We all choose to train, workout or exercise for many different reasons. Some of the most common reasons individuals choose to lead a healthy lifestyle are to change their body composition, get leaner, lose weight, look better and perform better. In my earlier article, “How Important Is A Low Body Fat Percentage?” I laid out why body fat percentage is a more important metric than body weight. Here, we’ll talk about how to attain your target body fat percentage.
Fueling the body immediately upon awakening will be key in order to stoke the fire within your body. Upon awakening, our glycogen stores are slightly depleted. Fueling the body at this time will help to reload our glycogen stores. Because this will in turn help to improve the quality of our workouts, it will ultimately lead to the body composition changes we desire.
If your workout occurs first thing in the morning, this serves the same importance as eating immediately upon awakening. If your workout occurs later in the day, be sure to stoke the fire and fuel your body 30-60 minutes before your workout. Pre-workout fuel can either be liquid (like a smoothie) or solid.
Let’s think of food for the body no different than kindling wood for the fire. If you continue to throw kindling wood on the fire all throughout the day, the fire will continue to burn strong. Stop throwing wood on the fire, and the fire – your metabolism – dies out. Our body is the exact same: if we continue to fuel the body frequently from the time we get up and all throughout the day, we will continue to stoke the fire within our body. The key is to fuel the body immediately upon awakening and every 2.5-3.5 hours thereafter. Not only will this high frequency of eating stoke the fire, but it will also help to stabilize blood sugar, insulin and serotonin levels. This will lead to higher and more stable energy levels all throughout the day, which significantly diminishes food cravings that all too often lead to binge eating (which of course causes higher amounts of body fat).
As odd as it may sound, eating healthy is not the key to success from a body composition, performance and recovery perspective. Rather, “eating right” as an athlete is the key to success. Let’s bridge the gap between eating healthy and eating right. Sure, we all know that fruits, vegetables, salads, whole grains, etc. are healthy. But, meal or snacks containing these healthy foods are not necessarily “right”. Eating right for athletic performance consists of having the right balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat at each and every meal and snack. The balance of course will differ for each athlete’s specific needs and goals, but, as a general rule, set a goal to have approximately 40-60% of your meal calories coming from carbohydrates, 15-30% from protein and 15-30% from healthy fats. This is the “magical macronutrient balance” and is oftentimes the key that unlocks success for those individuals who have been eating healthy, but not getting the results they desire. When the body is fueled early, fueled often and fueled right, it is this triad (when combined with the proper training) that will allow the body to become leaner and lighter.
Now that the body is properly fueled, let’s start to build some lean muscle in order to increase the metabolism and decrease body fat. Strength training will be one of the key components of getting lean. You will want to strength train a minimum of 2-3 days per week. This includes the upper body and the lower body. Muscular endurance is built by lifting a lighter amount of weight and setting a goal of 15-25 reps per exercise. As you progress and build additional strength and endurance you can increase the repetitions to 50 or more (as high as 100 reps per exercise). Let’s say you are going to perform 25 repetitions. The goal is to choose a weight so that the last 3 repetitions are challenging, but not impossible.
Muscular strength is built by lifting a heavier amount of weight and approximately 3-8 repetitions per exercise. By combining muscular endurance workouts with muscular strength workouts, you will start to build the lean muscle that will allow your body composition to change. Just like muscular endurance, choose an amount of weight so that the last 3 repetitions are challenging, but not impossible.
L-arginine is an amino acid. Research shows that 2-12g per day can help to naturally boost growth hormone levels. Also, L-arginine can help to stimulate nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator (caues blood vessels to dilate). This vasodilation will allow more oxygenated blood to be delivered to the working muscles, thereby, allowing you to perform more repetitions and go longer, harder, faster and more repetitions before fatigue.
Beta Alanine is an amino acid and research shows that 1.5g per day can help to build lean muscle, increase strength and muscular endurance.
Heart Rate Training
From a cardiovascular perspective, training in the proper heart rate zones is critical to building lean muscle and not tearing it down. Too often, individuals train at too high of a heart rate, too frequently. Combine this with improper nutrition, and this can create catabolism (muscle breakdown). If we break down and tear down our own muscle, we are not going to change our body composition in the direction we are looking to go. Training in the proper heart rate zones, many times, requires us as athletes to “check our ego at the door.” Proper heart rate training will allow us to build an extremely high amount of efficiency and in time, we will find ourselves going longer, harder and faster at the same or lower heart rates (when you start to see this happen, look out! You will be at an entirely new level of fitness). In addition, this proper heart rate training will allow us to get the maximum out of our proper nutrition, proper supplementation and proper strength training in order to achieve the body composition we desire. For how to establish your heart rate zones, read Joe Friel’s Quick Guide to Setting Zones.
If you are ready to get lean, get ripped and have that amazing physique you desire, start to implement the tips above. Be patient – body composition change is not an overnight process. Focus on the journey, not the destination.
For more information about why assessing body fat percentage is so important, read “How Important is a Low Body Fat Percentage?” In addition, be sure to check out Rick’s webinar, 5 Stages To Achieving Optimum Body Composition.