On face value, burning body fat seems an easy enough task. Most of us know the basic formula of weight-loss; eat less energy (calories) than we’re burning.
However theory rarely translates perfectly to practise, and fat loss isn’t an exception to that rule. Sometimes that’s due to thinking you’re eating less than you’re burning but in reality still consuming too many calories. Though often it’s a matter of not understanding the relationship that plays out between the food coming in and the amount of energy we burn.
That’s why we wanted to list 5 of the most common mistakes that people make when it comes to burning body fat; outside of the obvious mistake of consuming too many calories.
How many of them do you make?
Eating too few calories
This shouldn’t come as any surprise, but eating too little energy from food results in your body reducing the amount of energy it burns. Like any animal, humans have adapted to environments where calories are sometimes sparse, so we’ve evolved a few mechanisms to slow things down when the calories aren’t coming in as they used to.
Metabolism can slow down as a normal adaptive process to dieting, but so too does the energy we burn when training, as well as the amount of activity we do throughout the day.
Drastic low-energy intake leads to less work being perform during training, as well as the reduction of muscle mass, both of which reduce total calorie expenditure. We also tend to do less incidental exercise, such as parking closer to the entrance at the shops, or taking the lift instead of the stairs. This is a subconscious behaviour which makes sense given when energy intake is low, we don’t feel like doing a whole lot. You may have experienced this before when you’ve reduced your calorie intake by a fair amount.
The impact on metabolism seems to be worse the longer and more frequently we diet. If you’ve got a history of yo-yo dieting, or going months and months on a really low calorie intake, there’s every chance you’ll find it harder to burn body fat going forward.
Low Protein Intake
Higher protein intake is perhaps the most important part of a dieting regime that is designed to burn body fat whilst maintaining muscle. That distinction is crucial to make. Dieting to purely drop kilograms on the scale isn’t an ideal approach to improving health or body composition. What we want to see is a reduction in body fat, whilst maintaining as much muscle as possible; if not growing some.
We know from research that higher protein diets are the best way to do just this. The figure seems to be a minimum of around 2g/kg bodyweight. So for an 80kg person, a minimum target of around 160g protein per day.
Lean meats and legumes are always going to be the easiest food source to start working towards that target. However supplemental food such as whey, casein or plant protein powders can be a convenient and reliable source to up your intake.
Not Sleeping Enough
The benefits to sleep – and problems associated with sleep-deprivation – are too numerous to explore in one short article. However three key factors that you will experience first-hand whenever your time on the pillow is shorter than it should be, are an impact on recovery, performance, and appetite.
The latter of those three factors includes an increased production in the hormone ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone. It’s easy enough to remember as it sounds like gremlin, which is exactly what it turns you into when you’re running on only a few hours sleep.
Its production is also increased when the body is in a calorie deficit. So if you were to combine dieting with poor sleep, your appetite for food – particularly highly palatable foods – is going to go through the roof.
Different people need differing amounts of sleep, but for those training and dieting 8 hours of quality sleep should be a minimum you shoot for. Get this right before you think about doing anything fancy to budge the weight.
Not Lifting Weights
You’ve got to lift weights if you’re trying to burn body fat. And if you’ve been training for some time, you’ve got to ensure they stay heavy. Muscle will stick around in response to stimulus. If that stimulus isn’t there, it’s happy to allow the body to use it as another energy source.
This point goes hand in hand with higher protein intake. You’ve got to be lifting and you’ve got to be getting enough protein in. Prioritise this over everything else.
Not Moving Enough
This isn’t to say you need to do excessive cardio. In fact, I’m not even talking about planned physical activity here. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is the fancy name we give to any activity that isn’t planned exercise, and includes everything from doing the chores to fidgeting.
The energy we burn through NEAT accounts for between 15-50% of the energy that we burn. Far more than most of us burn through physical activity, and the second largest contributor to energy expenditure outside of our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which keeps us alive.
As you can see though, the variation in what it contributes varies greatly from person to person, and can often be the difference between whether or not you’re burning body fat or piling on the pounds.
Aim for around 10,000 steps a day and move whenever you can. Not only will you improve your chances of burning body fat, it will also have benefits to your cardiovascular health and blood sugar control.
The Take Home Message?
Get the absolute fundamentals right. Lifting weights, moving more, sleeping better, and consuming enough protein, are going to be the absolute pillars of any fat loss plan.
From there, look to reduce your calorie intake, but don’t just drop them blindly. You’ll want to be consuming anywhere from 70-90% of your Daily Estimated Energy Requirement. If you don’t know what yours is, there’s some handy calculators online that will help you calculate it.