July 6


Sustainable Fat Loss: a Sports Nutritionists Quick Guide

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When it comes to sustainable fat loss, we need to fully understand the concept of energy balance. By that, I mean offsetting the calories we consume in our diet against the energy we burn off through exercise and activity. However, the topic of calories in versus calories out is more complex than most people realise. It is a common misconception that these numbers are fixed and easy to calculate accurately. Instead, achieving a calorie deficit is a dynamic process that varies depending on a lot of biological factors.


Managing Energy Balance is the Key to Sustainable Fat Loss

The calories out component encompasses the following factors:

  • Basal metabolic rate, which refers to the energy your body burns at rest for basic functions
  • General movement and activities
  • Training frequency, duration, and intensity
  • Thermic effect of food

Additionally, each of the above factors can be influenced by various elements such as:

  • Metabolic efficiency and adaptation
  • Medical conditions and medications
  • Body composition
  • Sleep duration and quality
  • And much more.

The Difficult Part of Managing Energy Balance - It's hard to track the number of calories you consume

Even if you track your calorie intake perfectly, there can still be discrepancies in the absorption of calories. Furthermore, food labelling is not always precise, and certain foods can be missed or inaccurately tracked. As a result, people often underreport their food intake unintentionally. Additionally, when you start tracking your intake, your behaviour may change slightly from your usual habits. All of these elements make it challenging to track calorie intake accurately.

Is it possible to reduce calories too much if I want to lose fat?

The body can react to low-calorie intake by decreasing energy expenditure. However, these metabolic reductions are typically less than the actual decrease in calorie intake.

While the lower your calorie intake, the more fat you can lose, there are still other reasons to avoid going extremely low. These include:

  • Increased restriction and FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out
  • Higher levels of hunger
  • Difficulty in maintaining the diet and sticking to it
  • Higher risk of muscle loss
  • May not have enough energy for exercise and training
  • History of disordered eating
  • Medical conditions that make low-calorie diets dangerous or impractical

Maintenance Phases can be Useful in your Sustainable Fat Loss Journey

If you need to lose a significant amount of fat, you do not need to do it all at once. You can break it up into phases, including maintenance phases.

By doing this for an extended period, you may reverse some of the metabolic adaptations that have occurred. Even shorter breaks can have benefits, such as reducing hunger and addressing the psychological aspects of dieting.

Weight Loss, Fat Loss and Protein Intake

If your goal is to lose fat, it is slightly different from wanting to lose weight. A low-protein diet during a calorie deficit can result in a greater loss of muscle mass.

By having more protein within the same number of calories, you are likely to lose less muscle and more fat mass. Protein is also an excellent tool for satiety. For this reason, protein should be a priority when looking to lose fat.

The recommended daily intake is 1.6-2.2g/kg of body weight per day. If you are particularly lean, you may need slightly more protein, and if you have a lot of body fat, you may need slightly less.

Low Carbohydrate versus Low Fat intake

In a controlled environment where calories and protein are matched, both low carb and low-fat diets result in similar fat loss over an extended period. The best approach is one that you can consistently maintain, whether it is low carb, low fat, or a more moderate approach.

Pushing through a fat loss plateau - simple but effective nutrition advice

To break through a plateau, you can consider the following options:

  • Reduce calories further, either by being more consistent or through a planned reduction in calories
  • Increase energy expenditure through additional exercise or movement
  • Take a break from the calorie deficit and prepare for the future
  • Intentionally aim for maintenance calories for a while before going into a deficit again

Nutrition for Fat Loss Take-Home Tips

To achieve fat loss, try the following strategies:

  • Choose a calorie deficit that is achievable for you
  • Aim to eat more lower calorie foods so that you can have more actual food while reducing your overall energy intake.
  • Increasing your fibre intake to 30g per day or more can help manage your appetite.
  • Likewise, having a higher protein intake can help too.
  • Avoid becoming to restrictive with your diet and aim to keep a flexible approach.
  • Be mindful of liquid calories. Beverages can be a sneaky source of calories that can add up quickly. Stick to water, unsweetened tea or coffee, or other low-calorie options.
  • Plan ahead. Planning your meals and snacks ahead of time can help you stay on track with your calorie goals and prevent impulsive eating.
  • Find healthier alternatives to your favourite foods. You don't have to completely give up your favourite foods, but you can try to find healthier alternatives. For example, swap out high-calorie snacks for fruits or vegetables.
  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can disrupt your metabolism and hormones, making it harder to lose weight.
  • Manage stress. High levels of stress can lead to overeating and weight gain. Finding ways to manage stress, such as exercise or meditation, can help with fat loss.

Remember, sustainable fat loss takes time and consistency. Don't get discouraged if progress seems slow, and keep experimenting with different strategies until you find what works best for you.

Paul Stokes Perth Personal Trainer Sports Nutritionist Group Fitness Instructor Massage Therapist

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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