FUNNY HEALTH TITLE
July 6, 2009 9:16 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to lose the bit of fat that has been with me for as long as I can remember. What should I include in my diet/workout regimen?

Some background: I am male, 6'0", 25 years old, and I weigh about 180 lbs. I am in decent shape right now, and I feel pretty good about myself, but I think I'm ready to experiment with a highly disciplined lifestyle to see what kind of results I can get.

I have a bit of belly fat that seems as if it won't ever go away. My goal is to drop my body fat percentage to a point at which this pudge finally disappears.

For the first 6 months of this year, I had been eating relatively healthy and lifting weights regularly with no cardio. In June, I dropped the weights and began swimming 5 days a week for 50-60 minutes each session.

I really enjoy the swimming, and I'd like to continue it, but I'm not sure if I should be supplementing my cardio workout with some more strength training. I was thinking of simply adding about 20 minutes of calisthenics to the beginning of each swim workout (think pushups, pullups, dips, etc.) to maintain some muscle mass. Does this sound like it would be more effective than simply swimming every weekday? What kind of workout regimen would/did you adhere to in order to lower your body fat?

Now to perhaps the most important part: my diet. I have recently been eating well (lean proteins, veggies, fruit for the most part), but I have no set routine. This results in me occasionally settling on some Panera or Qdoba for meals. I'd like to structure my diet so that I know what I am eating at what time each and every day. One caveat: I don't want to drive myself insane by eating the same bland crap every day. Is there any way to do this? I think I'd be satisfied with the same lunch/breakfast/snacks every day, and if I could just have a different dinner each day of the week, that would be just fine. Also, in the interest of saving some time, I'd like to stick with the three main meals of the day with snacks in between instead of, say, 7 small meals throughout the day.

How many calories should I be consuming, factoring in my workout regimen? What kind of foods should I include in my diet? High protein? High/low carbs? Any healthy and delicious entree suggestions?

I enjoy omelettes for breakfast as a cheap source of protein. I think I could go on a spinach and feta omelette or something similar every day for a while. I love asparagus, broccoli, sweet potatoes, apples, cheese, cottage cheese (these are many of the staples of my current diet). I'm sure I can work most of this into my diet, but how? Also, I currently drink a smoothie consisting of a banana, 5 strawberries, 3 spoonfuls vanilla yogurt, a scoop of whey, and some milk after every workout. Should I keep this?

Is there any other advice AskMeFi can offer that I might have overlooked? Apologies for the long post, but I know you MeFites are a generous source of health information.
posted by Team of Scientists to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd say only cardio really helps lose weight. Eat plenty of vegies, cut down on carbs. Have a protein shake after workouts. If you want to speed you metabolism up to two or three times go for a run every second day for 40 minutes, the run must be like this.

Sprint as hard as you can for 7 second then walk for 14 second, do this for 40 minutes every second day.

This does work.
posted by jakubsnm at 9:39 PM on July 6, 2009


One thing that is huge to keep in mind is that beyond a beginner type fitness level (it seems you're beyond that), it's hard to both build muscle and lose fat. To keep it short, just think about the way the body is using food, if you're eating enough to fuel building, then you're not eating little enough to encourage the body to consume its fat stores.

That being said, lifting serious weights is probably the best thing you can do. I'm personally a big fan of Rippatoe's Starting Strength but Strong Lifts is also a good place to start. Stumptuous is also a site with lots of good thinking on the subject.

Cardio is way overrated, straight cardio and nothing else will make you weak. Swimming isn't just straight cardio though, depends on what you're actually doing in the pool. If you love swimming and really want to do it, then that is way better than you hating the "best program" and giving up. You can try doing some resistance stuff in the pool if that feels good for you (flipper gloves and all that). I'd start doing Tabata intervals in there for sure, it's mega hard if you really push yourself and really just an amazing method.

If you are into body weight stuff, the site I linked to for Tabata (Ross Training) is a great resource.


For food what I'd most recommend first is to keep a detailed food journal for a few weeks (forever is great too if it doesn't drive you crazy) and really get a handle on exactly what and how much you are eating. Then just eat varied and "healthy". Stay away from as much processed stuff as possible. If your primary goal is to burn that fat and look a certain way, just eat less calories consistently for a while, eventually your body will start eating the fat to make up the deprivation. If you have a more mixed goal of overall fitness (as opposed to just a showy six pack) you'll find that you might keep a bit of a belly for a long time but you'll be in much better shape.

I think you'd be surprised at how much crap you're actually ingesting when you really keep track. Personally I'm vegan so I don't have actual myself experience with it, but the Zone is highly regarded by people I trust and admire. Reading the basic ideas of it, it's certainly a good place to start if nothing else.
posted by teishu at 9:48 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Regarding the interval training, say I do the Tabata method for 16 minutes as your link suggests. Should I then continue with conventional cardio, or should I stop there?

And yeah, the reason I stopped lifting is that I just got bored of it. Maybe I'll go back next year. Right now I'm still working on raising my swimming competency. I've got a good handle on breathing (I think) and I'm seeing tangible improvements to my endurance. My routine is usually something like: warm up with breaststroke, try to reach front crawl goal (3 straight laps, 4 straight laps, whatever I'm at that week), breaststroke while I recover, back to front crawl, repeat). No resistance training is involved.
posted by Team of Scientists at 10:08 PM on July 6, 2009


Note that 6' and 180 is a perfectly good weight. What you should be concerned with is your bodyfat percentage. You can take measurements with a caliper and plug them in here to determine it. You can then determine your caloric requirements with this calculator.

What kind of workout regimen would/did you adhere to in order to lower your body fat?

Crossfit.

Also, I currently drink a smoothie consisting of a banana, 5 strawberries, 3 spoonfuls vanilla yogurt, a scoop of whey, and some milk after every workout.

Sounds like maybe more sugar than you need. I'd pick either the strawberries or the banana.

One thing that is huge to keep in mind is that beyond a beginner type fitness level (it seems you're beyond that), it's hard to both build muscle and lose fat.

I'm not sure what your definition of beginner is, but in a strength training sense it's not clear that he isn't a beginner. You recommended Starting Strength, which is a beginner strength training program. It's great if your goal is to get strong, but it's not meant to reduce bodyfat, although that could be a side-effect. More muscle means a higher BMR which means it's easier to burn fat. But you can't do Starting Strength and eat a caloric deficit.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:06 PM on July 6, 2009


I'm not sure the diet is the important part for what you're trying to achieve - it seems fine. Are you doing specific stomach exercises?
posted by ryanbryan at 2:20 AM on July 7, 2009


Take a look at Crossift for and read through Robb Wolf's site for a lot of good nutrition advice.
posted by Sturdy at 3:18 AM on July 7, 2009


Ignore ryanbryan's advice and listen to ludwig_van - you can't spot-reduce fat and you need to be extremely conscious with your diet and weightlifting to reduce your body fat %. Good luck - you sound like you're well aware what a challenge the last few stubborn pounds of visible fat can be!
posted by brozek at 4:54 AM on July 7, 2009


If you swim, you're going to retain more, skin-fat as insulation. Ever notice that swimmers have an upper bound of muscular definition? That said, it's a great way to burn calories.

However, (and I say this as someone who fucking *hated* running in his 20s) running is the cardio that kills the fat.

Another trick to consider is to do a little swim in teh morning (2k yards), run a little (2-3 miles) at lunch, and ride at least ten in the evening. Do that, and you can eat anything short of a multiple milkshake beer bong every day and not gain weight. I did that schedule for three weeks last year, lost the last eight pounds I was looking to lose, and maintained my see-food (see food, eat food!MWAAAAH!) diet. Unfortunately, I kept eating when I tapered off the exercise in the fall, and gained back 15 lb.
posted by notsnot at 6:14 AM on July 7, 2009


Regarding the interval training, say I do the Tabata method for 16 minutes as your link suggests. Should I then continue with conventional cardio, or should I stop there?

You should do whatever feels right for you now. I've never coached swimming or really done much of it in my own training so I don't really know exactly what would be an appropriate program. But in a general sense, mixing up your movements, doing strength stuff and intervals and generally pushing yourself is the direction you want to go in as opposed to just swimming steady laps for a long time.

Personally, I'd think that a single 4 min freestyle Tabata would be pretty killer. The key is that for that 20 sec you are going as hard as you can. Tabata's are one of those things that everyone kind of scoffs at as being easier, till they do it and fall over halfway through. To add it into your program, try one out and see how 4 mins goes. Then build from there. I'd put it at the end of the workout.

I'm not sure what your definition of beginner is, but in a strength training sense it's not clear that he isn't a beginner.

He's definitely a beginner lifter, but seems to not have a beginner overall fitness level. When you're totally out of shape you can get away with making gains/losses doing pretty much anything.
posted by teishu at 7:38 AM on July 7, 2009


FitDay is a good way to keep track of your food.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 7:49 AM on July 7, 2009


He's definitely a beginner lifter, but seems to not have a beginner overall fitness level. When you're totally out of shape you can get away with making gains/losses doing pretty much anything.

Well, being a beginner strength trainee has a specific meaning, which is that the trainee's ability to recover exceeds their ability to produce stress, and they can thus make progress from workout to workout. I'd have to know how much he lifts to determine that he's a beginner, but I'd guess that he is. What does "a beginner overall fitness level" mean?
posted by ludwig_van at 7:52 AM on July 7, 2009


You might want to check out the work of Lyle McDonald, who is a cantankerous SOB but quite knowledgeable; his work is rigorously science-based and he enjoys debunking trendy diet/exercise fads that he believes aren't supported by research. Of his books, The Stubborn Fat Solution and The Ultimate Diet 2.0 are perhaps most relevant to your situation (the former more training-oriented, the latter more geared toward diet). The audience would typically be people trying to get *very* lean (bodybuilders, physique competitors), the programs are very structured, and Lyle will usually respond to (intelligent) questions in the site forums, which have a lot of useful info (as well as the usual assortment of opinionated loudmouths).
posted by Kat Allison at 7:59 AM on July 7, 2009


But you can't do Starting Strength and eat a caloric deficit.

Yes, you can, and many people do. The idea here is to maintain the muscle you have (because it's true that you're unlikely to gain muscle while eating at a deficit) while losing weight -- therefore losing fat. Even better would be for OP to go through a bulking and cutting cycle.

OP, odds are that you're not going to lose your belly fat until you go down to a rather low body fat percentage -- for many people the stomach is the last place they lose fat. Start lifting heavy again. If you're not seriously strength training, by the time your bodyfat percentage is low enough to lose your gut, you'll look like a teenage runway model (in a bad way).
posted by telegraph at 8:23 AM on July 7, 2009


You can't inasmuch as eating a caloric surplus is part of the Starting Strength program. You could try to follow the lifting routine while eating a caloric deficit and call it Starting Strength, and you could probably make progress for a little while before you stalled, but you wouldn't get all of the intended benefits and Mark Rippetoe would tell you you weren't doing the program. You can do a routine involving squatting, deadlifting, etc., and not increasing the weight each workout, but that also would not be Starting Strength.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:30 AM on July 7, 2009


Response by poster: OP here again. I'm a bit unclear on my diet. Should I be trying for a caloric deficit or surplus?

This health and fitness stuff is confusing.
posted by Team of Scientists at 9:08 AM on July 7, 2009


If you want to lose fat, you should go for a caloric deficit, i.e. eat less than you expend. If you want to gain muscle/strength, you should go for a caloric surplus, i.e. eat more than you expend. A program like Starting Strength is designed to build strength and so requires a caloric surplus to work as intended.

It may be a good idea for you to try and increase your muscle mass before trying to lose fat, as the more muscle mass you have the more calories your body will burn at rest, making it easier to lose fat.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:15 AM on July 7, 2009


What does "a beginner overall fitness level" mean?

That dude can run a couple laps without falling over. More specifically, that his body is in decent shape and used to the idea of hard physical work. Something like Crossfit can be great, but if you are just totally shot physically even starting with the Brand X scaling is going to be pushing it. At that point you need to just get moving before you can really begin to worry about specific programming. OP is as far as I can tell already a physical dude and as such is capable of getting going in serious specific training for different goals.

Should I be trying for a caloric deficit or surplus?

Sort of depends on what you're doing and if you would rather lose the fat at all cost as fast as possible or would rather lose it more slowly but maintain a good level of strength and fitness. If you just want to lose it ASAP, then eating significantly less is what you need to do. Just know that you'll also get weaker.
posted by teishu at 12:18 PM on July 7, 2009


Calorie deficit. Figure out how many calories you need (scroll down to Harris_Benedict formula), then figure out how many you eat, adjust as needed and the weight will disappear.

I'd say only cardio really helps lose weight.

False. Weight is lost in the kitchen, not in the gym. Also, the weight training vs. cardio argument has defenders on both sides. Do both.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:07 PM on July 7, 2009


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