“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.” – Marcus Aurelius
Proven methods and practicalities of body recomposition can be utterly bewildering for those outside of the fitness realm. Hell, they can even be tripwires for some *inside* that arena.
A big contributor to this confusion is that what works for dropping those initial x pounds of fat won’t necessarily work for that last 10 or 15 lbs. Or for moving from 80% of your genetic muscular potential to nearing 100%. The game totally changes at the fringes, my friends. Let’s face it: that initial fat loss and muscle gain is relatively simple. It doesn’t take much in the way of willpower, expertise, intelligence; just a modicum of consistency — both in diet and in training — to pull it off.
The simple and sustained act of cutting out sugar, processed carbohydrates and “fast foods” (i.e., “crap food”) will initiate a dramatic and sustained fat loss. As inflammation subsides, there will be a substantial loss of bloat/water as well. Ditch alcohol and dairy and that fat/bloat loss is even faster and more dramatic. This is bumped to the next stratosphere by the addition of an uncomplicated, linearly-progressed, basic compound exercises barbell regimen; added muscle mass only accelerates fat loss. Wash rinse, repeat.
And if you’ve made it this far, congratulations. You’ve bettered 95% of the general population who endeavor such a pursuit.
But why, then, the ungodly high failure rate? Well, it’s precisely the “wash, rinse, repeat” part that gets people in trouble. Consistency is effin boring; I get it. But if you’re gonna get better (at anything) you’re gonna hafta get over it and do the hard work. Day after day after mutha-effin day. I really wish I could sexy it up, but dems the facts, kids.
The good news is, those small changes made consistently, over time, produce glorious results. And these very simple changes work wonders until….
…until they quit working altogether. In otherwise healthy females, at about 25% BF. In males, about 15%. And that’s by DEXA or equivalent. Not by some bullshit caliper method.
Note: you’ve no doubt heard that you cannot out-exercise a crappy diet. And that’s true, at least, in a health sense. But you sure as hell can out-exercise a crappy diet in a body-comp sense. I think it’s important to make that distinction. That said, some (genetically) gifted females can exercise down to about 20%; gifted males down to the high single digits. But you’re likely not gifted, my friend. No judgements, just reality. If you are, you can probably quit reading now. You’re the .1% who can eat just about anything, bust-ass in the gym, and be two weeks from contest ready year-round. The downside of that is, everybody hates your friggin’ guts, haha 🙂
So for the other 99.9% — the mere mortals — what happens once the low hanging fruit has been plucked? This is where people get edgy, discouraged, and go into “fuck it all” / “why can’t I look like the Instagram bro/broettes”, self-hate mode.
And it needn’t be that way. For those willing to ante up, the game for the mere mortal is still very winnable at that “transition” point. I maintain just under 11% bodyfat on a 5’11, 220lb frame without really trying. In other words, while keeping my sanity. And while concentrating on things that really matter in life.
But I bust my friggin’ ass in the weight room. And, as I mentioned above, if there’s anything that’ll allow you to fudge (pun intended) on the diet side of things, it’s added muscle mass. And here’s a hint: “chronic cardio”, in all its manifestations (jogging, Zumba, “aerobics”…whatever), is antithetical to putting on muscle mass. I’ll leave it to you to connect the dots from there.
Ok, so what’s the trick for getting to that next level of leanness? Well, in a nutshell, we’re going to have to be *real* diligent about increasing insulin sensitivity.
Hold on — it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Remember, I do this at 51 without even trying. We just have to be a little smarter and more persistent than in the “low hanging fruit” stage. We gotta do the work, consistently. And eventually that work will become, like it is for me, second nature; your “new normal”.
But first we gotta dial-in the things you know you should do, but that you’re likely not doing. Like getting adequate, high quality sleep. And doing all those woo things that will help reduce your chronic stress. I like to remain annoyingly calm throughout the day (when I’m not training) and utilize float tanks when I can. But whatever works for you. And you’ve got to get your baseline nutritional requirements dialed-in. Vitamin/mineral/enzymatic/pro-hormone deficiencies of any sort will stunt progress in its tracks. Truly, nothing much else is going to matter until you get a handle on these three things. Majoring in minors will get you to next week, maybe even next year. But eventually the wheels are gonna come flyin’ off and you’re gonna be left to hooptie around with that damn muffin top. Or ass fat, or whatever your bug-a-boo is. So do yourself a favor and get a handle on this basic stuff.
Ok, so now that we have a handle on the lifestyle aspects of keeping our fine-tuned bodies insulin sensitive, let’s look at a couple dietary tactics.
And let’s go into this discussion with the following in mind: until we get a firm grip on insulin sensitivity, much of anything you eat (even protein and fat) will get directed into fat deposits. And in precisely those areas that you hate the most. It’s just that simple. I won’t go into the biochemistry here, because it just doesn’t matter to the practical bottom line: you can eat as healthy as you want, but if the basics aren’t covered and your insulin sensitivity is whack, your body recomposition efforts will stymie. And yes, life’s a merciless bitch that way.
Now, I know many of you will say, “but I’ve got an answer to that bullshittery! I’m going waaaaaay low carb! Fuck it, I’m going ketogenic!” Because, if a little low carb is good, more just has to be better, right?
And that’s all fine and well; a step in the right direction. However, I’d advise against going too low carb. And why is that? Because you can’t achieve an adequate level of swole, or maintain an adequate level of work capacity without having a sensible level of carb intake to cary you through the workouts that produce those results.
Note: yes, high caliber ultra-distance athletes and people on the extreme fringes can utilize a ketogenic diet to great benefit. If you’re reading this post, chances are close to nil that you fall into either camp. See the .1% comment above.
The key in this is that boring-ass word no one likes to consider: balance. Hell, “balance” is right up there with “consistency” in terms of sex appeal. But damn if they’re not the cornerstones of all progress.
That said, though, there are some “tips and tricks” that can help melt those last few stubborn pounds. Here are a few of my go-to’s:
- Fish oil – not only is this amazing substance the gold standard for reducing overall inflammation, but it has a tremendous effect on normalizing blood sugar levels. But not just any old fish oil will do. For the most part, you’ll get what you pay for, here (funny how that works). But you need not pay an exorbitant amount. Personally, I get my fish oil via my comprehensive ID Nutrition. It’s the highest quality product on the market, and I’m ensuring that the cofactors required for optimal absorption are also present in every dose. Note: speaking of supplement price and quality, my good friend Skyler Tanner collaborated on this very thorough bit of number crunching on the subject. Good stuff!
- Apple cider vinegar – I use it liberally — on salads, or whatever. I also just take “swigs” of it throughout the day. Call me crazy, but it works. Most probably because it helps attenuate blood sugar spikes.
- Probiotics and resistant starch. Gotta keep the good gut biota healthy. The perfect dose of (and the highest quality) probiotics are included within my ID Nutrition. If I’ve been low in fermented products or cold rice and/or potatoes (all great sources of resistant starch), I’ll add a couple tablespoons of Bob’s Red Mill potato starch to a shake. Or hell, just add it *any* liquid.
- eat a can of sardines first thing in the morning (or as soon as you’re hungry) and before each meal. The protein & fat combo with both blunt your appetite and dampen blood sugar swings.
- Intermittent fasting – tread easy here. IF works wonders for some; can be a trainwreck for others. Try testing the waters by incorporating IF every 6 days or so. And you need not go completely food-free on the fast day, but rather limit both the frequency and amount of your meals. You can also dabble with compressing your meal frequency to an 8 hour window a few days per week. Both of these methods work by increasing insulin sensitivity by cycling the frequency and amount of insulin that is produced by the pancreas in response to food ingestion of any sort. At the very least, though, the wave and weave mentality not only works for fitness and muscle gain, but for body comp… as well as for overall health.
And finally, smart use of ID Life’s LEAN product works wonders in the “final 15” scenario. But hell, it works wonders out of the gate as well. And it does so by both reducing the carbohydrate craving that causes most diets to derail. But where it really shines in the “final 15” scenario is via its thermogenic properties. Give it a shot; you’ll be thrilled with the results.
In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –