Here are your 8 tips to achieve maximum fat loss in the shortest amount of time!
#1: Create The “Right” Calorie Deficit
Calories are king when it comes to fat loss. Studies show you won’t lose fat without some sort of calorie deficit, regardless of food quality or macronutrient ratios. Many popular diets achieve calorie deficit in a round about way by cutting out certain foods (Whole30) or strictly limiting certain macronutrients (ketogenics). These diets have their place, but the concept is simple: the right calorie deficit maximizes fat loss, no deficit equals no fat loss, and too huge a deficit equates to a crashed metabolism and no fat loss.
What is “the right” calorie deficit? So glad you asked! First off, you need to know your calorie needs for weight maintenance, also known as your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). If you don’t want to track calories, you’ll have to find your “sweet spot” by experimenting with your food intake. This takes trial and error and can waste a lot of time. If you’re wanting healthy fat loss in the shortest time possible, just track your calories!
Now, back to the “right” calorie deficit. Studies show cutting calories by 20-30% achieves significant weight loss without drastically slowing the metabolism. If you’re truly wanting to maximize fat loss, go with 30%. In other words, use 70% of your calculated TDEE for fat loss.
You should never cut calories lower than your calculated basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the number of calories your body needs to perform basic vital functions such as breathing, circulation, digestion, hormone production, etc. Cutting below your BMR can drastically slow your metabolism (as much as 40% studies show!), disrupt normal hormone levels, and wreak havoc across all bodily systems.
In addition, we all have what’s called a “critical energy availability threshold,” below which metabolic and reproductive functions start to suffer. For lean athletic women, it appears to be around 13.6 calories per pound of lean body mass (30kcal/kg), and for lean athletic men, it’s about 11.4 calories per pound of lean body mass (20kcal/kg). This means if I have 115 lbs. of lean body mass, I should avoid cutting below 1,564 calories (13.6kcal/lb. x 115 lbs.).
#2: Set Protein Intake High
People can argue until they’re blue in the face whether low-carb or low-fat is better for weight loss (spoiler alert – they’re about the same), but there is one this all successful weight loss plans have in common: lots of protein!
First off, a high-protein diet protects against muscle loss, which is more likely to happen when you’re in an aggressive calorie deficit. This is a problem because the less muscle you have, the fewer calories you burn! Protein also forces your body to burn more calories (thanks thermic effect of protein), helps maintain blood sugar, and suppresses appetite… all helpful to maximize fat loss!
For maximum fat loss while retaining lean muscle, I recommend a protein intake between 35-45% of total calories, or 1.2-1.4 grams per pound of your ideal bodyweight (use lean body mass if you know it). Yes, 45% of calories seems like a ton of protein, but since it’s coming out of fewer calories, you need a higher percentage to hit 1.2-1.4 grams per pound of ideal bodyweight (or lean body mass).
#3: Replace Sugary Carbs With High-Fiber Carbs
I’m not one to fear sugar, however, when fat loss is the goal, I know I need to swap out my sugary carbs (like maple syrup and cookies) for more high-fiber carbs (fruits, veggies, and whole grains). This helps suppress my hunger and maintain an aggressive calorie deficit. I’ll still have sweets on my weekly re-feed, but during the week I limit them.
There are a few reasons for this. For one, fiber adds “bulk” to foods, making you feel full on fewer calories and stay full longer. For two, insoluble fiber moves digested food through your gut faster, reducing the absorption of starch and sugars, as well as overall calories. Dietary fiber has further been shown to help target stubborn belly fat! On the other hand, getting most of your carbs from foods with added sugars (especially fructose) has been linked to excess belly fat and obesity. Fructose causes inflammation and does a terrible job of suppressing appetite! Besides that, all sugar is addictive, making it harder to stick to your diet.
Outside of your typical sweets like cake and ice cream, added sugars find their way into granola, cereals, protein bars, breads, flavored yogurts, condiments, sports drinks, and fruit juice. To maximize fat loss, limit processed carbs in favor of more whole food carbs: vegetables, fruit, sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice, quinoa, oats, beans.
#4: Emphasize healthy fats
One mistake people make when cutting is they stop adding fats to their meals and choose only low-fat, low-calorie foods. This can lead to deficiencies in essential fats (like omega-3) as well as fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Furthermore, inadequate fat intake reduces appetite control,40 inhibits fat burning, and blunts hormone production, including hormones involved in fat burning!
How much fat do we need? Well, the official 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 20-35% of total calories from fat for adult men and women. Based on my review of scientific literature, 0.3-0.6 grams of fat per pound of lean body mass is adequate for optimizing fat loss hormones and meeting other physiological needs. I usually go above the minimum, since studies show that studies suggest that higher-fat diets are generally more effective for suppressing appetite and keeping the weight off than low-fat diets.
“What kind” of fat matters just as much, if not more, than “how much.” Omega-3 fats turn on genes that promote fat burning, and turn off genes that promote fat storage. They also reduce inflammation and promote insulin sensitivity, making it easier to burn fat and harder to store carbs as fat. Omega-3 fats are found in salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts and walnut oil, and high omega-3 canola oil.
Mono-unsaturated (omega-9) fats also promote insulin sensitivity and target visceral belly fat (the harmful kind around your organs)! You can get mono-unsaturated fats from olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, almonds, macadamias and most other nuts, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds.
#5: Drink A Gallon Of Water Per Day
Drinking more water may help you reduce calorie intake and lose weight, especially if you’re replacing sweetened beverages with water! Water also boosts metabolic rate. As a matter of fact, drinking just 16 ounces of water can increase metabolic rate as much as 30% for up to two hours after drinking! A good rule is to drink 12 ounces of water with every meal or snack. I personally see the best results when I get a gallon of water each day!
The best way to drink more water is to make it readily available. Bring a water bottle everywhere you go and refill it as soon as you run out. Or, carry around a gallon of water (bodybuilder-style) and finish it by end of day. If you’re not a fan of plain water, try squeezing fresh citrus into your water, infusing fruit or cucumber, or even adding an all-natural, low-calorie flavor packet.
I see lots of people adding flavored aminos (aka branched chain amino acids or BCAAs) to their water to make it more drinkable. However, over-supplementing with BCAAs is counterproductive for fat loss. For one, BCAAs dohave calories (about 4.6 calories per gram), so if you’re consuming 25 grams a day, you’re adding 115 calories to your daily intake.
“Wait – my tub of BCAAs says zero calories?” Yes, the FDA prohibits supplement companies from listing protein or calories on supplements that contain pure amino acids, even if it’s misleading. In addition, BCAAs stimulate insulin, and we know insulin turns off fat-burning.This is why drinking BCAAs all day can hinder fat burning. It’s fine to have 5-10 grams before, during, or after your workout as they’re intended to be used.
#6: Increase your daily calorie burn
Upping your daily calorie burn is an effective way to increase your daily deficit without restricting calories too low! One way is to increase your “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” (NEAT), also called “non-exercise physical activity” (NEPA). For example, resolve to walk more (invest in a pedometer), take the stairs, even stand at your desk! Try to spend less time being sedentary (sitting on the couch), and more time being active (playing with the kids, gardening, cleaning). Studies show NEPA and NEAT collectively account for only 10% of daily calorie burn in sedentary individuals, but up to 50% of daily calorie burn in highly active individuals. In other words, you could be burning up to 40% more calories and fat, simply by being more active. All without going to the gym!
Another way to increase your calorie burn is through heavy compound lifting (squats, deadlifts, bench press). You don’t have to do a ton of plyometrics and fast-paced circuits to maximize fat loss. Lifting heavy boosts daily calorie-burn as much, if not more, than lighter circuit-style training, and elicits greater gains in lean muscle mass. As we know, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn around the clock!
Not convinced? One study showed similar post-exercise calorie burn comparing 40 minutes of circuit training (50% of 1RM x 15 repetitions x 4 sets) to 40 minutes of heavy resistance lifting (80-90% of 1RM x 3-8 repetitions x 3 sets). Another study in elderly men found that heavy resistance training with longer rest periods increased metabolic rate for 72 hours post-workout, compared to only 48-hours in those using lower weights and shorter rest periods (circuit-style). Another 24-week study in women pitted circuit training (lighter weights to failure) against heavy, high-volume training. They found that the heavy, high-volume group lost three times as much body fat and gained significantly more muscle!
When it comes to cardio, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is your friend. HIIT incorporates short bursts of maximal intensity effort with brief rest periods in between. For example, do 30-60 seconds of high-intensity work (reaching 80-95% max heart rate), followed by 1-2 minutes of low intensity recovery (getting down to 50-60% max heart rate), then repeat for 6-10 rounds (15-30 minutes total).
HIIT cardio boosts calorie burn to maximize fat loss up to 24 hours post-workout, whereas low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio only burns calories while you’re doing it. Some research suggests HIIT cardio can increase fat loss by 300% over LISS cardio! In addition, HIIT amplifies certain cardiovascular and skeletal muscle adaptations that are beneficial for performance, and appears less likely to cause muscle loss than LISS. HIIT is also more time-efficient than LISS, burning almost twice as many calories in the same amount of time.
HIIT is more physically demanding than LISS cardio. Experts recommend no more than three HIIT sessions per week to limit injury and metabolic stress. LISS cardio is a good option for the in-between days.
#7: Get 7-8 Hours Of Sleep
Did you know getting enough sleep could increase your likelihood to maximize fat loss as much as 33%? It’s true! For a lean physique, 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night is ideal, research shows.
There are a few reasons sleep affects fat loss. Lack of sleep (or poor sleep) decreases the hormone leptin and increases the hormone ghrelin, ultimately resulting in increased appetite and blunted fat loss. Chronic sleep deprivation also elevates cortisol levels. Cortisol, if left unchecked, can cause muscle loss, insulin resistance (difficultly metabolizing carbs), weight gain, excess belly fat, hormone imbalances, thyroid issues, and more!
#8: Drink Coffee Or Green Tea
Both coffee and green tea have proven fat loss benefits.
The caffeine in coffee can increase fat burning as much as 29%, and boost overall metabolic rate up to 11%, at least until your body becomes tolerant. Even after these temporary benefits wear off, coffee consumption may help suppress appetite, making it easier to stick to your diet! Up to 400-500mg of caffeine per day is safe for healthy adults.
Don’t do coffee? Try green tea. Besides modest levels of caffeine, green tea contains potent antioxidants called catechins, which have their own unique fat-burning benefits. Green tea extract has been shown to increase fat burning as much as 24%, and boost metabolic rate as much as 4%. In one study, those drinking 4 cups of green tea daily lost 1.3kg more than the control over two months. Unlike the caffeine found in coffee, green tea appears effective long-term. While you can drink as much green tea as you like, green tea extract should be limited to 750mg per day.