Struggling to lose fat but can’t figure out why? Fat loss expert and personal trainer Nicholas Polo clues us in on the biggest fat loss myths even smart women believe
When new gym members are asked to spell out their goals the two most common answers they give are “lose weight” and “body toning”. Instead, what a lot of us may be actually trying to say is “lose fat”. Fat loss and weight loss are not the same thing.
Without trying to dismiss the importance of keeping an eye on our weight – for a lot of people dropping a few pounds may actually be sensible – if the real goal here is to drop our body fat percentage rather than our weight, it is important to follow a life style that will better reflect results in the mirror rather than the scale.
Let’s take two people who are both female, the same age, 5’5” and that weigh 57kg. Now let’s say one is retired Olympic Sprinter Jessica Ennis and the other is my friend Mary, an average gym goer who joined the gym to “lose weight”. There is a good possibility that if you told Mary that in 12 months she would look like Jess, chances are she wouldn’t care to ask how much Jess weighs. Why? Because based on looks alone, the more ‘toned’ we start to look, the less concerned we become about the number on the scale. That toned look means lower body fat percentage. Same weight, more muscle, less fat.
So now that we have established that for some of us, fat loss is actually our destination to happiness, getting there should be pretty straightforward, right? Well it isn’t quite that easy and here is why.
Myth #1: Cardio is the best way to lose fat
Cardio is one way to lose fat but in comparison with weight training it is not the most effective or efficient way to drop your body fat percentage. For years people associated cardio with burning calories and weight training with muscle gain. So what did we do? Those of us who wanted to lose fat jumped on the treadmill for an hour and those who wanted to see their guns grow, lifted weights, a perception which put the majority of women off from stepping into the free weights section. Although, if done properly, both cardio and weight training will undoubtedly burn fat, if the goal is to drop our body fat percentage, meaning burn fat and gain muscle at the same time, weight training edges ahead for two reasons. Firstly, weight training builds muscle more effectively than cardio. Second, weight training promotes a boost in metabolism that carries on long after your workout is finished, it is a hormonal jump start.
weight training is a hormonal jump start for the metabolism
So if your body plateaus after endless hours of steady cardio how about some change that doesn’t mean more time on the treadmill. Pull and push some weights or even your own body weight and get that fat burning furnace going and tip that balance between fat and muscle.
Myth #2: Training sessions must be an hour long
Think quality versus quantity. The truth is that if your personal trainer wrapped up your session before your full hour was over you would probably feel short-changed. However I have had clients who achieved the same body fat percentage by just doing a 10 minute training session. How? Drop sets.
Drop setting is an excellent weight training method for fat loss and a technique where you perform an exercise at the maximum possible resistance before you drop the weight immediately without break and continue for more reps until you reach failure.
By eliminating the rest time between sets and exercises you can save all this time that you would otherwise use for chatting, mirror staring or liking posts on Instagram.
Apply drop sets on a leg day and you could finish your leg presses, curls and extensions in just 10 minutes and that’s all you would need for fat loss.
Myth #3: Lifting weights will bulk you up
Don’t worry folks. You won’t become Arnold! That takes a lot of testosterone, specific type of weight training and a supplement or two better left unmentioned. Bulking up is a concern for a lot of female gym goers when they think about lifting weights. Putting aside the methods of weight training that would bulk someone up, let’s focus for a moment on what would make you fit and toned instead.
Applying the idea of drop sets again on your exercises, perform three to four sets and limit the reps of each set to six to ensure body definition and strength increase rather than bulkiness. That means that the weight you start on your first set should be heavy enough so that you will not be able to do more than 6 reps without reducing the weight. Once you finish one exercise quickly proceed to the next one.
When reps are limited to six you are more likely to increase your strength, see muscle definition, increase your heart rate and burn fat in a way that lasts all the way to your couch and then more.
Myth #4: Eating low fat is better for fat loss
Eating fat does not make you fat. Being of Greek descent I know a thing or two about mythology and I have to say it’s time for this myth to die. A recent study by Channel 4 looked at the top 10 healthiest diets around the world including the Greek, Italian, French, Icelandic and Korean concluded that they all performed great regardless of their different splits between carbs, protein and fats.
The Icelandic diet is rich in protein from meat and fish but it includes very little fruit and vegetables. The Korean diet has a lot of rice but it’s believed its combination with pickled veggies on the side helps its absorption. The French diet is heavy in fat (not to mention red wine) but again we now know fat does not necessarily contribute to fat gain. The Greek and Italian diets are not short in carbs but when it comes to dressings they are usually pure vinegar and olive oil.
Healthy diets are based on whole food. No cereal, no sodas, no canned food, no fast food fries, no prepacked dressing, no added sugar. That’s all there is to it.
So if all of these diets are great but very different from each other what’s the common denominator? They are all based on whole foods. No processed food and sugar that comes with it. No cereal, no sodas, no canned food, no fast food fries, no prepacked dressing, no added sugar. That’s all there is to it.
Myth #5: Supplements don’t work
Of course it is better to get your vitamins and minerals from whole foods and a well balanced diet is a good start, but it most likely will not cover all your body’s nutritional needs especially when training a little more intensively for fat loss.
Age, stress, lack of sleep, health and intense training can all alter our nutrient needs. Supplements are not to replace our food but they are there for extra support so that we feel stronger, healthier and more energetic.
Although not all supplements are of equal quality – sometimes it is better to spend an extra penny to get your money’s worth, the benefits of taking some supplements are not to be dismissed and this goes from protein powder to fibre. Nutritionist Amy Leung says that everyone is biochemically unique so it is worth working with a qualified nutritional therapist to identify your own personal needs.
When choosing a multi-vitamin, I would go for one that is made for women and it is geared towards females’ needs to avoid missing out on vitamins and nutrients that matter to women more than men (folic acid, iron, magnesium, vitamin B, etc.)
The following supplements are a great place to start.
Protein powder: whey (or pea for vegans) 1.2-1.5 g per pound of body weight during fat loss period
Multi-vitamin: opt for one that is formulated for females’ specific needs as they are more likely to have the sufficient levels of folic acid, iron, magnesium and vitamin B
Vitamin D3: 1200IU; promotes bone growth
Vitamin C: 500mg; boosts immune system and energy
Organic Psyllium husk: 2 tsp; reduces appetite spikes and unhealthy snacking
Creatine: 3-5g; amino acid provides the body with energy and strength (some protein powders may have that built-in their complex).
All of this of course under your doctor’s orders.
Nicholas Polo, is a fat loss expert and a personal trainer. His specialty is record time fat loss through a 10 Day Fat Loss programme that combines a 10 day low G.I. nutrition plan, 10 minute fat blasting workouts and anti-aging supplementation for extra nutritional support. His results have got him clients in the media, political and celebrity world. For more information, log on to Nicholas’ website.