We like rules. Rules are what make things interesting, they are what make the game and are how you know who’s winning and who’s losing. And you should be winning by losing weight. These are our simple rules to lose fat. Consider them pledges to yourself, and you’re going to be amazed by just how easy they are to follow.
Rule 1: “I will eat protein with every meal and every snack”
Here’s why this rule is so important: at any given moment, even at rest, your body is breaking down and building up protein, says Dr. Jeff Volek, a nutrition and exercise researcher at the University of Connecticut. Substitute the word “muscle” for “protein,” and you quickly understand just how dynamic your body is and how your muscle content can change considerably in the course of just a few weeks.
But muscle doesn’t come just from pumping iron, or hauling lumber. Muscle buildup is triggered by eating protein. In fact, every time you eat at least 10 to 15 grams of protein, you trigger a burst of protein synthesis. And when you eat at least 30 grams, that period of synthesis lasts about 3 hours—and that means even more muscle growth. Here’s a quick look at what those numbers translate into when they actually hit your plate:
30 Grams of Protein
- 400 grams of ground beef
- 1 large chicken breast
- 400 grams sirloin steak
- 1 large egg vegetable omelette with 3 strips of bacon
- 20 large peel-and-eat wild shrimp
- 1 haddock fillet
- 450 grams pork chop
10 to 15 Grams of Protein
- 1 fruit-and-yogurt parfait with granola
- 2 medium carrots with 1/2 cup hummus
- 3/4 cup chili con carne
- 1 pouch tuna
- 1/2 cup oats with 1 cup low-fat milk
- 340 grams low-fat chocolate milk
- 170 grams Greek yoghurt
- 2 Tbsp. peanut butter on wholewheat bread
Eat protein at all three meals, which can include meats and eggs or other options such as cheese and milk. You need to boost your protein intake to between 0.4 and 0.5 gram per kilo of body weight in order to preserve your calorie-burning muscle mass. (That’s a total of between 83 and 126 grams daily for a 85-kilo guy.) That means aiming for approximately 30 grams of protein in your main meals, and two snacks of at least 10 to 15 grams of protein.
Make a snack out of yoghurt once a day. A University of Tennessee study also found that people who added three servings of yoghurt a day to their diets lost 81% more belly fat over 12 weeks than those who didn’t eat yoghurt. And a study in Molecular Systems Biology found that yoghurt-based bacteria can prevent the body from absorbing fat. Bugs that eat your fat! Who knew?
Rule 2: “I will never eat the world’s worst breakfast”
What’s the world’s worst breakfast? No breakfast at all.
It’s true. Regularly skipping breakfast increases your risk of obesity by 450%! And breakfast is the one meal where, calories be damned, eating more is almost always better than eating less—in an ideal world, you’d get between 500 and 750 calories at breakfast alone.
Just make sure some of those calories come from protein. In a 2008 study, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that people who regularly ate a protein-rich, 600-calorie breakfast lost significantly more weight in 8 months than those who consumed only 300 calories and a quarter of the protein. The big breakfast eaters lost an average of 18kg and had an easier time sticking with the diet, even though both groups were prescribed about the same number of total daily calories.
The better the quality of the food you put in your body, the better a body you’ll get in return. But, if it comes down to something sketchy or nothing at all, in most cases, eat what’s there and make up for it by eating as healthily as you can for the rest of the day.
Eat a considerable portion of your daily calories—30% to 35% of your total intake—in the morning. The very best breakfast will match proteins and whole grains with produce and healthy fats. For example: fried eggs on whole-grain toast and a protein and fruit smoothie. If you have neither the time nor the stomach for a big breakfast, eat two small ones—have cereal with your coffee, then grab a yoghurt and fruit to eat at your desk. But the bottom line is this: get some protein for breakfast, and the rest of the day will take care of itself.
So you absolutely, positively, no kidding, have zero time for anything but a cup of coffee? Okay: Before you pour the coffee, fill your cup with milk. Drink it down until you have just the right amount to lighten your joe, then add the caffeine. 230ml of 1% milk gives you 110 calories and 8 grams of protein, along with a hit of fat-burning calcium. Even if you can’t possibly eat breakfast, well, guess what: You just ate breakfast!
Rule 3: “I will eat before and after exercise”
As in romance, comedy, and the stock market, timing is everything when it comes to food and exercise. And the excellent news for any guy who loves to eat: You probably need to eat more. In fact, eating more of the right foods at the right times can turn every workout into the best training of your life.
READ MORE: Find Out How to Burn Fat with Just Two Moves
Indeed, when it comes to exercise and nutrition, researchers are worrying a lot less about the what and thinking a lot more about the when. Here’s what eating at the right time can do for you:
- Build more muscle. Eating before training speeds muscle growth, according to Dutch and British researchers. In one study, men who ate a protein—and carbohydrate—rich meal right before and right after their workouts built twice as much muscle as men who waited at least 5 hours to eat. By fuelling your body with protein and carbohydrates within an hour or two of exercise, you provide your muscles with enough energy to build strength and burn fat more effectively.
- Burn more fat. University of Syracuse researchers found that when you down protein before and after weight training, you blunt the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone that tells your body to store fat. As a result, you burn more fat, not only during your workout, but for an additional 24 hours afterward. (Study participants ate a combo of 22 grams of protein and 35 grams of carbs—about what you’d get from a glass of milk and a turkey sandwich.)
- Feel more energy—and less pain! British researchers discovered that a mix of protein and carbs before and after your workout can inhibit muscle breakdown and reduce inflammation. That means you not only build muscle faster, but also recover more quickly and with less next-day soreness.
All this just from eating a little more food? Now that’s a diet plan worth trying!
Eat a snack composed of carbohydrates and protein 30 minutes or so before your workout, and eat one of your protein-rich meals immediately after exercise. One of the mantras we use is “Lost time is lost muscle.” Your body breaks down muscle during and after exercise to use as fuel and rebuilds muscle using calories that you’ve consumed. The longer you wait after exercising to eat, the more time your body will spend breaking down its own muscle and the less time you’ll have to build new muscle.
A protein shake right after your shower is the fastest nutrition delivery system there is.
Rule 4: “If it grows on a tree, I’ll eat it”
Or a bush, stalk, or vine, as well. In other words, if it grows on or is a plant, eat it. Fruits and vegetables should be included in every meal and as many snacks as possible. The reason: Your goal is to fill your body with muscle-promoting, fat-discouraging nutrients, and the very best source of them is fruits, nuts, and vegetables. By loading your body with the maximum amount of nutrients for the least number of calories, they’re a dietary bargain. A study at UCLA found that the typical person of normal weight consumed two servings of fruit a day, on average, while the typical overweight person ate just one piece. Another study in the journal Appetite found that eating whole fruit at the beginning of a meal reduces your overall calorie intake by 15 percent.
Another benefit to eating off the trees: You’ll get more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that this healthy fat may reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke and help prevent ailments as diverse as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, autoimmune disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—and those are just the As.
READ MORE: See How You Can Lose Weight with Meditation
On top of its mood-boosting, heart-saving, brain-enhancing powers, those who consume the most omega-3-rich foods live longer and carry less abdominal fat than those who eat the least. And scientists from Quebec found that omega-3s improve protein metabolism, meaning that more of the protein you eat is synthesised in your muscle tissue. Sure it sounds cool, but even better, this means faster muscle growth.
You already know that you can find this healthy fat in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, but it’s also found growing in trees: two highly potent sources of omega-3s are walnuts and kiwifruit.
Eat at least one serving of fruits or vegetables at every meal. You can and should eat as much of them as you want to help satisfy cravings.
Eat your fruits and vegetables first! Not only will you consume more vegetables and fewer calories from other foods, but the fibre content will lower the glycaemic load of your meal, helping you sidestep those swings in blood sugar that lead to hunger. Try at least one new fruit or vegetable each week, and make sure that salads and fruit salads have at least four different colours. For example: lettuce, yellow peppers, tomatoes and carrots; or pineapple, blood oranges, kiwi and grapes.
Rule 5: “I will eat the salad, no matter what”
You should eat salads not in place of other foods, but rather in addition to them. The reason is that salads deliver wildly important nutrients that are hard to come by elsewhere—nutrients that help promote weight loss.
Example: take folate, a B vitamin that’s found primarily in leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens, and also in broccoli, brussels sprouts, and beans. It’s perhaps the best indicator of how healthy your diet really is. Folate deficiency is linked to most of the major diseases of our time, leading to increased risks of stroke, heart disease, obesity, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and depression as well as a decreased response to depression treatments.
Think of folate as the anti-fat-and-stupid vitamin. But it can also help you look better: a study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that dieters who ate the most folate were able to lose 8 1/2 times as much weight as those who ate the least.
At every meal, try to include a folate-rich food. The best way to up your folate intake is to eat leafy greens with as many meals as you can, and eat them first.
Make a salad dressing with mustard, vinegar, and safflower oil. In a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that the high amount of linoleic acid in safflower oil may keep your body from storing fat.
Rule 6: “I will not drink sugar water”
This ought to be the easiest rule to stick to, right? After all, when was the last time you drank sugar water?
If you’re like most men, the answer is: earlier today. In fact, the average guy in some places of the world consumes more than 7% of his daily calories from sugar water—about 3 litres and hundreds of calories, every day. How is that possible? Well, sugar water makes up the majority of the cool drinks we consume each day.
Here are some common sugar waters that you might have enjoyed recently:
- Canned drinks: sugar water + caramel colouring and flavouring. A typical canned drink is about 89% carbonated water and 9% high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
- Sweetened Ice Tea: sugar water + tea. Teas like Snapple are about 89% water and 10% HFCS.
- Vitamin Water: sugar water + chemical forms of vitamins. One of the worst things to happen to both water and vitamins. An average brand is 92% water and more than 5% sugar.
- Fruit Drinks: sugar water + fruit juice. If your juice has the word “cocktail” attached to it, it’s about 63% water, 27% juice and more than 9% HFCS.
- Energy Drinks: sugar water + caffeine and herbs. They list plenty of mysterious ingredients like taurine and guarana and milk thistle, but the average energy drink is 84.5% water and 12.3% sugar.
In fact, the average person now drinks more than 450 calories every day. By cutting that amount in half—which you can do simply by eliminating sugar water from your diet—you would cut enough calories to lose about 11 kg in a year.
Replace cool drinks, ice teas and “performance beverages” with water, seltzer or other low-calorie or calorie-free beverages. If you don’t like the taste of your water, buy a home filter. Researchers from the University of Utah found that the people who drink the most water have the highest metabolisms. In a study, subjects drank 4, 8 or 12 cups of water each day. Those who drank at least 8 cups reported better concentration and higher energy levels, and tests showed that they were burning calories at much higher rates than the 4-cups-a-day group.
Drink the moment you wake up. The legendary Gracie family—the family that invented Brazilian jiu-jitsu and, in essence, ultimate fighting—lives by a code of always being ready to fight. And the first thing every Gracie does when he or she wakes up is drink a big glass of water, because being ready to fight means being properly hydrated. Now it turns out that their tradition makes sense even for those of us who don’t like getting punched in the face repeatedly. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that drinking a glass of water before breakfast can cut daily food intake by 13%. So on top of the calories you’re saving by swapping soda for H2O, you’re saving another 200 or so by staving off hunger pangs! (That’s another 9.5kg gone in a year!)
Rule 7: “I will follow the rules 80%of the time”
If you make the right food choices 80% of the time, you can’t help but stay lean. That means that one out of every five times you step up to the nutritional tee, you get to shank one—into the ham and cheese sand trap, into the beer pong water hazard, into Black Forest cake woods. It happens, because nobody’s perfect—and not trying to be perfect is one of the keys to long-term success. Guys who try to be perfect eventually go crazy.
Don’t let that be you. Don’t try to be perfect. Be 80%. That’ll still put you well ahead of most of the adult male population. And more important, it will send you on your way to the body you’ve always wanted. If you want a chocolate bar, go ahead–but make sure it’s the best one. Craving a steak? Go get one, but make the very best choice. You’ll save hundreds of calories while still eating the foods you enjoy. And you’ll be stunned by how effective this strategy is.
If you want to eat something that’s really, truly horrible for you, wash it down with a glass of milk. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who consume calcium from dairy every day decrease the levels of triacylglycerol in their blood (a major form of fat in the blood) by 15% to 19%.