‘Hot town, summer in the city. Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty…..’
That means beach weather, bikinis, bare feet and lots of unwanted sand following you home. Worst part: finding that sand stuck in your fat rolls. So let’s prevent that from happening, right?! If you want a shredded 6 pack and super defined muscles you’ll have to work very, very hard. Most people are not willing to commit to such an endeavor, so let’s keep our expectations in check. Nevertheless, you can achieve your best body following these 9 simple steps without having to live at the gym nor eat like a monk.
1. Cut out all liquid calories. That mean no shakes, juices, sodas, margaritas, beer and absolutely no low-fat grande soy chai lattes with a half shot of espresso and light on the foam (Don’t be this person. It’s annoying and it’ll make you fat! ). Consume mostly water, seltzer, unsweetened coffee, tea and the occasional glass of wine/spirits. Once again: No orange juice; No Frappuccinos! You don’t need any other liquid to live a healthy life (breast milk is an exception but that’s between you and your mom or girlfriend).
2. Get enough sleep every night. That means 7-9 hours. The link between lack of sleep and decreased willpower and increased appetite is clear. Furthermore, sleep helps the body/brain restore and rejuvenate. A good workout can be negated by not getting the proper amount of rest. The quality and duration of your sleep may “silently orchestrate a symphony of hormonal activity tied to your appetite“. Four major hormones responsible for appetite and weight control (leptin, ghrelin, cortisol and insulin) are all negatively affected by a lack of good sleep. Studies show if you don’t get enough sleep your body will store more food as fat, increase your appetite, and decrease your sensitivity to insulin. Sync your circadian rhythms by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.
3. Start doing high-intensity interval training 3-5 days per week. These sessions should not last longer than 20 minutes (usually 10minutes), even with a warm-up. Working the anaerobic pathways fires up the ‘after-burn effect’ (EPOC– excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) so your metabolism will be revved up for up to 36 hours after. This translates into a greater loss of fat, and more calories burned at rest. My favorite is the Tabata method: Warm up 5 minutes then go as hard as you can for 20 seconds and then rest for 10. Repeat for 8 cycles lasting a total of 4 minutes. Everyone has time for this type of workout…although if done correctly it is downright brutal.
4. Make sure you are eating 4-8 servings of non-starchy vegetables per day like cucumbers, peppers, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, avocado, spinach, celery, bok choy etc. They are full of wholesome life-sustaining nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, water and even some plant-based protein. Any vegetable you can eat raw falls into this category. By filling up on low-calorie, low-sugar vegetables you will be less likely to eat bad foods. The next time you think you are hungry as yourself “Can I eat a plate of broccoli?” If the answer is no, you’re not really hungry….what you have is a craving (or your body needs water). Food is fuel and most eating is borne out of an emotional response as opposed to actual hunger. Learn to tell the difference.
5. Work out with weights (aka resistance training) 3-4 days per week. If you don’t know how (or aren’t motivated) get a book or hire a trainer. Resistance training increases lean muscle and metabolic rate. In head-to-head comparisons, resistance training does a better job at burning fat than the same amount of cardio. Make sure you are progressively challenging yourself by increasing weights, sets and/or time under tension. Resistance training changes the shape of the body and cardio-only training makes the body smaller (only in some cases) and increases hunger. We have all seen plenty of overweight marathon runners. Do both but with an emphasis on weights.
6. Limit carbs. Somewhere between 50-150 grams per day (most should come from vegetables). Believe it or not, you do not need carbs to sustain life. Everyone knows pasta, rice, bread, and pastries have a boatload of simple carbs but so do many fruits, flavored yogurts, several salad dressings, most root vegetables and highly processed meats like hot dogs. Make sure to eliminate most carbs at night and on an empty stomach. These macronutrients raise your insulin levels and promote fat storage. Eating carbs before bed is doubly bad because your body will not have the time to work off these sugars and they will go right to your fat cells. The best time to eat carbs is in the 2 hour window post workouts. NOTE: Some people tend to do well on a high carbohydrate diet. Find what works for you.
7. Move more, much more. The non-exercise activity you do (walking, standing, picking up the groceries, fidgeting, typing, chewing, etc) burns more absolute calories in a day than a bout of exercise. Most people are awake and up for approximately 16 hours a day. Spend much of that time moving, preferably large multi-joint movements like walking, standing, hiking etc. A person can burn up to an extra 750 calories per day by moving more and incorporating lots of non-exercise activity into their daily routine. For example, just standing up burns triple the calories of sitting. Haven’t you heard: ‘Sitting is the new smoking’. This may sound like an exaggeration because it is, but sitting for more than 3 hours per day wreaks havoc on the body and brain. It is not the sitting so much as it is the lack of movement.
8. Consider doing an intermittent fast. Try to space out your last meal of the day and your first meal of the next day with 14-18 hours in between. It takes anywhere between 6 to 8 hours for your body to use up its glycogen stores (sugar) and after that, you begin to shift to burning fat. However, if you are replenishing your glycogen by eating every 8 hours (or more), you make it far more difficult for your body to actually use your fat stores as fuel. Regular structured fasting will ensure you speed up your fat-burning potential. Moreover, eating too often disrupts the leptin/ghrelin balance (hormones that control hunger) and may lead to leptin resistance where it becomes hard to feel sated.
9. Eat high-quality macro/micronutrients and stay away from ultra-processed foods like packaged/fast foods including cereals, protein bars, pizza, BBQ sauces, ketchup, baked beans etc. Remember food begets food. Sometimes when I’m not hungry and I try a bite of something it wakes up the hunger monster in my stomach and all of a sudden I need to feast. This is one reason I am not a big fan of little snacks…besides those calories add up real fast and are usually quite unhealthy.
If you want to get shredded for the summer, you need to focus primarily on what you eat. Clean eating is key. Follow ‘The Don’t Diet’: high-quality macronutrients, lots of water, low carbohydrates, proper meal timing and learning to eat only when you are truly hungry.