Eat less and exercise more. This doesn’t work for me anymore.
That simple two-step process works great for the beginner: The woman who has just stepped foot into the gym for the first time and needs a total diet overhaul and to get moving with some basic exercises like body weight squats, push-ups and non-impact conditioning. Then, we cut the calories down and take out some processed food.
Boom. Instant results.
Amazing. I’m the best trainer ever.
Well, not so fast. What happens when that woman is now 22% body fat, but has hit a major plateau because she continues to eat less and exercise more?
She’s training 6 days per week and eating a whopping 1200 calories each day, under 100 grams of carbs and feeling like total garbage.
That eat less and exercise more philosophy is now hurting this woman. I am speaking from experience because I've had countless clients come to me when they have reached this point. They are desperately trying to maintain a sub-20% body fat for no reason other than because they want to hit that number. Not paying particular attention to the fact that they feel like complete and utter crap while trying to do so. But, they just have to hit that number. So the best option seems to be to eat less (particularly carbs) and train even harder. This will result in losing muscle and surely every week a new nagging injury will pop up.
How can we make a change to become a happier, healthier person and achieve that sub-20% body fat? It may take a while to break the cycle. The first thing that may seem counter-intuitive is to taper off your training and you will notice any injuries you may have reducing. Next try increased your carb intake, which will subsequently increase your calories. Now you will notice your gains in the weight room increasing. Then stop IF (intermittent fasting), and you'll feel even better. Who knew that a few hundred calories pre deadlift session would actually make a difference?
Where is this recovering 1200 calorie, no muscle and carb fearing woman today?
Eating a 1800-2000 calorie diet, hitting no less than 150 grams of carbs per day, sleeping 8 hours a night and staying consistently under 20% body fat. It can be done and there are five simple steps to help you bust through that plateau.
#1: Train Fewer Days
I recommend hitting 4 solid training sessions each week and leaving an open day for either sprints or for just "messing around.” I use this messing around day with my clients for a high intensity workout which will include things like handstand push-ups, pistol squats and kettlebell work. During the 4 training sessions for the week, I’ll focus on a lower body day, an upper body push day, an upper body pull day (with deadlifts incorporated so I can hit them twice a week) and a full body or strongman-type circuit.
#2: Eat More
Instead of cycling carbs based on workout days and off days, simply stay with a set number each day. By increasing your carb intake everyday you will noticed several positive changes, primarily in terms energy. You'll be able to lift more and sustain more volume on your hypertrophy days. Your energy levels will be more consistent throughout the day, no longer getting a mid-day crash.
All in all, most of my clients will increase their calories by 600-800 per day. You may need to up yours only a few hundred calories initially. Time your carbohydrates so you take them in pre and post workout and focus on 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
#3: Hit The Weights Harder
When these clients come to me with no muscle, they had been doing a lot of full body circuits, which are great for initial fat loss. But once they had gotten to a certain point if you want to continue to ramp up your metabolism we must put on some muscle and that just wasn’t happening (also because of that whole not eating enough thing). I focused my energy on those bigger lifts, three days per week and just one day that was more conditioning or metabolic in nature.
#4: Get More Volume:
This may sound contradictory since I just spoke about training less, but what I mean is you need to get more volume on the actual muscle group you are working. Full body circuits are great, but if you want to add more definition and shape, you have to hit the muscle group hard. Instead of glossing over with sets of push-ups and chin-ups, try separating your days into push and pull so the push day might be dumbbell bench press, push-ups, dips and then some accessory work. This will make a huge difference and work amazingly well.
#5: Sleep And Recharge:
I know you hear this all the time, but I can’t emphasize enough that you will not see results if you are not recovered. I was injured, tired and a total pain in the ass at all times until I got my recovery and sleep correct. For my female clients especially their hormones are sensitive and if our cortisol is constantly high, we cannot lose fat or build muscle. Get 8 hours of sleep each night, but also, take that 1 hour before you go to sleep to relax. Turn off the phone, social media and distractions. Instead just read or do some reflection on your day. It’ll lead to much more peaceful sleep and a relaxed mind.
So if you happen to be under-eating, overtraining and stuck in a major plateau, you probably need to do the exact opposite of what you think. Eat more, train less and treat your body with the extra TLC that it needs to get optimal results.