Wondering why all your efforts in the gym aren't paying off? Fitness writer, Katie Hiscock shares her top tips to help you get the most from your workouts, shed the pounds and stay on track...
If your waistline is groaning from the excesses of Christmas and you want to kick-start a fitness routine that lasts well beyond the winter months, here are our tips to help you stay on track and shed the pounds...
Remember why you’re doing it
To lose weight, you need to be in calorie deficit from your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). In plain English, the amount of calories you eat needs to be less than the amount of calories you burn each day. If you’re embarking on a fitness and weight loss programme, it’s worth remembering the basic principle of this energy balance equation and finding out roughly what your TDEE is to understand exactly why that extra gym class or eliminating that daily bag of crisps at lunch can help you lose weight. You can find TDEE calculators online.
Beware the compensation effect
Going to the gym but not losing weight? Studies show that people who exercise often cancel out the calories they burn by eating more. This could be because their appetite increases, or simply as a reward for a good gym session. So beware of that seemingly innocuous hot chocolate after a gym session – it may actually being undoing all your hard work!
Watch out for sports drinks
Sports drinks contain salts and sugars to replenish what the body has lost through sweating that water alone can’t replace. Their purpose is to bring the levels of minerals in your blood closer to their normal levels, so you can continue your workout as if you just started. Many of them are packed with carbohydrates however – which means they also contain calories. Unless you need the energy contained in these drinks to fuel your activity (such as a long run of over an hour), it’s wiser to choose simple water, or a zero-calorie electrolyte drink and avoid the hidden calories.
Activity doesn’t just mean the gym
Moving more doesn’t mean you need to join a gym. From walking up stairs to gardening, any activity that gets your heart rate going and your muscles moving will have an effect.
Walk your way to weight loss
You don’t necessarily need to take up a high intensity Zumba class to lose weight either. Research shows that moderate exercise, such a walking, can be just as effective for weight loss since it doesn’t trigger the appetite hormones, which can lead to you reaching for the biscuit tin after a hard workout.
Shun the scales
As you lose fat and build muscle, keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat, so you may find that your weight actually creeps up. Shun the scales in favour of a body composition test, which will measure your fat and muscle percentage and show the progress you’re making. You can buy simple body composition scales for home use, but the more accurate scales can be found in some gyms and fitness centres.
Move more, eat wisely
There’s little point in going to the gym five times a week if you’re going to undo it by eating a poor diet and consuming more calories than you’ve managed to burn. When it comes to food choices and losing weight, it’s a case of eating less and eating wisely. Alongside upping your activity levels, eating regular meals, avoiding hidden calories in alcohol, shunning saturated fats, increasing your intake of vegetables and snacking wisely will help you to shed those excess pounds.
Consider the hidden fat
While we need a certain level of fat to be healthy, excess fat isn’t good for anyone. Everyone holds fat in different places and where you get fat deposits depends on your genetics, lifestyle and gender. Subcutaneous fat is held beneath the surface of the skin and is the visible fat that we can see, while visceral (or ectopic) fat – the danger fat - is hidden fat held around the body’s organs.
“Your body wants to get rid of the visceral fat before it gets rid of the subcutaneous fat,” says Andrew Tew, Running Services Manager for ASICS. “This is why a lot of people get disheartened when they go to the gym – particularly when they start going as they expect to see an instant result around the outside of their body, which they often don't because the body wants to get rid of visceral fat first.”
Build muscle to burn energy
Building muscle mass isn’t just about building a six-pack, muscle tissue also uses up more energy than fat tissue. This means that if you increase your muscle mass and lose fat you’ll be burning more calories more efficiently - even while you’re at rest.
Katie Hiscock is a fitness writer with diplomas in personal training and sports massage therapy. With an interest in sports nutrition, antenatal exercise and injury prevention, she works as a therapist for Brighton & Hove Albion.