“A Minimalist Approach to Leaning Out & Staying Strong” by Paul Nobles

“A Minimalist Approach to Leaning Out & Staying Strong” by Paul Nobles

I just lost 11 lbs. in 11 weeks.  If you aren’t familiar with Eat To Perform, you may be asking yourself:  “So what’s the big deal?  I’ve lost 10 lbs. in a week in the past!”  While that is possible, you likely didn’t keep it off and it probably wasn’t all fat; you lost mostly water.  In reality, losing body fat is a gradual process and I thought I would detail the approach I’ve been using over the last few weeks to lose fat and maintain muscle mass.  The reason I think this is important is because when you gradually lose fat, you are more likely to maintain muscle mass (as I did in this scenario) and performance, which I’m betting is of particular interest to you.  So let’s get started:

The Step Almost Everyone Skips

When I started this phase, I was coming from training as a powerlifter and eating in a mostly intuitive fashion.  While I was doing some conditioning, it wasn’t quite to the level of I would be at moving forward. I am currently training for the Granite Games in September.  One of the advantages of powerlifting is that there is basically no penalty for getting bigger; it only serves to make you lift more weight and I am not just talking about muscle.  The combination of energy when you need it and bodily leverage works to your advantage.  Like they say, “Ass moves mass.”  The difference in training for a high intensity event however is that “mass” works against you.  Thus, I had to improve my efficiency a bit and the fat loss journey I am about to detail went underway.

I want to make this abundantly clear though, I started this round of focused fat loss coming from a well fed background.  The point was to get stronger and eat with a purpose.  This is important to mention because most people don’t do this – they move from diet to diet or they THINK they are over eating because they over did it for a weekend.  If you try to go from one low calorie fat loss diet to the next, you’ll crash and burn because you probably don’t have anywhere to pull calories from as it is!  The best way to do things is to start off with several weeks (months or years) of eating at maintenance.

I was powerlifting for at least a year and hadn’t counted a calorie or been overly restrictive in at least three years.  The simple fact of fat loss comes down to this:  if you want to have the most success, work the math in your favor.  In that time, I was eating mostly whole food meals, adequate protein mostly from meat, a good amount of fats to keep my calories up and enough carbs to power me through some hard workouts.  I can’t definitively say “This is how much I was eating” but I worked out when I wanted to and that was about 5-6 days a week.  Once I started tracking, it was easy to figure out I was eating over 3,000 calories a day.

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Conditioning for Powerlifting vs. High Intensity WOD’s

Most of my conditioning while powerlifting was strongman based, or I might do a Tabata finisher.  Some days I exclusively did conditioning because the powerlifting days just kicked my ass.  In retrospect, I learned a lot from the experience and there were just things I needed to know about how strong I could get.  I was glad I learned those things and I am grateful for my experience with them.

So let’s talk about when I started to train for the Granite Games, what I did, and why I did it that way.  First, let me say that this process sucked.  one of the big mistakes I see a lot of people making when they come back to doing High Intensity stuff is they go too hard, too fast.  I wrote about this in an article on things I learned from Powerlifting, but the two most important things were I was no longer going to do things fast that I couldn’t do well slow and I would modify freely based on my goals.  When I first started back, I just did the women’s weights for all of the WOD’s.  I didn’t change my eating all that much in the beginning, hoping the additional volume would work in my favor.  It didn’t.  Also, my work capacity was awful now.  No regrets though, because the biggest reason I decided to focus on strength was so I could get  A LOT stronger.  That happened but it would be a while before I saw the benefits in a WOD that didn’t involve deadlifting.

A Delicate Balance

It took me some trial and error that I will detail throughout this article (and subsequent articles) but the one thing I didn’t want to do was lose focus on my strength.  I was already well into a front squat progression so rather than the two-three times a week I was doing it now, I moved to once a week on Wednesdays.  I also added a push press progression I was doing before WOD’s on Thursday’s but I stopped that and I will tell you why later.  The long and short though is that it was just not efficient to do both so I came up with a better plan.

At that point I was WOD’ing four days a week and doing strength on Wednesday’s with the push press progression on Thursdays.  Fridays and Mondays were my rest days which were actual rest days not “active recovery”.  At this point though things were much more fluid and if I needed to take days off I did.  That typically meant eating less so I tried not to often.

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While I was able to lose about three pounds doing things that way, it was very erratic.  It was pretty clear at this point that my goal was going to be tough to reach without some level of precision so I put two things in place to get a better handle.  I started counting calories and in addition to weighing myself daily, I set a goal date for Wednesdays at noon.  Basically on Wednesday at noon, I needed to be down 1 pound from the previous week.  Not only did I hit it almost every week (save once) but I often didn’t need to go to Wednesday.  For instance, if I hit my number on Tuesday I could resume eating normally.

Let’s face it, any change to your routine kind of sucks and since this would be my first time keeping track of food and really even trying to lose fat in years, to say it was inconvenient doesn’t fully describe the process.  The difference however (and one of the reasons why it was hard) is because all of the while, I was maintaining and gaining performance.  I will talk about that more in the next article.  Until then!