You don't need supplements and gimmicky diet plans to help you lose body fat. To achieve a better ratio of lean mass to fat, eat moderate portions of whole, unprocessed foods and move more to train your heart and muscles.
An improved body composition bolsters your health, improves long-term weight control and gives you energy. Use an all-natural approach of eating right and exercising to become leaner and healthier.
Calculate Your Calorie Needs
Losing fat requires creating an energy deficit through dietary intervention. Eat less and move more so your body will use some of your fat stores to exercise and to fuel your daily functions.
To determine a calorie intake that provides adequate fuel but helps you drop pounds, use an online calculator. Look for one that calculates your daily maintenance needs when you input your weight, height, age, gender and activity level.
Then, create a deficit by adding more activity, trimming portion sizes and choosing lower calorie foods. A deficit of between 250 and 1,000 calories yields a loss of 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. If you're close to your goal weight, aim for the lower rate of loss. If you have a significant amount of weight to lose, aim for the higher end.
Too drastic of a calorie reduction can backfire and cause you to lose lean muscle mass. Women should eat at least 1,200 calories per day; men shouldn't have less than 1,800 calories.
Eat Protein to Lose Body Fat
Lean proteins are key to fat loss because they contribute to feelings of fullness and they take slightly more calories to digest than fats or carbohydrates. Consuming adequate protein also helps maintain and build lean muscle mass. Muscle mass boosts your metabolism and, when you build more muscle, shifts your body's ratio of fat to lean mass so your overall body composition is healthier.
Aim to consume about 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal, with another 10 to 15 grams at one or two snacks — or 0.6 and 0.9 grams per pound of body weight per day. For a 140-pound person, that's 84 to 126 grams a day. Optimal protein choices include eggs, low-fat dairy, fish and shellfish, white-meat poultry and lean beef.
Eat a snack that has ample protein after your strong strength-training workout to help fat loss. The protein aids in muscle-building and recovery. Examples of appropriate snacks include a smoothie made with berries, almond milk and whey protein; half a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread; or, two hard-boiled eggs with a banana.
Crowd Out Poor-Quality Calories
Use vegetables, fruits and whole grains to crowd out calories from processed foods made with refined grains and sugar. The fiber in vegetables, fruits and whole grains promotes fat loss by helping you feel full with moderate servings. The vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in these foods also contribute to a healthy, energetic body.
A little unsaturated fat at meals helps you stay satisfied and supports important bodily functions like vitamin absorption. Enjoy an ounce of nuts at snack time for a serving of healthy fats. Layer a few slices of avocado on your sandwich at lunch or drizzle olive oil on your dinner salad.
At each meal, plan on having 1/2 to 1 cup of whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa or whole-wheat bread. When you feel like seconds, reach for extra helpings of watery vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, snap peas, cauliflower or peppers, which have few calories, but can satisfy your urge to eat.
Incorporate grains and veggies at snack time, too, along with protein. For example, have low-fat Greek yogurt with blueberries or all-natural turkey breast with woven wheat crackers.
Keep your portions of all foods under control. Stick to your calorie deficit, because overeating any foods — even if they're healthy foods — can cause fat loss to stall.
Do Cardio to Lose Fat
Cardiovascular activity is often considered the key to fat loss, because after all, running, cycling, hiking, swimming and dancing burn calories. To lose a significant amount of weight, aim for at least 250 minutes of cardio per week, suggests the American College of Sports Medicine.
Interval training can boost your fat loss, according to a paper published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Obesity. During two or three cardio workouts per week, up your intensity to a very high level for a minute or two. Follow these bursts with an equal period of more moderate-intensity work. High-intensity interval training improves your fitness levels while also improving your body's ability to burn fat.
Use Resistance Training to Better Your Body Composition
Make resistance training part of your exercise regimen — or, as you drop weight — a quarter of every pound you lose will be in the form of lean muscle mass. Those new to strength training benefit from just one set of eight to 12 repetitions of an exercise for every major muscle group — including the arms, legs, shoulders, chest, back, hips and abs.
As 12 repetitions of an exercise become doable, add 5 to 10 percent more weight and additional sets. Over time, change the order and methods of exercise — switch from machines to dumbbells, for example — and add new moves. These changes keep your body from reaching a plateau so you will continue to see results.
- MedLine Plus: Aging Changes in Body Shape
- American Council on Exercise: What Are the Guidelines for Percentage of Body Fat Loss?
- Experience Life: Protein Power
- Ask the Dietitian: Overweight and Weight Loss
- American College of Sports Medicine: Metabolism Is Modifiable With the Right Lifestyle Changes
- American Colleges of Sports Medicine: ACSM Position Stand on Physical Activity and Weight Loss
- Journal of Obesity: High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss
- American Council on Exercise: Strength Training 101