Green leafy vegetables are loaded with nutrients, but not calories. As an added bonus, they keep your body functioning at an optimal level by helping you maintain your system's acid/base balance. When you're in your cutting phase, make it a point to have green vegetables at every main meal. Not sure where to start? Collard greens can help lower your cholesterol levels, kale is rich in antioxidants and has cancer-preventing power, and bok choy is packed with immune-system-supporting vitamin A.
Save Starches For After Workouts
Low glycemic carbohydrates such as green vegetables, fruits, and beans should make up the bulk of your carbohydrate intake, but that doesn't mean you should avoid starches completely. Just save them for post-workout consumption. Simple carbs are critical for the recovery and muscle-growth process because, after crushing heavy weight, your body is severely depleted of both glucose (usable energy) and glycogen (stored energy). This is the time to consume tempting high-glycemic carbs (with an index of 70 and above) such as fresh fruits, breads, and cereals.
Eat For Volume
Eating foods that are high in volume but not calories (nutrient-dense not calorie-dense) will keep you full but not fat. Cabbage, spinach, lettuce, and broccoli are great foods you can eat in high volume without feeling like you've maxed out on your daily calorie quota. Looking for something in the animal (instead of vegetable) camp? Look no further than the almighty egg. Egg whites expand a lot if you beat them long enough—just don't make meringue. They'll make your feel like you are eating a lot more calories than you are.
Cabbage, spinach, lettuce, and broccoli are great foods you can eat in high volume without feeling like you've maxed out on your daily calorie quota.
Drink More Water
Dehydration makes you physically and mentally tired. When you're feeling a little parched—a sign that you might already be experiencing dehydration—ditch room temperature H2O and grab a glass of cold water. Drinking cold water has a slight thermogenic effect, allowing you to burn extra calories while you hydrate.
When you're feeling a little parched—a sign that you might already be experiencing dehydration—ditch room temperature H2O and grab a glass of cold water.
Don't Drastically Decrease Fats
Eating fat won't make you fat, so don't make the mistake of dropping your fat levels too low when leaning out. Extremely low-fat diets are a huge mistake. Not only do fats provide your body with energy, they also help transport vitamins through your bloodstream and absorb them into your body. Essential fatty acids—such as those found in whole grains, seeds, nuts, and some fish—have a hand in brain development and blood clotting. Balance your fat intake by eating saturated (butter, coconut oil) and unsaturated (olive oil, nuts, flaxseed) fats.
Cut Out Unplanned Snacks
Calories from unplanned snacking can add up quickly and can wreak havoc on your fat-loss goals. The message is pretty simple: If you didn't plan on it, don't eat it.
Make Meal Prep For The Week
Whether you're cutting or bulking, meal prep is an essential part to any fitness journey. Eat regularly, don't skip meals, and keep a food journal. A good food log helps monitor progress so you can make accurate adjustments to better meet your fitness goals. Writing things down will also help to keep you accountable and could lead you to snack less.
Pump Up The Protein
Consuming adequate protein—roughly 30 percent of your daily calories—is so important that I had to include it twice!
Remove Nutritional Vices
Keeping that half-eaten bag of chips in the kitchen cupboard won't help you resist temptation. Why unnecessarily test your will power? Clear all the chips, sugary drinks, ice cream, and other processed goodies from your kitchen. If it's not there, you can't eat it.
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Getting accustomed to reading the nutritional facts is a good habit to get into. But don't stop at the protein, carbohydrate, and fat content— read the entire list of ingredients. You'll be amazed at how many foods are loaded with America's "favorite nutrient": high fructose corn syrup. Which is code for "more sugar."
Don't Forget Your BCAAs
Branch chain amino acids (BCAA) are the building blocks of the body. Put more simply, they make up 35 percent of your muscle mass and must be present for molecular growth to take place. They help to halt muscle breakdown and activate protein synthesis. Drinking BCAAs during an interval cardio session can help you burn more fat when your carbohydrates are low.
BCAAs make up 35 percent of your muscle mass and must be present for molecular growth to take place.
Take ZMA Before Bed
ZMA—a combination of zinc, magnesium aspirate, and a hint of vitamin B6—can be taken at bedtime to help you relax and get a good night's sleep. Proper sleep is not only important for muscle building, but is also essential for optimizing fat-loss hormones such as human growth hormone and leptin. Intense training can deplete your mineral stores. The zinc in ZMA will help keep zinc levels up, which is important for metabolic and immune functions, including supporting testosterone levels.
Drink Green Tea
Green tea is a fat-loss powerhouse. It is calorie-free and contains an antioxidant/caffeine combination that will boost your weight loss.
Caffeinate Before Workouts
If you're not too sensitive to caffeine, gulping down 200 mg before your workout—whether it's cardio or weights—can help liberate some of that stubborn stored body fat. The extra energy boost from caffeine will also help keep your lifts high and help combat any fatigue you might be feeling from your reduced-calorie diet.
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Supplement With Fish Oil
In addition to research pointing towards fish oil and omega-3 supplements as a means to help slow down the body's aging process, fish oil decreases your resting heart rate. Why is this beneficial? A slower heart rate means you'll have to work harder (i.e., burn more calories) to reach your target heart rate during your cardio sessions.1
Skipping out on low-rep training just because you're dieting is a terrible idea. The easiest way to hold on to lean mass while dieting is to remind your body that it needs all the muscle it has. To maintain maximum muscle while dieting, start your training sessions off with a big compound moment in the 3-5 or 4-6 rep range. Low-rep training stimulates all muscle fibers—from slow to fast twitch. Choose a heavy weight that's challenging.
Make Compound Movement Your Foundation
Increase Non-Exercise Physical Activity
When you're trying to drop body fat, every extra calorie you burn takes you one step closer to your goal. Increase your activity and burn more calories. Begin by taking some of these steps:
- Park farther away at work or when shopping.
- Instead of sitting, stand while taking phone calls at work.
- Skip the elevator and take the stairs.
- Don't drive around the corner to the store—walk!
Progressively Increase Your Cardio
There comes a point where you cannot add more high-intensity exercise such as resistance training and interval training to your routine. Instead, add additional low-intensity cardio as needed. Progressively adding training and cardio volume as needed—and not right off the bat— gives your body the best chance for long-term weight-loss success.
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