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Destroying the fat around your midsection takes work. Sure, your training and nutrition both play major roles, but when it comes to getting—and staying—lean, you’ve got to reassess virtually every aspect of your lifestyle: your mood, your attitude, even the way you approach your job and your relationships with friends and family. The good news is that it’s doable. The fat-loss tips that follow, culled from some of the world’s top experts and studies, are designed to help you jump-start your progress so you can get that svelte, athletic body back—and keep it.
If it didn’t exist in 1903, then don’t eat it. Besides having a much lower nutritional value than whole foods, processed foods have been stripped of most of their fiber, as well as compounds like phytochemicals and amino acids—and digesting those nutrients takes energy. A 2010 study showed that eating a sandwich made with multigrain bread and cheddar cheese causes the body to burn twice as many calories postmeal as you’d use after eating a similar sandwich made with white bread and processed cheese.
Opt for water as your go-to beverage and skip soda whenever possible. A 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that people who switched from sugary sodas to water were twice as likely to lose 5% of their bodyweight after six months of dieting compared with people who followed a diet with a similar number of calories—but were still drinking soda.
To really jack up your metabolism and melt the fat off your belly, try implementing high-intensity interval training into your workouts. These hardcore routines involve a high-intensity work period like running at 90% of your maximal heart rate, followed by a low-intensity exercise like walking at a slow pace. A 2008 study from the University of New South Wales in Australia showed that men and women who performed HIIT three times a week for 15 weeks lost 11% more body fat than a control group who performed regular cardio. Performing exercises like kettlebell snatches or thrusters for intervals is a convenient and effective way to get in your HIIT when you’re pressed for time.
Study after study shows that adding muscle will help your body burn more calories. Increased muscle mass also increases insulin sensitivity, resulting in less fat storage. Your best bet when planning a workout, according to Jesse Burdick, a Dublin, CA, trainer and nutritionist, is to opt for a good mix of heavy and light lifting days. A recent meta-study found that lifting heavier weights for fewer reps can give you a bigger and longer-lasting increase in your resting metabolic rate than pushing light weight for high reps. The old standard of lifting light still has a place in your workout, though, because it can help you burn calories while you lift. Maximize your fat-burning abilities by mixing up your training. Try doing four sets of your exercise, but break it up into two sets with heavy weight and low reps and then two sets with lighter weight and high reps, Burdick says.
Zero-carb diet plans and carb cycling, in which you manipulate carb intake to be higher some days and very low on others, appear to be the best strategies for torching fat. In addition to helping you control appetite and cravings, studies show they also help keep insulin levels stable.
It’ll speed up your metabolism by activating thermogenic (fat-burning) mechanisms. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that drinking green tea extract resulted in a 4% increase in the body’s energy expenditure over 24 hours.
Your body can’t store alcohol, so when you drink it your body makes metabolizing the alcohol its first priority, which stops your body from oxidizing, or burning, fat. And all those empty calories will only widen your waist.
Your system responds to stress by producing the hormone cortisol, which decreases your metabolism and encourages your body to store fat in your abdominal area. A study at the University of California, San Francisco showed that when stressed women were left alone in a room with unlimited access to food, they ate 57% more than those women who were less stressed. The No. 1 way to drop your stress level is exercise. You may also be able to lower stress levels with supplements. Most experts recommend getting at least 500mg of omega-3s and about 900mg of vitamin C a day.
When training with weights, rest between sets for a minute or less instead of wandering around and socializing. Research shows that resting for only 30 seconds can increase the rate at which you burn calories by up to 50% compared with taking a full three-minute rest period.
Following a high-protein diet—40% of daily calories from protein—for eight weeks has been shown to lead to significant reductions in abdominal fat compared with a low-fat, high-carb diet. Shoot for at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight for maximum fat burning.
It’s easy, it works, and it fits nicely into most busy lifestyles. The variations are endless: You can skip breakfast, dinner, or even an entire day, once per week or once per month. Check out the free e-book Experiments with Intermittent Fasting at precisionnutrition.com for even more strategies.
When you lift, opt for rep ranges like six to 10 instead of heavy singles and triples—or superhigh-rep sets in excess of 20. One study of college football players showed that just one set of reps to failure, plus forced reps and static contractions for a few seconds, led to more fat loss than a lower-intensity workout.
When your body’s exhausted, your metabolism slows and your fat-burning processes don’t have the energy they need to function optimally. A 2004 study from Stanford University School of Medicine showed that subjects who slept less than eight hours had a higher body mass index and more of the hormones that trigger appetite. Try to get eight to nine hours of sleep every night to get the most out of your body.
If you lift weights in the morning before work, throw in some basketball or a brisk walk at the end of the day, and vice versa, to keep your metabolism running and to burn extra calories.
Use foam rollers and contrast showers to keep you in the game and injury-free. If you have stiff or painful muscles, try rolling back and forth on a foam roller across the area for 60 seconds. Do this two to three times per day on areas that are especially knotted and sore. Improve circulation to those sore muscles by taking a contrast shower after working out. Start with hot water and then alternate to cold water, increasing the heat or cold each time for three rounds. Stay in the hot water three times as long as the cold, and always end with cold. This will loosen up your muscles and decrease inflammation.
Your metabolism needs ample amounts of water to keep firing, and your body needs to eliminate waste produced during fat burning. Drink water liberally throughout the day; you’ll be more likely to skip sugary, high-calorie drinks and may even boost your metabolism. A 2003 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that quaffing about 17 ounces of cold agua can bump your metabolism for around a half hour and burn the equivalent of 25 calories—about one teaspoon of sugar.
Iron helps route oxygen to the cells in your body. If this process is hindered, your energy sags and your metabolism slows. Don’t supplement with iron pills, though, as this can increase the risk of heart disease by constricting blood vessels. Instead, eat plenty of iron-rich foods like shellfish, lean meat, beans, and spinach.
Your insulin response (and how your body absorbs and responds to carbs) is a major key to how you’ll get the fat off. Your strategy in a nutshell: Decrease your sugar and carb intake to encourage your body to burn stored fat instead of glucose. It’s that simple.
Slow your pace when you eat, and let your body begin to digest food at a more reasonable rate. Psychological trials show that eating slowly results in feeling full sooner, which leads to fewer calories consumed at mealtime. Try chewing each bite 20 times before swallowing, or put down your fork or spoon after each mouthful to regulate your intake.
Sure, you’re sacrificing a bit of flavor, but eliminating empty calories (and carbs) is worth it. Whether it’s sour cream, salad dressing, or mayo, the wrong condiments can add 100 or more calories to an otherwise healthy meal.
Call it the King of All Exercises. The squat increases your strength and torches fat better than just about any other move. That’s because squats target multiple large muscle groups—quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Use proper form, though, to get the most out of this essential movement. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your lower back slightly arched while making sure your knees are centered over your ankles as much as possible. Drop down, keeping form, lowering your butt as if you were sitting in an imaginary chair.
Cook your meals ahead of time, store them in plastic containers, and bring your lunch to work instead of winging it once you’re there. You will be less tempted to go for chicken wings or a sloppy sub from the local diner.
As a lead-in to your primary workout of the day, there’s nothing better. A 180-lb guy can burn more than 600 calories an hour just jumping rope.
A study in the Journal of Medicinal Food revealed that grapefruit juice can normalize the level of insulin in your bloodstream by helping to flush excess amounts of the hormone—subjects who had grapefruit juice before their daily meals lost an average of one-third of a pound per week. Too much insulin means too much sugar is being stored as fat. Normalize those levels, and the extra sugar goes to making energy for your body.
Need a snack? Reach for a whey protein shake instead of hitting the vending machine. It’ll give you the added protein you need while helping blunt hunger. Whey protein also helps you control blood-sugar levels, resulting in more regular eating patterns and fewer carb binges (caused by your body trying to keep blood sugar stable).
You’ll burn more calories and recruit more muscle fibers doing free-weight exercises like cleans and snatches since you’re involving significantly more muscle groups. Bringing more stabilizer muscles into play when lifting requires more energy and burns more calories.
Research shows you train harder (and longer) in response to music you like, so choose your playlist wisely. A recent study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport showed that when elite athletes ran in time to music they chose themselves, they were able to run up to 19% longer than when not listening to music. The same effect applies to lifting weights; the increased respiration and heart rate literally gets your blood pumping faster, moving more oxygen to muscles.
Your fast-twitch muscle fibers are far less efficient in energy usage than the slow-twitch kind, so skip the slow, steady reps and speed up the concentric (positive) portion of your lifts to burn more calories. Go with a weight that is 30% of your one-rep max for each exercise—try three to eight fast reps for your first two sets, then switch to slower reps for the last two sets.
Perform your workouts first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. Your body will use fat as an energy source since your glycogen stores are low when you wake up. A study from Kansas State University showed that you burn the same amount of calories if you are fasting or full, but fasting prior to exercising resulted in burning a greater amount of fat.
Learn to cook simple, healthy meals, and limit restaurant visits. Research shows that people unknowingly consume more calories when eating out.
Taking photos detailing your progress will both help you gauge your progress and serve as motivation when you see that what you’re doing is actually working.
Find a partner to go through this process with, and make yourselves accountable to each other. You’ll be less likely to skip the gym if you have someone banking on you to show up and give it your all.
A study in The Journal of Physiology found that healthy males experienced a 21% increase in muscle growth and an 11% increase in work output after taking two grams of L-carnitine twice daily for six months. This amino acid helps you perform by decreasing lactic acid buildup.
A study from 2002 showed that supplementing with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) can be effective in enhancing the fat-burning process. In a random double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers found that after 12 weeks of 1.8g of CLA supplementation three times daily, along with 90 minutes of exercise three times a week, subjects lost about 15% of their body fat.
It’ll control your blood sugar, significantly improve your ability to move your bowels, lower your cholesterol, and help prevent overeating. Try to get 30 to 40 grams of fiber per day from such food sources as whole grains, lentils, broccoli, peas, and raspberries.