If you are struggling to get the lean beach body that you dream of for this summer, then you should remember one golden rule – abs are made in the kitchen. While raw strength relies on lifting heavy weights, looking good and lean requires a good diet – if you lift heavy but eat too much, or the wrong foods, then you will struggle to show the benefits of the workouts you are doing. You need to exercise, rest, and eat right. Figuring out the best foods to eat to lose fat and gain muscle is not easy – indeed, there are some who would tell you that the best strategy is to follow a ‘bulking’ and ‘cutting’ cycle – where you eat lots and lift heavy, then start focusing on weight loss by eating less and doing maintenance strength work.
Bulking and cutting can work, but it is not for everyone. If your doctor has told you that you need to lose weight, or you are trying to get ready for a beach holiday, then you aren’t going to want to slam protein shakes and mass gainers as if your life depended on it. You’ll probably want to focus on losing weight – but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get stronger while you are doing it.
How To Lose Weight
Weight loss is, at its core, something that depends on you burning more calories per day than you take in. You can create that calorie deficit by eating less, or by moving more. It’s as simple as that – Atkins, the beach body diet, intermittent fasting, Personal Trainer Foods, slimming world, even keto – they all work by making you spend a sustained amount of time in a calorie deficit – that calorie deficit just comes from something different each time, whether that’s because you’re “not eating” for multiple hours at a time in the case of intermittent fasting, or because you’re eating so much protein and fat that you feel full and don’t snack on carbs (in the case of keto).
If you want to lose 1lb of fat, that means you will need to eat 3,500 fewer calories than you burn. It’s fairly easy to lose 1lb of fat in a week by just cutting down on snacks. Cut out one chocolate bar per day, and then perhaps go for a brisk walk for an hour, and there you go, you’ve saved 500 calories that day, do that 7 days in a row and that’s 1lb of fat lost. If you don’t have time to walk, then skip your latte in the morning or have black coffee instead.
Not All Weight Loss is Fat
Sadly, not all weight loss is fat. When you’re trying to lose weight your body will burn fat, but it will also burn muscle as well. Some people, if they try to lose too much weight too quickly, will end up in a situation they lose a lot of muscle as well as fat and become flabby looking even at a lower weight. You can prevent this by focusing on strength training exercises, and also by making sure that your diet and the rest of your lifestyle supports the kind of muscle growth and repair that you need.
The Building Blocks of Muscles
Your muscles are built out of protein, and when you exercise you create small tears in your muscles, which are then repaired while you sleep – using protein. If you aren’t eating enough protein then your body will not be able to keep up with the muscle repair that is needed, and this means that you’re more likely to lose muscle – it’s something that can happen a lot with long distance runners – they are incredibly lean, because they run for long distances and they use huge amounts of calories so they don’t have massive fat stores – but they aren’t as strong as you would think considering they “exercise a lot”.
When you are losing weight, it’s particularly important that your nutrition is on point. You do not have room in a calorie restricted diet to eat a lot of empty calories. You will need to focus on eating lots of protein, lots of healthy fats (fat is not the enemy when you are trying to lose fat – you need fat in your diet to make the hormones you need to stay healthy), and lots of fiber. Carbohydrates are OK as a source of energy, but they should not be a primary source.
Foods such as lean meats and oily fish are useful, as are green, leafy vegetables. There is space for complex carbohydrates in the form of oats. A lot of people like eggs because they are filling and they are nutrient dense – and actually lower in calorie than you might think. Many people use nuts as a source of extra protein, but be aware that they are highly calorie dense, so while they are nice to eat, they may not help with the weight loss if you tend to snack mindlessly.
Try meal planning, and separating you food for the day out into containers – you don’t have to do the ‘six meals per day’ thing – it works for some people but it leaves others feeling constantly hungry. Figure out what works for you and just stick with that – the total amount that you eat over a long period of time is far more important than the timing of the meals. One thing that stops a lot of people from succeeding in their goals of cutting fat and building muscle is that they become so hung up on the idea that weight loss has to be complicated that they sabotage their chances of success before they really get started. You will have the greatest amount of success if you simply do your scheduled workouts, and eat only when you are genuinely hungry, not when you are bored or stressed.