A Guide to Going Lean
As an owner of a CrossFit gym, one of the most common questions I am asked is “How do I cut down on my body fat”? This is a fair question, as studies have shown that carrying an excessive amount of body fat is one of the leading causes of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and death in the “Western” world. Today I want to focus on some very basic points, and for many of you these will only serve as reminders.
Six Packs are made in the Kitchen
While it is not necessarily in my best interest as a CrossFit gym owner to tell you this old adage, “You are what you eat”. Most of us know the basics. Stay away from trans-fats, soda and fast food. But I want to take you through some other brief nutrition pointers:
Lean Beef is good, Don’t fear it: Lean Beef is loaded with things that are conducive to lean muscle gain. While low in calories, lean beef packs a mean punch, providing your body with Vitamin B, Zinc and Iron, as well as a tremendous amount of amino acids.
Eat Vegetable, a lot of them: Vegetables often get lumped in with fruits on the thing we all know are good for you. While fruit is good to a point, vegetables should be eaten without any remorse. Eat like a rabbit if you want. Vegetables provide a tremendous amount of nutrients per ounce, and have a fraction of the calories. Vegetables are typically loaded with fiber which improve your digestive track, low in calories per ounce, full of vitamins and minerals and will fill your belly. When combined with amino acids, they will improve your digestion so that you will get the most bang for your buck on essential proteins.
Plus, they are fun to eat. Who doesn’t like the crack of a raw carrot? Some squish, some peel, and some can be grown in your backyard!
Log your carbohydrate intake: So often, CrossFitter’s tell me how healthy they are, and proceed to tell me all about their fruit and whole wheat intake. Remember, carbohydrates that don’t get used as initial energy are going to be stored as fat. This includes fruit and whole wheat. Sure, fructose is better for you than sucrose, and usually comes with vital vitamins and minerals, but don’t over do it. Likewise, whole wheat (including whole wheat pasta and brown rice) provides you with more fiber than regular refined white bread and will thus, digest more efficiently, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still carbohydrates.
Cut Out Wasted Calories: Ensure you are not overdoing it on wasted sugars, in fact, if you can, try to cut something you know is bad, out of your diet. For me, it was soda. Sometime in high school wrestling, I cut soda out of my diet completely for my freshman year of wrestling. I did this because I knew soda had wasted calories, and I had also heard that the carbonation in soda had dramatic effects on my cardio. After the season, I tried to go back to drinking soda, but I had lost the taste for it and I never really drank it again since. The amount of calories wasted on soda can now be used on protein. If you consider one-can of coke, is the same caloric intake as 3-ounces of beef, the decision from a lean-building perspective is clear and obvious.
Calorie Intake: Eating less is not necessarily the guide to going lean, but before you run to the store to load up on donuts, read on. If you weigh 200 lbs, than don’t immediately start eating 1,200 calories. While you will see an initial drop in your weight, you are starving your body far too quickly and your basal metabolic rate will plummet because your brain will think you are starving and therefore will need to conserve what energy reserves you have left. This will leave you lethargic and will eventually lead to your body packing on the pounds when you inevitably start eating more. The general rule of thumb is eat 12 calories a day for every pound you weigh. In other words, if you are 200 lbs and you want to stay 200 lbs, eat about 200lbs x 12 = 2,400 calories. If you would like to drop some weight, try cutting your calorie intake to 2,000 calories. Focus on losing a pound a week for the first 20 weeks of your program. Losing weight will not be immediate, it’s a lifestyle.
Increase Protein: As mentioned in the eat lean beef section, eat meat! Meat provides your body with an abundance of amino acids, but it also helps you maintain the lean mass (muscle) you already have. Keeping lean muscle mass is the ultimate key to increasing your metabolism. I’m sure you’ve heard muscle weighs twice as much as fat, but muscle also uses twice the calories to warm it to 98-degrees. Which leads into my next point.
More Strength Training, Less Cardio:
Running on the treadmill is great, so is cardio kickboxing, but you can do too much of it! Doing 45 minutes of a straight aerobic burn will take your body into a catabolic state, which means your body starts deriving its energy from your lean muscle mass. This doesn’t mean never do cardio, this means you have to mix it up. Ladies in particular spend way too much time on the treadmill, and way too little time doing resistance training. I often hear women say “I don’t want to look bulky”. The reality is, resistance training will not do this, on the contrary, resistance training will provide you with the body composition to look incredible.
Resistance training will improve your muscle strength, increase your muscle mass, boost your metabolism, prevent and control health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis, provide therapy to painful areas while lessening your chance of injury, improve mobility and balance, increase bone density, improve sleep patterns, give you general physical preparedness to complete everyday tasks and finally make you feel great about yourself.
Ultimately, having a balanced approach to your diet and fitness regimen will provide ample benefits to all aspects of your life. You will find yourself less tired at the end of days while feeling better about yourself, because in reality, you will be a better, more lean version of yourself.
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