by Ryan Zielonka
Summer is right around the corner, just in time to make you feel guilty about your indulgence in one too many late night pizza runs. If there’s some holiday excess still loitering about your waistline, then worry not: today we’re talking fat loss…rapid fat loss.
I wish everyone could take the long, slow, and steady approach to dieting, but the reality is that even the best of us succumb to long days at the office and long nights at the bar.
Some of these recommendations will run counter to popular magazine rack and online bodybuilding protocols, but that’s okay. Just because juice monsters can lose fat on a high volume training protocol doesn’t mean that you can. I also urge you to avoid the ubiquitous online forum recommendation to combine high-intensity interval training, fat loss complexes, and ketogenic dieting into one program, for reasons I will explain later.
If you are someone who needs to reach a target bodyweight in a very short amount of time, but don’t want to turn into a social pariah or neurotic fitness freak at the same time, well, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive in.
On Having a Plan
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met trainees who start their fat loss programs by “cutting carbs,” “eating clean,” or doing some “metabolic training.” Even worse, I’ve seen all three combined together accompanied by a diet of protein shakes, isolated branched-chain amino acids, and sugared post-workout concoctions. The claim that some supplement is critical to the success of the program means the program itself is suspect and probably not a real program in the first place.
To be successful at fat loss, we need to move beyond trite diet and exercise prescriptions and think about the individual person who will be following whatever protocol is outlined. We all bring to the table different quirks and idiosyncrasies, both psychological and physiological, which make it impossible to design a one-size-fits-all fat loss method.
So what can we do? What does a real fat loss program look like? A real fat loss program takes into account all of the strengths and limitations a given trainee may possess, meaning that at some level, the perfect fat loss program is the one designed by the dieter himself. Even if I were to lay out some hypothetical ‘perfect rapid fat loss program,’ the chances are scant that any given trainee would be able to follow it and succeed. This is why good coaches and nutritionists are in such high demand.
I ask that you come to the realization right now that you will break your diet or training program at some point over the next six weeks. It is not the end of the world and you are not a bad person. Aim for 90% adherence to this plan and don’t worry about the remaining 10%. Be flexible, because no plan survives contact with the enemy, no matter how resolute you may be. By remaining cognizant of this reality, you’re more likely to stop after that first or second cookie, before you turn one dietary transgression into an evening long binge.
Follow Ryan’s 6 week rapid fat loss plan and you’ll have babes like this asking you play volleyball from all angles!
Creating a Diet
By designing a meal plan that caters to your taste buds, you’ll establish a certain level of do-ability that will keep you on track come that fourth, or fifth, or sixth week. Some individuals fall back on eating the same foods day in and day out – this phenomenon explains the success of clean eating, at least until a cheat day – in order to keep calories under control. I prefer that folks include a variety of foods in their diet as each food type imparts its own set of benefits.
Bodybuilding nutritionists like Alan Aragon, M.S., break foods into six categories:
Clearly, room exists for additional subdivision – eggs could be classified as both a protein and a fat – but in general, aiming for a variety of foods from each of the aforementioned categories will take care of both your macro-nutritional and micro-nutritional needs.
Before you begin selecting foods to eat, you’ll first need to figure out your calories. Rather than set an arbitrary daily caloric goal and fill in macronutrients with ratios, I prefer to build up from the macronutrients to a caloric total.
Protein: Set this anywhere from 1.5g/lb to 2.0g/lb of total bodyweight. Protein is the most satiating of macronutrients and protects against muscle loss during drastic caloric cuts. I can’t do the topic justice here, but there are innumerable resources available online that discuss the critical importance of protein in a bodybuilding diet.
Carbohydrates: For our purposes, eat as few as you can get away with. You can consume vegetables in unlimited quantities, and you should strive to get in at least two servings of vegetables a day. Ignore their caloric value as the fiber content more than offsets their negligible caloric load.
One of the big problems that low-calorie diets impose on the dieter is the threat of insufficient micronutrition. Abuse of stimulants like caffeine can leach compounds such as calcium from the body, bringing adverse effects on mental health, physical health, and body composition. Vegetables can make up for such abuses.
Fat: If you don’t already have a stash, pick up a bottle of fish oil capsules. You’ll want to take anywhere from 6g to 12g of total fish oil per day to meet your daily requirement of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Beyond that, I wouldn’t worry much about adding fat into your diet. You’ll get enough fat from your protein sources, and frankly, fats from oils and nuts tend to add up quite quickly. Ditch added fats in the short-term and get your fats in an ancillary fashion from dairy or oils used in cooking.
Let’s take our generic 170-pound lifter at 13% body fat. He’s walking around with roughly 22 pounds of fat on his frame, leaving him with 148 pounds of lean tissue. Most guys need to drop a few notches into the single digit body fat range to sport abs, so let’s set a goal of 10 pounds of fat loss for this six-week period.
If you want to sport a set of abs like Allen Cress, you’ll need to pay close attention to your diet
Crunching the Numbers
Presuming a slight loss in lean tissue – you’ll always lose some lean mass in the form of water, stored muscle glycogen, and connective tissue – our trainee will end up weighing in at a total bodyweight of 158 pounds. That leaves him with 12 pounds of fatty tissue and about 7.5% body fat.
To prioritize lean muscle retention, he’ll begin by eating 1.5g/lb of current bodyweight in protein, giving us 255g of total protein per day.
With carbohydrates, he’ll limit himself to two pieces of fruit per day and whatever comes along with his vegetables, sauces, and dairy sources. On a given day, he won’t exceed more than 0.5g/lb of current bodyweight in carbohydrate intake, leaving us with 85g of total carbohydrate to play with per day.
Fat is a bit tricky. Depending on cuts of meat, means of preparation, and type of dairy, this value can vary quite a bit. Because the intent here is to minimize calories, our hypothetical trainee won’t be adding any fat beyond his daily quaffing of fish oil.
Under normal dieting circumstances, 0.5g/lb of bodyweight is a good number to shoot for, but since we’re attacking this program with the purpose of rapid fat loss, we’ll drop that number down to 0.3g/lb of bodyweight, or about 51g of fat for our 170-lb lifter.
The 255g of protein nets 1020 calories, 85g of carbohydrate nets 340 calories, and 51g of fat nets 459 calories. This leaves us with a total of 1819 calories per day. Our lifter is going to be training hard, adding in as much low-intensity cardio as he can muster. If he’s exercising 8 to 10 hours per week, he’ll be burning anywhere between 3000 and 3500 calories per day. In calculating these numbers, I’m ignoring the negligible amount of calories that vegetables contribute to the diet, and you should too.
This is our lifter’s baseline diet and the one he’ll follow the majority of the time. You can go through the same process to design your own individualized fat-loss diet plan. Now let’s talk about making adjustments based on training protocol.
Targeted Carbohydrate Spikes
We outlined the baseline diet above, but now we need to tailor things a bit to support high-intensity weight lifting. The best way to go about this is by incorporating intelligent workout nutrition.
Before and after your workout, you’ll want to consume some combination of protein and carbohydrate. This can come in a variety of forms: a protein shake mixed with milk, oatmeal and eggs, steak and rice, or any other combination of a lean protein source and a starch and/or fruit. Food subtypes do not matter. If I were to quibble, I’d suggest you consume some mix of both slow and fast acting proteins– dairy is great for this purpose – and rely more on starches than fruits or vegetables for your carbohydrate sources here.
As far as amounts are concerned, trainees should aim to consume a total of 0.75g/lb of carbohydrate, split up into before and after exercise allotments. Most people prefer to take in more of their dietary carbohydrates after their workout so they can eat a larger meal. This carbohydrate bolus is an addition to the baseline diet above. Eat your usual meal quantity of protein before and after your workout, but rather than an austere lot of meat and vegetables, you get to include some starches. Depending on your bodyweight, this will contribute an additional 400 to 800 calories to your workout days.
Note, these spikes should not be used to support cardiovascular workouts; this extra should be used only around resistance training workouts. And don’t go trying to add in additional workouts so you can eat more food–the point here is fat loss, not muscle gain, and we need to maintain a sufficient caloric deficit to drive as rapid a rate of fat loss as possible without compromising too much of your sanity or muscle mass.
Now it’s time to address what many of you were hoping for–the free meal. Yes, once per week you get to load up on a reasonable plateful of food without worrying about its specific caloric or macronutrient content. Retain some sanity here. I encourage you to eat this meal out at a restaurant because it’s all too easy to find yourself downing an entire carton of ice cream and then some at home, and turning what was a single meal into a multi-hour binge. This free meal will replace one of your normal meals during the day, and if you can time it so it comes after one of your resistance training workouts, all the better.
I’m a no-frills guy when it comes to supplements. Certainly there’s room here for thermogenic aids or other fat loss products if that’s something you want to invest in. Below I’ve outlined what I consider to be the supplements necessary to promote optimal health. If you want to invest in other products, I have no problems with that, just realize it’s not necessary to do so if you’re on a budget.
Multi-vitamin: Helps protect against micro-nutritional deficiencies. Consider taking twice the dose during phases of aggressive fat loss. (Multi-Plus is a great option here.)
Fish oil: Take six to 12 one gram capsules a day.
Calcium: Increases fat excretion and boosts testosterone. Take 500-750 mg a day.
Vitamin D: I go with the standard 5,000 IUs. Boosts strength and athletic performance.
Creatine: One of the few supplements that actually works. Take 3-5g a day, or roughly a teaspoon’s worth. (Creatine 500 is a superb choice)
Whey/Casein Protein Powder: It’s protein, it’s low-fat, it’s cheap. What’s not to like? It’s also a good source of branched chain amino acids. (Nitrean is a perfect choice as it contains a blend of whey, casein, and egg proteins.)
Caffeine: Boosts fat loss, manages fatigue, contains cardio-protective benefits. Take as needed, or just drink coffee.
L-Tyrosine: Improves mood and is a thyroid hormone precursor. Take 1 – 3g daily.
All of this should give you a good idea of how to set up a diet and supplement regimen.
Don’t try and make it too complicated. Put simply, meal frequency and timing doesn’t matter. What does matter is how many calories you consume per day, consumption of proper amounts of macronutrients, and the variety of food types eaten (Daniel Roberts does a nice job of explaining this here – Nutrient Timing – When Science and Marketing Collide). Beyond that, it’s all a wash.
When it comes to training for fat loss, I have some very specific ideas that may rub you as odd. Trust me on this one, and I think you’ll find that the results speak for themselves.
To retain muscle while dieting, you must train heavy. To train heavy, you have to make some serious effort in the gym. There will be no volume training in this program; I’d much rather someone cut calories or amp up cardio than try to do more work in the weight room. It’s a good idea to keep the purpose of each element in our fat loss program in perspective. The purpose of your diet is to lose fat. The purpose of low intensity cardio is to lose fat and promote recovery. Weight training helps you lose fat only indirectly, so don’t get confused and try to add sets and reps to ‘cut up.’
To train heavy, you have to make some serious effort in the gym.
During a diet, I’m a big fan of a three-day-a-week split. This is a nice compromise between a minimalist strength-only approach, and a more traditional four-times-a-week maintenance or bulking routine. There’s no reason to get sexy with training unless you want to trick yourself into feeling like you’ve progressed more than you have.
One of the most elegant programs I’ve developed was inspired by Matt Perryman, owner of Impulse Fitness, a New Zealand-based consulting practice. The purpose of this workout is not to gain muscle, generate fat loss, or contribute to your fat loss progress. Instead, it exists to mitigate the negative side effects of your diet. For those seeking extreme leanness, stress management is crucial, particularly when pushing your body into dangerously lean territory. This simply can’t be accomplished with the high-stress rigors of demanding, high-intensity workouts.
This workout forms the basis of a training program to which we’ll add low-intensity cardio (which will be described later). It is technically a four-day split across two weeks to allow for more recovery. Here’s the basic template:
Monday: Day 1 – Upper Body Heavy
1. Barbell Bench Press (any variant) – 5×3 – 80-85% 1RM
2. Barbell Row (any variant) – 5×3 – 80-85% 1RM
3. Face Pulls – 4×10 – 60s rest between sets
4. Barbell Curl – 2×6
Wednesday: Day 3 – Lower Body Heavy
1. Deadlift – 5×3 – 80-85% 1RM
2. Any Single Leg Exercise – 4×10 – 60s rest between sets
3. Calf Raises – 3×10 – 60s rest between sets
4. Weighted Ab Exercise – 2×8
Friday: Day 5 – Upper Body Medium
1. Overhead Press – 3×5
2. Weighted Chin-up – 3×5
3. Side Delt Raise – 2×10 – 60s rest between sets
4. Triceps Pressdown – 2×8
Monday: Day 1 – Lower Body Medium
1. Back Squat – 3×5
2. Glute-Ham Raise – 4×10 – 60s rest
3. Calf Raises – 3×10 – 60s rest
4. Weighted Ab Exercise – 2×8
Wednesday: Day 3 – Upper Body Heavy
Thursday: Repeat Day 1
Friday: Day 5 – Lower Body Heavy
Saturday: Repeat Day 3
Prioritize Recovery, Utilize Low-Intensity Cardio
Fat loss gurus think ‘fat loss’ and then think ‘high intensity interval training,’ and begin by prescribing things like sprint sessions with relative abandon. I’ve seen a few mainstream fitness books recommend three-day-a-week sprint interval sessions added to a mix of fat loss complexes. Goodbye fat loss, hello binging and overtraining.
In this program, we won’t waste time trying to get an ‘afterburn’ from complexes or high-intensity cardio – they tend to be myopic approaches to fat loss anyhow – and instead we’ll focus on recovery-promoting low-intensity cardio. Sixty minutes of low-intensity cardio will burn more than 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training for the simple reason that one can maintain lower intensity work for a longer period of time. Plus, it’s relaxing and facilitates recovery by clearing lactic acid and improving glycogen uptake.
In isolation, intervals aren’t a problem, but no one bothers to look at the context in which research studies on the effects of high-intensity interval training have been performed. It’s worth noting that all research on interval training has taken place using subjects who relied upon interval training as their sole form of exercise. As most of you can already guess, rarely are intervals the only form of exercise in a given fat loss program.
Interval training often gets combined with full-body fat loss complexes. Suddenly you have folks hitting legs with serious training intensity and volume three, four, five times a week. You can’t, in this case, have your cake and eat it too. Interval training is great for improving performance, but its impact on fat loss beats out low-intensity forms of exercise only by the narrowest of margins per unit of time invested.
Keeping in mind that our goal is to maintain as much muscle as possible while stimulating maximal fat loss, this plan begins with 45 minutes of low-intensity cardiovascular six days per week. Walking on an incline, easy biking, anything that’s going to facilitate extra caloric burn fits the bill. You’re in a massive deficit as it is, and trying to garner extra fat loss through more intensive exercise is plain dumb.
As the diet progresses, if you aren’t losing the expected two pounds per week, you can slowly up the duration of the cardiovascular work. Begin by increasing total cardio up to six 60-minute sessions per week. Again, this does not need to be done on a treadmill. Many people have daily routines that naturally tend toward this sort of aerobic activity. If you’re one of those lucky people, there’s no need to tack on additional low-intensity cardio.
I’d hesitate to prescribe more exercise than this. Your body will be in a huge caloric deficit and won’t be able to tolerate much more activity unless you’re willing to invest in some pharmaceuticals. As such, I’d urge you to be realistic about how much fat loss you can accomplish. Sure, we could cut calories more, but with a deficit approaching 50% of maintenance calories, the fat loss you desire may just take more time.
To help you get started, I’ve created a bulleted list to use for reference as you embark on this program. Refer to this if you need to refresh yourself on the information contained within this article but are short on time.
Don’t be haphazard in planning your training or nutrition. Even though you’ll need to exhibit flexibility during the program, if you know where you’re headed, you’ll be able to make adjustments on the fly and stay on the path to progress. Aim for 90% adherence to your given meal plan. This way, if you to break your diet, it won’t turn into an evening-long abusive binge of your body and your psyche.
Be realistic about how quickly you’ll be able to lose fat. Moderate deficit diets can net up to 1.5lb of fat loss per week. Given the caloric deficit in our plan, you can expect up to 2lb of fat loss or perhaps more per week. Fatter individuals may lose weight quicker, while those who are already lean may find weight loss comes more slowly.
Set protein at 1.5g/lb of starting body weight. Set fat at 0.3g/lb of starting body weight. Set carbohydrate levels as low as you can tolerate. For most folks, this means a ton of vegetables and a few pieces of fruit per day. As long as in you’re in the neighborhood of 0.5g/lb, you’ll be fine. Take six to 12 grams of fish oil per day.
Eat a total of 0.75g/lb of starting bodyweight split into before and after your workout. Eat a typical meal’s worth of protein during these meals. Incorporate these carbohydrate spikes only around resistance training workouts. Have one free meal per week. Make this a plateful of your favorite stuff, and don’t worry much about the macronutrient composition. Try to get a variety of foods from all six food groups: protein, fat, dairy, non-starchy vegetables, starches, and fruit.
Keep supplements simple. Add a basic allotment of the following: multi-vitamin, fish oil, calcium, vitamin D, creatine, whey/casein protein blend, caffeine, and l-tyrosine. Additional fat loss supplementation is just gravy.
Follow a low-volume, high intensity, low to moderate frequency training program. The one listed above may just fit the bill.
It’s my hope this program casts a new light on rapid fat loss for readers both new and old. What works doesn’t always have to be overly complex, nor does it have to be generic and overly simple. There are innumerable approaches to fat loss that work, and searching for the best fat loss program is an exercise in futility.
I prefer to work within the constraints and the preferences of my clients, a process which often involves a realistic assessment of a given person’s psychology and physiology. I’ve tried to address those concerns as broadly as possible while providing the most effective fat loss methodology I can muster, leaving room for individuals to adapt the program to their needs.
Now stop reading, and get started!