To get a defined, enviable physique, a man needs to lose body fat -- not just overall weight. Having too much body fat puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, while shedding fat can help you feel healthier, fitter and more energized. You can lose fat by reducing calories, tweaking the types of foods you eat and spending extra time at the gym -- especially on the weight room floor.
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A Calorie Deficit for Fat Loss
A safe and sustainable rate of loss is between 1/2 and 2 pounds per week. If you're close to your goal weight, but want to change your body composition so that you lean out and have less fat with more muscle, aim for the lower end of the range. You can expect to lose about 1 percent body fat per month.
A pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories, so if you create a deficit of between 250 and 1,000 calories per day, you'll lose the 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. Use an online calculator or consult with a dietitian to figure your calorie needs to maintain your weight; then subtract the calories for weight loss. Consider your age, size and activity level.
Once you know your daily calorie needs, aim to burn an additional 125 to 500 calories through exercise daily and simultaneously eat 125 to 500 calories fewer each day to create the deficit. Don't go below 1,600 calories daily though, as most men need that minimum number to provide adequate nutrition.
Meal Planning for Men
A whole foods diet that emphasizes quality protein can help you lose fat. Protein helps prevent muscle loss as you create a calorie deficit, and it supports gym work to build muscle. Protein can also make you feel more satisfied at meals, so you're inclined to eat less. Aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein at meals, and a smaller serving at snacks between meals. Opt for eggs, low-fat Greek yogurt, chicken or turkey breast, salmon, lean beef and pork or tofu as high-quality sources of protein.
Whole grains, fresh vegetables and fresh fruits provide fiber, which slows digestion and helps you feel full. Enjoy a 1/2 cup to 1 cup of whole grains at most meals and a generous handful or two of fibrous vegetables. Include healthy fats for vitamin absorption and brain health; serve a thumb-sized dollop of unsaturated fat at two or three of your meals. Choose nuts, avocado, seeds or olive oil over fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy and fried foods.
Fat-loss meals include hard-boiled eggs with a whole wheat English muffin and an orange; vegetables stir-fried with chicken breast served over rice; and lean flank steak broiled alongside a medium-sized sweet potato and a large green salad topped with olive oil and lemon juice. Snack on fruit paired with a source of protein, like low-fat string cheese, whey protein or low-fat cottage cheese.
Move More to Lose Body Fat
Make working out a priority. When you cut calories and don't exercise, you lose at least 1/4 pound of muscle for every pound you lose overall. Cardiovascular exercise, such as walking or jogging, helps you burn calories, boosts heart and respiratory health and improves your stamina. You'll need to clock some serious gym time -- at least 250 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardio per week, according to The American College of Sports Medicine.
Make at least some of those workouts high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, workouts. A HIIT workout involves alternating short bouts of very high-intensity cardio with equal or slightly longer periods of easy work. For example, cycle at an all-out pace for four minutes and pedal easily for two minutes, alternating the two for a 45-minute session. A paper published in the Journal of Obesity in 2011 showed that this approach to workouts is more effective in helping the body burn fat when compared to steady-state cardiovascular work.
Weight Training to Lose Fat
Cardiovascular exercise doesn't notably help you maintain and build muscle mass, though. A study published by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2014 showed that healthy men who performed 20 minutes of weight training daily accumulated less fat as they got older than men who did 20 minutes of cardio training daily. The increase in muscle mass helps you burn more calories all day long because muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue. This boosts your metabolism so it's easier to create a calorie deficit and lose fat.
You don't have to make it a daily habit to get results. Hit the weight room at least twice per week to build muscle and drop fat. At each of these workouts, address every major muscle with a comprehensive plan that involves compound, or multi-joint, exercises such as squats, rows, deadlifts, chest presses and extensions. You activate multiple muscles with each move and work the body in a way that builds functional strength.
When you're first starting out, one set of eight to 12 repetitions of each move is sufficient. Use a weight that feels very challenging by the last two or three repetitions. After a few weeks and as you feel stronger, increase your weight and number of sets to gain more results. You can also add another day or two of weight training, but allow at least 48 hours before working the same muscles again, so that you have enough time to recover.
Patience With Weight Loss
While you'll likely see strength and fitness gains within just a few weeks, losing fat takes time. You may not see the visual proof of your efforts for several months.
Losing weight fast with too aggressive of a calorie deficit can backfire. It usually results in less fat loss and more loss of lean tissue. When you eat fewer than 1,600 calories, your body's metabolic rate naturally slows down. Your body starts to use hard-earned muscle for fuel because it wants to preserve its fat stores. The scale may seem like you're losing weight quickly, but it's largely water and lean mass rather than fat.
Be patient and realize that even when you lose just 5 to 10 percent of your total weight, you'll improve health markers such as cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels.