I know what you’re thinking…
“I thought fat loss was all about calorie deficits! How could I lose weight without decreasing calories?”
We both have a good understanding of the concept of energy balance, right?
Calories in > calories out = weight gain
Calories in < calories out = weight loss
Here’s the thing - when we think of the energy balance equation, we tend to think of calories in as strictly the food we eat, calories out as strictly what we burn through movement.
But the reality is, the energy balance is MUCH more complex than that.
But actually, there are lots of variables we can adjust on the calories in side of equation that will increase calories out - leading to quicker fat loss WITHOUT actually decreasing the total number of calories you eat.
A crazy common problem I see as a nutrition coach - people are too quick to slash calories constantly lower and lower. As a results, your gym performance, muscle mass, and hormones all take a hit.
Will you’ll lose weight like this? You bet.
Will you look as lean and strong as you want? Or even be able to sustain your weight loss? Not likely.
This is why in my coaching practice with online clients, we do so much more than just adjust calories. Our goal isn’t just to get clients to a certain body fat percentage - it’s to get them there with as much lean muscle mass as possible, feeling great, and with the knowledge to sustain their results.
Want the same?
This blog is for you.
Here are four of my favorite nutrition strategies to implement with online clients for faster fat loss WITHOUT cutting calories.
Click the link to listen to this blog in podcast format.
If you're lifting weights, a solid recommendation for protein intake is anywhere form .8 - 1.2 grams per lb of body weight, daily.
If you're trying to lose fat and NOT eating in this range, this is likely some low hanging fruit that will speed up your results big time.
See, protein has the highest “thermic effect” of all the macronutrients.
When you eat food, it takes energy for your body to digest said food. The energy/calories burned during digestion is called "the thermic effect of food" (TEF).
Now the amount of calories - or TEF - you burn during digestion depends on the macronutrients you eat.
→ Protein: 20-35% of the calories you consume via protein are burned off during digestion
→ Carbs: 5-15% of the calories you consume via carbs are burned off during digestion
→ Fats: 0-5% of the calories you consume via carbs are burned off during digestion
So when you eat protein, a big chunk of the calories you take in are actually burned off during digestion - quite a bit more than carbs, and A LOT more than fats.
By keeping calories the same, but increasing protein (which would require a decrease in carbs and/or fat):
→ You’re consuming the same total calories as before, but burning more during digestion - creating a bigger calorie deficit.
→ You’ll be LESS hungry. Lean protein is the most filling food (which is another reason my online clients make eating a lean protein source at every meal a big priority).
There’s a weird amount of fear about high protein intakes - but the reality is, you can eat a TON of protein with no need to worry. It won’t give you cancer, ruin your kidneys, or anything of the sort. Quite a few recent studies have proven this.
For example, this one from 2016 titled: "A High Protein Diet Has No Harmful Effects: A One Year Crossover Study In Resistance-Trained Males"
"A diet high in protein had no harmful effects on any measures of health. Furthermore, there was no change in body weight, fat mass, or lean body mass despite eating more total calories and protein." (1)
Did you catch that last sentence?
Not only are you probably good to eat a lot more protein - it also seems protein is MUCH less likely to be stored as body fat than fat or carbs - even if you're eating MORE calories due to increased protein.
This 2015 study took 48 randomized, resistance-trained men and women and had them consume a minimum of 1.36g/lb of protein daily or to maintain current dietary habits for eight weeks while undergoing a standardized resistance training program designed to increase lean body mass.
"Compared to the control group, the high-protein group consumed significantly more calories (+ 490 kcal) and protein (3.4 vs. 2.3 g/kg) from primarily whey protein shakes, leading to a diet that was 39% protein, 27% fat, and 34% carbohydrate. Both groups significantly increased FFM (muscle mass) and significantly reduced FM (body fat) compared to baseline, but the reduction in FM (body fat) was significantly greater in the high-protein group compared to the control group (−1.6 vs. −0.3 kg). Accordingly, body weight gain was also significantly less in the high-protein group compared to the control group." (2)
Now, when you're eating at maintenance calories or in a slight surplus, you only need about .8g protein/lb to get all the muscle build benefits. (That said, with the above knowledge it still makes sense to keep protein higher. Even in a bulking phase, I typically keep clients around 1g/lb to help them stay lean.)
When you enter a calorie deficit, your protein needs increase. .8-1g/lb is a solid mark to aim for if you're only concerned about muscle sparing. But with what you just learned, it often makes sense to push fat-loss focused client’s protein even higher, to around the 1.2-1.3g/lb mark.
2.Eat More Carbs And Less Fat
“But I thought I needed to cut carbs to lose fat!”
Not at all actually.
Carbs have been unfairly demonized over the last decade, whereas "eating more healthy fats" has been pushed HARD.
As a result, most who are semi-health conscious tend to eat a higher fat, lower carb diet.
Now, eating enough fat IS very important. There's a minimum intake of fat you need to hit in order to prevent fatty acid deficiencies, have proper hormonal function and production.
I like to call this mark "the fat threshold". For most, it's around .3-.4g fat/lb of body weight, daily. Most need to eat this much fat to feel good and be healthy.
But, past this point, more fat doesn’t really add any benefit to your hormones, training performance recovery.
So, if you're eating a lot of fat and very little carbs - a good fat loss strategy for most is switching to a higher protein and carb, lower fat approach.
First, you probably noticed carbs have a higher thermic effect than fats.
Second - unlike fat - extra carbs WILL boost your training performance, speed up recovery, and spare more protein.
Carbs are your body’s preferred fuel source - at the most basic level, increasing your ratio of carbs/fats will mean you’ll have more energy.
More energy → more movement → more energy expended → larger calorie deficit.
Similarly, increasing carbs will also increase your ability to train more intensely in the gym - you’ll have more fuel to push harder. This again leads to MORE calories burned, and a larger deficit.
Finally, fibrous carbs are the second most satiating food (next to lean protein), so eating more of these will make sticking to your diet a lot easier.
3. Eat Most Of Your Carbs Around Your Workout
Insulin sensitivity is highest post-workout.
Basically, this is when your body will most efficiently partition the carbs you eat toward muscle-building.
If you KNOW that eating most of your carbs at a specific time increases the odds that they'll be shuttled to muscle building, why not take advantage? Again, your body doesn't preferentially store carbs as fat, and calories are king - but eating most of your carbs around your workout stacks the odds even more in your favor that they won't be stored as fat.
Similarly, intense training triggers a stress response.
Cortisol rises and your nervous system enters “fight-or-flight mode”. In this state, processes crucial to your recovery and FAT LOSS are slowed or essentially stopped.
So obviously, to optimize recovery and fat loss, you want to get out of fight or flight mode as fast as possible post-workout, and into “rest and digest” mode. Here, your body focuses on nutrient absorption, repairing damaged tissues, etc.
Carbs help decrease cortisol levels. So consuming carbs post workout will help you enter a more anabolic environment, AND one more conducive to fat loss.
Basically, eating a lot of your carbs post-workout means that your body is a lot more likely to use them as fuel to build/repair muscle, and LESS likely to store them as fat.
Here's a quick breakdown of my full nutrient timing suggestions. For a more complete breakdown, check out The Lean Gains Blueprint.
4. Increase Your Calories
You'll hear a lot of people say:
"Everyone is just under-eating! THAT is why no one can lose weight!"
Now, this is a GREAT marketing ploy - it allows you to play into the victim mindset and pick up more clients.
Does it actually help people?
The reality is, most everyone that can't lose fat is eating too much.
Riddle me this - why does the idea of people not being able to lose fat because they're NOT eating enough ONLY seem to apply to first-world countries?
In those pictures you see of starving kids in third-world countries, how many of them look like they "just can't seem to lose their muffin top"?
This dude didn't eat for 382 days.
Did he wreck his metabolism and hormones, forever damning himself to a life of irreversible obesity?
Nope. He lost 272 lbs.
Now, I don't recommend the 382 day fast, but you get the idea.
Does under-eating put your body in a less than ideal situation hormonally? Yep.
Your metabolism also down-regulates (not "breaks", just adapts to your shrinking body and less food availability).
Plus, eating too few calories is going to make maintaining muscle mass MUCH harder - a big part of the reason this article is centered around NOT decreasing calories.
But is under-eating the reason you can't seem to lose weight? Highly unlikely.
The reality is, most of us are just really bad at estimating how much we're eating - it's usually a lot more calories than we think.
If you've been dieting in a large deficit, OR dieting for a long time, you've probably noticed it's a lot harder to stick to your diet than it used to be.
Now, this is mostly psychological, but it happens to all of us.
If you're trying to diet so hard that you find yourself "falling off the wagon" frequently, you probably need to increase calories.
Again, you HAVE TO have a calorie deficit to lose weight - so you can only take this so far. Losing fat will always be a challenge.
That said, with clients that I've had in this situation a few strategies that help:
→ 5|2 Macro split - Five days per week, you're in a deficit. Two days per week, you're re-feeding at maintenance calories, with the calorie increase coming primarily from carbs. Most online clients like this two day break paired with their weekends. Not only does having a weekend of higher calories give a psychological break and make the diet easier to stick to, but it also reverses some of the negative adaptions your body goes through when dieting.
→ Refeed Day - The same strategy as above, but only one day of increased calories. This DOESN'T provide the same benefits of reversing some of the negative diet adaptations (we need ~48+ hours of higher carb intake for that to happen). I like this approach for clients who need to see fast progress (usually for a specific event), but could also use a mental break occasionally.
→ Diet Breaks - ALL of my online clients in fat loss phases take a diet break every 8-12 weeks.This is typically 10 days - 4 weeks long, depending on how long the client needs before they feel good psychologically. Again, we're returning calories to maintenance or a slight surplus. By the 10-14 day mark, you'll have gained most of the benefits of a diet break (hormones will be much more normal, metabolism will likely have increased). From here, start dieting again when you feel ready mentally.
→ Increase Daily Intake - I've had a few client situations where a relatively small increase in total daily calorie intake (50-100 calories) drastically increased adherence and slightly increased daily movement as well - leading to faster fat loss.
There are no "magic hacks" that will make getting lean super easy.
The MOST important factor to you building your leanest, strongest body ever is following a smart plan super consistently.
That said, all the strategies will be a BIG help in speeding up your results and helping you feel your all-time best, sooner.
Need more help with consistency and a smart plan? Click here now.
Jeremiah Bair is a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the online coaching business Bairfit.
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