So you want to effect a total-body transformation? It could include muscle gain or fat loss. Most people want a little of both.
Before we dive in to some important considerations, let's get a few things straight.
- There is no magic pill.
- There is no substitute for hard work.
- Buying a "special shake" won't do much except empty your wallet (Actually, it might help a little. More on that later.)
- Be realistic about what you are putting in your mouth and how hard you are training.
- Photoshop is real!
That out of the way, let's talk about how to set yourself up for success. The three areas you need to focus on are mindset, training and nutrition. The breakdown is 80 percent nutrition, 20 percent training and 100 percent mindset. Yeah, they total 200 percent, but that's what it takes!
It all starts with the proper attitude. First, you have to believe in yourself. Tell yourself you can do it, that it's worth it, and that you have what it takes. The mind is a powerful tool. Use it! This is probably the most important factor, because it greatly affects the other two.
Your situation can affect your mindset. Don't surround yourself with people who bring you down or don't support your goals. You want positive, like-minded people. Is there bad food in the house? Get rid of it. Do your friends party too much? Make new ones.
Realize that a successful body transformation takes time—more for some people than others. Some people see dramatic changes in weeks; others, months. It's all relative.
Do more with less until you need more
Start slowly and make changes (more or fewer calories, more or less weight) only when progress stops. For instance, if you want to lose weight and you start off lifting five days a week and doing cardio for an hour seven days a week, you can't add much more without doing too much. A better approach is to do cardio three times a week for 30 minutes, then add another day of cardio when progress slows. The same can be applied to nutrition. Don't cut calories too drastically in the beginning
This is where you put in the hard labor. To be successful, training must be on point. Too little and you won't signal the body to change. Too much and you will overtrain, eventually get stuck on a plateau and virtually bring progress to a halt. Whether your goal is muscle gain or fat loss, your primary concern should always be to build and maintain muscle.
Resistance training is the most important training you can do, period. It gives your body muscle and tone, revs up your metabolism, makes you strong and confident, and burns a lot of calories during and after each session. For more on resistance training, check out this article.
You need cardio if you want to get lean or stay leaner while adding muscle. Plus it's good for your heart, quickens recovery during resistance training and burns calories.
If your goal is primarily muscle gain, keep your cardio low (3x20 minutes per week, or less) until you feel you need more. If fat loss is your goal, a good start is 20 to 30 minutes of cardio 4 times per week.
RELATED: How Much Cardio Should I Do?
Optimizing energy systems
This covers both cardio and resistance training. Optimize the way your body works and perform exercises in the proper order to get the most "bang for your buck." The basic exercise order is: power, strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance and cardio.
"Abs are made in the kitchen" is a pretty accurate statement. Anyone can out-eat an hour-long training session in just a few minutes. Maintaining a delicate balance between too much and too little is the key. Often people have absolutely no clue how much they eat. Diet will dictate whether your training works or not.
Too much or too little
Balance is key. If you want to lose fat, you need to be in a caloric deficit. However, you still need to fuel your body optimally or it will shut down, and progress will halt. It's always better to burn the fat than to starve it. Essentially, you want to burn the fat and feed the muscle. I've fixed clients' diets countless times simply by telling them to eat more. They weren't losing weight because they were only consuming 500-1,000 calories. This is close to starvation and not nearly enough to fuel an exercising body. When this happens, the body shuts down and does everything it can to conserve energy.
For more on diet, check out how you can eat to optimize your hormones.
People are constantly bombarded with misinformation from supplement companies. Roughly 95 percent of supplements contain 10 to 20 ingredients. Unfortunately for buyers, only one to three of them actually exert an ergogenic effect. Making matters worse, the one to three supplements that may work are almost always underdosed.
However, a few supplements may be worth your time and money.
- Whey Protein Powder: Use it to supplement food intake and increase daily protein. Timing is important. Twenty to 30 grams, taken immediately after a workout, should do the trick. If you are on the "magic shake" bandwagon, your shake should contain good quality protein (whey, casein, milk, egg, beef) and a dose of at least 15-20 grams.
- Creatine monohydrate: Can help the body produce ATP to power muscular actions. Take 5 grams post-workout.
- Branched Chain Amino Acids: Isoleucine, Leucine and Valine. These are the body's most important anabolic amino acids. Taken during a workout, they can help you work longer, recover faster and increase your chances of burning fat and building muscle. Usually, you want a higher count of leucine than the others. A total of 5-10 grams works for most people.
- Beta-Alanine: Used to boost muscle carnosine levels to ward off that burning feeling of lactic acid and excess hydrogen ion build-up. Take 800 mg in multi doses or a larger (2-3g) dose pre-workout. This can improve work capacity and potentially augment strength, power and endurance.
- Caffeine: Caffeine enhances mental alertness and energy. It has also been shown to increase calcium release from the muscles (the first step in muscle contraction), improve neuromuscular activity, and increase work output/endurance. Take 200-400 mg per workout. Caffeine-sensitive individuals should take less.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock