You may see the same people sweating profusely on a cardio machine week after week with no change to their physique. After a few months (or a few weeks) of hard work, most give up when the results aren’t matching the effort. There are a number of reasons fat loss may be stalled, but it typically comes down to a few common factors.
Many people simply don’t understand what real hunger feels like so they eat whenever they feel the slightest sensation of hunger. As you increase your activity level, your body sends out signals that tell you you’re hungry. This is your body’s signal it needs energy. That energy can come from calories consumed through food, or it can come from calories stored in your own body fat. When you first feel the sensation of hunger, sit with it for 20-30 minutes. If you are still hungry go ahead and eat but often you will find it has passed because your body has started the process of mobilizing body fat for energy.
Also, ensure that your diet is comprised of whole nutrient rich foods. When you eat “junk” you get empty calories with very little minerals or vitamins, and this can lead to hunger since your body lacks nutrients. Any time you are dieting it’s vital to have a complete multivitamin to make sure you still get all the essential nutrients you may be missing from food.
Now all the exercise in the world won’t matter if you replace those calories burnt during your workout with pizza and ice cream. While most people looking to lose weight, at least, try to cut back on their caloric intake, but there are many sneaky ways you could be consuming more calories and carbohydrates than you realize. When trying to cut body fat a good caloric starting point would be between 11-14x your bodyweight depending on your activity level. It would be a wise decision to track calories for a few weeks so you can get an idea of how much you are actually consuming and what it looks like in food form.
Here are some common examples of how people consume excess calories:
Next time you’re at the gym take a look around at the cardio area and compare it to the free weight section. Chances are there will be much more overweight people on the cardio machines than in the weight room. For some reason, people tend to think of cardio as the key to weight loss, and if they do lift weights, it’s usually lighter weight and higher reps with short rest. This is a recipe for frustration and the dreaded skinny fat look. Diet is going to dictate fat loss and the energy expended on the cardio machines would be better spent lifting heavy weights. To better understand let’s revisit the energy systems your body utilizes for different activities.
The ATP-CP System is fueled by stored ATP and creatine phosphate within the muscles. Every energy system uses ATP to fuel activity, this one happens to use it directly (along with creatine phosphate) while the others require either glucose or oxygen to create new ATP. This energy system is used to fuel explosive short duration activities lasting less than 20 seconds. Examples would be 100-meter sprints, heavy lifting for low reps (<5), and other explosive movements such as box jumps so long the duration is less than 20 seconds. Since your body uses creatine phosphate to supplement the breakdown of ATP, it is essential to supplement with Creatine Monohydrate in order to maximize the output supplied by this system.
The Glycolytic Energy System is called upon for moderate-intensity activities lasting from about 20-90 seconds. This system kicks in when ATP stores are depleted and uses glucose to resynthesize ATP. When blood glucose is not directly available, stored glycogen is then used. Once muscle glycogen is depleted, then your body starts to break down amino acids stored in your muscle tissue through a process called gluconeogenesis. This is why you need to drink BCAA’s during your workout if you are in a depleted state. The aminos broken down and converted to glucose will come from your drink instead of your muscle tissue.
The Oxidative System is used to fuel low-intensity long duration activities. It can create ATP in a number of ways that are too complex to cover in this article, but it does not require the presence of glucose or muscle glycogen and is capable of breaking down body fat for fuel. This is the main system used for activities such as long distance jogging or walking, hiking, and many daily activities that do not require large energy output.
All three energy systems work together and overlap.
Only one of these energy systems requires glucose. When dieting, calories and carbohydrates will be low which means low blood glucose and glycogen stores as well. So if your workouts are performed primarily using the glycolytic system, you will break down lean muscle. This slows down the metabolism making it easier to store fat and harder to lose it. Unfortunately, this is exactly what many people do when they are jogging or performing other moderate intensity cardio for extended periods of times. Using lighter weights in the rep ranges of 10-25 will also primarily use the glycolytic system.
So if losing body fat is your goal, you need to spend as much time in the other two systems as possible. Lift heavy weight for low reps with long rest periods to preserve your muscle tissue and keep your metabolism high. Cardio should be done HIIT style with work periods of 20 seconds followed by about 40-120 seconds of rest. The other option would be using very low-intensity cardio for long periods such as walking on a steep incline treadmill for 45-90 minutes. Although it may seem counterintuitive, you need to slow things down and go heavier instead of speeding things up and going lighter on the weights.
Another possible reason you can’t lose weight is because your cortisol levels are chronically elevated. You may be so desperate to lose fat that you are overtraining, or it could simply be from the stress of everyday life. This results in higher blood glucose levels (through gluconeogenesis) and elevated levels of insulin which will lead to more fat storage. Not only does it lead to fat storage it also prevent amino acid uptake in the muscle cells leading to muscle loss. The conversion of T4 to T3 in the body is also disrupted causing impaired thyroid function, slowing the metabolism further.
Additionally levels of inflammation rise making it harder to recover from workouts, testosterone production is decreased, and there is an increased sensation of hunger. You don’t want elevated levels of cortisol, so it is vital that you take adequate recovery time. This could mean taking time away from the gym, lowering volume, taking longer rest periods, making sure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep, eating nutritious food instead of junk, and managing stress levels better. Taking Sheer Recovery after your workouts will help with recovery and lower cortisol levels as well.
When fat loss is stalled, it typically comes down to one of, or a combination of, three things: overeating, improper training, and elevated cortisol levels. Once you address these issues, you can expect to see fat loss. As you get leaner and leaner, remember your body wants to hold on to the fat more and more. For a little boost in fat loss consider intermittent fasting and adding Sheer Thermo to your supplement stack. You could also try a period of ketosis for 4-8 weeks to get rid the stubborn fat. The important thing is to not get frustrated and quit. When your hard work is not paying off it is very tempting to give up, but you will thank yourself in the long run if you take the time to identify what is holding you back and address the issues.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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