This article was written by Leigh Remedios, who is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Traditional Ju Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do. Leigh is a prolific competitor and has competed internationally in martial arts, including the UFC and Polaris. He has won several prestigious competitions, including the NAGA United Kingdom Grappling Championship belt and European IBJJF no-gi gold medals. Leigh runs a Jiu Jitsu and MMA Academy in Wiltshire, UK.
I'm going to explain how I drop body fat. This is different to how I cut weight (but not THAT different), so I'm not going to write about that, as weight cutting isn't relevant to most people.
The main principles I'm going to explain are calorie restriction and insulin control. In very basic terms, calories in vs calories out can be used to control body weight, but insulin management is hugely important in controlling hunger (calories in), metabolism (calories out), and where burned calories come from.
If you burn more calories than you consume, you lose weight. That is very simple. However, a six-mile run will burn around 700 calories (depending on body weight), so relying on exercise alone to burn calories will be a slog. You also want to preserve muscle, so just cutting calories is not enough. Additionally, you also want to keep your metabolism working, as starving will drop your BMR (basal metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn with everyday bodily functions).
Let me talk about insulin very briefly. It is the most anabolic hormone in the body, more so than testosterone, and is released in the pancreas whenever you eat carbohydrates and, to a lesser extent, protein, with high glycemic carbs having a bigger response. Insulin forces nutrients into body tissue. This is good for building muscle, but for fat loss, it's horrendous. Insulin also causes you to store glucose as glycogen, lowering blood sugar levels. This has a disastrous effect on fat loss as it makes you crave more sugar. You eat something sugary, get an insulin spike, your blood sugar clears, you get hungry and crave sugar and the cycle repeats.
The most effective method I have found to utilise these principles is the Protein Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF). Eat high levels of protein (the usual number given is around 1g protein per lb of lean body weight per day) and basically nothing else. Lifting weights will also be a big help in preserving muscle. I do this for my weight cuts, but it's not sustainable and therefore not practical for long-term weight loss, as when you go back to regular eating, you will put the weight back on again. It's also not very nutrient-dense, with few essential fatty acids (EFAs), vitamins, minerals etc. However, we will use it as a basic template.
So the ideal (but unsustainable) fat loss diet would be something like a 50g protein shake for breakfast and 400g of chicken breast per day with as much green veg as you like. You should try to use Intermittent Fasting (IF), where you eat your daily calories within a small window of time so that your insulin levels are not elevated all day. Something like a shake at 9 am, lunch at 1 pm and dinner at 5 pm. Even better if you can drop the shake and have your protein in 2 meals instead. We're eating high protein to preserve muscle mass, low calories at well under 1,000 and keeping our insulin levels low with no sugary carbs.
However, to make your fat loss more tolerable, I would instead suggest using this as an extreme example and simply making minor modifications to your diet that trend towards the PSMF. It's much easier to sustain your normal lifestyle with small changes than to make a huge jump. Start by dropping the garbage. You know what junk food is: crisps, chocolates, cakes, alcohol, soft drinks etc. The next step is to drop bread, pasta, dairy and fruit juice. These are horrendous for fat loss (actually, cheese isn't too bad at all, I just don't like it). Fruit is quite high in sugar but the pulp slows absorption. However, the juice alone is basically a soft drink. Rice and potatoes should also be controlled or eliminated.
These foods are so ingrained into people's diets that they often tell me that they don't know what else to eat. In reality, we have only removed processed foods, which are high glycemic. You can still eat meat, eggs, nuts, fruits, vegetables, berries etc. During a weight cut, I'd remove fish and nuts due to the fat and fruit due to the sugar, but they are great for everyday healthy eating. A typical daily diet might be:
- Breakfast: 2-3 eggs and a couple of apples
- Lunch: chicken, steamed mixed veg and a sweet potato
- Dinner: salmon and veg
- I can lose 1 lb daily by eating over a pound of homemade burgers. I enjoy steaks and roast pork. I get my carbs from fruit and veg, and I snack on nuts and fruit.
Make the adjustments gradually and when you get results, maintain the changes. If you want more extreme results, make more extreme dietary changes but switching into ketosis (fat burning) can be rough; it's much easier after a week or so once your body has adapted. Until you switch into ketosis, you do crave junk. Be strong.
If you want to use exercise to help, you will burn the most calories using steady-state cardio. Try to do your cardio before breakfast when your insulin levels are low and you are not in fat-storage mode. I draw a small spreadsheet for my fat loss programs and aim to lose around 0.5 lbs or 0.2 kg daily. I find this sustainable, but you may want to go up or down on that number. If you lose any more than that, it's probably water.
Let's run through a quick example. A 300 lb man eats bacon sandwiches for breakfast, burger and fries for lunch, pizza for dinner, snacks on crisps and biscuits and has a few beers with his friends in the evening. Does he need to switch to broccoli and chicken and run 6 miles before breakfast? No, he can probably drop 0.5 lb a day by swapping his breakfast for bacon and eggs. When he stops dropping weight, he can switch the crisps to fruit. He can keep making incremental changes until he reaches his goal.
So, in summary, draw up a plan/schedule to lose weight gradually, cut out junk food, cut out sugar and starches and keep protein high. If you exercise, do it before breakfast.
As always, feel free to ask questions.