Trying to tone up and lose weight can be a difficult enough task, without the added headache of trying to navigate a minefield of information. It can be very confusing trying to work out what the best methods are, and what will work for you, without getting bogged down and frustrated.
The purpose of this article is to highlight some key areas for losing weight and building tone so you can be better equipped to achieve your health and fitness goals. I've simplified the science here, so if you have any questions about the following tips, please get in touch with me so I can provide you more information on the areas you're interested in.
When we talk about toning up and losing weight, what we are really talking about is changing your body composition. This requires two things:
Developing the size of the muscle cells, which will provide shape and definition
Reducing excess body fat that covers the muscle
Here are my body composition tips that can help you get the lean, toned body you want.
Women often worry that they will become 'bulky' if they start lifting heavy weights. This is NOT the case. Women do not have enough testosterone to create huge muscle mass, even if they are lifting heavy weights.
Lifting weights is a key way to sculpt muscles and increase your body tone. The added bonus is that it is also highly effective at reducing body fat, because the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate. Muscle mass also increases insulin sensitivity so that your body is better able to process carbohydrates, which is a major bonus for long term weight management.
You will achieve the best results from multi joint lifting, and lifting that use the largest muscles in the body (e.g. deadlifts, weighted squats and lunges). This is what I focus on when programming for weight loss clients.
Lastly, you need to lift a decent amount of weight, you will not achieve tone with light weights. If you are unsure how much weight you should be lifting, please ask me!
Interval training works wonders on body composition because it raises your metabolic rate for several hours post exercise. This is known as ‘afterburn’. It also increases the hormones and enzymes involved in fat burning. Double the benefits!
AVOID EXTREME CALORIE RESTRICTION
We all know that in order to lose fat, you have to create a calorie deficit. However, when you slash your calorie intake below your resting metabolic rate, your body responds by slowing your metabolic rate down in order to preserve fat stores.
For example, a woman of normal weight and average muscle mass will have an approximate resting metabolic rate of 1400-1600 calories. This means that the body requires 1400-1600 calories per day just to perform its basic functions, such as breathing, circulation, and cell production. You shouldn't eat less calories than your resting metabolic rate. If you'd like to know how many calories you should be aiming for, I can organise to test your resting metabolic rate.
EAT ENOUGH PROTEIN
I’ve mentioned above that to improve body composition, we need to develop the size of muscle cells. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle, so it makes sense that we need sufficient protein intake to increase muscle cell size.
Including protein in a meal helps manage your appetite by making you feel full after your meal. This in turn makes it easier to create a calorie deficit because you aren't left reaching for snacks to satisfy your hunger. It also reduces how much insulin is released in the process of breaking down your meal.
Protein doesn't have to be meat. There are lots of options of good quality plant or dairy based protein. Try tofu, quinoa, cottage cheese or ricotta.
TIME YOUR CARBOHYDRATES
We all know it’s important to reduce our intakes of refined carbs (including sugar) in favour of veggies, fruit and whole grains, but it’s also important to eat your carbs at appropriate times.
For example, eating your carbs post workout rather than at breakfast means they are more likely to be stored as fuel in the muscle tissue than as body fat.
Dinner is another key time for healthy carbs, as they will increase the release of calming neurotransmitters like serotonin, so you can unwind and get good quality sleep.
Lastly, there is evidence that improved results can be seen when eating more carbs on the days that you train and less on days that you don't. Just make sure you don't make carbs the largest part of the meal!
EAT HEALTHY FAT
Low fat diets can cause a lot of trouble for women. Women use the cholesterol provided in fats to produce their required hormones, so avoiding dietary fat can lead to hormone imbalances.
Certain hormones are necessary for muscle recovery, and they also play a role in metabolic rate and fat burning. Ensuring your cortisol levels (another hormone) are at the appropriate level is key for stress management and fat reduction around the waistline.
MANAGING STRESS LEVELS AND MAKING SLEEP A PRIORITY
Both lack of sleep and increased stress will increase cortisol levels, which leads to fat storage, muscle breakdown, and increased levels of hunger. For most people, it’s impossible to eliminate stress from our lives, but it is possible to find ways to manage it. Think about what things help you to relax, and make sure you schedule time for those things.
Make sleep a priority and aim for 7-8 hours of restful sleep. Insufficient sleep impacts your feelings of hunger and feeling full. Again, it all boils down to your hormones, in this case ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin signals to your brain that it’s time to eat. When you’re sleep deprived, your body makes more ghrelin. Leptin on the other hand cues your brain to put the fork down. When you’re not getting enough sleep, leptin levels plummet, signalling your brain to eat more food. Put the two together and it’s no wonder sleep deprivation leads to overeating.
Managing your stress will pay off by improving the amount of quality sleep you get. If you would like more tips on how to manage stress and get good quality sleep, ask me to send you my Top 5 Fat Loss Tips To Live By handout.
Epel, J., et al. Stress and Body Shape: Stress-Induced Cortisol Secretion Is Consistently Greater Among Women With Central Fat. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2000. 62, 623-632.
Hazell, T. et al. Running sprint interval training induces fat loss in women. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2014. 39: 1-7.
Tanopolsky, M., Saris, W. Evaluation of Gender Differences in Physiology. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2001. 4, 489-495.
Trapp, E., Chisholm, D., et al. The Effects of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise Training on Fat Loss and Fasting Insulin Levels of Young Women. International Journal of Obesity. 2008. 32(4), 684-691.