Some Basics of Getting Lean, by Seth Kalb

It’s that time of year again.  The cardio room at the gym becomes more busy as so many of us try and trim down for the beach.  So it seemed appropriate to write a blog for this page on the subject of leaning out as far as what to do in the gym.


Before I cover some basic pointers I would like to say a few things about losing weight.  The ideas that many folks share about weight loss in general and how to do it does not always lead to the best end results.  With women especially, the almighty bathroom scale dictates whether or not you are on the right track.  Want my advice?  Put your scale away.  You don’t need to stand on it more than once a week to see if you’re making progress and even then it can be misleading.  Your water weight will go up and down daily depending on what you ate and did the day before.  Also, muscle weighs about 3 times as much as fat so if you are working out and eating right your over all weight may stay the same but you’re losing fat and gaining muscle.  I have trained many people who wanted to “get ripped” and trust me, your two best gauges for fat loss are the mirror and how your clothes are fitting you compared to the previous week/month.  After all, you want to lose weight to look good, right?  So who cares what the scale says?  If the mirror says you look good then you are on the right track.


Not everyone has the same fitness goals.  Some people just want to trim down while others want hard chiseled muscles with a little covering of skin.  Either way, the basics apply.   If you’re the latter though, there are extra principles we will address at a later time.  Todays discussion is very general and for everyone.


Being a competitive body builder I can tell you that getting down to the low single digits in body fat percentage is tricky.  This may not be your end goal and that is totally fine.  But the same principles work either way.  There are some rules that are universal as to how the body works.  Then there are some that are not.  Some people respond better to lower carbs and higher fats.  Others the opposite.  You have to experiment and see.  So today we are going to cover the basic tips that will work for anyone in the gym.


First, there is an expression that good abs are made in the kitchen.  In my experience this is very true.  There is no such thing as spot reduction.  So save yourself the countless sit-ups to get a 6 pack if you aren’t under 10% body fat, because no one will see them anyway.


Second, make sure you EAT!  When I first started competing I was amazed how much food I had to eat to get lean.  Do not starve yourself.  The body was created and designed (very brilliantly) to be a survival mechanism.  The body does not know when the next famine is coming or that your pantry is full.  It is programed to slow down your metabolism if it senses that you are starving.  Hence eat too little for too long and you will burn muscle, not fat, for energy.  Again, this will result in over all weight loss but I assure you, you will not be happy when you take your shirt off.  The trick here is to eat the right kinds of food at the right times.  It’s called nutrient timing.  And it’s critical for loosing fat and not muscle.


Proper nutrient timing would go something like this:  you eat 5 to 7 smaller meals a day.  Lean protein with each meal.  No exceptions.  You want a steady stream of aminos in your blood all day.  Like an iv drip.  Your carbs and fats will be rotated, however.  Carbohydrates are your primary energy source.  Cut them too low and your body will burn muscle eventually.  The fact is the body does not want to lose fat.  Why do you think it makes it so easily and holds onto it so stubbornly?  Again, your body was made to survive a famine.  So fat is your bodies reserve fuel tank.  Feed yourself throughout the day so it does not think you are starving.  Give yourself enough carbs as to meet your activity level and no more.  Do NOT eliminate fat from your diet or your hormones will all take a nose-dive and you’ll be moody on top of being hungry.


I cannot tell you exactly how many calories and carbs to eat here, obviously.  But a good starting place is to eat protein with each meal.  Split your carbs up into 3 meals.  Eat carbs with breakfast, your pre workout meal, and your post workout meal.  The other meals of the day lower the carbs and increase your fats.   By doing this your body will have the energy source for your workouts but wont have any left that will “spill over” into fat reserves.  If you ever find yourself getting sluggish, or after a few weeks your weight loss plateaus then you need to increase (not decrease) your carbs.  Get your metabolism going again.  I should also add here that a technique called carb cycling is very helpful.   Basically eat more carbs on your heavy workout days and fewer on your off days.  Keep the body guessing.  It has an amazing ability to adapt to whatever you are doing so changing it up will keep your metabolism going longer.


When it comes to fat loss I also suggest you train to put on muscle.  The more muscle you have the more fat your body burns.  Plain and simple.  Hard workouts with resistance training is the way to go.  You will burn a lot more calories and elevate your metabolism for far longer by weight training than you will killing yourself with cardio.   Cardio has its place but it is NOT the go to that so many think it is.  Women especially need to consider this.  Many times I have heard women say something like they do not want to lift weights because they do not want to look like a man.  Ladies, I assure you, without enough steroids to kill a horse or insane genetics you will never look like a man by lifting weights.  What you will get is firm arms and legs while burning unwanted fat.


So lastly, lets discuss cardio.  Doing hours of cardio in and of itself will result in weight loss.  But it will not result in the hard body that you are probably looking for.  The best I ever looked on stage was the show I did the least amount of cardio for.  So the best way to use cardio is to introduce it and increase it over time as your results slow down.  For example, the best time to do cardio for fat loss is fasted in the morning.  There is a lot of debate on this but my experience is that it’s true.  However, the 2nd best (and way more convenient) time is right after you’ve trained with weights.  In fact, it is almost equally as good.  Why?  Because the reason fasted cardio works so well is because there is no sugar in your blood stream to burn for energy.  So in theory your body will oxidize fat for fuel.  The same thing happens during your weight lifting session.  Your body burns through all its sugar and starts to oxidize fat.  When you are finished with a 45 minute weight session, there is fat that your body has released for fuel in your blood stream.   If you do not burn it off it will find its way back into fat storage.  So a great use of cardio would be to burn off any fat in your blood that you can.  So immediately after you finish your resistance training jump on the cardio machine of your choice and hit it at a steady pace for 10 to 15 minutes.  That’s it.  More is not better.  I promise if you add this one thing to your workouts you will burn some fat.


I could go on each one of these points for hours but I will wrap it up here.  I am very interested in your questions and comments.  It may be a future subject for a blog.   So fire away.

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