Are you struggling to lose that last five or ten pounds? Has your weight loss started to plateau and you just can’t seem to make that final shift towards your final goal?
This can seem like an endless frustration of applying all your tactics. Create the calorie deficit, do the exercise, lift the weights, but still, nothing.
It’s time to stop doing what you have always done.
This worked at first. You had excess fat to lose and once you applied the calorie deficit and upped the activity the results were fantastic.
You have now reached a lower body fat percentage. Well done! That’s is an awesome achievement!
Those last five to ten pounds, however, are to be your greatest achievement yet. This is because they take more strategy and more work.
Your body has become very efficient in the activity it can do and how it utilises its fuel. This means you will burn fewer calories but be able to do more physical activity. You have probably also reached the point where slashing more calories will leave you hungry and put a huge dent in your ability to get all your nutrition.
Now is the time to stop looking at what you weigh and instead focus on how you weigh.
Body composition is key, and if you want to get rid of that last layer of body fat, you need to strike the balance of retaining muscle whilst burning fat. This is not as simple as cutting the calories. Muscle requires protein and overload to stay strong.
If you been shying away from the weights so far, now is the time to welcome them into your workout.
If the weights are familiar friends, then it is time to challenge yourself more and gradually build up a progressive overload (aiming to lift heavier over time).
Progressive overload is the key to building stronger muscles in your recovery time. The more challenge we can provide in a session, the more your muscles will adapt to take more weight the next time around. Couple this with the right nutrition and you will get stronger and leaner.
Feed your muscles
In order to grow, muscles need energy and protein. This is why we see so much advice about eating a calorie surplus in order to get bigger muscles.
We can, however, still establish a small calorie deficit to encourage that fat to burn and utilise the remaining calories well to provide energy and protein to the muscles.
Cutting calories at the rate you were for fat loss will not help you build muscle. In fact, once you have reached lower levels of body fat, too bigger a calorie deficit can actually lead to catabolism (muscle wastage). Your body will sacrifice muscle for energy if it needs to, so trying to exercise too much with too few calories will undo your hard work. Aim for a 10-15% cut to your calories.
Balancing your nutrition at this stage involves getting the right amount of protein. Aim for 1.4-1.6g of protein per kilogram of body weight if you are lifting regularly and in a challenging way. It may seem like a lot at first, but hard-working muscles need this extra fuel, especially within 45 minutes of your workout.
Vegetables and moderate fruit remain as ever as important. All the vitamins and minerals help your body to function well and play important roles in your recovery. Remember, muscle is built during recovery, not in the gym.
It will inevitably be your starchy carbs that offset the calories of your additional protein. These carbs are wonderful energy, so reserve these for pre-and post-workout meals. Eat 2-3 hours before and within 45 minutes of your session for best results.
When your body recovers, it goes through a period of inflammation. Water is needed to deliver important cells to the area that needs to repair. Once repairs have taken place, water is needed to flush away the waste products. Hydrating well is an important part of your recovery.
All of this repair work can only take place when you sleep. You are a very high maintenance structure to manage during your waking hours. Your body has to work overtime to keep you functioning. When you sleep, your body can take all that energy and focus on repair and maintenance work. Getting enough sleep is vital to your results.
Sleeping enough also manages your appetite. Have you ever noticed that you are hungrier when you haven’t slept enough? Your body will crave extra energy to keep you going until you can sleep again, and that can only come from food.
This fine balance takes time, and you can expect to see results over a slightly longer period than you might be used to. Building muscle takes time and working to a smaller calorie deficit means fat loss will take longer too. If you have the patience to focus on your body composition, you will reap greater rewards in the long term, so stick with it and watch for the changes you can see rather than the number on the scale.