Sure, calories and hormones can determine whether your body deposits food into muscle or as bodyfat, but meal frequency, or how many times you eat each day, affects your overall metabolism. Every time you eat, the body’s calorie-burning engine, also known as metabolism, slightly increases. This is especially true for meals that contain protein. So if you eat six times a day, you’ll experience six metabolic surges a day, rather than just four if you eat only four times a day. And, of course, eating seven or eight times per day would be even better than six. This is one way to lean out without having to drastically reduce calories. Frequent feedings tend to increase the chance that what you eat will make its way into muscle tissue rather than being packed away as bodyfat.
Do This: Eat 6-8 small meals per day, spaced 2-3 hours apart. Don’t go longer than three hours without eating – your body will go into starvation mode, which can cause you to store bodyfat and makes it more likely that you’ll overeat at your next meal. Speaking of overeating, just because you’re consuming more meals doesn’t mean you should be taking in more total calories. Determine your ideal daily caloric intake for fat-burning (see Rule 1) and divide that more or less evenly between your 6-8 meals.
After you train, it’s difficult to gain bodyfat. Why? Depleted, broken-down muscles soak up both protein and carbohydrates for growth and recovery. If you eat too little at this time, you may actually set yourself back by impeding recovery; supporting recovery and growth actually increases metabolism while impeding it slows metabolism. In terms of spurring recovery and growth, just about the most counterproductive thing you can do after a hard workout is starve yourself.
Do This: Consume 30-40 grams of protein powder such as whey powder and casein along with 60-80 grams of fast-digesting carbs (a large baked potato, 4-5 slices of white bread or a large sports drink such as Gatorade) as soon as possible within an hour after training.
When you hit the gym, the body releases a fat-liberating messenger called epinephrine, which attaches itself to fat cells and allows fat to be burned as fuel. And, you guessed it, carbohydrates come into play here. Refined carbs consumed before training suppress the exercise- and supplement-induced rise in epinephrine compared to eating the same amount of slower-digesting carbs. Refined carbs also boost insulin levels, further hampering fat-burning during the workout. Bottom line, avoid refined carbs altogether before training.
Do This: Fifteen to 30 minutes (or less) before training, consume 20 grams of protein powder in a whey shake or other protein powder source and 30-40 grams of carbohydrates to help you train hard all the way through your workout. Stick with slow-digesting carbs here, such as oat bran, oatmeal, rye or whole-wheat bread, fruit or sweet potatoes. On nonworkout days, eat that meal as a snack and drop your postworkout feeding.
Glycogen is the unused and stored form of carbohydrates in muscles. When glycogen stores begin to peak from eating plenty of carbs, the body upgrades its fat-storing ability. Conversely, as glycogen stores are depleted, fat-burning increases. One way to kick-start the fat-burning process is to go extremely low-carb on two consecutive days every couple of weeks. This ensures that you tap into your glycogen stores for fuel, which signals the body to burn more fat.
Do This: Limit your total carbs on two consecutive days every two weeks or so to less than 100 grams per day. This will require you to know how many grams of carbohydrates are in the foods you eat and have the discipline to be very strict on your intake. Your diligence will be rewarded with a noticeable difference in bodyfat. After two days, you can return to a more normal, though not excessive, carb intake.
It’s the age-old question: How many sets do you need, and how much time should you spend in the gym each day? The answer varies from person to person, but when burning fat is the primary goal, a good rule of thumb is to train until you’re pretty beat up, but not to the point where you’re flattened and thoroughly exhausted. That type of kamikaze training may satisfy your pysche, but it does a number on your anabolic hormones.
Serious fat loss requires you to retain muscle mass, the body’s primary metabolic driver. If you go overboard in the gym, testosterone and growth hormone go into free fall, and your metabolism follows suit.
Do This: Go ahead, train as intensely as you like, just don’t go longer than 75 minutes in any one workout. Do as many sets and reps as you can during this time, using shorter rest periods (60 seconds max), but when your 60-75 minutes end, finish up and go drink your protein/carb shake.
Cardio exerts two benefits: it burns calories and affects hormone levels in the body. Specifically, cardio helps raise levels of norepinephrine. Yet when you do cardio makes a big difference in how your body handles the hormonal changes. Cardio on an empty stomach allows norepinephrine to readily target fat cells, which triggers maximal fat-burning. On the flip side, if you eat before doing cardio, and particularly if you eat carbs, the fat-blocking hormone insulin rises, making your body less effective at burning fat.
Do This: To ensure that your body is in optimal fat-burning mode, do 30-60 minutes of cardio first thing in the morning before breakfast 4-6 days per week. Feel free, however, to drink your morning coffee (without cream or sugar) and take 6-10 grams of mixed amino acids or a small amount of whey protein powder mixed in water beforehand. The caffeine will help you burn more fat, as will the amino acids (whether from a supplement or whey protein), as research from Kanazawa University in Japan has found. The aminos will also help prevent muscle breakdown during cardio.
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