You see these BMI calculators where you add your height and weight and they tell you how overweight you are, and while the basic calculation might be semi-useful to someone who breakfasts on cake and never exercises, it’s basically hogwash for everyone else. Muhammad Ali in his prime was 6’3″ and roughly 215 lbs. — overweight, according to BMI, because it doesn’t account for how much muscle he had. (Muscle is heavier than fat.) I’m 5’11″ and 194 lbs (overweight like Ali!) but have an OK amount of muscle…nothing to make the ladies sweat but decent after a few years of sporadic strength training.
A better way option is to have someone at the gym give you a professional body-fat measurement, often done with special calipers that measure fat rolls, or lack thereof, at key points around your body. But the average person trying to get in shape doesn’t need it. Scales can be a guide but you kind of just know when your pants are tight or you struggle with a 40-pound bag of manure.
For me, as with most guys in their mid-thirties, my level of fitness correlates directly to the girth of my stomach. I’ve read that a pound of muscle is about the size of a baseball, and that a pound of fat is a softball. My goal is is to build some strength and lose a bunch of softballs around the middle third of my body.
I’ve tried a lot of different approaches with varying degrees of success, and I think I’ve finally figured out the best strategy (for me, at least): counting calories with an app, lifting weights, and doing a touch of cardio. The general inclination with fat-loss is to avoid fatty foods and go crazy with cardio, but the trouble there is that your body turns all extra calories (fats, carbs, proteins) into body fat and cardio can burn away hard-earned muscle. You either tread water or become “skinny fat”… a smaller version of your original unflattering shape.
There’s no trick to the eating part. I’ll get into the details of my diet approach in a later post, but the gist is that I eat a healthy ratio of fat/carb/protein (any diet site will provide a good ballpark ratio) and, in order to lose weight, consume fewer calories than I burn. In order to keep the muscle I have and improve my shape along the way, I do regular strength training as my primary form of exercise, with just a little high-intensity cardio to boost my metabolism and strengthen my heart.
The general consensus is that losing more than 2 lbs. a week is overkill and will probably do more harm than good (unless you’re really overweight), if only because it’s liable to be so tough you’ll abandon the plan instead of making permanent changes. It’s also virtually impossible for the average person to gain more than 0.5 lbs. of muscle a week, however much you train. The body just can’t do it unless you’re genetically gifted, a teenager, or doping, and even then there are limits.
Next Monday I’ll discuss my exact eating plan, which isn’t terribly complicated, and offer some links to useful resources. The following week, I’ll discuss my workout plan. For now, I’ll say that my goal in the next few months is to drop a lot of the fat around my middle and slightly increase my muscular strength. I won’t be able to make serious strength gains while I’m losing weight on a calorie deficit, but that’s OK. Once I’m lean enough, assuming I manage to succeed, I’ll increase my calories ever so slightly in order to gain some muscle without fattening up.