People automatically think that in order to lose body fat they have to cut down their calories drastically so that calories in is less than calories out. Well this makes sense if you are overweight. However, I recently learned something about Metabolic Damage (which I think I have done to myself) that makes even more sense.
So here are some examples:
1) A male bodybuilder off season is eating 3000 calories a day to maintain his weight. It is time for his to cut for a show so he immediately cuts down to 1600 calories and starts an hour of cardio a day. He loses some body fat initially but after a few weeks he plateaus. So he cuts more calories, goes to low carb, and increases to 2 hours of cardio. He loses a little more and plateaus. But now what? He is so run down from lack of carbs and he doesnt have much more he can cut from his diet. Fat loss has stopped.
2) A female bikini competitor has been eating 1200 calories a day for years. She decides to get ready for a show so she cuts down her carbs and increases her cardio to one hour a day. She is able to cut body fat but then plateaus. So she cuts down to 800-900 calories a day with barely no carbs. Yet the fat is no longer dropping and she is worn out. Doing even 2 hours of low intensity cardio a day along with this diet would not burn body fat, no matter what.
Those were both examples of people who tried to change too much, too soon. The first example could have dropped body fat if he kept his calories/carbs higher and only dropped little by little, as needed. The second example could have dropped body fat if she had been eating more 2000 calories a day in the previous years while maintaining weight. She let her metabolism get slower than a snail!
How does metabolic slowing occur?
The body uses calories to digest food- this is called the thermogenic effect. So drastically cutting your calorie intake in half is detrimental because you are immediately causing: less energy output, decreased thyroid hormone production, decreased testosterone production, increased cortisol levels. All of which lower your metabolism and may lead to muscle loss.
How can I prevent metabolism slowing?
You have to be patient. If your goal is to lose weight/fat, you should lose no more than 1.5-2 pounds per week. Cut slowly, not massively. You also want to make sure you keep carbs in your diet. It may be necessary to drop them down a little, but never completely cut them out. Carbs are essential to keeping your metabolism elevated. This is why you may want to incorporate a high carb day every 4-8 days in order to boost leptin, thyroid, and testosterone levels and aid in further fat loss. Also remember to keep healthy fats in your diet because they are important (in moderation). Lastly, if you are a competitor you cannot binge after your shows. Enjoying things here and there is acceptable. But bingeing for every meal, for weeks at a time is the worst thing you can do for your body. You are just adding the body fat right back on. Instead you should slowly add calories back into your diet (just like you did while cutting your diet).
Here is a link to a great video that explains the Metabolic damage concept. I highly recommend watching the entire thing because it teaches a lot. Video by Layne Norton here.
Here is a summary from the video on How to Fix metabolic damage:
- Be Patient. Take time off from competing and know that fixing your metabolism will take time, but it will be worth it.
- You need to increase your caloric intake little by little each day. Do this slowly to allow your body time to adjust. He suggests maybe 5g carbs, 1g fat, 2g protein per day. Continue adding until you hit about 2000 calories a day (or about 14x body weight in lbs) and are able to maintain weight at that.
- Stop being a cardio bunny and doing hours of low intensity cardio a day. Your body will only adjust and no longer benefit from it. Instead, switch to high intensity cardio for short periods. It has been proven to burn fat. Low-intensity burns fat for only the first week or so.
- A study of people who did one hour of walking versus 6 x 30 second sprints showed that those who sprinted lost twice as much body fat. HIIT!
- Once you are at a steady weight and well-balanced diet, then you can consider competing/trimming down again. Your metabolism is now running at its full potential and cutting body fat will be super easy! You won’t have to cut much from your diet and you would never have to go below 1000 calories a day again! Your body will be functioning much better.