Is your short-term beach bod dream the recipe for a long-term wellbeing nightmare?
Somehow, summer is already breaking through and with beach season looming, we’re all getting back on the scales. Even if you managed to stick to that New Year’s resolution all those months ago – and well done if you did! – the sunny weather will always have us looking in the mirror and asking, ‘How can I push my body transformation further? How can I look my best on the sand? Is it too late for my beach bod?’
Everywhere you turn for answers, you’ll find crash diets, last-minute workout overhauls and promises of your dream figure in record time. Maybe you’ve even spotted the ads for something more drastic like a wonder diet pill or some other untried and untested short-term ‘fix’.
However, seeing as you’re reading this, we know you’re after a more researched and safe strategy. Well, you’ve come to the right place! At Modius Health, we believe that knowledge is power and that it’ll help you to not only set a realistic goal, but achieve it, too.
The long run
Let’s tee this article up with the basics on a short-term diet and a long-term nutrition plan.
Ryan Raman at Healthline explains: “most studies show that people who lose weight slowly are more likely to keep it off long-term. Losing weight slowly also comes with far fewer health risks.”
Now, this brings us back to a question we’ve come up against time and time again: what are you actually trying to lose? Your goal may be to simply see the numbers on the scales drop, but this doesn’t take into account the fact that if you train – and more importantly, build muscle while you burn fat – your bodyweight might not differ all that much. What we’re more interested in is fat loss and that means, even if your first milestone is a short-term one, your long-term well-being should be the endgame.
Nutrition expert at the University of Surrey, Dr. Adam Collins, has assessed that “The problem is in most diets, people lose the weight and then return to their original diet/lifestyle.” For many of us, starting a cleaner diet plan goes in tandem with an overall health-kick: workouts, more regular sleep pattern, mindfulness, you name it! Make sure you’re seeing your nutrition plan as one piece of the pie. Sorry, probably not the best time to talk about pie.
However, a very important slice it is. It’s a common maxim heard in gyms and by water-coolers that nutrition is 80% of the battle. With that in mind, let’s tuck in and uncover some insights on your summer shred diet plan.
Planned long in advance or late in the game, every body-shaping goal is built on the foundation of food. As Jeff Cavaliere, elite trainer at Athlean-X, explains:
“It starts and ends – always – with nutrition, especially if you’re talking about trying to make fast changes. I don’t care whether your goal is to try to add muscle in this short period of time to get ready or if you’re trying to lose body fat. Both of them are going to need to be supported by proper nutrition.”
Proper nutrition. That means macros, vitamins, minerals – all the essentials – and these can be hard to get through a last-minute crash diets. According to Franziska Spritzler, a dietitian writing for Healthline, “‘Quick-fix’ approaches may lead to health problems, disordered eating and regaining more weight than you lost”.
If you’re unsure of what cutting certain foods out of your diet will mean in terms of your overall nutritional intake, check out our Diet Hacks blog.
As a general rule of thumb, trainers including Jeff Cavaliere and Rob Lipsett recommend eating a protein-rich diet that keeps you in a hypocaloric state to build muscle and lose fat concurrently. Cavaliere is on-hand with the science: “Being able to add muscle, you need to be in a state of positive nitrogen balance, you need to be in a state of positive protein synthesis.” This means you need to be consuming less calories than you’re burning off, but that doesn’t mean you need to go on some intense deprivation diet…
Will it blend?
Juice cleanses and detoxes are a logical way of flushing all that junk out of your body to kick-off a new you, right? Well, maybe not.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study that ran for 28 weeks, during which time a group of obese women were given a range of weight-loss plans. “By the end of the study, significantly more binge eating occurred in the liquid meal replacement group”
A cleanse diet can be as low as 500 calories per day – and that’s low! While people do often report immediate results, this tends to be a mix of losses:
- Primarily, your body could shed water weight, which is not an overly maintainable approach.
- As you’ve gone for an extreme version, you are definitely adhering to the hypocaloric state, and your body will start burning through fat. But that’s not all…
- Your body is going to start burning into your muscle stores, and that’s not the goal here.
Spritzler explains: “Muscle loss isn't surprising, given that cleanses usually provide fewer than 20 grams of protein per day. To protect muscle health, adults need at least 0.45 grams of protein per pound (1 gram per kilogram), or a minimum of 50 grams daily.”
Crash course on malnutrition
In 2016, The Obesity Society Research Journal published the findings of varying low-calorie diets’ impact on muscle loss. As Ryan Raman at Healthline summarises:
“Researchers put 25 people on a very low-calorie diet of 500 calories per day for 5 weeks. They also put 22 people on a low-calorie diet of 1,250 calories per day for 12 weeks. After the study, the researchers found that both groups had lost similar amounts of weight. However, the people who followed the very low-calorie diet lost over six times as much muscle as those on the low-calorie diet.”
If your body starts to break down muscle in pursuit of your weight-loss goal, in the end, the reaction is counter-productive. London-based GP Dr. Julianne Barry notes that "Muscle breakdown is much greater with extreme dieting, rather than a steady prolonged approach. Less muscle reduces your metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn while resting and can ultimately result in weight gain later on." Remember, every pound of muscle you keep burns an extra 50 calories per day.
Dr. Barry has also attested that the deprivation of minerals and vitamins that crash-dieting can lead to will not only risk weakening the immune system, but it may also affect your mental health:
"While a crash diet may help you lose those extra pounds in time for that week on the Costa Del Sol, the results are generally short-lived and can ultimately have a negative impact on your body and mind."
Instead of dramatically dropping the calories all in one go, online fitness entrepreneur Rob Lipsett recommends a staggered approach: “When cutting or losing fat, you want to keep your calories as high as possible and slowly lower them down. Why? Because what happens if you drop your calories super low and fat loss stalls, you’ve left yourself no options.”
Lipsett also points out that when you reach this point, you enter a catabolic state. That means your body is in ‘breakdown mode’ rather than ‘build-up mode’.
How much can I aim to lose?
Now, everything you’ve read so far is laying down your foundation of knowledge, but that doesn’t stop summer from fast approaching. With that in mind, slowing down your metabolism isn’t the goal. Ryan Raman reports that “Several studies have found that losing weight fast by eating fewer calories may cause you to burn up to 23% fewer calories per day.”
More than that, crash dieting can, in fact, cause the number of fat cells in your body to increase! “The shrinking of your fat cells during a crash diet actually drives the production of new fat cells. Much of the weight loss from crash diets is fluid. But you’re also at risk of losing body protein as your body tries to maintain blood glucose levels by gluconeogensesis – basically melting your muscles into sugar.”
If you are serious about ditching the weight as quickly and efficiently (and healthily!) as possible, Mark Bohannon, Head PT at Ultimate Performance Manchester advises, “You should be aiming to drop around 1-2 lbs of body fat per week.”
How do you do it? Well, read on…
What to eat and when to eat it
One of the most prominent ‘diet tips’ doing the rounds is to drop carbs. We’ve covered this notion a number of times in our other blogs, but this summary from Jay Willis at GQ lays down the principles:
“Carbohydrates are found in pretty much everything that we eat, and cutting them altogether would be both unnecessary and wildly impractical. But you can get all the carbohydrates you need from a few servings of fruit combined with your intake of foods that are sources of lean protein, like beans or dairy. It's the elimination of starches — foods with high energy density and minimal nutritional value like breads and pastas — that will have the most significant impact on your precise degree of shirtless season-readiness.”
In order to help your body utilise carbs in the most efficient way, a number of nutritionists and trainers advocate what is known as ‘carb cycling’. This is when you adjust your carb intake to be higher on the days that you’re using those carbs – i.e. the days you are training. This can be adapted beyond just carbs, but according to Collette Naden at Women magazine, it could potentially give you the edge on the last-minute cutting schedule: “[Calorie cycling] is a great tool for those looking to drop body fat. By allowing your metabolism to constantly adjust to your dietary routine it prevents it from slowing down and taking it easy, which is a large factor in why many of us struggle to lose weight.”
Any sort of dietary cycling or reduction of a specific food group tends to restrict your meal options and eating can become quite repetitive. That might sound bad, but it’s actually good news! Nutrition researcher David Katz, MD won't overexcite his taste buds while trying to lose weight: "The more variety of foods and flavors you introduce, the more appetite is stimulated. If your diet resembles an all-you-can-eat buffet, you're going to eat a lot."
Don’t believe us? Just check out the plethora of videos where actors like Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman talk about preparing for their roles. It’s all chicken, fish, vegetables and the occasional bit of brown rice. Bland, but the results are literally superheroic.
Sweat it out
Now, as for the other 20%...
There are no two ways about it, you need to get calories out and your exercise routine is going to need to move up at least a gear. However, just like research and tactics are your allies in the kitchen, there are ways to train smarter, too. Our Weights vs Cardio blog will give you the rundown on plenty of exercise plans, but we’ve got some targeted advice for your beach bod blitz:
First up, High Intensity Interval Training. This form of start-stop cardio will help target your fast twitch muscle fibres. These are smaller fibres that use up plenty of calories to recover post-exercise. With HIIT, you won’t blaze as many calories during your workout, but overall with the afterburn, your metabolism will be a furnace. Ross Edgley at GQ recommends combining sprints and lifting heavy weights to target the fast twitch gains.
The beauty of this approach is it will stop you from burning out. Last-minute binge exercising can be as detrimental as extreme dieting. Gabrielle Union’s personal trainer Ahmad Baari puts the focus on the quality of your reps in order to stimulate muscle growth: "Anything more will be creating an overstressed system. Your body reads stress as a signal to hold onto stored fat instead of releasing it into the bloodstream to be used as fuel to replenish your muscles." Not to mention the increased risk of injury.
If you’re lucky enough to already be experiencing the summer sun’s warm rays, your workout plan may have just got a whole lot brighter!
Working out in warm environments has been shown to suppress appetite. Laura Tedesco at Women’s Health explains that “In a 2013 study, people who worked out in a hot environment (86° F) ate less afterward than those who exercised in a cooler setting (50° F). This suggests that sweltering temperatures may, in fact, reduce your desire to eat—even after you've done a tough workout.”
Not only will the temperature increase help you build a sweat and decrease the cravings, it is also great for your mental well-being, which will keep your mindset focused on sticking to your goal. According to a study of over 11,000 people, The Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that “those who incorporated some outdoor workouts into their routine logged more than twice as much exercise as those who stuck to only outdoor workouts.”
Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
Food is your secret weapon for summer. Collette Naden summarises: “The key to getting a flat stomach or ripped abs all comes down to what you put in your mouth. An approach we advise many to follow is an 80:20 rule. 80% diet and 20% exercise. No matter how hard you are working in the gym, you cannot out train a bad diet.”
It's only a matter of weeks until the swimsuits will be on, and celeb trainer Juliet Kaska (who is the pioneer behind Stacy Kiebler’s toned physique) knows exactly how important willpower is at this time: "Every bite and every second counts. If [my clients] aren't serious about it, it doesn't matter what I tell them to do, and the time we spend together working out won't matter."
Just like you can outthink your nutrition plan and workout schedule, why not outsmart your cravings? The Modius headset works by keeping your appetite at bay, meaning you’re more likely to stick to your goal and achieve that dream bod. That end result may come this summer or after, the important thing is that you keep to it and do your best to keep everything in moderation with all the BBQs, ice creams and summer cocktails!
And a final healthy tip to help you see to 2020 and beyond: summer bodies are made in the winter. So, plan ahead and listen to Jeff Cavaliere: “Don’t put yourself in the same position again next year!”