The festive season has come and gone, probably like your six pack. You’re probably feeling sluggish and, if we’re honest, a tad on the plump side.
If that’s the case, then try this on for size. Personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach and founder of Walker Strength, Robert Walker offers these scientifically-validated tips on how to reboot your metabolism.
1. Diet on as many calories as possible
The most frequent culprit of metabolic destruction that I encounter is a drastic reduction in calories when someone tries to drop weight. It makes sense in theory and the weight loss from any form of significant calorie restriction will always be substantial, at first that is.
The issue is that metabolic down-regulation soon sets in, which leaves dieters stuck and frustrated, often with very little wiggle room to spur on new weight loss.
To illustrate my point, consider this scenario: If before your diet you maintained your weight at 2000kcal a day and you immediately dropped down to 1000kcal, then despite the fantastic initial weight loss, your metabolism will eventually slow in response as it accommodates this new calorie intake. A further reduction in calories now becomes incredibly difficult and borderline unhealthy.
Instead, first establish the calorie intake you require to maintain your current weight, factoring in your current activity level. I generally recommend that most people eat 200-300kcal less than this amount daily, reducing it a further 100-200kcal every time their weight loss stalls. Small deficits are easier to stick to and allow you to maintain muscle better, and although the initial results are slower, they are far more effective in the long run.
2. Reverse diet at the peak of a deficit diet
When you reach the peak of a calorie deficit – basically the end of a structured calorie-controlled diet – it’s time to reverse diet. This will help turn metabolic down-regulation into a serious metabolic reboot, because the single biggest influencing factor on metabolic rate is overall calorie intake.
Do do this successfully, you must first know what your calorie intake is at the height of your calorie deficit. The idea is then to increase your calorie intake slightly each week in response to any weight gain, or lack thereof. Add 10–15g of carbs and 2-5g of fat (protein intake should be consistent) to your macronutrient intake and weigh yourself in a week’s time (weigh-ins should be first thing in the morning, after a bathroom trip, before any food or drink).
If your weight has gone down or remained the same then you can add another 10–15g of carbs and 2-5g of fat. If your weight went up then keep your calorie intake the same until your weight gain stalls once again.
The idea is to add in as many calories to your intake as possible while keeping weight gain at a minimum. This is possibly the best state to be in as muscle gain is possible, your hormonal response is optimised and your body fat will still be low, yet you are literally increasing the rate at which your metabolism functions each week.
Why? Over time this will allow you to eat more at lower levels of body fat and when it comes time to drop weight again, you’ll be able to diet on a substantially higher calorie intake than.
3. Lift heavy weights and eat enough protein
When clients aim to improve their health or their aesthetics, I’ll always favour weight training over endless hours of cardio. The reason for this is that muscle mass is the second most important contributing factor to metabolic health after overall calorie intake. A high percentage of muscle mass is favorable, which can only be achieved through progressive and proper weight training.
Focus on the big compound movements like the squat, bench press, overhead press, deadlift, pull-ups, hip thrusts and parallel bar dips. Learn these movements and get good at them. Stick to these simple exercises as the core of every program and work through a variety of rep ranges. Record your weekly progress and aim increase the weight you lift periodically, in addition to overall volume or intensity.
And don’t forget to consume sufficient protein to support the heightened muscle repair and maintenance requirements of training in this way.
I’d normally recommend 0.8g per kilogram of bodyweight for new gym-goers, while intermediates can bump it up to 1g. This will support the creation of metabolically-active muscle tissue.
4. Don’t train muscle groups in extreme isolation
If you’re trying to lose weight, why do you train arms? Compare the total workload your arms are able to do in isolation against the amount of work they can do during a session of rows, bench presses and overhead presses. It’s not comparable. There is no need to train like a bodybuilder if you want to lose weight. I would recommend full body routines 3-4 times a week. Opt for a push-pull-legs setup, or simply an upper body, lower body split. Pick 3-5 compound exercises and a maximum of 1-2 isolation movements per session that align with what muscle groups you are trying to target and stick to that for a minimum of six weeks.
5. Get your NEAT up
NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, basically refers to any calories that are used in your normal day-to-day activities. To boost NEAT you must maximise the time you spend standing, walking, taking stairs, and moving around throughout the day. These small efforts will add up to create a larger calorie deficit and improves the overall functioning of your metabolism.
6. Use HIIT cardio intelligently
There comes a point in every diet when lowering your calorie intake further becomes impractical, or impossible.
When you reach this point, add in HIIT cardio (if you are relatively healthy – obese individuals must get medical clearance before engaging in this form of exercise) to go widen the deficit. Add in intervals of any kind – the actual activity isn’t particularly important. Just do something you enjoy and that doesn’t place any unnecessary stress on your joints. Duration obviously depends on the fitness of the individual, but evidence would suggest that a weekly maximum of around 90 minutes allows for maximal calorie expenditure without forcing any aerobic adaptations.
Only after you’ve maxed out your weekly HIIT allocation of 90 minutes should you consider low intensity steady state cardio. Even then, I would never introduce it at more than an hour a week, unless under extreme circumstances.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.