When you make a decision to tackle fat loss, at some point it’s going to suck – you’re going to feel a little hungry, your performance will fluctuate – a little bit of discomfort is necessary if you want to change your body. As you get leaner, this gets harder and harder and you need to find new ways to get the needle moving in the right direction. Things get confusing very quickly because there is a lot of conflicting information out there.
The intent of this article isn’t just to show you possible changes you can make to see results, but also to let you know that we can come up with plans to help you reach your goals. Everyone claims that they have the best approach but few reveal their secrets, so we’re showing you the exact methods we use to get our professional athletes lean.
The way we approach fat loss is to systematically improve and maintain performance, build and preserve lean mass, and then attack fat loss goals for short periods of time. We accomplish this primarily through the manipulation of energy homeostasis (Calories in/Calories out) and macronutrient changes.
If you’ve been milking the low calorie, “do more/eat less” method, you’ve realized that you eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. You end up stalling for long periods of time, which isn’t getting you where you want to go very quickly. To make matters worse, you feel like crap and you can’t wait to end your diet so you can eat all the food you’ve been avoiding. That’s not a winning formula.
What Is A Wave?
The Wave Method is an approach that we use with our members (and professional athletes) to help them achieve their fat loss goals and keep the fat off long-term, especially if they’re already at a lower body fat percentage and can’t cut fat for very long.
By waving from low-high Calories day to day, you can spend part of the week in a Calorie deficit and part of the week near maintenance. A wave will typically last no more than 2-3 months. After this the athlete goes back to their true maintenance for an extended period of time (3-6 months, if you have a lot of fat to lose the cycles would be shorter) before rinsing and repeating, until they arrive at the best body composition for their goals.
This method allows you to get very aggressive with your Calorie deficit on some days while keeping your average Calories within a range that doesn’t compromise performance and recovery too greatly.
A Quick Example
We’re looking at an active female who works out pretty intensely 5 days a week doing a mixture of strength, conditioning, and yoga. She’s 5’5″, 145 pounds, and about 15% body fat. Her TDEE is about 2,500 Calories a day but since she’s focusing on fat loss, she’s going to wave between 1,500 and 2,100 Calories depending upon her activity level.
Her schedule looks like this (Average calories for the week 1,842)
Some of you’re thinking “This seems too aggressive…” and you’re quite right. I really can’t stress enough that this can only be done for short periods of time (typically 2-3 months) before you stall and need to reset. You need to play with this strategy before you hit the sweet spot.
Make particular note that we are scheduling her lower Calorie days when she’s going to be the least active. Accounting for activity is a crucial element of making it work – don’t wing it.
What If I Don’t Take Rest Days?
The suggestion of giving up workouts to reach their fat loss goals isn’t something active people like to hear, but the reality is that it’s much easier to aggressively lose fat and preserve lean mass when you simplify your training, focus on maintaining performance, and get down to the bare essentials. This is a compromise for sure but in almost every single case it’s necessary. That said some athletes find that active rest days with 30 minutes of long slow cardio where you are keeping your heart rate lower is fine (anecdotally that seems person dependent).
If you’re a competitive athlete and you have an extremely busy training schedule that doesn’t allow for 1-2 rest days each week, you’re going to have a tough time implementing The Wave without running into recovery issues. Wait until you have a couple months to chill out a bit – the off season – before you go head-first into a fat loss phase.
If you need more help, you could always become an Eat To Perform member or start with our two week free trial to have a coach customize something for your level of activity.
Here are some cliff notes and things to think about as you set your plan:
Eat most of your carbohydrates around your workouts. Pre-workout carbs will help fuel your performance, and post-workout carbs will help you recover faster.
Protein is going to be kept high every day. 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is the golden rule (while we technically like .7 for most folks 1 gram per pound is just easier to remember).
Higher activity days require more starchy carbs. Potatoes and rice are a go-to. These are great times to eat high calorie treats you enjoy too, espeically if they’re carb dense. There are no cheat days when you’re eating to fuel performance – all sorts of foods serve a purpose.
Low activity days require fewer carbs. What I think you will ultimately find is that your carbs don’t need to drop too much and that cutting carbs too low is actually detrimental in terms of feeling satisfied and happy. Moderate changes are best.
Rest days require even fewer carbs. These days are going to get uncomfortable if you do them wrong (and probably a little bit even if you do them right). Don’t eliminate starchy carbs completely but try to make the best use of them – have your carbs around your workouts (for athletes using active rest) and before bed (If you decide to rest saving most of your carbs for dinner works well for a lot of athletes). You want to make sure you have a good allocation of fats, proteins, and fibrous vegetables on these days. This is a good time for fruit. If you can fit it in bananas and dark chocolate, go for it!
Why Not Go Low Carb Every Day?
Eliminating carbs from your diet does primarily two things: it makes your body better at using fat and worse at using carbs. This is why going super low carb to look good in a bikini for vacation lands you with more pounds and a watery look once you have those carbs because you are on vacation…and that’s just the aesthetic part. Clearly having a healthy functioning metabolism should be a priority for everyone.
I will admit to you that simply eating a moderate amount of carbs is a slower way to approach weight loss, but weight loss shouldn’t be your goal anyway – you should be focused on losing fat and preserving lean mass. We find most people can maintain their results eating in this fashion and that’s more important than a quick drop in scale weight that ultimately just has you peeing all of the time and represents more water loss than than fat loss.
Don’t Go To Bed Hungry!
Let’s face it, you are going to be a little uncomfortable but the worst thing you can do is to go to bed hungry because that will shorten your sleep cycle and sleep is a pretty big part of this deal. also let me be honest with you, you probably won’t sleep as soundly as you do when you eat an adequate amount of food, so that’s normal. It sucks, but it’s normal. There are a ton of ways to keep hunger at bay. I’m going to give you my perspective.
Let’s take a look at a day where you will be eating the fewest calories. What a lot of people do is have lots of small meals and snacks which pretty much lands them in the territory of being hungry all of the time. Using our example from earlier, I would distribute the days 1,500 Calories something like this:
- 300 Calories for breakfast
- 300 Calories around lunch
- 900 Calories for dinner and dessert
What About Delaying Meals a Bit?
A recommendation that might seem counter intuitive but works really well is eating later. Remember the goal is to get a comfortable nights sleep by going to bed with a full stomach. Simply delaying breakfast and eating most of your food in the later in the morning and then the evening is a great way to do this.
Remember, this isn’t “THE WAY.” It’s just one way that a lot of people have success with. A big part of this whole fat loss ordeal is simply finding strategies that work for your life.
After The Cut – Returning To Maintenance Calories
As a very general rule we suggest you add back in calories 200 every two weeks (I think I could make a strong argument this is the best piece of our coaching because this is the part where most people fail). This is dependent on a lot of factors, very active people tend to be able to get there quicker with no ill effects which (once again) is an argument for higher work capacity.
That’s typically a signal that you just need to reset/return to maintenance and I will give you an easy formula on how to do that later. Here is a great study that was recently released that backs up why we do it this way. In a nutshell, the longer you spend in a Calorie deficit, the longer it takes to recover from the ill effects of energy deprivation and the more sensitive you are to fluctuations in energy intake.
This is just one way to go about things – you may find another approach playing with these variables because lot’s of approaches work. In fact a big part of why Eat To Perform is so successful for so many people is not because of the deficit at all, it’s the time when you aren’t dieting where you are increasing lean mass, increasing your work capacity and in the end making your body more healthy. Chronically dieting often has the opposite effect.