Consider this article your quick guide to fat burning and getting lean.
Whether you're looking to get in better shape for your sport or simply want to get your summer "beach body" on point, burning body fat more efficiently will help you reach your goal faster. With that in mind, here are 10 things you need to know to burn more body fat.
1. Burning Fat Is All About Energy Balance
Energy balance is the difference between the energy you take in and the energy you expend. Some people refer to the energy balance equation as the "calories in, calories out" equation. Calculating your energy balance should be your first step if you're looking to lose weight, burn fat or gain muscle. If you're looking to slim down, you're going to need to achieve what's called a negative energy balance.
A positive energy balance is what occurs when you're at a caloric surplus, meaning you're consuming more calories than you burn. This results in weight gain.
A negative energy balance is what occurs when you're at a caloric deficit, meaning you are consuming less calories than you burn. This results in weight loss. If you want to drop 1-2 pounds per week (which is generally a safe goal for most people), you'll want to achieve a caloric deficit of 500-1000 calories per day.
There are three ways to change your energy balance. You can reduce your caloric intake, increase your energy output (exercise more), or combine both options to achieve a caloric deficit necessary for weight loss.
2. Resistance Training Is Your Fat-Burning Friend
The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you burn. More muscle means your body will burn more calories per day, even at rest. Sounds simple, right? However, the only way to build more muscle is to incorporate resistance training (also known as strength training) into your exercise program. By incorporating resistance training, your body will signal a stress response to your muscles, triggering them to grow bigger and stronger so they become more resilient to the stress of the resistance.
Your body will use more calories as it grows more muscle, but you can also take into account the energy (calories) you're expending while you're working out and the energy your muscles use to repair themselves after you're done. When you put it all into perspective, you can see why resistance training is so important to burning fat and getting lean! In many cases, you don't even have to cut calories to see aesthetic benefits from resistance training.
When it comes to your exercise regimen, stick to compound exercises that use large muscle groups over multiple joints to get the most out of your workouts. These include movements like Squat variations, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Push-Ups, Rows, Pull-Ups, etc.
Generally speaking, free weights and bodyweight exercises will burn more calories and build more muscles while also keeping your body more resilient than exercising via machines. Another thing to consider is rest time between sets. If your main goal is fat loss, you will want to keep the intensity high during your workouts. There are a couple ways you can do this. You can increase the weight or load of the exercise, or decrease the rest time between sets. Typically, you want your rest interval to be 30-60 seconds (though it depends on how heavy you're lifting). Sticking to these simple rules will allow you to burn more calories during your workouts and expedite the fat loss process!
3. HIIT Cardio Works Wonders
Cardio is anything that raises your heart rate. When you think of cardio, you probably think of steady state cardio jogging or cycling for 30 minutes at the same pace and speed. But if your goal is to burn fat, interval training is much more effective than steady-state cardio. Interval training entails the inclusion of several bursts of intense or all-out effort exercise into your workout.
The most important thing about high intensity interval training (HIIT) is that it keeps your body burning fat even after you leave the gym. During a HIIT workout, your body can't shuttle enough oxygen to your muscles during periods of hard work. Therefore, your muscles accumulate an oxygen "debt" that must be repaid post-workout in order to get back to normal. The result: your metabolism is sky high for hours after your workout. Fitness professionals refer to this concept as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). The biggest way to use it to your advantage is to regularly work short, intense bouts of exercise into your workout regimen.
Here are benefits of HIIT workouts:
- Time efficient
- Boost metabolism
- Stimulates growth hormones
- Develops cardiovascular system
- Improved heart health
- Decreases recovery time
- Variety of workout types
When creating interval workouts, focus on work-to-rest ratio. This could be as simple as 30-second sprints followed by 30 seconds of rest for 8 sets. This is an example of an equal work to rest ratio interval. You can make this same workout easier by increasing the amount of rest or by decreasing the work interval. For example, 15-second sprints followed by 45 seconds of rest would be a 1:3 work to rest ratio. Always start with moderate intensity then progress as your fitness level improves. The beauty of HIIT is that even just a few sprints of intense effort can produce powerful health benefits.
4. More Fiber Will Help Your Effort
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but unlike other carbohydrates, the body cannot break down fiber into glucose and use it for energy. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both are beneficial in different ways.
Soluble fiber attracts water during the digestive process, forming a gel-like substance that delays the emptying of your stomach and helps keep you fuller for longer. Additionally, it can lower blood cholesterol by interfering with the absorption of dietary cholesterol, helping to remove it from the body.
Insoluble fiber provides bulk to your bowel movements and prevents constipation.
Here is a list of some common foods rich in fiber:
- green beans
- whole grains
- green leafy veggies
Fiber-rich food slows the release of carbohydrates. Black beans, berries, sweet potatoes and other high-fiber foods are digested at a much slower rate than low-fiber foods, causing a slow, steady stream of glucose to be released into your blood stream. On the other hand, low-fiber foods like white bread digest much faster, causing rapid spikes in insulin followed by dramatic crashes.
High-fiber foods like broccoli will fill you up and make you feel satisfied longer, even when you eat less food. One cup of broccoli yields about 40 calories with 10 grams of carbs, 4 of which are "unabsorbable" fiber. Compare that broccoli to one cup of pasta that yields around 150 calories with 45 grams of carbs. You'd be able to blow through that cup of pasta like it was nothing, and probably go back for seconds and thirds, but that single cup of broccoli may be filling enough that you feel great for hours. A diet high in soluble fiber has been found to help stave off visceral belly fat, a particularly dangerous type of fat.
5. All Calories are Not Created Equal
The foods we eat are just as important as the calories they supply. Simply put, everything you eat can be categorized as either a carbohydrate, fat or protein. Each of these three macronutrients will metabolize differently, even though they all provide calories. One gram of protein provides 4 calories, one gram of carbs provides 4 calories, and one gram of fat provides 9 calories.
If your diet consists of donuts and candy, for example, you'll look and feel differently than if your diet consists of lean meat and vegetables. Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates and fats. This means your body burns more calories breaking down and digesting protein than it does carbs and fats. Additionally, protein is more filling than carbohydrates.
Although protein is an important part of a healthy diet, you certainly shouldn't derive all of your calories from that one macronutrient. Carbohydrates and fats are essential for optimal health as well. Certain fats, such as medium-chain fatty acids like coconut oil, are actually linked to increased energy expenditure and reduced hunger when included in the diet.
Carbohydrates are your body's go-to energy source and are necessary for maintaining intensity during your workouts. However, carbohydrates also fill up your body's glycogen stores quickly, so excess carbs in your diet can mean excess fat.
Everyone's body is different. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to calorie intake or macronutrient breakdown. The best thing you can do is track what's going into your body, adjust as needed and repeat that process until you get the desired outcome you want. A calorie deficit will result in weight loss, and a calorie surplus will result in weight gain, but the quality of the calories you consume can have a big effect in how those changes manifest in your body.
6. Track Your Progress, Tweak Your Process
This is probably the most important tip for getting and staying lean. You must track your progress, take body measurements, measure your body fat and weight, etc. Recording your food choices and portions will also help you zero in on what makes you feel and function best.
I know it sounds simplistic, but the only real way to figure out what will work best for you is trial and error. However, there are a couple of things you can do to make the process easier. No. 1, figure out your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
This number tells you how many calories you need to consume to maintain your current weight based on your activity level. If your goal is fat loss, you will want to subtract 500 from that number and that will be the number of calories you will need to consume each day to lose weight and burn fat. To be consistent, track and record what you eat to see how close you are to calorie needs. Once you have controlled your caloric intake, you can start to break those calories down into macronutrient ratios.
Knowing your natural body type can help you zero in on the right macronutrient ratio for you.
If you're an ectomorph, you're naturally thin with skinny limbs and a high tolerance for carbohydrates. Usually your metabolic rate is fast. A good starting macronutrient ratio for you would be something like 25% protein, 55% carbs and 20% fat.
Mesomorphs are naturally muscular and athletic. They have a moderate carbohydrate tolerance and a moderate metabolic rate. Mesomorphs can usually start at a 30% protein, 40% carb, and 30% fat macronutrient ratio.
If you're naturally broad and thick, you're probably an endomorph. Endomorphs have a low carbohydrate tolerance and a slow metabolic rate. If you're an endomorph, try a ratio of 35% protein, 25% carbs and 40% fat.
7. Added Sugar Is the Enemy
Too much added sugar might be the single biggest issue in the modern American diet. In an age when the average American consumes a staggering 88 grams of added sugar per day (the American Heart Association recommends a limit of 24 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men), food producers are using lots of it to ensure they're appealing to consumers' tastes. While you likely know obvious culprits like candy, cookies, ice cream, soda, etc., even foods like barbecue sauce and cole slaw can contain staggering amounts of added sugar.
Diets high in added sugar have been linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and even cancer. Foods high in added sugar are typically low in overall nutrients, making them little more than empty calories. The FDA states that "scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar."
Ten percent of your daily calories from added sugar sounds like a lot, but it's frighteningly easy to surpass that total. One gram of sugar contains 4 calories. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar (virtually all of which are added sugar). That's 156 calories of added sugar—nearly 8 percent of your total daily calories if you're on a 2,000 calorie a day diet.
8. Water Makes Everything Run Better
A lot of people underestimate the importance of hydration when it comes to fat loss, but drinking plenty of water is one of the easiest steps you can take for a healthier body and mind. A 2016 study of nearly 10,000 adults found that people who took in too little water on a daily basis had 50 percent higher odds of being obese than those who consumed enough, even after adjusting for factors like age, gender and income.
Start drinking early in the morning and aim to drink between 3-5 liters per day, depending on your body composition. This will help flush your body of toxins and allow your body to function optimally. Some other benefits of drinking lots of water include: healthier skin, teeth and bones, improved digestion, reduced fatigue and increased fat metabolism. Adequate water simply helps your body run better.
9. Keep Healthy Snacks on Deck
Snacking is often our biggest downfall when it comes to eating well and getting lean. The issue isn't snacking itself, but what we choose for our snacks. Many popular snack choices just aren't healthy. You want to aim for three medium-sized meals a day and supplement the rest of your daily calorie needs with 2-3 snacks. Here are a few healthy snack ideas:
- Protein shake/smoothie
- Handful of nuts
- Berries or apple
- Greek yogurt
- Hard-boiled egg
- Celery with almond butter
- Hummus and carrots
- Cottage cheese
10. Manage Your Stress
For most of us, stress is a fact of life. Unfortunately, research reveals that it's also a fact of fat. Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight and burning fat efficiently.
Every time you have a stressful day, your brain instructs your cells to release potent hormones. You get a burst of adrenaline, which taps into stored energy so you can fight or flee. At the same time, you get a surge of cortisol, which tells your body to replenish that energy even though you haven't actually burnt very many calories. This can make you hungry—very hungry. And your body keeps pumping out that cortisol as long as the stress continues. So if you're consistently stressed out, overeating can become a habit. Increased levels of cortisol also cause higher insulin levels, dropping your blood sugar and leading to cravings for sugary, high-fat foods.
Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, rise during tension-filled times. This can turn your overeating into a habit. Because increased levels of the hormone also help raise insulin levels, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.
A University of San Francisco study published in 2011 found that rats placed in high-stress situations were likely to use fatty and sugary foods to self-medicate. The comfort food had a calming effect on the rats' brains that restricted the release of stress-related hormones. Stress hormones send messages to the body, one of which is to store fat around the body. The most studied and effective way to reduce stress is meditation, because it lowers cortisol and blood pressure levels.
Here are a few things you can do to relieve stress:
- Deep breathing techniques
- Sleep (at least 7 hours or more a night)
- Light exercise
Now you are equipped with the information you need to start your journey toward getting lean and mean! Remember, getting the results you want is all about utilizing the most effective methods. This means performing appropriate workouts like HIIT and interval cardio workouts to maximize fat burn. Calculate your calorie needs, body measurements, macronutrient goals, and be flexible to make adjustments on the fly. Stay away from foods with added sugars, drink lots of water, eat frequent meals, have healthy snacks ready, and stay stress free! If you're looking for a structured routine to help you burn fat and build muscle, try my 8-week Lean Machine program.
Photo Credit: ipuwadol/iStock
- I Do Cardio Workouts But I'm Still Fat. What's Wrong?
- 7 Awesome Fat-Burning Exercises You Can Do at Home
- Why Every Human Being Should Run Sprints