Tracking is a fantastic awareness tool that I encourage most of my clients to trial for at least a few weeks. As touched on in a previous article, macronutrients, or ‘macros’, are nutrients that your body requires in large amounts. There are three primary macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat.
To make food (calorie) tracking more straightforward, try these steps below:
Tracking can be a daunting prospect especially if you’re new to it. To make life a little easier why not focus on counting calories and protein only as opposed to tracking all three macronutrients.
For fat loss, a change in mass is determined by energy balance. As such, calories are the most important factor - the magnitude of your energy (calorie) deficit over time will determine how much body fat you lose.
A secondary focus should be towards protein intake. Protein’s primary role in the body is to promote growth, development and to help repair cells. Higher protein diets can also be a fantastic tool if you want to lose body fat due to its effects on muscle mass retention and appetite control.
The mix of carbohydrate and fat that fills the remainder of your calorie allotment can be left to personal preference. A sensible approach would be to avoid skewing it too far in either direction.
Being flexible within your approach can provide even greater freedom. For example, I am an advocate of encouraging a weekly calorie total to aim for instead of shooting for an exact daily intake.
This weekly “bigger picture” approach means you have the option of some higher calorie days (eg, when having a meal-out or socialising) offset by some lower calories days.
For protein, I recommend aiming for a similar daily protein target range but hitting an exact number is not necessary for most. A default recommendation for fat loss is often around 2 grams per kilo of total body weight – this may vary depending on muscle mass, body fat levels and activity.
There is no need to overcomplicate your tracking. Sticking to a fat loss programme while trying to juggle work and family commitments can cause enough stress.
But if you love detail, numbers and spreadsheets and want to track all macros (plus fibre and micronutrition), then go for it!
Most, however, will get great results following a weekly calorie and daily protein count only. If you’ve had difficulty or get stressed attempting to meet too many daily targets in the past, I’d suggest focusing on calories and protein and set flexible ranges that lead to the greatest adherence.
Nutritionist and Bodyscan Consultant
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There is still some debate as to whether fasted cardio is superior to fed cardio for fat loss (once total calories and protein are matched).
The general premise behind performing cardio after an overnight fast is that it accelerates fat loss more than if you completed the same work in a fed state.
To shed light on the topic, Schoenfeld and colleagues tested body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise in 20 healthy females who were randomly assigned to either group.
Following four weeks of aerobic exercises during dieting conditions (ie, being in an energy deficit), both groups lost body weight and fat mass. The key finding was that there were no significant between-group differences shown in any outcome measure. Put simply, the fasted group did not lose significantly more body fat compared to the fed group.
If that's the case, what is behind the idea that fasted cardio could be superior for fat loss?
For that to be the case, fasted exercise would have to achieve one of the following:
• Affect 24-hr energy expenditure so that the energy/calorie deficit is increased
• Suppress appetite leading to a reduction in calorie intake
• Have a protein-sparing effect delivering higher retention of fat-free mass (and therefore making a higher proportion of the weight-loss to be fat)
None of these conditions have been shown to be true!
Interestingly, a recent study on skipping breakfast before resistance training found a reduction in performance on the bench press and back squat. The male participants were resistance-trained and habitual breakfast eaters, providing solid evidence that fasted resistance-training performance among those who normally have breakfast may be compromised over the short term.
If you prefer, and feel better, training fasted without any comprise on performance, then go for it! But if you feel terrible training fasted and/or are only doing so for the proposed fat loss benefits, reconsider your strategy and include a meal/snack/shake beforehand instead. Fat loss will not differ once total calorie and protein intake remain the same. As always, for fat loss success, consistency and patience is key!
Bodyscan Consultant and Nutritonist
When Bodyscan customers mention the nutritional element of their plans to lose body fat or gain muscle (and not many do), they often cite one or several of the following myths.
Look again at why these nutritional misconceptions may be undermining your fat loss efforts.
1. Eat organic food In a systemic review assessing the nutrition-related health effects of organic foods it was concluded that “evidence is lacking for nutrition-related health effects that result from the consumption of organically produced foodstuffs.” Money saver! Eating organic food without an energy deficit in place will not lead to body fat loss. Energy balance matters!
2. Eliminate carbohydrates An energy surplus or deficit determines the total amount of fat gained or lost over a 24-hour period and not the quantity of carbohydrates alone.
3. Do fasted cardio There is no plausible mechanism for it to be superior to fed cardio for fat loss once calorie intake is matched. The decision to do fasted cardio or not so be based on personal preference. Check out a more detailed explanation here.
4. Eat low fat An energy surplus or deficit determines the total amount of fat gained or lost over a 24-hour period and not the quantity of dietary fat alone.
5. Eat little and often Eating little and often and does not boost metabolism or ‘stoke the metabolic fire’. Meal frequency is relative to the amount of food consumed (metabolic response to eating correlates with volume of food). For fat loss, choose a meal frequency that suits personal preference, lifestyle, and one that leads to the greatest adherence.
6. Go on a detox diet To shed light on the popular surge in detox/cleansing diets to facilitate toxin elimination, researchers Klein and Kiat concluded that “there is no compelling evidence to support the use of detox diets for weight management or toxin elimination.” Save your money, folks - your liver and kidneys tend to do a pretty good job without the extra assistance!
7. Restrict food after 19.00 An energy surplus or deficit determines the total amount of fat gained or lost over 24-hour period and not some arbitrary time point. 100kcals at 18:59 is still 100kcals at 19:01. Pick a meal pattern that is in line with goals, preference, and lifestyle.
8. Go keto In a tightly controlled metabolic ward study published in 2016, there was no physiologically advantage in energy expenditure or body fat loss reported in response to a high carbohydrate baseline diet versus an isocaloric ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet may be a useful tool for some for fat loss and/or weight management but unnecessarily restrictive for most.
9. Remove sugar A study in overweight subjects found no significant differences in body fat levels between a low versus high sucrose diet (4% vs. 43% of total energy intake, respectively). Both calories and macronutrients were matched between groups. Again, this reiterates the point that for fat loss, energy balance matters! Choosing whole foods for the most part may make the process easier.
10. Eat breakfast Contrary to popular belief, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day and it does not kickstart your metabolism. If you are not hungry when you wake up and are looking to lose body fat, you don't need to force down a breakfast, particularly not a sub-optimal one (e.g. croissant and a large latte). Breakfast or no breakfast, make your first meal of the day a protein-packed nutritious one.
Adopting any one of the strategies highlighted may help you lose body fat, but only if doing so leads to a reduction in calorie intake and thus a sustained energy/calorie deficit over time.
Don’t feel you must to do any of the above to get fat loss results, particularly if it is undermining your progress – pick a strategy that you enjoy, suits your lifestyle and be consistent. Adherence trumps all.
Bodyscan Consultant and Nutritionist
I typically start my Bodyscan consultations with the question "Why do you want to have a scan?", to which the answer is usually "I want to lose body fat and check my progress until I reach my target."
When I ask if the client has some sort of plan to achieve the fat-loss, the client invariably says they are going to do one or more (or even all!) of the following:
After which, I usually say the F-word out loud.
Because in perhaps 95% of cases, the client never mentions food at all.
And that's not a good start because, whatever anyone tries to tell you, exercise and activity is NOT the best strategy for shedding body fat. It certainly helps and it's something we should all do more of. Certainly, we were not made to sit at desks or in cars for most of our waking hours, and being sedentary is a huge contributor to the woeful statistics on obesity and its related diseases.
Further, exercise has been shown to improve mood and sleep, reduce anxiety, keep us mobile for longer and enhance overall wellbeing. Plus, of course, by doing exercise, we become fitter, stronger, more flexible and burn more calories, which can contribute to a calorie (energy) deficit over time. A calorie deficit occurs when we consume fewer calories than we expend. A sustained calorie deficit is essential for losing body fat.
But as a PRIMARY strategy for reducing body fat, exercise is not nearly as effective as focusing on nutrition (ie, 'what' but more importantly 'how much' we eat) because it takes a hell of a lot of exercise to burn even a relatively small number of calories.
Consider this - an hour's running on a treadmill may burn 400-600 calories. But there are 525 calories in a Pret BLT sandwich and 600 calories in just one small bag (100g) of 'healthy' almonds. So an hour of hard slog can be wiped out with a quick snack.
Equality in action
When it comes to efficiency, it is far easier and quicker (instant, in fact) to reduce calorie intake via food (by eating less of it) than it is to exert yourself for long periods. Moreover, particularly if you are not used to it, having done the vigorous exercise, you may feel hungrier than if you had not. In that sense, using exercise as your prime weapon against body fat could be self-defeating.
(At this point it may be worth drawing a distinction between cardiovascular and resistance exercise. Bodycan clients’ best fat-loss results come from a combination of calorie-cutting and weights-based training. It is still true that the exercise does not burn many calories (an hour of weights in the gym may burn around only 300 calories) but the muscle-building effect of resistance work improves the ‘quality’ of the weight loss – in other words, most if not all of the weight loss is fat. We recently had a client who lost 21kg of weight and a staggering 20kg of it was pure fat. Achieved through aggressive calorie-cutting and a disciplined resistance programme five to six days every week to preserve muscle.)
While exercise itself may not burn many calories, we are not for a moment suggesting you don't do it. Far from it! Exercise is good for you. Whether you schedule formal exercise in your day, play team sports or simply walk rather than drive, moving is good for mind, body and soul. But if you are looking to lose body fat, use nutrition as your primary weapon to reduce your energy intake, do some weights to maintain lean mass and use exercise to increase the gap between the number of calories you consume and the number you expend.
When it comes to F-words, focus on food for faster fat-loss!
If you want to improve your body composition (lose body fat and/or gain muscle), you should focus on achieving consistent, good-quality sleep.
Sleep is essential for mood, energy levels and performance. Slow-wave or 'deep' sleep is restorative and promotes anabolic processes in the body that help to build new muscle tissue and promote recovery after exercise.
Conversely, a lack of sleep or sleep deficiency can have many adverse side-effects, such as hindering exercise recovery and reducing exercise-induced adaptations (eg, the ability to gain muscle or get fitter).
From a fat loss perspective, sleep deficiency is associated with an increase in calorie consumption and a decrease in activity and exercise levels, which will ultimately lead to fat gain over time.
Insufficient sleep has also been shown to lead to unfavourable body composition results with a greater loss of lean mass during intentional calorie restriction. Similarly, sleep restriction can negatively affect appetite control through its impact on hormones that are associated with hunger, satiety and food reward, meaning you’re more likely to eat too much.
In a highly controlled, metabolic ward study on 12-healthy young males, researchers found that fragmented sleep (induced by repeated alarms at 90-minute intervals over one night) reduced rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep more than the normal, non-fragmented sleep.
Due to effects on hunger hormones, the fragmented sleep group reported less fullness and a greater desire to eat. Not what you want when your goal is to lose body fat! Interestingly, reduced REM sleep is associated with being overweight, further suggesting that REM sleep may influence appetite regulation.
Good sleep quality (with respect to timing, duration & intensity) on a consistent basis, however, can improve memory, cognition and increase total energy expenditure (meaning it’s easier to keep your weight under control.
Here are some simple but effective tips to help ensure good quality sleep:
As well as the positive effect of good-quality sleep on mood, memory and wellbeing, good sleeping habits can assist fat-loss and overall body composition.
It works the other way too – losing body fat and attaining a healthier weight can improve sleep quality and duration. A ‘virtuous circle’ of better sleep and better health!
Bodyscan Consultant and Nutritionist
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