Almost 6 months into my fitness routine, I was down to 12% body fat & starting to plateau. The daily workout of weights and sprinting (HIIT) were taking a huge toll and there was still some belly fat sitting on my lower belly.
To top it off the, the huge caloric deficits and lack of carbs were making me downright cranky. After a month of going through the same thing over & over again, I took a step back and looked at what I was doing wrong.
If youíve ever wondered why youíre stuck at a certain weight at 12% fat with no change after walking 50 flights of stairs, doing Insanity & keeping a caloric deficit, this post will probably help.
After doing that bit of research hereís what I realized: One you get to 10-12% body fat, your body starts to fight back. At this point, the hormones that help you lose weight will drop and the hormones that hinder fat loss start working against you.
Hereís a breakdown & summary of all the hormones & what they do:
Leptin is widely known as the ďanti-starvation hormone. Leptin controls a number of metabolic processes in your body that lead to fat loss.
Having a caloric deficit for a few days will drop your leptin levels even lower & the bigger the deficit, the faster it drops.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas. It plays a role in the uptake of the nutrients into the cells in your liver, muscles and fat. It slows down the rate of fat loss by slowing down the mobilization of the fatty acids after they are released from the fat cells.
What dictates how quickly fat is mobilized is a hormone called HSL (hormone sensitive lipase). And Insulin is the main hormone that deactivates HSL.
Ghrelin is also known as the hunger hormone. Your body secretes this hormone when it feels that itís time to get fed. The operative word there is ďfeelsĒ because ghrelin is a trainable hormone. You can train your body to stop feeling hungry all the time.
If youíve ever wondered why you have a tendency to snack when youíre having 5 meals a day, this is the main reason why. Having 5 meals a day trains your body to expect a meal every 2 hours!
This is also the main reason why you have so many proponents of interminent fasting as a tool that you can use for weight loss.
Just keep in mind that all you need to do is hit your target number of calories, macronutrients & fiber when you have your meals.
Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone because it is activated when your body goes through emotional or physical stress.
This is the main reason why you shouldnít train at high intensities & work volume and have huge caloric deficits at the same time.
At that point, you can pretty much guarantee that your cortisol levels will go through the roof. And high levels of cortisol are usually associated with belly-fat storage.
It also plays a role in providing amino acids to the liver when protein levels are low. This makes cortisol a muscle-wasting hormone.
Here are some of the steps that I took to get these hormones to stop working against me:
1.) What to do with your caloric deficits
At this point in your fat loss training, youíre probably wondering why youíre not seeing results.
What most beginners do is take the idea of having a caloric deficit to the extreme.
If a little deficit is good for them, then having huge caloric deficits everyday is going to get them rock hard abs right? Wrong!
Remember that youíre eating not just to lose fat but to fuel your workouts as well.
Keep your caloric deficits low!
Trust me on this: your body will fight like hell to keep those last few pounds of belly fat hanging around if you keep it up.
And it wonít matter how big your caloric deficit is right now, you will burn out because your body always wins. ..unless you can somehow trick it into producing more hormones that are necessary for fat loss. That requires discipline to keep your caloric deficits low so your leptin levels donít crash and you wonít have to work against your body when trying to lose fat.
2.) What To Do With Your Cheat Meals/Re-feeds
One of the ways you can stop your plateau when trying to lose fat is to plan and execute your cheat meals or re-feeds. Write it down along with your workout schedule & meal plans.
Figure out and list down how many calories it would take for you to be happy with your food. This is the fun part of planning your meals! Now I know some people are probably asking themselves why. After all itís your ďcheat dayĒ right?
Planning for it helps you make the most of your cheat day by having the foods that you really love and cutting off the ďbadĒ foods that you donít really want.
Youíll get rid of that nagging feeling that you went just a little overboard.
Having a cheat day is not just something that can help you psychologically but itís crucial in restoring the hormones necessary for fat loss such as leptin.
About the worst thing that you can do on your cheat days is to get worried about going overboard with your caloric intake because you didnít figure out the macronutrients & calories in your food.
3.) Cyclical Carb Fasting
I also kept my carbohydrates pretty low by skipping on carbohydrates when having lunch simply because I wanted a lower carb intake for the day. I also loaded on carbs on my cheat days, which were right before my strength/power training days.
Some people believe that consuming carbohydrates at night will hinder fat loss. For them, the carbohydrates consumed at night canít be burned off by our bodies and so they end up being stored as fat.
I used to think this was true until I looked at some of the research. It turns out that there is no shred of evidence that having carbs at night will hinder fat loss. Our bodies are so much more complicated than that.
Iíve always suspected the lack of carbs as the reason for not being able to sleep well at night so I started experimenting with having high GI carbs at night. And guess what, I ended up having a more restful sleep and I wasnít as cranky in the morning. This leads us toÖ
4.) Why Sleep Is So Important Have you ever noticed what happens to you when you lack sleep? You tend to snack a lot and thatís not just because youíve been awake for more hours.
Some friend or relative walks in the room offering a snack and all you could think to yourself is: ďDammit! Stop trying to tempt me!Ē
And for some weird reason, you end up eating it anyway and feeling guilty about it minutes later. If youíve ever wondered why you tend to snack a lot when you lack sleep, you can blame it on this hormone.
Lack of sleep also leads to a rise in cortisol levels, which is associated with belly-fat storage as mentioned.
5.) Is Low-Medium Intensity Cardio Useless?
Insulin is one of the things that you have to watch out for because it impedes fat loss. At around 10-12% body fat, fat breakdown and mobilization slows down to a crawl as insulin levels starts to rise.
Fasted cardio really helped me burn off that last bit of fat simply because of the low levels of insulin.
At low insulin levels, fatty acids will be released from the fat cells. All I had to do was burn them off with low intensity cardio.
After doing weights, the last thing I wanted to do was P90x or any kind of HIIT workout. Fasted steady state or slow cardio can be muscle wasting so make sure not to do too much of it.
This is just one of the tools that I used to get those last bits of fat off. Please do note that you only have to use this when youíre at lower levels of body fat & not early on in your training program.
Use this sparingly. I did a maximum of 2 of these per week and no more than 30-40 minutes. You also want to have enough protein in your diet while doing this.
The guys, who say that cardio is useless donít take into account that:
*a.) Sprinters do a lot of strength training compared to marathoners. *b.) Sprinters do more drills that involve steady state cardio than High Intensity Interval Training. (I know. WTF right?) *c.) You canít sprint every single training day.
Now I love sprints and I believe itís superior to steady state cardio but saying that itís useless is just wrong. I sprint 3-4 times a week but there were days when I didnít feel like sprinting at all. Thatís when I did steady state cardio.
6.) Watching out for fructose
If you look at some of the old bodybuilders, they usually avoid fruit near the competition and for good reason. Having too much fructose leads to fat storage. I have a pretty conservative upper limit of around 40 grams of fructose a day. Thatís equivalent to 3 apples or 5 bananas. Thatís still a lot of fruit.
7.) Watching out for what I drink
Itís so easy to forget about your fructose and carbohydrate intake when youíre having any kind of shake or soda. What I did was avoid it altogether. I just drank plain old cold water with lemon.
It took a couple of months to finally get rid of my belly fat. Remember that losing those last few pounds will take time so donít believe the advertisements that claim to help you lose that belly fat in weeks.
Itís more of a marathon than a quick sprint. Also, learn to listen to your body and see what works for you personally. Understanding the science is important, but we're all unique in some way.
Anyway, I hope this has been a big help to you guys. I have some more info but I figured this post is probably a little too long already.
This is not some spot-reduction or any of those woo woo weird tip shortcut technique. You still have to do the hard work of getting to lower body fat percentages until the only fat that is noticeable is on your belly, butt and upper thighs. Don't do this until you're around the range of 11-13% body fat (for guys).
If youíve got questions or anything like that, just PM me.