by Nate Miyaki T-Nation
It's that time of year, when even the most anti-cosmetic guy thinks a little bit less about his lifting totals and a little bit more about how he looks in his spandex lifting suit.
If that just made you throw up in your mouth, or made you want to punch me in the face, you don't have to keep reading.
Then again, maybe maintaining your functional lean muscle mass and strength while dropping some non-functional fat will allow you to perform better in a lower weight class, thus giving you a competitive advantage.
At the very least, it could help you improve your health profile, prolong your career – and maybe even your life – if that type of insignificant stuff matters to you? Unless of course, you're still just a teenager at heart that thinks immortality awaits everyone.
We're all fighting an uphill battle in Y2K America. Every human being shares a common problem, and current statistics prove only a very small percentage are able to overcome it.
Fat Loss Nemesis\
Your biggest enemy in the war against body fat may be the one that you're not even aware of – it is you, or more accurately, your internal instincts.
Make no mistake about it – human beings are preprogrammed to overeat.
There was no portion control for most of our existence. When you had access to food, you ate it, and stocked energy reserves to prepare for times when you didn't have access to it.
Going crazy at an all-you-can-eat buffet is not weakness or a cheap way to bulk up. It's simply a survival instinct. That may be cool during the off-season, but it's a liability when trying to cut the fat.
In an environment where resources are limited, and food is real and scarce, this natural tendency to overeat leads to survival.
In an environment with unlimited access to highly refined, fake foods, it leads to chronic overeating, and the health and body fat struggles associated with living on the wrong side of excess.
I don't care what the ADA says the arbitrary serving size of a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles is (3/4 cup), human instinct dictates it's the whole damn box.
When you combine the natural evolutionary instinct to overeat with the following:
Refined foods that have weak effects on the hormones that regulate appetite and energy intake.
Unlimited access to those foods (The 5 AM mocha and muffin run to the 3 AM post-drinking taco truck stop).
You have yourself one big, modern problem – an obese country with biomarkers of health that resemble the zombie apocalypse in an episode of The Walking Dead.
When analyzing the root causes of this problem, it becomes clear there are two different ways you can lose fat and get on the right side of the energy balance equation.
Fast Loss Strategy #1 – The Food Choices Route
I don't want to beat a dead horse. I'd rather indulge my inner Francophone and eat it. I mean, look at the nutrition analysis and essential fatty acid profile of 1 pound of raw horsemeat:
6.5g saturated fat
7.3g monounsaturated fat
1,632mg omega-3 fatty acids
1,315mg omega-6 fatty acids
But alas, horsemeat is not available in my city yet. I'd have to pull up stakes and move to Quebec and kick it with Coach Thibaudeau. Sadly, that would also require swapping my striped Hotskinz unitard for a throwback Quebec Nordiques jersey. Sorry Thibs, not going to happen.
For now, I'll have to settle for kicking that dead horse one more time.
Improving your food choices is the healthiest and easiest (after a rough transition phase) way to lose fat. It's also the most sustainable approach for the long-term.
If you hate counting calories, calculating macronutrient percentages, measuring and tracking foods, etc., your only choice is to start making better food choices. It's way too instinctual and easy to overeat refined foods.
It's much harder to overeat real foods. I'd argue it's almost impossible. Without any tracking or measuring, I've had female clients struggle to eat 1200 calories a day and male clients had a similar problem getting 2000 calories a day when cutting out all refined foods, and only eating real, natural foods.
They couldn't believe how so much food volume led to so few total calories. That's the beauty of real food.
Here's the thing: fat boys like to eat (they used to call me Baby Sumo, so I'm not trying to be a jerk).
A client of mine called me last night complaining about having to eat too much for dinner. What was on the menu?
It was 3/4 pound of top round steak and 2 pounds of potatoes. Remember, my overall approach is to eat lighter during the day and eat the majority of calories and carbs at night – which allows us, at least once a day, to satisfy that natural urge to feast like a beast.
That's a crap-load of food to eat; yet it's still less than 1500 calories. No late night, starvation-induced binges here.
This guy couldn't lose weight when he was on his ketogenic, unlimited fat diet pouring oils on everything. Why?
Refined oils are much easier to overeat than real food, so he was always in a caloric surplus despite treating carbs like rat poison.
On his new plan, he's lost 50 pounds.
Simple Eating Templates
If you're sedentary, eat like a caveman: animal proteins, vegetables, whole fruits, whole food fats (nuts, shredded coconut, avocado), and muddy pond water.
If you're active, follow the patterns of a Japanese village-style diet, which simply means adding in some low sugar, gluten-free starches to the above caveman diet to support anaerobic training: sweet potatoes, potatoes, or rice.
Now I'm sure I'm going to get some nit-picker saying something like epidemiological research shows no culture has a universal diet and food intake varies across geographical locations, etc. My response?
When was the last time you got laid? Seriously? And Palmela Handerson doesn't count.
"Themed" approaches to eating aren't meant to be 100% historically accurate dogmatic scrolls. They're simply educational tools to give people simple templates to remember.
The bottom line is that emphasizing lean proteins, vegetables, whole fruits, whole food fats, and a select few starch foods if you strength train is good advice regardless of historical era or geographical location.
Fat Loss Method #2 – The Portion Control Route
Here's the tough love reality: 90% of the foods available to us these days aren't that great for either body composition or biomarkers of health. That's why people are always shocked, or even offended, when I give my honest opinion about certain food choices.
"Nate, what do you think about this high fiber cereal or low glycemic bread or low-carb chips or pro-biotic yogurt?"
If I didn't list it, I don't like it. And the list is relatively small. But remember, I'm not the be-all-end-all of nutrition. To paraphrase the Dude, well, that's just my opinion, man.
And for a lot of people, a full-blown real-foods diet may seem too restrictive or extreme.
There are some people out there who just don't want to eat better, despite their knowledge of the health effects of food. It's mind blowing to me. But I get it at some level – refined foods and sugar have drug-like effects. Like any addict, we scour the earth for justifications for including them into our plans.
Some people just aren't going to give up their cereals, wheat bread sandwiches, fruit juices, high n-6 cooking oils and salad dressings, pastas, etc., no matter what. Fair enough.
Fake Foods and Real Instinct Don't Mix
If you think you can take an instinctual approach to eating while making less-than-ideal food choices, you're in for a rude, belly fat awakening. See beaches and poolsides everywhere.
Because it's so easy to overeat refined foods, you'll have to do the ol' measuring, calorie counting, macro-calculating, and tracking thing if you have any real shot at dropping a visually significant amount of body fat.
My ears are already ringing from all the complaints.
Quit whining. Damn, am I talking to a T-Man or my Auntie? If you don't want to eat real foods, you're going to have to measure your fake foods.
I like to make fat loss as easy as possible for people, but you can't be completely lazy and expect to achieve goals. If you refuse to fight one battle, you're going to have to fight another one. You can't win a war from the sideline.
Besides, all it really takes is one extra step. If you're on a carb-based diet, is it backbreaking to pour your cereal or pasta into a measuring cup first instead of directly into a bowl?
If you're on a low carb, fat-based diet, how hard is it to pour salad dressing into a tablespoon measurer instead of directly onto the salad, or count out twenty-four almonds?
I'll even help you. I have two nuts for you right here for you to get started with.
For most foods, especially the energy nutrients (added fats or carbs) that are the most important to measure, it takes an extra 10 seconds to get an exact measurement, instead of just winging it.
Portion Precision Tactics
Here are some thoughts about how to implement this process in the real world. It's not as hard or inconvenient as you think:
- Buy a couple sets of measuring cups (1/4 cup to 1 cup) and teaspoon/tablespoon measures.
- Use measuring cups as serving spoons instead of traditional serving utensils, particularly for starch foods and added fats like nuts.
- There's no need to weigh your meats, poultry, and fish on a scale. Simply buy these foods one pound (16 oz.) at a time and cut them up according to your dietary needs.
If you're supposed to be eating 3 oz. servings cut into 5 pieces, 4 oz. servings = 4 pieces, 5 oz. servings = 3 pieces, 8 oz. servings = 2 pieces. It doesn't have to be exact; we just want the right range. Food scales seem a bit excessive to me.
Pour oils, dressings, and condiments into teaspoon or tablespoon measures before cooking or topping food.
When you don't have access to measuring cups and spoons, like eating at a friend's or at a restaurant, you'll have to eyeball portion sizes.
4-6 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish is about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards. 1 cup of starch is about the size of a closed fist or a baseball. 2 tablespoons of dressing is about 2 spoonfuls, or about 1/2 of most of the cups they use for the "dressing on the side."
No need to measure non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, lettuce, spinach, onions, etc.) unless they're cooked in butter or oil. Plain vegetables are pretty much free foods that can be eaten in unlimited amounts.
The first half summary is really simple. To lose fat you can either:
- Make better food choices.
- Start measuring your crappy food choices.
For health, and overall ease of the program, I prefer route #1. You're always going to be hungry trying to diet on refined foods, and your biomarkers of health probably aren't going to be great either.
The Lethal Combination – The Only Get Ripped Method
Now all of that's for losing some fat – a relatively easy process, right? The problem is with summer coming up, the approaches to just lose some fat start to get marketed as effective approaches to get ripped. I respectfully disagree with that.
Getting ripped is a whole different ballgame in a completely different stadium than just trying to lose some fat and get healthier. It's an athletic endeavor that needs to be treated as such.
The only way I know of for most people to achieve this higher-level goal is to combine fat loss strategies #1 and #2. You must make good choices and measure/track your food intake so you consistently hit targeted calorie and macronutrient numbers.
Extreme fat loss nutrition is all about details – portions and ratios. It's about a well thought-out plan based on science that gives our body exactly what it needs without any excess.
Why do you think there are serving sizes and measuring cups in your Surge® Recovery containers? Because the people that use Surge® are most likely advanced athletes with more advanced goals, not just average goals.
And advanced goals require way more details and precision.
Don't Follow the Exceptions to the Rule
Many fitness professionals proclaim that you don't need to count calories or macronutrients to get ripped. Really? Those are generally the ones who are:
- Blessed with great genetics, and could do whatever they want and would still be in shape.
- The drug enhanced, that still have to work hard, but have a lot more leeway than the average dude.
- Have never been ripped. Trust me, there are plenty of fitness experts, dieticians, and PhD types who write about getting ripped because they know it sells well, but have never successfully gone through the process themselves.
Theory is different from real world application and results. What looks good on the chalkboard doesn't always end up looking good in the streets.
I'm not interested in theory or opinion. I'm interested in real world results. And if you look at the diet plans of the most ripped people on the planet – bodybuilders – you'll see that they all measure their food. Whether they're as natural as grass-fed beef or a Salisbury steak TV Dinner is irrelevant.
Eight ounces of this, 1 cup of that, 2 tbsp., etc., are used for the good food choices that make up the bulk of their diet. If you're serious about reaching elite leanness, follow their example.
Saying you can't learn anything from bodybuilders is just as ignorant as saying you should learn everything from them.
Because of the negative association with the extreme chemical experiments that have become bodybuilding, the industry as a whole seems to have this subconscious need to dissociate from anything related to its core principles. Anything even remotely resembling old school bodybuilding methods gets blasted. This is ridiculous.
The truth is, measuring food is a bodybuilding habit that will serve you well in your get-shredded efforts.
Arguments Against Purely Instinctual Eating
We've used caveman, village, and farmer-style eating as templates to help people lose fat. But these demographics were eating simply to survive.
Modern athletes are eating and training for much more than just the fulfillment of the general life cycle. They're trying to reach the pinnacle of physique development, and "get ripped."
If you want to reach peak condition and ultra-low body fat percentages, then certain sports nutrition principles must creep their way into a 100% natural or instinctual eating plan.
And sports nutrition is all about numbers, calculations, and details.
Look, I get it. I have a genetically elite colleague who is about as honest as it gets, and he always says to me, "People don't get it Nate, I could do anything and be ripped. I don't need to measure anything, especially doughnuts. But that's not what I recommend to other people."
While we'd all like to dream that could be us, and a lot of us use those 'exceptions to the rule' as examples of why we don't need to do certain things, the reality is, it's not.
Simple Summer Shredding Tips
I'd rather go outside and look at some bikini babes than continue writing, so let's wrap this thing up.
Debate could go on forever about what the best plan is to get ripped. Who cares? It all needs to be tested and refined in the real world, for you personally, anyway.
Here's a decent starting point, assuming you strength train 3 or more days a week:
- 12 calories/pound of lean body mass.
- 1-1.5 grams of protein/pound of lean body mass.
- 20% calories dietary fat mostly as byproduct of protein sources and maybe some Flameout™.
- Remaining calories to carbs.
- Have a cheat meal/re-feed meal once a week.
- Choose the meal frequency pattern that's most functional and sustainable for you.
- Aside from your peri-workout nutrition, I think the easiest plan is to eat lighter during the day and eat the majority of calories and carbs at night.
- Try measuring your foods and making sure you're consistently hitting the above recommendations before you think you need some crazy, triple-carb rotating, ketogenic cycling diet to get ripped.
- Chances are you just need to be better with the basics.
Until next time, enjoy your summer loving! It happens so fast.