Disclaimer: Please seek the help of a professional when embarking on a health and fitness journey. These tips are for educational purposes and come from trainers and people who have had success reaching their fitness goals on a plant-based vegan diet. If you want specific dietary recommendations please see my services.
Since getting serious about fitness this year I’ve been pouring over the internet researching and talking to every fitness professional that I know. I’ve looked at hundreds of articles, research studies, and blogs learning all I can about lifting weights, the best way to eat and time my meals around workouts, and what is possible with my genetics. Experimenting with my own body, trying this or that for a month, and tracking my progress in a workout journal has been very helpful! I found that most women want to lose weight (or body fat) and gain muscle. What I found out for myself and in my research; those are two different goals with different plans of actions. But only slightly different.
Would you like to lose weight or body fat? If you are unhappy with your body and want to lose weight then dropping body fat must be your main focus and you must train and eat for that goal.
If you would like to build muscle mass then that must be your main focus and you must eat and train for that goal.
If you want to lose body fat focus on losing body fat with the intention of building muscle. I say that because if you are lifting heavy you will build some muscle. If you are brand new to lifting you will experience “newbie gains”, meaning you will have better luck at building muscle while burning fat. You will see some muscle growth but if you are eating a calorie deficient diet and doing lots of cardio that can inhibit your muscle growth.
The lifting part is crucial to any weight-loss program. Why? Because muscle burns fat and calories even after you are done with your workout. I did not see the results I wanted in my physique until I started lifting weights. Lifting heavy, 5 times a week. I did that way more than doing cardio. And I got to eat more. It’s brilliant. You can not reach your goals wasting your life away on the treadmill or elliptical. Yes you can lose some weight but body transformation happens when you lift weights!! It’s also great for bone health so just do it ok?
And don’t be scared. You will not “get bulky” or “look like a man”. Unless you are taking steroids you will never look manly. When looking at me you can tell I work out, but you can’t really see how much muscle I really have until I flex it. The amount of muscle that shows on your body is up to you and your overall plan of action will determine what your physique will look like. Understand that the scale may not change (at least at first), and you may get bigger before you get smaller because you are building some muscle while the body fat is falling away. My weight stayed exactly the same over 12 weeks but I lost 4% bodyfat during my contest prep. My goal then wasn’t to “build muscle” it was more to “lose body fat” so I felt comfortable stepping on stage in a bikini.
Here are some general tips if you want to lose body fat:
Diet is most important!
1. Cut out all processed food/junk food, pastries, bread, anything in a package, no sugar, no alcohol. Eat whole unprocessed plant-foods. The more vegetables the better.
2. Reduce salt and sodium intake. Making your food at home helps with this.
3. Eat 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism pumping. Don’t ever get to the point where you are “starving”.
4. Time your meals around your workout. Have carbs/protein/fat before your lifting session and carbs/protein no fat after.
5. Stick with complex carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats, yams and sweet potatoes.
6. Do not under-eat or reduce your calories too much. Use this calculator to calculate how many calories you need and track your food daily until you get on a schedule. Input your “Fat Loss” calories into MyFitnessPal manually rather than using their standard weight loss calculation. Change your goal on MFP to “maintain” otherwise it defaults everyone to 1200 calories and that is WAY TOO LOW. On your workout days you will need to make up some of the calories burned. If you under-eat you will not have the energy to push hard in your workouts and you will likely plateau.
7. Drink plenty of water, up to a gallon a day.
8. Some people do really well on high raw/low fat and this could give you quicker results. As long as you are meeting your calorie needs and hitting your macros doesn’t hurt to try it.
9. Eat more calories on your lifting days. Food is fuel.
10. Consistency is key. Draw up a plan and stick to it. Some suggest changing it every 3-4 weeks.
11. Get good sleep, at least 7-8 hours! The body needs to repair itself.
12. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet that focuses on good quality carbs and protein (with lots of veggies). Yes you must pay attention to how much protein you eat!! Trust me. You may benefit from having a good quality protein shake after lifting to ensure you get enough. This allows you to get the protein to your muscles without extra calories.
13. Most importantly, BE PATIENT. Body transformation takes time. Take progress photos. Keep going. You may not see results for months but have faith that things are changing even if you can’t see it!
The gym is your friend. Hire a trainer if you can!
1. Heavy weight training should be incorporated into your weekly plan. At least 3x a week up to 5x.
2. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has shown to give the best results for fat loss not steady state cardio (like on a treadmill for an hour). There are many websites that have videos you can follow along with or many people have had success with T25, Insanity, P90X and the like. If you can do your HIIT in the morning fasted that will stimulate fat loss.
If my goal was to maintain my weight after my competition I would lift weights 3x a week, do HIIT twice a week, maybe do some steady state cardio a few times a week and eat my maintenance calories. That’s what I would have done if I didn’t want to gain muscle mass.
What if your goal is to put on muscle mass? I will talk about this in another blog post next week!!
Don’t forget muscle is more dense than fat but takes up less space on your body. A woman can weigh 135 and have high body fat and another women can weigh 135 with muscle and super low body fat. That’s why we should all THROW OUT OUR SCALES. So you may have this target number for the scale that you want to reach, but you have to throw out that idea and just use the mirror and your clothes to know if you are reaching your ideal body shape. Measurements and progress photos are very helpful too. Get an accurate body fat % reading done once a month.
Hope that is helpful! As you start lifting, the muscle you build is going to help you lose body fat automatically but losing body fat and gaining muscle are TWO different goals with two different strategies.
Have some helpful tips for what worked for you in reaching your health and fitness goals? Did you start seeing results when you incorporated weight lifting into your routine? Share with us in the comments!