$500 or Less to a "Summer Body"
March 20, 2013 9:33 PM   Subscribe

Stuck at a fitness plateau. Not weight loss - fat loss. I'm about 5-8% (not exactly sure; I only have inexact measurement options) below where I want to be, which is the 10% mark. Help me get to my goal or as close as possible by the summer (and stay there)!

In advance: I'm 23 years old, 5'4", ~135lbs, in decent shape, pretty new but not a total newb when it comes to most diet/fitness knowledge. If it makes a difference, I'm in Albany, NY.

Last summer my friends and I spent a lot of time at the home of one of my friends, who before she moved had a swimming pool and poolhouse in her backyard. It was a lot of fun, but too often I felt myself feeling self-conscious due to my weight. I'm not fat, I'm just overly self-examining and tend to find a lot of flaws in myself physically. I'm working on that, but I also know that some of what I pick about is fixable, and that fixing it would make me both healthier and happier.

In the last year I've gone from 25% body fat to around 16% (could be 3% off in either direction; I'm assuming I'm closer to 18-19% based on progress photos). I'm pretty pleased with my progress, but I want to take the last 60-90 days and cut down to 10% or less. I've already restricted my diet for this purpose. I was on about an 80% paleo plan, and currently I'm doing Tim Ferriss' slow-carb plan, and as of this week I'm going to cut most junk food out of cheat day as well. Cheat day will still be composed of stuff I can't eat during the week, but it will be better stuff.

I go to the gym three times a week to do heavy lifting. I'm not very advanced in my weightlifting capabilities, but I've gotten a lot better in recent months and I feel I'm doing my best and improving at every workout. My workouts are:

Day 1: Barbell squat, bent-over barbell row, Turkish get-up
Day 2: Deadlift, clean-and-press, dips
Day 3: Bench press, dumbbell weighted lunge, pull-ups

I have a desk job, but regularly sneak away from my desk to pace up and down the hallway; at present that's really all I can do at work, but I'm using a pedometer app on my phone to try to make sure I walk at least half a mile to a mile during the day this way. It's not much, but at least it's something. When it warms up some I'll be walking the ~2 miles to and from work as often as possible as well.

I've tried doing bodyweight workouts at home, but I can never seem to stick to them; I get bored and end up skipping them. What I'd like to do is add some cardio mixed with strength work, probably in the form of interval training. I sometimes go jogging, but don't do it regularly, and don't enjoy it enough to make it a part of my regular schedule. Mostly I'll go jogging when I'm feeling jittery and need to get out some energy, but the gym is closed. Oh, and I have a pull-up bar at the house I stay at 1-2 nights a week; I can't bring it to this apartment because all the doorframes are wonky.

Oh, and I am getting better at sleeping more. It's a process, but I'm slowly changing my habits and working toward getting enough sleep. I understand the importance of it; I'm just having really hard time switching gears and becoming an early-to-bed-early-to-riser.

I have decided that I can put down a maximum of $500 on fitness stuff to reach my goal, though if I can make it with less I would also like that. So far, I'm considering getting a rowing machine (thinking maybe a Stamina rower) and maybe some protein supplements, as I'd like to put on some additional muscle while I'm at it. Personal training hasn't been too helpful for me; I'm a member of the YMCA, not interested in switching gyms, and while their trainers are good they're not too helpful once you've gotten past the "in decent shape and not an idiot with the weights" phase. They're very machine-focused, and I'm not interested in that. I am also considering dropping some money on a 3-month membership to a rock climbing gym I recently discovered in my area, though this is tentative as I'm not honestly sure how often I'd go due to a busy schedule.

So, with all that in mind, here are my questions:

1) What kind of rower can I get? Please don't suggest a Concept 2; I know they're the best, but I'm looking more for the Honda Civic of rowing machines as opposed to the BMW of rowers. Yes, I know they're available used, but I want something I can just order and start using rather than hunting for the right deal for weeks. I am familiar with proper rowing technique, and want a machine that simulates this as accurately as possible (legs>back>arms stroke). I believe I can get what I need for $250-300 if not less.

2) Looking for ideas/knowledge re: the supplements. Resources are welcome, as is personal experience.

3) What should I spend the rest on? Current ideas include a rock gym membership, better shoes (I'm currently weightlifting in my old highschool running shoes; not ideal I know), or maybe personal training with someone from outside the YMCA (a big maybe).

4) I'd like to be able to party some during the summer without stressing, and I'd like to be less strict about what I eat once I reach my goal and am no longer actively trying to lose fat, but rather maintain a current level and add muscle from there. I have an almost absurdly slow metabolism and am concerned about backsliding almost immediately at the start of the summer.

5) Anything else? Pretty much an open invitation to impart whatever information you feel is important/needful.
posted by Urban Winter to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Advice depends on if you're a guy or a girl.

If you're a girl, then first off--please look at this article on visual body fat assessment. I say this because if you're truly at 16% right now and feel too fat then the issue is psychological. Dropping below 16%--especially to 10%!--requires tremendous calorie deprivation, supplementation, and it is terrifically unhealthy and only something people really do when preparing for figure contests. Women are not able to maintain 10% body fat for extended periods of time healthfully. 16% is tremendously lean for a woman.

If you're a guy, or a girl who is well above 16%, then dropping the extra body fat is not going to be a matter of investing in new fitness gadgets. It's going to be a matter of tightening your diet up even further. Fat loss is about diet. Exercise programs will build the muscle that will make you look good as you lose the fat, but you can't out-exercise a bad diet. Not that your diet sounds bad--but you simply may have to undertake more caloric deprivation than you're currently doing. Furthermore, If you're trying to undertake an extreme fat loss plan it can actually be counterproductive to try to stack more exercise on top of exercise while you're engaging in extreme caloric deprivation (especially if you're already at a healthy weight and trying to drop even more). Exercise is a stress on your body. Dieting is a stress on your body. In response to excess stress your body ramps up your cortisol levels, which totally messes with your insulin, fat storage, and metabolism. You're better off keeping the exercise moderate, like your lifting routine and tightening up the diet than getting OCD about pacing up and down the hallways during breaks from your office job.

If you really want to go extreme then look up protein-sparing modified fasts, like Lyle McDonald's Rapid Fat Loss book. They're tremendously hard to stick to but they work. McDonald's book has the advantage of being very realistic about the effects the diet will have on your body and very smart about recommendations for exercise and post-diet eating.
posted by schroedinger at 10:07 PM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

(From previous answers I've seen, OP is male)
posted by jacalata at 10:45 PM on March 20, 2013

Does your gym not have a rowing machine?
posted by jacalata at 10:52 PM on March 20, 2013

Your focus/post is on fitness, but it should be on diet. What are you eating?

I know paleo is what a number of cross fitters are doing now, so that night be worth doing.

Clean your diet up, and you'll lose weight (barring thyroid issues or whatnot).
posted by backwards guitar at 1:38 AM on March 21, 2013

I have tried insanity to great effect. I feel like it balances cardio with body weight exercises opimally. Might be worth trying out. The full program takes 60 days.
posted by Lucubrator at 5:05 AM on March 21, 2013

Clarifying/answering questions:

My gym does not have a rowing machine. In any case, I can't drive out to the gym much more often than I currently do. I could maybe do four days a week rather than three, but otherwise I've got to do stuff at home.

My focus is on exercise because I have a hard time imagining how I could be stricter with my diet. Currently I'm literally eating nothing but lean meat/eggs and veggies, totaling an estimated 900 calories a day if even that (this keeps me not-hungry most of the time; I don't feel like I'm starving). More caloric deficit would lead to starvation. One day a week I will eat raw oats, nuts, fruit, maybe a sandwich on some whole-grain bread. I might allow a cookie or a few chips or something, but what I eat on cheat day is still healthy food.

As I said in the post above, I did paleo for a while, and that is more or less how I got to where I am now.

As I said, I know the basics about diet/caloric deficit and whatnot. My diet is pretty damn clean already. I'm also being realistic about there being plenty more fat to lose. I can grab a handful of excess flab around my middle. I was hoping for a little more insight than just "eat less" or "it's psychological."
posted by Urban Winter at 7:44 AM on March 21, 2013

You're not eating enough. 900 calories a day is not enough for a grown adult, especially when you throw in exercise. This is a great calculator to figure out what your basal metabolic rate is - if you are female, it is 1355, and if you are male, it is 1521. That is the amount of calories your body would need if you were lying in bed all day, not moving. Eating below that, especially for a sustained amount of time, will stall fat loss.

The foods you are eating are good for fat loss, but eat more of them.
posted by bedhead at 7:51 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

900 calories per day is extremely low. Your stats give you a predicted TDEE of ~2000 calories. Are you currently losing weight, even very gradually (which would be ideal, since you don't have a lot to lose)? If you are, just stay the course and be patient. If not, either your calorie counting is off or something is abnormal with your metabolism. Metabolic rates don't vary that extremely in healthy people. You might consider having your thyroid and hormone levels checked out if possible. Or if you've been dieting for a long time, a high-carb refeed or short diet break can be useful to reset hormone levels. And if that's an accurate number, you're definitely not going to speed up fat loss (and may actually hurt your efforts) by adding more exercise. These issues are discussed in Lyle McDonald's article, Not losing fat at 20% deficit, what should I do?

On the flip side, you may also see better visual results from focusing on adding muscle for a little while, and you're definitely not going to do that on 900 calories per day. It very likely wouldn't hurt to add some aesthetics-focused assistance exercises to your training. Barbell curls, lying triceps extensions, and lateral raises would be some obvious additions to your program.

In any case, this isn't really something you can get faster results with by throwing money at it, unless you're trying to start using anabolics. The most helpful thing you could buy would be a digital food scale if you don't already have one.

Apart from that, whey protein is convenient if you're not getting enough protein from whole foods. Fish oil is good unless you're eating a lot of fish. Creatine is good, and vitamin D. But none of those things are going to make or break you, and neither will any other supplement that isn't illegal.

If you're looking for new footwear, weightlifting shoes are an excellent investment. For any lift performed standing on the floor, something like Chucks (and certainly running shoes) can't compare to the stability they give you. The Adidas Powerlift Trainers are very reasonably priced.

Also this may all be old news to you, but it usually doesn't hurt to be reminded about the fundamentals, which are laid out very well in Harsh's worksheet.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Look into a Keto diet. I think it may help you achieve your goals.

Fair warning, the first week or two is rough.
posted by irishcoffee at 8:11 AM on March 21, 2013

I've heard some people have had success with breaking weight loss plateaus through 16/8 intermittent fasting (eating in an 8 hour period, 16 hours of fasting).
posted by bluecore at 9:02 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dude, 900 calories is extremely low. Very low unless you're on a short term crash diet, and if you're on a short term crash diet you need to be moderating with cheat days and carb intake in order to offset the damage it's going to do to your hormones (seriously, I would STRONGLY suggest reading some of McDonald's stuff, as he is pretty knowledgeable about crash diets). If you decide to add more exercise on top of eating only 900 calories a day all you're going to do is fuck up your hormones and make your body hold onto fat harder. This is a real thing--many bodybuilders and figure competitors struggle with regaining a ton of weight and stubborn fat after contests because of the damage to their metabolism (another reason they use drugs, actually, it helps moderate it somewhat).

Are you losing anything right now? Or is it just that you want to lose faster? If you're not losing anything on 900 and you're a male then you've already fucked your metabolism up. If you are losing, then you just need to be patient. And for God's sake, make sure you're having a cheat mean and a carb up once/week, for the sake of your cortisol levels.
posted by schroedinger at 5:09 PM on March 21, 2013

You're about my size, and we have about the same body fat % goal. It helps to recognize that 10% is at or near elite athlete level. Last time I was down that low, I was a teenager running 90 minutes every day. It would probably benefit you into looking into what body builders who are building show muscles do to cut weight, and adapt it for yourself.

One of the tricky things about our bodies is that they're actually pretty good at maintaining an equilibrium, and it can be tough to knock it out of one once you get there. Switching up your exercise routine and even diet can be a good way to do so.

Also know you've done a great job getting to this point. Losing weight is a hassle, and hard. At the % you're at, you've got a lot of American population beat. If it seems like your friends are still in better shape, maybe talk to them about their workouts, and join them?
posted by garlic at 10:51 AM on April 9, 2013

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