You were doing so well and almost reached your target weight, but then the scale just doesn't want to move any further? On a weight loss journey we all get to know plateaus and we know they’re going to happen at some point.
Instead of holding yourself down, think of it this way: When we plateau, it actually means that we've made progress! Don't despair, it’s the perfect moment to look back and see how far you’ve come.
If you are a male and start at 25% body fat, it's possible to lose around 0.5-1 kg/2-3 lbs per week in the first few weeks. If you're already at 13% body fat, it will take you much longer to lose the same amount.
During my prep, I plateaued at 57kg/125lbs. That was the point where I had to work even harder to lose more fat every week.
The leaner you become, the harder it'll be to lose fat.
Why do we plateau?
First, as a leaner person, your energy expenditure is lower than you when you were heavier. Now the amount of calories that had you lose fat in the beginning of your journey, is enough to just maintain your weight. You’re consuming fewer calories than you used to, so your body gets more efficient in using them.
You body adopts to the calories you're consuming and slows down the fat loss. The leaner you get, the more you body will hold on to your last fat stores.
Please, don't even think about taking 'magic-pills' to speed up your process! There are other, healthy ways.
How to break a plateau
Here are some tips that will help you to break through your plateau.
Please do not start searching for those "how to boost your metabolism"-articles. I’ve did that before, and most of it is crap.
Reconsider your caloric intake
Start by re-evaluating your caloric intake and make sure you're eating less calories than you're burning. Go down another 100 kcal per day and see what happens.
If you're already very low in calories (below 1200kcal), try to add 200 kcal per day to your caloric intake. Yes, it may seem counterproductive, but not eating enough can have the opposite effect on your body fat.
A lot of people seem to be confused about the amount of calories they have to consume. Plus, most people overestimate their daily activity levels and therefore consume too many calories.
This calculator uses one of the best formulas out there to accurately estimate the calories you need on a daily basis. Activity levels are expressed in a way that better suits most people's daily lifes.
We are huge fans of lifting heavy weights. It's not just a mental boost, but it will also boost your fat loss.
Several studies have shown that lifting weights will increase your metabolic rate, which will in turn make you burn more calories.
Therefore, go heavy in the weight area at your gym. Don't be afraid. You can start with compound exercises, like squats, deadlifts and bench presses.
As you get used to the exercise, it becomes less effective, because the body gets more effective. Maybe try different variations like front squats or box squats instead. Change the type of exercise you do for each muscle.
Get enough sleep
Do you skip sleep often or don't get enough sleep in general? If so, your body might switch into a carb-and-fat-craving survival mode and you will feel much hungrier.
When you get less than 6 hours of sleep per night, you’ll lose much less fat than when you get the standard 8 hours of sleep. Learn to rest! You'll also recover better from your workouts and be able to work out harder the next time.
Add more protein to your plate
Sounds worn out, but it's no secret that protein has the highest thermic effect of food. Meaning, the digestion of protein requires more energy (hence, more calories get burned).
In fact, 20-30% of the calories you eat from protein get burned during digestion.
Furthermore, studies have shown that eating a high amount of protein (at least 2g per kg body weight / 1.2g per lbs) stimulates the production of the hormone PYY (peptide tyrosine tyrosine), which is known to reduce appetite and make you feel satiated for longer.
Check out some of our favourite protein recipes, if you wonder how to eat so much protein.
Are you tracking your calories properly?
Because if not, you might be eating more than you're thinking. Not tracking everything that goes into your mouth is a guarantee for stagnation at some point.
Many calories can creep in from all kinds of places, such as mindless snacking, sauces, drinks and alcohol.
200-300 calories too many per day can completely hamper your progress. That's just 2 tsp of olive oil, a handful of nuts or 2 small bananas. Fat loss is not complicated, but it requires precision. Don't fool yourself.
Add/increase cardio sessions
Meh, the part I dislike the most. But if you want to reach your goal, it has to be added for most people. When you don't want decrease your caloric intake any further, then you should add or increase cardio on top of your weight lifting sessions.
When I was in competition prep and my weight loss stalled, I added 10 more minutes to each cardio session and saw how my body responded to that. If needed, I added another 10. I wouldn't recommend doing more than 4 extra cardio session per week, if you're also weight lifting, because cardio will increase your cortisol-levels and can lead to muscle wasting.
If you don't want to spend so long on the treadmill, try HIIT instead. HIIT is a method of cardio where you switch between all-out intensity periods and low-intensity periods.
It's pretty simple: during the high-intensity intervals, you push yourself as hard as you can. During the low-intensity intervals you catch your breath for the next sprint. 20-25 minutes is more than enough. If you're not completely wasted after 25 minutes, you did it wrong.
Stress is one of the most applicable reasons for a fat loss plateau. When your stress levels are high, your body produces more cortisol, the 'stress hormone'.
Cortisol's main purpose is to help the body respond to stress properly. Sadly, it also stops the break down of stored body fat.
Learn to manage your stress levels. Try meditation, go for a walk, read a book, meet a friend, take a hot bath. Take time for yourself and relax.
Mind your alcohol intake
Drinking regularly with your mates on the week ends? No, it's not a bad thing, but mind that alcohol might sabotage your fat loss efforts.
Alcoholic drinks provide no nutritional value, just empty calories - and often times a lot of them. And to be honest, it's not just that 'one drink', is it?
Another problem is, that alcohol loosens inhibitions. Hence, you'll more likely overeat on food and snacks.
Furthermore, alcohol also suppresses fat burning. Consumed with a high-caloric meal, your body will burn the 'poison' first, which contributes to more body fat storage. Alcohol decreases fat oxidation for up to 3 days after a good drinking session. Yes, 72 hours! If you drink every day, you're setting yourself up for fat gain, bad nutrient absorption and alcohol related deceases.
Confuse the body
Our bodies are much smarter than we think. If you're on a restrictive diet for a longer period of time, your body gets used it and adjusts accordingly.
When I feel like my body gets used to the situation I put it in, I like to change things up in order to confuse it.
A good way is to change the type of diet. At the beginning of my prep I was on a high carb/low fat diet. At the end, when my body didn't want to lose any more fat, I switched to a high fat/low carb diet. And the fat loss went on.
The body was very efficient at utilising carbs for energy at that point, but not fat. Giving the body the same amount of calories from fat, rather than carbs, meant less effective absorption, higher caloric deficit and a breakthrough in fat loss.
You don't have to fuck your body up, to reach your target. You just have to confuse it from time to time.
Fat loss plateaus are frustrating, but not irresolvable. They are a normal part of your weight loss journey, so don't fear them.
How did you break through weight loss plateaus in the past? Share your tips and experiences in the comment section below!