This one’s going to get pretty technical — and for those who are still 15+ pounds away from their “ideal” weight, there’s nothing here that is likely to make a significant difference. But for those who’ve been pulling their hair out trying to remove the last few pounds of stubborn fat — this is for you!
Disclaimer – Please Read:
The advanced tips presented here won’t make a huge difference in your overall ability to lose weight. 80% of weight loss is what you eat. 15% of weight loss is exercise, and the other 5% is a series of completely optional “advanced tips & tricks” that you can choose to incorporate to get an extra edge. In almost all cases, if you’re not doing the other 95% of the things required to lose weight, the remaining “5%” isn’t going to make any difference whatsoever. For that reason, I encourage people to skip and ignore all of these advanced tips until you’re 100% “on protocol” with everything else you’re doing. Don’t make things more complicated until what you’re doing no longer feels complicated.
I’d also like to reiterate that nothing in this article is likely to make much of a difference until you’re down to the last few pounds. “Normal” fat cells are much easier to remove, and don’t need the kind of tight optimization described here.
Let’s start with a little background information…
Not all fat cells are created equal
Any product that claims to “target stubborn belly fat” is snake-oil (RUN!! It’s garbage!), but it might surprise you to learn that there is, in fact, a significant difference between the “stubborn fat” areas, and other types of fat — which also helps to explain why weight loss becomes progressively more difficult as you get closer to your goal.
For women, the “stubborn fat” areas are in the hips and thighs, and for men, it’s in the abs, obliques, and lower back (also known as the “spare tire”).
This means the fat in those areas will be the very last to disappear as you progress through your weight-loss journey. Before we can get into the tricks to burning the last little bit of fat, however, we need to understand…
How fat is mobilized
When burning fat, your body uses chemicals known as catecholamines to break fast cells down into usable energy. Catecholamines travel through your blood and “attach” to fat cells, which triggers the energy stored within the fat-cell to mobilize, so it can be burned off.
However, fat cells have two different methods (“receptors”) by which Catecholamines can bind. These receptors are known as “alpha” and “beta”. Beta receptors in fat-cells speed-up fat mobilization, while alpha receptors hinder it. Put another way, the more alpha-receptors a fat-cell has, the more it resists mobilization by catecholamines.
Another problem with fat cells in these areas? Less blood flow. You may have noticed that these “stubborn” parts of your body are colder to the touch than other areas. This is because of reduced flood flow. And reduced blood flow means fewer catecholamines reaching the fat cells in this areas.
So we’ve got a double-whammy situation here with stubborn fat areas. Burning the last few pounds means figuring out how to block the alpha-receptors from doing their job, while simultaneously figuring out how to get more blood flow to these critical areas, so we can deliver more catecholamines to help break down the fat.
Tip #1: Do your cardio in a fasted state
This is truly a magic-bullet when it comes to burning the last bits of stubborn fat.
When I refer to doing cardio in a fasted state, I’m referring to a situation where you have NO food in your stomach, whatsoever. (Ideally, it’s been several hours since you last ate), and your blood-sugar level is in the 65 to 85 range. For most people, this is first thing in the morning. (Water is fine, by the way).
First, blood flow in the abdominal region is increased when you’re in a fasted state, which means the catecholamines can actually reach this area easier, resulting in better / easier mobilization.
Second, research has also shown that ingestion of carbs reduces fat oxidation while at rest and when ingested before exercise. I’ve scoured the literature and based on what I’ve found, it’s very clear: total fat oxidation is just plain higher with fasted cardio.
Opponents of fasted-cardio argue that working out without protein will increase the likelihood that you will burn muscle, rather than fat. And they’re right. This is why you should be using a BCAA supplement. I talk a lot more about how to incorporate a BCAA into your fasted-workouts in this article. If you’re doing your workouts in a fasted state, this should be considered non-optional.
Also, don’t worry about hunger. There’s significant research now which basically proves that high-intensity cardio is an appetite suppressant. You might be hungry when you start, but if you do cardio that actually gets your heart-rate up into the 150s and 160s, you won’t be hungry when you’re done.
Tip #2: Limit the QUANTITY of cardio
For reasons discussed here, I’d strongly recommend limiting your cardio to no more than 4 sessions per week, at 30 minutes per session. (If you want to work out more than that, supplement with strength training!!). Too much cardio is actually counter-productive, and it will completely block your body’s ability to burn fat.
Tip #3: Increase the QUALITY of your cardio
Put simply? You should be doing HIIT-based cardio.
Studies, such as those conducted by Laval University, East Tennessee State University, Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of New South Wales have conclusively proven that shorter sessions of high-intensity cardio result in greater fat loss over time than longer, low-intensity sessions.
In fact, a study conducted by The University of Western Ontario showed that doing just 4 to 6 30-second sprints burns more fat over time than 60 minutes of walking on an inclined treadmill.
Furthermore, keeping your cardio sessions shorter helps you preserve muscle and strength.
- Research has shown that as you continue to perform regular high-intensity interval cardio sessions, your muscles “learn” to use less glycogen during workouts (thus increasing fat oxidation rates during the workouts), and your muscle cells also get better and better at oxidizing fats. (This point is particularly relevant to fasted training as, over time, high-intensity interval training increases the total amount of fatty acids your body is able to metabolize during workouts. Put simply? The more you do HIIT, the better your fat-burn-furnace functions!)
- Research has shown that the post-exercise “afterburn” effect (EPOC) is greater with high-intensity interval training than with low-intensity steady-state cardio (about double, actually–13% vs. 7%). The actual amount of additional calories burned due to HIIT’s greater “afterburn” effect will probably never be more than 50 to 80, but hey, that adds up over time.
- Research has shown that high-intensity interval cardio is particularly good for getting rid of abdominal fat, including the dangerous accumulations of visceral fat.
Tip #4: Combine the fasted cardio with fasted weight training
Heavy weight lifting causes a dramatic increase in catecholamines levels — and as catecholamines are better able to mobilize fat when you’re in a fasted state, fasted weightlifting is definitely worth while.
Most serious body builders will do all of their exercise — both weightlifting and cardio — in a fasted state when they’re aiming for weight loss / fat burn. But weight lifting, in particular, is a great way to turbo charge the production of catecholamines.
(And, of course, you get all the other benefits of strength training as well — increased metabolism, for example). In fact, if forced to choose between strength and cardio for fat-burn, I’d (strongly) recommend weights.
A caveat, though: don’t be surprised if you’re noticeably weaker during your first couple of weeks after switching to fasted strength training.
You are going to lose reps across the board. This isn’t because you’re losing muscle, it’s simply because eating carbs before you lift dramatically improves your performance. Take the carbs away and you lose the “boost.” Add them back and it returns.
That said, as I noted earlier, your body slowly adapts to training in the fasted state, learning to preserve glycogen stores and thus preserve performance. But none of this should matter, since our primary goal at this point is fat-burn.
Tip #5: Incorporate Intermittent Fasting
I talk a lot about the Intermittent Fasting protocol in this blog article, but it can make a HUGE difference in your body’s ability to burn fat, since it promotes the creation of HGH (human growth hormone), and resets your body into an evolutionary state where it is constantly being asked to go into “reserve” mode.
You’ll go for X hours without eating, and then combine all of your day’s calories and eating into Y hours of time during the day. (For example, you might go 16 hours without eating, and then do all of your eating between noon and 8pm). The X and the Y are variables you can use to optimize and find the right fit for you, but most people start with 16:8.
If you think about it, from a purely evolutionary standpoint, our bodies actually aren’t built around the idea of having a constant supply of food in our stomachs, Our ancient ancestors went through periods of feast and famine — and thus it makes sense that our body chemistry is likely optimized more around this style of eating, versus constantly having food in our stomachs.
Read my blog article here if you want to learn more about it.
Tip #6: Consider an alpha-blocker supplement
You can take advantage of supplements that are designed to act as “alpha blockers” (preventing the alpha-receptors from resisting the binding from catecholamines). Yohimbine is an example of such as a supplement, but it has some fairly negative side-effects (like increased blood pressure, or nausea, for some people) — thus it’s not for everyone.
Yohimbine is also not a “magic fast loss pill”, as it won’t have any effect if your diet are not already basically perfect. It also won’t make much of a difference in helping you to burn “normal” fat. So until you reach the last few pounds, it’s basically useless.
It’s also worth further noting that yohimbine will cause a glycemic reaction, and thus should not be used by keto (CarbX) dieters. However, anyone working on those last few pounds is probably eating a more traditional, athlete-style diet, so hopefully this isn’t an issue. (If you’re working on the last few pounds and you’re still doing keto, it’s probably time to switch).
Tip #7: Switch strategies: try a lean-bulk
After a long period of being in a fat-burn mode, your metabolism slowly adapts to the cut and eventually, no amount of calorie cutting will help. The solution is known as a “lean bulk” where you actually eat 200 to 300 more calories per day than your maintenance number.
Normally, this would make you fat. But in the case of a lean bulk, we’re going to spend 30 to 45 minutes per day in the weight room doing (very) heavy lifting, with the goal of converting the extra calories directly into muscle mass. In other words, we’re actually going to force our body to use the extra food to build muscle, rather than storing the extra food as fat. You can’t realistically add more than about a half-pound of muscle per week, so it’s important to keep the calorie surplus small, do your lifting routine, and keep the cardio going — or you will also gain fat.
Remember, our goal during this phase is NOT fat-loss, it is muscle-building, which means we’re going to reset our metabolism, focus on toning, and focus on getting back to a state where our body feels comfortable with our new size for a while. You’ll gain some muscle weight, but if you’re gaining more than about a half-pound per week, you may be eating too many extra calories.
After about 8 weeks, we switch back into a “fat burn” mode (“cutting”). You’ll find that with your metabolism fully reset, the fat comes off much easier.
Note that during the first 1 to 2 weeks of switching to this mode, you may gain a LOT of weight (5 to 12 pounds) as your body packs on water-weight to adjust to the extra calories. You can’t gain fat that fast, so trust the math. Stick to the program. The water-weight will fall off after 1-2 weeks.
The result (after you go through a lean-bulk, where you add muscle, followed by a cycle of cutting, where you remove fat) will be a tight, toned look with a turbo-charged metabolism!