How can I lose this flab and keep my muscle
September 11, 2010 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I've gained some muscle...and lots of fat. I need some help with losing the extra fat, keeping the muscle I have gained, and dealing with feeling lots heavier.

For a very long time, I've been a pretty sedentary office worker. I was a healthy weight, a sort of "skinny fat" at 6'1 and 168 lbs, wearing a size 4/6. Then on May 1 of this year, I started a 3 month internship that required me to be on my feet a lot.

When I came home I had gained 10 pounds but was pretty much the same size as when I left, maybe my jeans were slightly tighter. However, my husband said I looked a lot more toned. Since I've been home (I've been back for about a month) I've gained another ten pounds. I've also been working out and I have also been eating a ton of carb laden junk food and back to my old office job. I definitely have gotten fatter, my old jeans dont fit me any more at all. But I've been getting more fit, I took a 14 mile round trip hike up the tallest mountain in our state and handled it fine.

So here I am, 20 pounds heavier than when I started this year (I'm 6'1 and 189 lbs as of today), feeling gross and huge, but also slightly more fit and toned. I need to now lose the extra flab I've piled on, but I also want to keep the muscle mass I've added. I'm clueless on how to do this. I have a feeling if I can lose this excess flab and keep my muscle, I'll look better than I've looked in a long time.

I'm female, I'm a vegetarian (I eat cheese and eggs and yogurt) and I'm in my late 20's. My basic plan is this:

1. Eat lots of veggies, tofu, yogurt, fruit, eggs, and cheese and try to keep things as low carb as possible. Not sure how many calories a day is optimal.
2. Workout 3-4 days a week. This means 20 minutes of intervals on the treadmill and then 30 minutes of doing whatever weight machines I feel like at the gym.

I don't know if I'm doing this right or how I can do things better. I want to do this quickly. I'm going on vacation at the end of the month with friends and I dont want to feel the way I do now, like a giant beast. How can I best lose this weight quickly, please tell me.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Check out the Velocity diet from T-Nation. Substitute a vegan protein such as hemp for the whey protein and add fruits and veggies to your shake. It's tough but done for a short time, it can kickstart your diet.
posted by TorontoSandy at 12:33 PM on September 11, 2010

Don't get bogged down by numbers - muscle weighs more than fat. Note how your clothes fit. Good luck!
posted by cestmoi15 at 12:36 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, you may have gotten more fit by being on your feet at work, but there's no way you gained ten pounds of muscle. On a serious weightlifting plan and a protein-heavy diet that's 1000-1500 Kcal over your BMR, most folks can gain one pound of muscle per week.

You need to know more about what you're doing before diving into #1 or #2. "Not sure how many calories a day is optimal" and "whatever machines I feel like doing" aren't going to get you fit. And "I want to do this quickly" is just setting you up for frustration.

First, find your basal metabolic rate (or BMR), which is the number of calories your body uses per day simply by existing. I don't know your age, but if you're 30, then your BMR is 1670.8. A pound of body fat is roughly 3500 calories, so the most common advice is to aim for 500 calories below your BMR. A food tracking site like Daily Plate or FitDay will be really valuable - you can't just guess or hope.

Second, in the time it took me to write this, I bet three people have already recommended Stumptuous or Starting Strength as sources for weightlifting information. I'd also recommend the Watch & Weight subforum at Something Awful. The main site is stupid internet comedy, but the weightloss/weight-training forum is totally serious. For example, here's a 62-page thread with almost 2500 posts on women lifting weights. The short version is (1) use free weights, (2) do compound lifts like deadlifts and squats, and (3) follow a program that someone else wrote - don't go to the gym without knowing what you'll be doing, how much of it, and why.
posted by brozek at 12:55 PM on September 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

brozek is on the money. Also check out my long comment here about losing fat while maintaining lean mass. Basically you'll want to make sure you're lifting heavy (read: heavy for you) and eating plenty of protein.

As a vegetarian, it's going to be tough for you to get sufficient protein. A quality whey powder will be essential. I would aim for around 150g/day.
posted by JohnMarston at 2:30 PM on September 11, 2010

I would actually suggest free-weights over weight machines if you seriously want to start exercising and maintaining your fitness. Maybe pay a trainer for one or two sessions to get you started with the basics, or join a weightlifting class at your local gym. Write down what s/he/the class teaches you about free weights, start running or cycling or jumping rope for cardio and maintain a weightlifting routine as much as possible. Please don't fall into the trap of 'let's get this done fast', because it's really really hard to get it done fast unless you've got the money to buy yourself proper training, support and daily supervision - if you're not used to working out and you push too hard in the beginning you could easily hurt yourself and sideline your efforts (citation: me and six months of physiotherapy for being a stubborn ass thinking I could 'run through' shin splints. Yeah, no). Also, if your old job had you around on your feet a whole lot, try to work that into your office job. Walk the stairs all the time, go do push-ups in an empty office if you're free, go for a brisk walk at lunch time. Cycle or walk to work if possible, or park further away in a cheaper parking lot and walk to work from there. Bring your own lunch in and don't hit up the vending machines when you're hungry - bring in some nuts, yogurt or fruit to snack on.

I don't know crap about caloric intakes, but there's a calculator here that lets you put in your level of activity alongside your BMR. It's still just a javascripted calculator on the internet, though, so it might be worth some cash to go see a nutritionist with a sports history to get a more precise real-world measurement.

Try not to get caught up in the numbers. You say you're slightly more fit and toned than you were before but you feel gross - can you lift more heavy things than you could before? Be proud of that. Work towards being stronger and faster and being the person people call for help moving a couch out of their house. If you want to try and monitor how your body's reacting in real time, get a pair of jeans and see how they fit from time to time. Just don't freak out if one day they fit and the next they don't - it could just be a bit of bloating that one day. You could also try taking a full-body photo of yourself if you're comfortable doing so and seeing the changes as they occur.

Good luck!
posted by zennish at 2:47 PM on September 11, 2010

I signed up for two sessions with a trainer, who was totally happy to help me set up a routine to help me meet my goals. Some of the stuff he gave me to do with the balance ball/small weights/floor/step is pretty awesome from a "kills two birds with one stone" perspective.
posted by desuetude at 8:51 PM on September 11, 2010

brozek is right on. To add to his input, a few things that are helping me a ton:

1) What brought me to reality when I was deluding myself into believing I was clean bulking and putting on lots of muscle: the Omron Full Body Sensor Body Fat and Body Composition Monitor. It's a scale that also gives you a rough estimate of your lean body mass and body fat percentage. Rather than guessing, get one and keep track of of your actual lean and fat mass. It's well worth the investment.

2) Use your lean body weight to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR) based on the Katch-McArdel formula [BMR = 370 + (21.6 X lean mass in kg)], and then calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). More on these here.

3) The TDEE is your maintenance caloric intake level. Once you know that, if you want to lose body fat you must maintain negative caloric balance (ie. eat less than the TDEE).

4) To keep the muscle, you need a dietary balance that is higher in protein and lower in carbs, and you need to consider taking resistance training more seriously. That means compound exercises with free-weights at least 2 times per week for maintenance. This is the most efficient way to keep the muscle and tone without turning you into a gym rat that's doing set after set of isolation exercises all day long. DO NOT buy into the myth that weight training will make your figure less womanly. For a vegetarian trying to put on muscle or keep it while losing fat, protein shakes are virtually a must. It's extremely difficult to get optimum levels of protein to prevent muscle catabolism otherwise.

5) Stop with the junk food. Cut out all trans-fats and most saturated fats from your diet.

6) These are lifestyle changes. Not a quick fix. While it's possible to lose weight fast, if you shoot for more than about a pound a week (that's a caloric deficit of about 500 calories per day off your TDEE), you WILL lose muscle. The body can't do too many things at once. Lose weight in a healthy manner, and keep it off.

Good luck!
posted by drpynchon at 10:57 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wrote a post on notes on physique transformation here.
One of the biggest things I always stress is your goals. They fall into a couple of basic categories: a)Lose weight, b)gain weight, or c)competition readiness (X event/time/reps/sets/etc. in Y event/exercise/time). Of course the gold standard is to lose all the fat and build muscle but the easiest path is to concentrate on one or the other. If you do feel you need to build up muscle one of the best times to do that is just after a diet when your body is primed for it. Anyway if you're going to lose weight, just concentrate on doing that.
Losing weight means expending more calories, that means more intensity, and generally more reps. So when you pick a workout keep that in mind. Although people generally tend to gravitate to what they like and I agree with what Romaniello calls the "efficacy versus compliance measure". Do what is easiest for you (within reason) and the mere fact of sticking to it will carry you through. So if you feel better using heavy weights do that, but you'll get there faster by using moderate wieght and ramping up everything else.
Good luck!
posted by P.o.B. at 12:09 PM on September 12, 2010

Totally forgot about this link; lots of info for women at Figure Athlete.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:27 PM on September 14, 2010

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