So you’ve been dieting for a while and have lost a bunch of weight? Great, you’re probably going to gain it all back, or more. It sounds harsh because it is. Only about 20% of folks that drastically lose weight keep it off for over a year. However, there is a fair amount of research that shows the difference between those that make permanent changes, and those that regain it all back. This article will cover strategies to lose fat for the long term, for crossfit athletes.
The first thing you should know about weight loss is that you don’t really want to lose weight. You want to lose fat. I don’t care if you are a woman or a man, or what your fitness goals are. There are no health, or athletic goals that are better accomplished with less muscle mass!
Runners, Lifters, and Soccer moms will all have much more successful outcomes, in terms of fat loss, if they maintain a higher percentage of muscle mass.
The second thing you need to know about fat loss is that the biological mechanisms that control it are incredibly complex, but the actions required to accomplish it are actually fairly straight forward.
Before we get to the specific steps you will need to complete, to permanently lose fat, we need discuss the biology behind it.
The Biology of Fat Loss
Your body has a vested interest in maintaining a certain amount of weight, and a certain amount of fat. You can imagine that when we lived in caves, and were really paleo, that body fat would allow you to survive during lean times, when hunting was bad, or natural disaster disrupted sources of food.
There are some inherent pressures from your body to maintain weight and fat at a certain level; however, this level can be modified by your environment, and in fact your environment may have the biggest impact on your body fat.
We see this everyday in America, and other parts of the developed world. Food is generally not a problem, and the food that tastes the best, and is most readily available, is much more calorically dense than it was in decades past.
This is our current environment, an abundance of calories. This will strongly modify our bodies, and it’s desire to gain or lose weight. However, we need to keep in mind that our bodies don’t have an inherent “ideal weight.” There are various “settling points” that it likes depending on the factors present in the current environment.
Lastly, there is one more factor that affects weight and body fat. That is your genetics and epigenetics. Most people are somewhat familiar with the first one, but do not really understand the second.
To understand epigenetics, you need to know that when we say “genetics” we simply mean the sum total of the coding in your DNA. Epigenetics are portions of that code that can be activated, or inactivated depending on your environment. Think of genetics as the hard drive itself, and epigenetics as the programs that are stored there. Depending on what you want to do, you will use different programs.
This is all the further we are going to go down this rabbit hole, and believe me Alice in Wonderland, it goes deep. I want you to remember just how crucial your environment is to your fat loss goals, and I also want you to understand that your very choices affect what types of genes are activated. Long story short, we can control a fair amount of the factors that affect fat loss, if you are smart that is.
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Success and Failure in Fat Loss
Now that you have a basic understanding of the big three factors that affect fat loss, we need to discuss the differences between losing weight for obese people and athletes.
If you do a lot of internet reading, like I do, you will no doubt come across any number of articles promising to help you lose weight. Some of them are even based on research studies, which puts them ahead of most of the crap you can read on the internet, but that is still not good enough.
There is a lot of funding and interest in losing weight for obese people because it is now classified as a disease, and over 60% of Americans are obese. I’m all for this research, but it’s crucial that we distinguish between a 70 year old type II diabetic with hypertension, and an off season crossfit athlete looking to maintain performance and lose some fat.
I do understand that there are some obese crossfitters out there. They come into my gym, and we train them all the time. This article will still help them, and in fact it’s likely to be much more beneficial to their long term fat loss than a more generic prescription.
The Keys to Long Term Fat Loss
The most important factor for fat loss is your attitude towards it. Crossfitters will have a huge advantage here. Obese people often look at a “diet” as a short term thing to suffer through, and then they can return to “normal.” This is why they fail.
You cannot lose fat permanently with a short term mentality. This is true of crossfitters as well. If you want to maintain your muscle mass and performance, you have understand that this is a gradual process. It’s a shift in lifestyle, rather than a specific change in one or two areas of your training.
When you look at research for fat loss, in athletic populations, you will see, over and over again, that no more than 1% of bodyweight should be lost per week. If you lose more than this you will lose muscle, I promise.
There is a secondary benefit to gradually losing weight, in that you are less likely to feel the effects of the caloric deficit. I always advise my athletes that it generally takes one month for them to start to notice any fat loss, and about 2 months for friends and family to notice.
You’ll notice that for the majority of this article I’m assuming that you’re going to lose the fat. That is by design. Fat loss is just like any goal you have, from squatting more, to decreasing your Grace time, all you need is a plan and consistency.
If you still need to lose weight, then read this article that covers how to lose weight for crossfit athletes. The article will walk you through the details, and give you a step by step plan to lose weight. Remember what I said above, the biology is complex, not the actions required.
What to Do Once You’ve Reached Your Goal Weight
This is the 10 million dollar question. As any Kung Fu master will tell you, the answer is within yourself. You’ve already done all the right actions to get to your target fat loss, you simply need to continue these same actions to maintain it, with a few caveats.
We all know that on any extended diet your metabolism will slow down, which is your bodies way of conserving energy. What most people don’t know is that your metabolism works the other way as well. This is called Reverse Dieting
This is the best, and in my experience, the only way to keep from rebounding after your diet, and gaining a huge amount of fat back. The concept is simple. Let’s use our favorite example, Tobi, who has been on successful diet for the last 3-4 months. He is now ripped, and shredded, and has a legit mustache. All good things here.
Prior to Tobi’s fat loss, his daily maintenance diet was 2400 calories, but to lose fat, he gradually reduced his caloric intake, month over month, until he was eating 1800 calories per day in the last week of his diet.
If Tobi just goes back to eating 2400 calories, he will pack on fat at the rapid rate. Tobi needs reverse dieting. In this case, Tobi will eat 50-100 calories more each week until he reaches his original 2400 calories. Here’s an example.
Tobi’s end of diet calories: 1800 Cal per day
Tobi’s first week of reverse dieting: 1850-1900 Cal per day
Tobi’s second week of reverse dieting: 1900-2000 Cal per day
Just as you track your bodyweight and body fat (via tape measurements) on the diet, Tobi needs to do this on his reverse diet. If done gradually, Tobi’s metabolism should increase each week, and he should not gain any appreciable amount of fat. If we see some fat gain, we can just maintain that weeks calories for one more week to allow the metabolism to catch up.
Ideally, we will increase our food intake until we start to see fat increase, and then back off to the previous weeks numbers. This will ensure maximum performance in the gym.
Macros On a Reverse Diet
Protein should be held at 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, or slightly higher, which means we need to add calories in the form of carbs and fat. Your body’s tolerance to adding one or the other will be variable. Some folks do well with high carbs, some, not so much. For more information on planning your macros, read this article that covers how to eat for crossfit athletes.
Generally speaking, I think that 100 grams of fat is probably the upper limit for male crossfitters, and 80 grams for females. Once those levels are reached keep adding calories from carbs, and simply maintain fat and protein at their current levels. Don’t be afraid to play with these recommendations, some folks will need different macro splits than recommended above.
Workouts on a Reverse Diet
These calorie and macro calculations are actually net calories. If you decide to increase your workout volume, i.e more WODs, lifting, cardio, then you will have to add 50-100 calories per week above your total energy expenditure, but do not do this suddenly. Here’s and example
Tobi has increased his daily calories to 2400 cal with no increase in body fat.
Tobi decides he wants to start following the Tier Three Hypertrophy Plan .
Tobi burn’s an extra 300 calories per day above his current exercise level.
Tobi will gradually work above 2700 calories, adding 50-100 per week.
The best way to track this is with the My Fitness Pal app. This will allow you to keep an accurate tab on what you are consuming, and what you’re burning. In fact, it’s been used in many scientific studies that require participants to monitor their food intake.
Nothing in this article is earth shattering. In fact, most of this info has been well known for some time, mainly in bodybuilding circles. So, if you need to lean out, use the guides provided in the links above, but if you need to maintain your gains in leanness, then give reverse dieting a shot. You’ll have a much better chance of making the permanent changes you’ve always wanted.