*Insert cliche about the journey being more important than the destination*
But as with many cliches, there is more than just an element of truth to the idea that the process of learning the skills, habits and enjoying the many small steps of progress you make and seeing those results compound over time, arguably has more value than the simple outcome of fat loss.
Certainly, if you have a medical issue that can be improved by losing weight, then the outcome of weight loss carries more value. But for most people, losing weight is an often arbitrary goal. In my experience, when someone says they want to lose weight, they are really saying they want to feel more confident, or stronger, or more energised. And those things come from following a plan and seeing it through.
During the process of working towards fat loss, if it’s done well and sustainably, then you should be learning new skills, new habits and new ways of thinking about certain training and nutrition ideas. These will form a solid foundation that will last you the rest of your training life and allow you to get the most out of your approaches.
If you are following a fad diet, or a short term training plan that promises extreme results in a short period of time, then you won’t be learning much about yourself or what really works long term for you. There are certain times when a short, unsustainable approach can serve you well, but these times are few and far between.
For example, cutting weight to make a standard for your sport. It’s an approach that has a clear, short term goal: to make a specified weight in order to compete, typically for one day. Afterwards, it’s back to normal and your weight returns to its pre-competition level. There is nothing there to help you with a long term weight loss goal. And if you think about it, if you are taking such an approach, you’re going to already be close to the target. Which is a different story from most of us in a typical gym.
4 things to experiment with on yourself
Ultimately you are looking for an approach that works for you, is sustainable and allows you to be consistent. And chances are, you’re not going to strike gold on the first attempt. Or the second, or even the third. It’s going to take trial and error, assessing and adjusting, and a whole lot of patience and practice to zero in on the right approach for you.
Doing that will take a certain amount of experimentation. So here are 4 things you can experiment with to find which is best for you.
Meal frequency, the number of meal you have each day, has one of the longer standing nutrition myths tied to it: The idea that eating more regularly keeps your metabolism stoked and the calorie burning furnace blazing. Except that it doesn’t.
The Thermic Effect of Food is the fancy way of talking about the calories that are burned during the chewing and digestion process. Some foods have a little higher energy cost, such as protein and higher fibre whole foods, and some are easier to digest such as doughnuts and raspberries. But if you have a fairly balanced diet (and honestly, even if you don’t) it works out that around 10% of your calorie intake goes on processing those calories. So regardless of how you break it down, the calorie cost is the same across the day.
What matters most is finding an eating frequency that works for you. If thats 3 meals and a snack, or 6 small meals per day, find whatever approach fits your lifestyle and allows you to stay the most consistent.
High vs low carb
Here’s the thing with high vs low carbs diets, when the calorie intakes are matched, there is zero difference in weight loss results. That’s because it is total calories that determine your outcome, not whether you go Keto or not. (Sorry Keto fans).
If you enjoy carbs, and you try to cut them out of your diet, how long do you think you’ll last with that approach? Probably not that long, and if you did make it past a couple of weeks, you’d probably be thinking of all the carby goodness that you’re always missing out on.
But here’s the secret – you can lose weight and fat while eating carbs. As long as your total calorie intake is creating a reasonable deficit, then you are good. Do what helps keep you the most consistent and get the best results you can.
It’s all well and good programs promising exceptional results, but to get them you must train 5 days a week. But with all the other stresses you have in your life at the moment, adding that much extra stress isn’t going to do you any favours.
There is certainly a minimum number of sessions you need to get done in order to push your progress forwards, I aim for most clients to do 3 sessions, with some low level movement such as walking or cycling each day. This gives enough stimulus to create the changes we want to see in the gym and still allow for plenty of recovery.
However, some do more. With up to 5 sessions per week happening regularly, but that number has come from a few weeks of experimentation to see what works best for them.
What matters most for this experiment is 2 things:
- Training volume across the week, and
- The ability to recover adequately between sessions
When looking at your training frequency, consider these 2 factors, then trial whatever number you decide is right and adjust if necessary.
You may find that if you hit a period of the year where outside stresses get higher, for example an accountant at year end, or a teacher at exam times, you may need to scale back training a little, either in intensity or frequency, in order to maintain your ability to get the most out of sessions and still recover.
But once again, do what allows you to be most consistent. Hopefully, you’re seeing the theme here…
Is it best to train in the morning? Or in the evening? What about lunch time sessions?
There isn’t much of a clear physiological benefit to any of these options. In the morning the gym is likely to be quieter so you can get everything done with minimal waiting for equipment, and the session is done and out of the way early.
Training at lunch is great for shorter sessions and doesn’t impact on your morning or evenings, but you won’t get as much work done.
Evening sessions are grand, but the gym will be busier and you may be fatigued from work. But it also means you don’t have to get up super early like those morning folks.
Once again, we come down to what do you prefer and what helps you stay most consistent?
Personally I’d rather punch myself in the face than train in the evening and deal with all the people in the gym. But I have the luxury of training at the time which suits me best, mid – to late morning depending on my client sessions. At least I did when we did things like go to gyms … Now it’s part of my morning routine and it allows me to fit it into my day consistently.
When is the best time for you? You may have to try a couple of different options out to narrow this down but it’s worth the effort.
“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson