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Posted 3 months ago

What to do when fat loss stalls?

If you have dieted in the past, you will have no doubt hit a point where fat loss either slows down or completely stalls. This can be incredibly frustrating if you are already doing a lot of output (cardio and steps) and not eating very much. This is usually when people give up and say, “this just isn’t for me”, when in fact it is, it’s just about knowing what to do to continue to elicit more fat loss.

Your body stores body fat as a means of energy reserve, and it does not like going below a certain level, as having body fat is essential for some bodily processes. However, to get the desired look we want, most of us need to take that final layer of body fat off, which is no easy feat. Therefore, the purpose of this article will discuss what you can do when dieting to extremes to help fat loss to continue.

Initial few weeks

The beginning of any dieting phase will tend to feel like smooth sailing for most. If you have managed to get your calories to a reasonably high place in your gaining phase/off season, then the initial calorie drop and increase in expenditure will do the trick. As coaches, we tend to have a rough idea in our head of where we think one’s bodyweight will be around the end of the dieting phase for it to match the desired condition and can thus plan accordingly. We may need to take off 8kg in 20 weeks, meaning that a rate of loss (ROL) of 0.4kg per week would be the goal.

However, bodyweight won’t always play ball and can’t be taken as the only measure of true progress, therefore it’ll always come down to visuals. In saying that though, I can say that with most clients, my estimation of where I think bodyweight will end up is always very close, within a 1kg range of my predictions.

So, let’s say you have begun a dieting phase for your show/shoot, and in the first 4 weeks you drop 2kg, but then everything completely stops, or you begin to lose only 0.1kg a week. This is when you might be wondering what to do next.

How to keep it going

Let’s be clear on one thing: fat loss progress stalling is perfectly normal! When we make a change to our calories and output but then keep these variables constant/stable for a few weeks, our body will begin to adapt to this energy balance (calories in verses calories out), which makes it harder to continue to pull body fat levels off.
Why does it do that? Well, it’s simply an evolutionary response. Thousands of years ago, the human body may have had days of no food and would then draw upon fat storages from adipose tissue to provide it with energy to live. However, if it constantly pulled from body fat and never adapted to the changes in the environment, few of us would have survived, hence why it will work to obtain balance and adapt itself to the current energy intake and demands.

However, continuing to get lean isn’t impossible, so if fat loss does stall you have two options to choose from: you can either do more, or you can eat less.

Sounds incredibly simple, right? Well in theory it is, but in practice it is about being smart and not over doing it. This is because your goal when dieting should be to get the maximal amount of fat loss from every different set point of energy balance you go to. In other words, you don’t just want to keep making changes with no logic behind just to get lean fast. Thus, with the options you have (decrease food or increase output), you must always consider and refer to the time frame left before deciding to change one variable or change both.

For example, if you still have a fair bit of time left and you know your body well, you may only need to increase cardio across the week by 30-40 minutes, dividing it up between all your sessions. However, if you want to be a bit more aggressive, you could push your cardio up alongside your step count, perhaps adding 1000-2000 steps onto your daily total. Those changes alone should mean that going into the next week, you’ll see fat loss accelerate, and your physique take a step forward by improving its conditioning. It’s important to note that patience is a virtue – don’t expect yourself to see changes overnight and give yourself at least 7 days to see the effect those manipulations have on your body.

Alternatively, if you wanted to keep your cardio where it is, you could simply make an adjustment to your totally calories, dropping them by 100-150 each day to give you a weekly total drop of between 700-1000 kcals.

And yes, of course you can drop your food and push your cardio up simultaneously. The choice you make will just come down to how aggressive you want to be, the time frame you have, how your body responds, and if there is a need to do both. These are a lot of variables to consider, but if you’ve got a coach, they will make the decision for you and alleviate any stress that comes from trying to decide these things.

Also, here’s a friendly reminder and PSA: by the time you finish dieting, you’ll probably be doing a lot more cardio and eating a lot less food than what you thought you would be doing/eating!

Assisted individuals and lipoloytics

An important aspect to consider here is that for those of you who choose to use fat burners (lipolytics), there might be a few more tools in your arsenal for you to use. It is true that if you are taking clenbuterol and/or T3/T4 you could manipulate your dosages as a means of eliciting further fat loss. However, if you don’t know much about these drugs/hormones, I wouldn’t bother using them as you could cause yourself more damage than good.

Specifically, there will always be a set limit that you don’t go above with these drugs/hormones, as if you push it too hard it can bring negative consequences such as poor to little sleep and muscle loss (just to name a few). Poor recovery will lead to poor performance and thus the problem compounds itself. I’d then say to do your research and perhaps work with a coach who knows a lot about them and has experience working with clients who have used them.

Of course, you could combine compound manipulation with a change to output and input depending on the time frame, level of current conditioning and how much body fat there is to pull off. For those of you thinking “why bother with drugs”, just bear in mind not all individuals can achieve the level of conditioning needed for shows naturally, therefore fat loss aids can be incredibly useful.

What about a refeed bro?

Let me first direct you to the article I wrote previously on what is a refeed and how it can help fat loss to avoid any confusion you may have surrounding the topic. For those of you who need a reminder, I’ll briefly explain it.

A refeed is a strategically planned food “top-up”, that is only used when an individual is very lean. During a refeed, a coach will prescribe their athlete a set amount of carbs, protein, and fats for the day. These quantities (except for protein, which will remain unchanged) will be a lot higher than what that individual has had to consume in order to get as lean as they are. It IS NOT a “cheat day” or a day where the athlete can just eat whatever they want.

Eat more and get leaner?! How does that work?! There are a few factors at play here. Firstly, during a dieting phase for a show/shoot, the stress levels on the body (cortisol) will increase, muscle glycogen stores will be depleted, recovery will become increasingly impaired, and as a result, fatigue will accumulate. This is merely a part of the process and there is no way around it to get shredded. Secondly, alongside these changes, your body’s metabolic rate will slow down, meaning that fat loss can drastically halt. It’s at this point that you could implement a strategic refeed.

A refeed will look different from one person to the next; typically, a strategic increase in food will be programmed in over the course of 24-48h, comprised mostly of carbs and/or fats. As an example, a males’ carb intake for the day might increase from 200g to 500-750g and a females’ intake might go from 100g to 250-300g. What do we see as a result? Typically, an increase in muscle fullness, lower stress levels (cortisol) meaning our body will be more efficient at using fat as a fuel source, and finally, a reduced dietary-induced fatigue. Combined, these factors will allow one to train harder, move more, and elicit further fat loss.

Remember that these strategic top ups of food will only be used when an individual is incredibly lean and only has a touch more bodyfat to pull off. Therefore, if you are in the early stages of dieting, you don’t need a refeed, you just want one!

In summary, in the first initial stages of dieting, fat loss should happen because of the changes you’ve made to your food intake and output. Thereafter, when it stalls, you can make some simple changes to your cardio, steps, or food intake to elicit further fat loss. Depending on the time frame and level of conditioning you’re at (relative to where you need to be), you may choose to change one or multiple of those variables. This could also include the manipulation of fat burners.  If you are very lean, a strategic refeed might be your best option to lower stress, reduce dietary induced fatigue, and to assist you in taking off the last little bit of body fat.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons