How would you like to lose a serious amount of body fat in one month without marathon workouts or an unhealthy crash diet? It’s not as impossible as it may sound, so long as you tighten the screws on your meal plan and understand that the short 30-day window leaves no room for slacking.
“You can drop body fat and gain muscle more easily when you’re new to training, but it gets more difficult as you progress because the lower your body fat, the harder it is to preserve lean muscle mass,” says Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., a certified strength and conditioning coach and an assistant professor in the exercise science department at Lehman College in the Bronx, NY. But there are steps you can take to maximize your results while minimizing muscle loss. We’ve got your road map to help you shed fat and keep your metabolism humming. Follow it for one month and you’ll soon notice a difference in how you look and feel.
1. Maximize Your Training Time
To burn as many calories as possible in a single strength session—and make the most of your minutes in the gym—focus on using a variety of multi-muscle, multi-joint exercises. “Exercises like squats, presses, push-ups and rows effectively target the large muscle groups, which provides the great effect on fat burning,” Schoenfeld says.
2. Scale Back Cardio
Spending too much time on the treadmill can have an adverse affect. “Doing a ton of cardio when you’re in a caloric deficit can lead to overtraining,” says Schoenfeld. “It’s basically a starvation mechanism—your body demands energy and will rebel if it doesn’t have the capacity to properly recover.” This can affect your body hormonally, he adds, by reducing testosterone, causing muscle breakdown, while increasing levels of cortisol.
Prolonged cardio sessions have another downside. While they help to burn fat, it can come at the expense of lean muscle tissue, as your body burns both to fuel endurance sessions, explains wellness expert and celebrity trainer Jackie Warner. “That’ll keep you skinny fat—not strong.”
3. Fuel Up Properly
Warner suggests a pre-workout meal about a half hour before training. Choose one that’s filled with both fast- and slow-digesting carbs, such as a cup of oatmeal with some fruit. Post-workout, look for a combo of carbs, protein, and healthy fats, such as eggs, whole-wheat toast, and a few slices of free-range turkey. And don’t skip or go too long between meals. “Skipping meals means your body burns sugar, fat, and then muscle,” she adds.
Cutting calories too severely translates to muscle breakdown. A simple formula to try: “Pick an ideal body weight, and multiply it by 13 to 14,” says Schoenfeld. For a 125-pound goal, that’s 1,625 to 1,750 calories a day.
Three protein-rich meals a day will be enough to give your muscles the anabolic effect they need to get stronger. You can have smaller meals more often, but “studies have shown that there’s really no thermogenic benefit from this strategy,” adds Schoenfeld.
4. Sleep More
Quality sleep energizes the brain and body—and odds are you’re not getting enough of it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even labeled sleep deprivation a public health epidemic in 2014. Earlier this year, the National Sleep Foundation revised its sleep recommendations: Adults ages 18 to 25 are now suggested to nab eight to 10 hours of sack time, whereas adults ages 26 to 64 should still aim for seven to nine hours. In addition to sapped energy levels and diminished focus, a lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain, as well as an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
Top Foods to Fuel Your Metabolism
Reset your body from the inside out by getting your nutrients from a delicious array of whole foods, advises Warner. Here’s what you should be looking for: whole grains and legumes (for zinc, lysine selenium, B vitamins, and slow-digesting carbs), the most colorful array of veggies you can find (for beta-carotene, micronutrients and minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and indigestible carbs that help keep you from snacking on less nutritious foods), lean protein (for muscle building and satiety), and healthy fats from foods like nuts, avocado, and olive oil (for muscle building, tyrosine, and overall healthier thyroid function). Lastly, take advantage of the good side of natural sugars as a fuel source during exercise and to help nutrient absorption post-workout.
Make sure you’re getting a good balance of fiber, healthy carbs, and lean protein, all of which will help you develop lean muscle tissue and lose fat fast. Here are 22 of Warner’s favorite muscle reboot foods that can help do just that.
- Brown rice
- Whole-grain pasta/bread
- Nut butters
Fiber and starch
- Sweet potatoes
- New potatoes
- Greek yogurt
- Whey protein
- Lean roast beef
- Chicken and turkey (no skin)
Try this four-week plan at the gym or at home, adapted from Jackie Warner’s new book, This Is Why You’re Sick & Tired.
Weeks 1 and 2 will kick up your heart rate while building fat-fighting muscle. Weeks 3 and 4 will build strength, power, and endurance.
WEEKS 1–2: Burn & Superset Circuit Training
How to do it: Perform two sets of four exercise combos (10 reps each) back to back, with no rest to fire up the max amount of muscle fibers.
Plié Squat with Hammer Curl
Bridge/Flat Dumbbell Flye
Deadlift with Bentover Row
Lunge with Kickback
Alternating Lunge with Reverse Grip Row
Backward Lunge with Standing Headbanger
Side Lunge with Lateral Raise
Squat with WV*
Plié Squat with Military Press
WEEKS 3–4: Lean & Mean Pyramid Training
How to do it: Start with one rep of each exercise combo, back to back without rest. Then start again from the beginning, except do two reps of each move, and so on until failure. Aim for 55 total reps for each exercise, rest up to 1–3 minutes as needed.
Flat-back Dumbbell Press/Wide Curl
Flat-back Dumbbell Flye/Close Curl
Bent-over Row/Lying-down Headbanger
Alternating Row/Standing Headbanger
Plié Squat/Arnold Press*
*See next page for instructions.
SQUAT WITH WV
Stand with feet just outside hips, toes pointed slightly out, dumbbells in both hands, arms bent and at your sides, knuckles facing out. (Your arms will form the letter W.) Engage abs (imagine pulling them toward your spine) and keeping your chest up, lower into a squat. As you bend knees, simultaneously press weights up and out in a slight diagonal so that your arms are straight, and they now make the letter V. Straighten your legs and bring your arms back to the original W position at the same time.
ARNOLD PRESS (Weeks 3-4)
Stand with your feet under your hips, elbows at shoulder height, palms facing forward. Engage your abdominals and take your elbows out to the sides. Then press the dumbbells over your head until your arms are straight. Return to the starting position.