Body fat seems so easy to add and so hard to get rid of. You try to work out and restrict your calorie intake, and yet the fat still refuses to go away. If this sounds familiar, rest assured that there are healthy options for effectively burning fat. While there's no guarantee that your fat will simply melt away (as many fad diet/pill/exercise ads promise), you can improve your health and appearance by getting your body working for you — and against your excess fat.
While the old thinking was that steady-state cardio sessions were best for burning fat, we now know that short and intense bursts of fast-paced cardio is much more effective. Hope Pedraza, an ACSM personal trainer and the creator of inBalance, a San Antonio-based fitness and wellness studio, suggests doing intervals that alternate between exercises that work different muscle groups.
Eat more fat: The idea that eating fat makes you fat has been dethroned hard in recent years. And in fact, dietary fat can help you burn more off your body—as long as you’re eating the right kinds. Healthy polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats—like salmon, trout, avocado, sunflower oils, olive oil, and nuts—can decrease appetite, improve heart health, and stabilize glucose levels which can help trim body fat, Montenegro explains.
Do more HIIT: High intensity interval training (HIIT) is as close to a magic pill as we have (except it involves a whole lot more work than just swallowing a capsule—sorry). Not only does it surge your body to max intensity during the workout, but because you’re working so hard, your body can’t deliver enough oxygen in the moment, explains personal trainer Jeremey DuVall. Your muscles accumulate a “debt” of oxygen that then has to be repaid post-workout. This throws your body into a phase of fat burning for hours after you’re done sweating, known as post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. Plus, super intense circuits like this activate muscle-building hormones like growth hormone and IGF-1, he adds.
This may explain why the fat-burning effects of eating more protein were confirmed in a study published in the American Journal of Physiology. One group was fed a high-protein diet (just over 1 gram per pound of body weight per day) while the second group consumed an amount closer to the lower recommendation of the RDA (recommended dietary allowance). The group eating the higher-protein diet burned the most fat.
Aim to do ab work 3 or 4 times a week on non-consecutive days with at least 24 hours of rest in between sessions, says Gagliardi. During those sessions, you can start with simpler moves like crunches, bicycle crunches, and planks. Even though you may only be directly targeting your abs 3 or 4 times a week, you should still be activating your core (aka, tightening your ab muscles) in every workout you do, says Gagliardi.
“Medicine ball slams are a dynamic, explosive, and highly metabolic exercise that does not simply target one muscle group,” explains Chris DiVecchio, trainer and founder of Premier Body & Mind. On the surface, the obliques, hamstrings, quads, biceps, and shoulders are the primary movers of this exercise. “But as time goes on and fatigue sets in, nearly every other muscle in the body, in one way or another, may become involved as a secondary mover which makes this a total gut blaster,” he adds. Doing side-to-side ball slams versus overhead slams incorporates more oblique ab work.
Spending more time in the kitchen can help you shed belly fat, as long as you’re cooking with the right foods, according to one 2017 study. After analyzing data from more than 11,000 men and women, UK researchers found that people who ate more than five homemade meals per week were 28 percent less likely to have a high body mass index, and 24 percent less likely to carry too much body fat than those whole only downed three meals at home.
3. Stand up more: By now, we all know sitting for too long increases your risk for most diseases, including obesity. But it also shuts down your body’s ability to metabolize fat. According to a study from Missouri University, certain enzymes in the blood vessels of muscles that are responsible for burning fat are “shut off” if you sit still for too long. The good news? The researchers say standing and moving just lightly will re-engage the enzymes.
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It's more challenging than a normal plank where your hands are on the floor, because the BOSU tests your balance, says Sanford. "When your body tries to find control as your balance is challenged, your abs, obliques, and deep transverse abdominal muscles are activated," he says. Strengthening these core muscles also helps increase your metabolism, ultimately helping you to burn more calories and fat.
3. Caffeine: Coffee is good for more than just a jolt in the morning. A study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that consuming caffeine an hour before you hit the gym can help you burn about 15 percent more calories than normal. What’s more, other research has found that sipping on the stimulant before the gym can help you eat fewer calories afterward.
Give crosstraining a go. Whatever your workout is — whether it's a 15 minute walk with the dog or a 10K through the park — your body gets used to it. You can actually burn fewer calories when your body is familiar with the level and type of exertion it's experiencing. So to keep your body a bit off guard, try crosstraining. Consider it a good excuse to pick up that hobby you've been eying.
6. Fast once a week: While regularly underfeeding your body completely messes with your hormone balance, there’s sufficient research to suggest that intermittent fasting (IF)—or going without any food for set intervals—can actually help your insulin sensitivity and burn more fat. Researchers at LSU, for example, found that when people fasted all day, every other day, their fat oxidation increased and they actually lost 4 percent of their body fat in just 22 days. There are a lot of ways to go about IF, from fasting for 12 to 16 hours every day, to going 24 hours once a week. (Learn more about it here.)
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Vary your daily calories while reducing your overall average. Your body may adjust to a lower but steady calorie intake, meaning it won't draw from your stored fat. To keep your body guessing and your metabolism up, try switching between higher and lower daily calorie intakes. This might help avoid that dreaded weight-loss plateau and improve your willpower.
If you want to lose fat, you have to eat fat...the right kind, that is. Adding healthy fats, in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can help you feel more satisfied with your meals. Yasi Ansari, MS, RD, CSSD, national medial spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says, "Fat sources that I recommend boosting in the diet come from unsaturated fatty acids found in foods like olive oil, nuts, avocados, fatty fish, and eggs, as they can help increase satiety while providing a variety of health benefits when consumed in moderation." You can increase your intake of healthy fats by adding some chopped avocado into your salads, enjoying wild salmon twice a week, and having a little peanut butter with your post-workout snack or smoothie. Just remember to enjoy them in moderation as they're still very calorie-dense, Ansari says.
How to do lateral medicine ball slams: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart with the medicine ball on one side. Pick up the ball and simply rotate your body as you slam the ball a few inches away from your pinky toe. Make sure to pivot your feet and bend the back knee as you come into a split squat position to catch the ball on one bounce. Alternate sides. Make sure you tighten your core as you bring the ball overhead and to the side.
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Still, it’s a worthy goal to lose belly fat because it’s “unfortunately the most dangerous location to store fat,” says Lawrence Cheskin, MD, chair of the department of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University and director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. Because belly fat—also known as visceral fat, or the deep abdominal fat that surrounds your organs—is more temporary, it circulates throughout the bloodstream more regularly and is therefore likelier to raise the amount of fat in your blood, increasing your blood sugar levels and putting you at a greater risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
It’s important to do full-body strength training if you want to lose belly fat—especially if you’re trying to keep it off for the long haul. “Strength training should be a part of just about everybody’s exercise plan,” says Dr. Cheskin. That’s because strength training helps you build muscle, which will replace body fat. And because muscle is metabolically active, you'll continue to burn calories after working out, thereby, reducing overall body fat. Bonus: When your metabolic rate becomes faster due to muscle growth, you’ll have a little more wiggle room in your diet if that’s something you struggle with, says Dr. Cheskin.
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