By Dave Thomas
USAW, RKC, CPT-NSCA
Published: July 2013
There is a hilarious video of things people say to personal trainers.
“Why aren’t I losing weeight?”
“Well, what are you eating?”
“I eat perfect! I only had one cookie”
(after five minutes)
“Okay, I had two…..sleeves of Oreos.”
If you have trouble losing weight you probably don’t need to be obsessing over macros and your workout details. You probably don’t yet need advanced techniques or macro tracking. Chances are you just eat poorly and know you need to fix it, it’s just a matter of execution.
And that’s all good.
That said, there are men and women out there who put in real effort with plenty of focus and commitment who are going to hit periodic plateaus in their weight loss. Remember, the human body adapts to stimulus. Just like strength gains go way up in the beginning, so too does fat loss. Your first batch of fat loss occurs quickly. Then, you stall a little bit. Then some more trickles off, and this process goes back and forth quite some time.
The minor adjustments you might need to make in protocol are hugely dependent upon your current diet and training program.. Do you crush carbs and 400# deadlifts all the time? Or, do you mistakenly treat carbs like a leper and only do the 12 kg kettlebell, never challenging yourself on the weight you lift?
Both require different fixes for body composition plateaus.
Keep in mind there are a host of physiological conditions that cause us to retain body fat around our midsection. Our organs are located there, and our body has evolved to protect them. Genetics always plays an enormous role, too. (Sorry, you’re likely never going to look like Rich Froning). Men tend to hold more fat around their lower abdomen and waist while women around their thighs and butt. Diameter of certain bones (wrists) can be predictors of ability to gain muscle. Your somatotype will effect how you handle different macronutrients. There’s oodles of genetic conditions, y’all.
Regardless, there are still many adjustments we can make to be leaner. Here are five reasons you might have stubborn weight refusing to budge. And remember, this is a fat loss article. Not a how-to on performance.
Reason #1: You’re Eating Too Many Carbs
(Annnd half the readers just freaked out and closed their browser).
Chill, pigeon. We love carbs. We eat them. We’re not carb-phobic by any means. But, the key to any body composition goals, both leaning and gaining are often based around pulling the strings on carbohydrate intake. Many people consume too many foods they think are healthy when in reality those foods are causing their body to retain its body fat, rather than burn it as energy.
Oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain whatever, all have the potential to stall fat loss despite what Special K and friends might tell us.
Carbs are carbs and they all end up in the body in the exact same manner, and that’s sugar in our blood (blood glucose). When you consume carbohydrate such as these, they get broken down and stored in one of three places.
- Immediate Energy
- Intermediate Term Energy (Glycogen)
- Body Fat
(Cue gross over-simplification.)
What you do not use as immediate energy gets stored as glycogen, the energy source you would use in a conditioning workout. Any surplus beyond that goes to retention of growth of new fat cells. If you want to burn fat you need to create the need to tap into body fat, which means getting past glycogen.
You want to get into that third fuel tank to burn fat.
If you keep pumping fuel (carbs) when you’re already at capacity, they’re going to spill out all over the place and cause a Zoolander freak gasoline accident. When they have nowhere to go for energy purposes they go to your fat cells as storage.
If you cut back on the over-consumption of carbs and replace those calories with lean protein and healthy fats then you will deplete the first tank (glycogen) and create the metabolic need to kick over to that second fuel tank (body fat). This is “burning body fat”. Using it as energy.
WE ARE NOT SAYING CARBS MAKE YOU FAT. Nor are we saying not to eat them. We all need them.
We’re simply saying that under the pretense of a prioritized fat loss goal, they may limit your ability to burn fat when you consume in excess of your energy needs.
We hate blanket statements but most experts agree that approximately 50 – 150g of carbohydrates or fewer to shed fat is where you want to be. You can see that when you add up that oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, fruit and yogurt you quickly see you fly past it pretty quickly.
If you have a heavy helping of carbs with each meal, try cutting that in half and you may see your plateau quickly busted. Make sure you don’t make the crucial mistake of consuming an ultra high fat diet as that will also disrupt fat loss. You can’t burn body fat if you’re eating more fat than you need. Stick to avocados and healthy fats with plenty of lean protein.
Reason #2: You’re Not Eating Enough Carbs
Yep. We just told you are potentially eating too many carbs and now we’re saying you may need to eat more.
Life’s a bitch, right?
Well we hate to tell you but nutrition is not an exact science and if you have been lower carb for a while it may be time to re-shock your body and metabolic process. If you’ve been in the 50 – 75g range for a long period of time, you probably need some reverse dieting. It’s easy to get carried away and take our needs-based carb advice and irresponsibly go rogue and turn into no-carb, which would be a horrendous decision unless you want to cause some pretty real metabolic damage.
When you are in an hypocaloric diet, your metabolism can slow to a crawl and your body is preserving its fat because it’s evolved to do so. We are hard wired to keep fat around in times of prolonged caloric deficit based on our survival mechanisms. So, what you’ve essentially done is put yourself in a position where you are no longer burning fat and you need to re-stoke the fat burning fire by carb re-introduction and cycling.
Put the reverse advice from above into effect. If you typically eat zero to one serving of carbs per day, slightly up it to two to three.
Don’t be surprised if you see some initial weight gain as your body will be hypersensitive to carbs at the onset. Over time, your metabolism will likely be re-ignited and fat burning will be allowed to take place once again.
Reason #3: You’re Too Obsessed with Lightning Pace
Cranking through workouts with light weight at a madman’s pace may shed fat at the initial shock to your body, but eventually, as you become more of a seasoned P360 athlete your body will adapt and you must continue to challenge it with new stimulus.
Performing set after set of 24# kettlebell swings is not going to move you forward if you’ve been camped out there for months. Doing them faster may be good for your conditioning but will not translate into fat burning once your body is adapted to that particular challenge, and your overall weakness of strength will not do you a single favor either.
As we covered in complete detail here, the focus on performance and targeting of strengthening and developing muscle tissue will have an enormous positive effect on body composition. It increases energy expenditure, anabolic hormones and overall work capacity. As opposed to mindlessly performing fast, meaningless sets, filling your body with cortisol, at weight too light to challenge yourself.
This is not to say you need to turn yourself into a heavy weightlifting monster. Simply setting a goal of increasing your deadlift or squat ten pounds, belling up one or two levels on your kettlebell work or pushing yourself to a new plyo box height can present enough stimulus to elicit change.
Start mixing in heavy strength days once or twice per week if you are the type to always go for the fat loss. Your body and fat loss will appreciate the change of pace.
No one ever got fatter from lifting heavier. You get fat from lifting heavy…while eating cupcakes and ignoring conditioning.
Reason #4: You’re Too Obsessed With Always Going Heavy
Yep. It’s that kind of entry where we counter every single suggestion.
See a theme here? See what we’re doing?
Hopefully by now you are grasping that each person is different and we want to empower you to self monitor. Each person moves differently and has been doing a different lifting protocol. If fat loss is a goal, and your fat loss has stalled then pick up the pace every now and again, the flip side to those who mentioned above that may need to lift heavier.
Here is what Dr. Pat O’Shea had to say about Interval Weight Training (IWT) way back in the 60’s.
“During strenuous exercise, the rate of metabolism rises, going to about 15 times the resting metabolic rate (RMR) and even higher during intense interval work. For example, running 5 mi/hr the oxygen uptake required is 28 ml 02/min/kg of body weight with 3.7 cal/hr./lb burned, while a short burst of intense interval work may require 100 ml 02/min/kg with 13.8 cal/hr/lb burned. By maintaining the high level of training over a 5 or 6 week period one would expect a significant increase in the ratio of lean body mass to fat. Over a three month period you would be ripped like never before.
Intense interval work utilizes a greater percent of the body’s muscles, both slow and fast twitch. Also, performing high intensity work places added energy demands on the respiratory system, cardiovascular system and nervous system. Thus more fat and glycogen are burned to support the expanding energy demands of the body during – and after – intense exercise. In other words, the cost of short intense interval exercise is very high in terms of energy demands in comparison to low intensity aerobic exercise. What’s more, while at rest trained active muscles burn more fat night and day, contributing to further fat loss.”(1)
(If ‘ripped’ is a medical term then that is outstanding news.)
While we will always be huge advocates of the fat loss and body changing effects of lifting heavy within a circuit, sometimes you just need to mix it up and get more pace in if you’re too accustomed to always going slow and heavy.
Another bonus? Often times the deload has a plateau busting effect when you return to the heavy lifts a few weeks later.
Reason #5: You’re Too Focused on the Scale
Dramatically changing your body and going from fat to six pack is long-term process, guys. It takes time, multiple adjustments in both training and diet like the ones mentioned today and a stoic resolve to commitment. Constant scale watching makes our actions incredibly short-term focused which 99 times out of 100 leads to mistakes.
Scale watching can be incredibly dangerous for ladies who lift heavy for the first time. You may not see the scale come down but in reality, you are burning a ton of fat. I have seen some of our women actually gain weight, but the surplus is do to replacing fat with lean, fat shredding muscle.
Remember, this isn’t Zumba or Insanity. You are lifting barbells and developing new lean muscle, not dancing around your living room reducing your body weight and strength away. If the scale says you are down ten pounds, you are probably actually down fifteen pounds, and up five pounds in muscle.
You cannot get fat while working out and eating right, so stop the crazy, irrational thoughts and please check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Are you an energizer bunny on the trails or pavement? This could be fighting against you as it disrupts lean muscle production and can produce catabolic hormones if done for too long. Tone down your mileage and focus more on weight training. Conversely, have you not run since the Treaty of Versailles was signed? Try running to and from the gym once or twice per week. Remember, it’s all about reversing your routine and presenting your body new stimulus.
Like Einstein said about insanity, “It’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. We all want to get to that point where we’re lean, performance monsters who can pound ice cream, hit PRs and seem to stay lean no matter what. But, that process starts small and it starts with taking ownership over your diet and training. It starts with awareness.
If you are stuck in the same routine, shake that routine violently, flip it on its head and do the opposite for a while. Perhaps you are a candidate for Intermittent Fasting as that is a highly effective fat loss tool for the “final five” pounds.
Each individual is different and along different points in the curve, so adjustments are entirely dependent on the stimulus to which your body is adapted.
Often times, a change in stimuli induces a change in results.
Dave Thomas is a coach, owner and nutrition coach at Performance360 in San Diego, as well as author of 360Nutrition and contributor to The Dirty Fork online magazine.