It all started in high school… I wanted to be toned.
Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and all of these amazingly fit women were on the covers the grocery store magazine stands. I wanted to look like them (just like every teenage girl).
I tried eating zero carbs.
I began running more to get toned.
I sought a lean body and would do anything to get it.
At age 16 I got a job at Lifetime Fitness’s Life Cafe. I was an observant teen; after watching how the male trainers ate on their lunch breaks I began to pick their brains about nutrition.
“Protein, protein, protein…” it was a resounding theme and thankfully I was willing to trust them.
Little by little I worked on various strategies to eat more protein throughout the day.
I was constantly full, eating less overall calories and noticing changes.
That worked for a while; but over time I was not only exhausted from all of the cardio but it felt like a huge challenge to maintain what I had accomplished so far.
I felt obligated to run further and further each day.
Once I finally was convinced to pick up heavy weights it all fell into place.
I began to see the definition in my arms I had always wanted. My clothes got a little looser.
With strength training it was easier to maintain my lower BF (thanks to all of my new muscles gains).
Being lean, (looking toned) is something that happens over time when you lose fat.
Having a lower body fat allows you to see the muscle underneath the fat.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ve created the small table below to give you a general idea of how your body fat percentage correlates to leanness (yea, it’s a word).
Your look all depends on where you store fat and anyone in the lower BF percentages has worked incredibly hard to achieve it.
Also it is important to note that different BF percentages look different depending on the person. I for one can be 16% BF and not see abs; meanwhile another woman may have 19% BF and have very defined abs.
Regardless of where you are now, when you achieve a lower BF percentage, it takes work and dedication to maintain.
Maintaining it can be just as difficult.
However, if the right strategies are in place and you get in a good groove with nutrition it isn’t as hard as you think.
There are several things I do to maintain my lower BF throughout the entire year– things that help many of my clients and can help you too.
Disclaimer: to get leaner and maintain it there are some things you have to give up; but honestly, what it really takes is time.
It takes time eating healthy (and at a caloric deficit).
It takes time emphasizing protein in the diet.
It takes time begin consistent with exercise and a slight caloric deficit.
Here are five tips to help you stay lean all year round:
1. Love your now (#loveyournow)
This is important.
Chasing perfection is an elusive task.
There will always be progress to be made and hell, progress is always welcomed!
But loving your current situation is like loving someone else. You can help them and care for them more easily when you truly love them.
Be there for you body.
Love it today; love it tomorrow and those quick-fix tactics and crazy restriction diets will not seem so appealing.
Also, putting your body through constant grueling workouts day in and day out will not help you either because they aren’t easy to sustain. (more on this in tip #4).
The bottom line is if you don’t recognize you are lean in the first place and #loveyournow you may begin to employ crazy tactics (to achieve perfection) all the while missing out on opportunities to find a balance with your already lean self.
If you love your current situation for what it is and hope to only make it better (progress over time) with small steps each new day, you will be more moderate with your approach and maintain what you have more easily.
Give your body treats here and there; feed it well everyday and take care of it.
In time you will be exactly where you want to be…even if that means the same low BF you have worked so hard to attain.
Fat loss takes patience and maintaining it takes practice (time and time again).
If you are lean already, (but not at your ideal spot yet) own it today, own it tomorrow.
Part of being able to maintain a lean body is loving your now because it is crucial to recognize you are lean, when you are actually lean.
So many people focus on what they aren’t.
If you focus on the fact that you are lean, have confidence in yourself and know that you got yourself there, you will maintain your body because you will #loveyournow.
It is okay to want more progress, but loving your “now” makes the ride more enjoyable and exciting day in and day out.
2. Be aware of caloric totals (#ieatthismuch)
Some people need to count calories every day, some people don’t.
If you have never counted before–try it. It is really eye-opening and can be very helpful in the future if you are a routine person.
Once you track what you normally eat for a few days you will have a great handle on how much you regularly consume to stay lean, to maintain your current weight, or to lose weight (if what you are currently eating is working for fat loss).
This way, when a big vacation or business trip comes up you know exactly how much you normally consume and can stay on track.
Even better, when vacation/restaurant meals are thrown at you (meals you aren’t used to eating and you aren’t at home to cook), as long as you can guestimate how many calories the meals contain, you will not deviate from your normal caloric intake.
Knowing how much you need and not how much you want is really important.
#ieatthismuch always helps me have a good understanding of how much I need to eat each day.
Knowing that number also keeps me from giving into stress eating or bored eating.
And as we all know, hunger fluctuates a lot based on hormones, stress and activity level.
Depending on your activity level you may be more hungry than other days…but to keep the energy balance stable, eating slightly more than usual on some days may be helpful if you lead an active lifestyle.
Being too restrictive, too often will lead to more intense hunger later.
If you aren’t sure how to figure out how much to eat, check out my article “What are you eating for?”
In the aforementioned article protein consumption is discussed and as a side note, when you track what you eat pay attention to the protein intake as well. (See next tip.)
3. Always prioritize protein (#priorityno1)
Throughout the year travel happens. In case you missed it, there are a lot of ways to maintain a lean body while traveling, for my tips see this article on “Nutrition Tips for the Occasional Traveler.”
Long story short, regardless of whether or not you are at home, on vacation or at the office, to maintain a lean body you must feed the muscle.
For some people, that means eating .7-1.3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
If you weigh 135 pounds for example, that could be from 94.5 to 175 grams of protein a day.
I personally try and shoot for a higher amount.
Protein is four calories per gram; eating 150 grams of protein ends up being 600 calories. If my daily total caloric intake is 1,400, then 150 grams of protein would be 42% of my total calories.
And let me be frank, it isn’t easy. But I will say, over time your body naturally craves more protein packed, filling snacks and meals after you spend months and years feeding it that way.
For example, as soon as I started eating turkey rolls ups, greek yogurts, and protein powder in my cereal I couldn’t go back to my old ways.
Some people looked at me like I was crazy. However, I knew if I only ate carbs at a meal or snack I would still feel hungry.
Even better, as results began to come and my body changed I was even more motivated to continue to eat enough protein for my own goals.
If you are curious about how to consume more protein in your diet, do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Be consistent with your exercise (#daretomove)
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a thousand more times, nutrition comes first when you have physique goals.
Although calories may be King, exercise is a huge component of getting or maintaining the physique you want. Lifting to build muscle and lifting to maintain muscle is important if you strive for a lean body.
More muscle means more metabolically active tissue which means more calories burned throughout the day. To build the muscles you have to feed them with protein. But you also have to build them too, with strength training.
However, in the same vein as chasing the quick fixes with nutrition, chasing the elusive highest calorie burning workout may hurt more than help in some cases.
You see, if you are constantly spinning your wheels and fatiguing yourself you may find you are more hungry, tired, and unable to recover from your workouts.
If your energy balance is out of whack and you feel ravenous, it is hard to put calories first and easy to overeat.
Exercise obviously burns calories can help you maintain a deficit.
But, the exercising to burn all the excess calories strategy may not be the best for the long run.
Over-exercising to the point of exhaustion will make you constantly feel deprived and extra hungry when you are eating less to achieve a caloric deficit (and keeping good nutrition priority number one).
The over-exercise, under-eat strategy becomes an unnecessary, tough mental game.
Strive for energy balance. Know how much you should be eating and commit to those numbers each day.
To find a consistent workout schedule, see if you can commit to strength training just two days a week no matter what.
This way, if you can make it into the gym more than two times, great.
Making it two times a week, every week of the year is better than going all out everyday for a few weeks and getting burnt-out, injured or exhausted and spending various weeks with zero days in the gym.
And again, try to avoid eating to make up for calories burned; also avoid exercising to burn off calories consumed.
5. Be realistic with nutrition tactics (#daretoeat)
If you can only eat the way you currently are for two to three days before you want to eat an entire pizza, it may not be the right strategy.
Is it realistic to only eat egg whites at every meal?
If you love egg whites as much as I love Quest bars then, maybe!
Sure, egg whites are low calorie and protien-packed, but will they keep you satisfied all day? Or for a week?
The take home point here is to shift your mindset to the long term.
The sooner you get on the long term sustainable bus, the sooner you will be where you want to be more comfortably.
You will not have to worry about being ravenous, a slave to three hour workouts or chained to eating egg whites for life.
Realistic strategies involve understanding how much you need for the day to maintain your weight or achieve a slight caloric deficit, (think ~200 calories).
Some days, while getting leaner or maintaining a lean body, you may end up eating maintenance calories or even a slight surplus of calories. But at the end of the week or month, if you have been in a good balance or a slight deficit over all, you will maintain your low BF.
No matter where you are with your body–losing fat, striving to maintain what you have etc. it takes planning, dedication and hard work.
#loveyournow allows you to recognize the hard work you have put in and be motivated to take care of the body you love.
In doing so, prioritizing consistent exercise you enjoy is a big aspect of maintaining your muscle and also staying active (but not exhausting yourself to the point of hating exercise).
It is crucial to eat enough to keep your energy balanced and not get too hungry or too full. This means somedays eating at a slight caloric deficit and saying no to treats on occasion, or yes on occasion.
The bottom line is that you have to eat no matter what so choosing sustainable options that you enjoy eating and options that satisfy you is key.
Knowing how much your body needs is also helpful– remember to give calorie tracking a try if you haven’t done it before. If you have, let that be your guide and make sure to prioritize protein!
If you have any questions feel fee to reach out!