (and hence, trying to shed fat), let’s assume you are at least 50 pounds overweight.
Depending on your job, activity levels, genetics, etc. you might need anywhere from 2500 to 3500 calories a day just to stay at your current weight. If you are more than 50 lbs overweight, you’d need even more to stay where you are.
If you are only taking in 1200 calories, your body might shut down, believing it is in starvation mode. As a result, your body will conserve energy and want to store fat. It might even start burning muscle rather than fat. And your own energy levels will decline making it hard to exercise. This vicious cycle prevents fat loss.
I’m guessing that one of the reasons it might work for those contestants is that they are exercising constantly. And they have trainers shouting profanities at them if they slack off. So for them, they can get past that “starvation mode” by sheer work. I don’t care how strong willed you are, you can’t compare to having a trainer screaming at you and the fear of being kicked off a show. Those are great (and ugly) external motivators.
I doubt you exercise as many hours a day, every day, as they do.
So if you are trying to shed fat, look to a more modest 500 or so calorie deficit. When you first start, you’ll lose a lot that first week. But a safe loss rate over the long term is about 1 lb a week of fat. (You can lose more than that but then you are probably losing muscle too. Resistance training like weight lifting helps prevent muscle loss.) People who try to lose 5 lbs a week end up messing it all up, getting frustrating and then they give up. But see, they had several weeks of 5 lbs where they lost muscle too. And so when they quit, they gain back the fat (and some extra) but they still have lost that muscle. And this makes it even harder to lose fat the next time they try to diet down. It’s the yo-yo.
“One pound a week??? Darrin, you gotta be kidding – I can’t take a year to lose my 50 pounds!”
Dude, how long did it take you to gain that 50 pounds of baggage? Probably a lot longer than a year. At one pound a week of fat loss (not muscle loss) you might not win any TV contests, but you’ll be safe and you’ll make steady progress.
By the way, Tom goes over (in detail) how to calculate what your calorie deficit should be to have a safe and constant fat loss in Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle starting on page 99. In that same chapter he talks about calorie cycling, which I’ll write about later in case you don’t have the book yet.
You’re trying to lose weight, right?
No, you just think you are. You are actually trying to shed fat.
You’ve been working out, just like I advise, using weight training and cardio.
But each week, the scale is only going down 1 pound. Or maybe less.
What do you do?
Simple: stop watching the scale!
Scales measure one thing: your total body weight.
Do you really care what your weight is, or do you care about your body composition and appearance?
Quick quiz – which of these people do you want to be (if you are a man):
a) a 190-lb muscular guy who gets offers to appear on the cover of Men’s Health
b) a 190-lb flabby guy who is afraid to take his shirt off at the beach
See what I mean? Your weight is only one measure of fitness (and a poor one). Why is it poor?
Well, if you are lifting heavy weights like I’m telling you to do, you are probably adding muscle. That added muscle increases your total bodyweight, right? So, you might be losing 1 lb of fat but gaining 0.5 lb of muscle. Yet the scale only tells you “you lost 0.5 lb”. So you get depressed, whine, give up, and go off to listen to Joni Mitchel records.
“Ok, Darrin, then what am I supposed to use?”
Glad you asked!
There are really only three “weight” metrics worth caring about:
1) how you look in your favorite clothes
2) how you look naked
3) what your bodyfat % is
I don’t want to get side-tracked on this, but it is possible to excel at one of the above and not the other two. For example, some people without low bodyfat actually look fine naked. And some people look great in their clothes but not so good at the beach. And of course, there are other things that matter when it comes to fitness, like what you can do and how you feel. But I’m not talking about “fitness”. I’m talking to all you scale-watchers out there.
My point is, these are the things that matter to most people who watch the scale.
So, if you are a scale watcher, do these three steps:
a) today take your picture in your underwear
b) today pick out the clothes outfit you want to fit into
c) the next time you are at the gym, get your body fat % measured
Then, every two weeks, do these steps:
a) take your picture in your underwear, at the same time of day as your original picture
b) try on the clothes outfit you want to fit into
c) get your body fat % measured by the same trainer using the same methodology
You should be able to measure your progress far better with these three steps than with the scale. When you like your underwear picture, can fit in your desired outfit and rock it, and when you see your body fat % going down, you’ll know you’re making progress.
Do you have other tips? Add them below by making a comment!
I almost never talk about other people’s blogs but I’m making an exception today.
This is the best analysis I’ve seen of the show The Biggest Loser.
It happens to come from one of my favorite people in the fitness world, Tom Venuto. He really gets to the core of the pros and cons of the show.
There’s no sale pitch or anything – just great content to really think about, especially if you like the show. I consider it required reading:
Learn from this!
p.s. if you want to comment here, that’s fine or leave a comment on his site too; I’m guessing this will inspire you to leave a comment somewhere!
A recent article posted on the AskMen.com site made me cringe. I’m not going to cite the official link, because I don’t really want to promote them. I’ve never read anything at this site before, as it’s a little risqué for my tastes, but one of the other sites I regularly read had a link to it. The title was “Maximum Muscle Definition in One Week”.
I thought the title was provocative. So I bit.
Before I even started reading though, let’s clarify something. There’s a difference between “maximum”, meaning “the best you can get” and “sufficient”, meaning that you actually achieve muscle definition.
Nobody can go from undefined, fat, or flabby and one week be ripped. And I had my doubts about this article, that it would promise overnight results.
Sure enough, it starts out talking about “getting ready for an unexpected beach event” or even “suddenly getting that date with a particular girl” as the impetus for the overnight cure they were (supposedly) about to unveil.
There were a few nuggets of good advice, including the need to lift heavy; intake sufficient protein; carb load on day one then reduce carbs steadily.
But the author condenses what should really be an 8+ week program into 7 days. Not only will it not work, but at only 800 words, all the details are left out. Unless you are already an intermediate to advanced weight trainer (and thus, probably already in pretty good shape), most of the advice will go over your head.
Plus, this hurts the entire weight training movement – it’s hard enough to get people to realize how important resistance training (like weight lifting) is. Now, some people will try this guy’s 7-day advice and when it doesn’t work, they’ll quit. They’ll say “weight training doesn’t work to burn fat“. It’s a shame really.
And I’ll say again, it won’t work in 7 days. [If you have a personal story of seeing significant results in 7 days, please share your story and your program – I’m ok with being proven wrong!]
Now summer is around the corner, and I can appreciate that you might want to be ready and comfortable for the beach and a more active time of year. But don’t wait until the last minute.
If you need to be “ready” in 7 days from now, you really better have started out weeks ago! Don’t get your fitness advice from a site that ranks celebrities by their “hotness” (in fact, run away from such sites).
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