We’ve all been there… “If I just lose 10 lbs I’ll feel better about myself.” Most people have tried to diet at least once in their lives, men and women alike. Weight loss, body composition, and trying to improve your physique have been hot topics for decades, and probably won’t die out anytime soon.
Let’s start by getting this out there first: There is no perfect body!
Body image positivity is key and overall health is so much more important than having abs. However, I would also like to say that there is no shame in wanting to improve your physique. As long as you find a sustainable approach to dieting and hopefully get some guidance from a Registered Dietitian, reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle can have great health benefits.
Yes, improving your physique typically involves fat loss, but it also involves building and maintaining muscle. When you aren’t under the right guidance, your efforts to improve your physique might be squashed because of some very common mistakes.
Here are a few of the reasons why your efforts to improve your physique aren’t paying off...
Table of Contents
1. Starting a diet phase right away
It’s all too common that when you are ready to lose weight, you start cutting calories right away. With that approach, stalls typically happen much quicker because there was no effort to improve metabolic rate. Let me break that down for you.
- Your metabolic rate is the number of calories needed to maintain your body weight
- If you are maintaining your weight by eating very little (very common), your metabolic rate will most likely be lower than normal.
- When you begin to take away calories to try to lose weight, eventually, you are going to run out of calories to take away.
- This then causes a stall in weight loss, demotivation, and reverting to whatever you were doing before, crushing your efforts.
The SMARTER approach to changing your calorie intake
- Get a good assessment of what your daily caloric intake would be to maintain your weight
- Slowly work calories up so you have a higher intake while maintaining your weight
- Pay attention to when you’ve hit a caloric threshold (where adding more calories cause you to gain weight)
- Spend some time at your new maintenance calories before starting your diet to better set you up for your caloric deficit.
Yes, this can take some time, months even. However, you are looking for long term physique improvement which is going to take some time. Be patient with this process.
2. Dieting too aggressively
Lose 10 pounds in 10 days! Use these meal replacement shakes and lose 20 pounds, easy! Cut out all carbs and lose weight fast!
Stay away from these types of claims. Your physique did not take 10 days to make, so you aren’t going to change it in 10 days either. 90% of diets fail and these aggressive and non-sustainable approaches are part of the problem. You lose weight fast, get burnt out, then gain it back.
This, by the way, wreaks havoc on your metabolism. In addition, dieting too aggressively also increases the amount of muscle mass lost, which you want to keep in order to have a more aesthetic and metabolically active physique.
The SMARTER approach to cutting
- Adopt a dieting strategy that slowly removes calories, instead of taking them away all at once
- Aim to lose about 0.5-1 lbs weekly in order to obtain sustainable weight loss and ensure most of this is fat, instead of fat and muscle.
3. Following an unsustainable approach
This typically goes hand in hand with dieting too aggressively. It’s popular to cut out food groups in order to get into that caloric deficit. Low carb, no sugar, no gluten, no dairy, you name it. These are fad diets and they are unsustainable.
You have to ask yourself though, are you willing to do that for the rest of your life? I can almost guarantee you that answer is no. If you want long term changes to your physique, you also need to adopt long term approaches to your diet.
The SMARTER approach
- Avoid any and all diets that involve cutting out food groups, unless you have a true allergy, intolerance, or medical reason to remove that food group.
- Find balance between “fun foods” and more nutrient dense foods so you don’t feel deprived, but you also can stick to your plan.
4. Only focusing on macronutrients rather than whole foods and micronutrients
Counting macros is a very effective way to lose weight. This involves hitting daily calories by consuming a set number of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Counting macros creates a much more calculated approach to creating a caloric deficit, less guess work when problems arise, and helps ensure enough protein is consumed in order to preserve/increase muscle mass.
However, it is easy to stray away from consuming whole foods like fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats because they can be a little higher in carbs and/or fats than other foods. Here’s the deal though, your overall health is more important than trying to lose a little body fat.
In addition, if you aren’t consuming adequate vitamins and minerals, you may feel more fatigued, performance in the gym may suffer, digestion may suffer, and mood may suffer. All of these can lead you to falling off plan.
The SMARTER approach to eating
- Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your daily carbohydrates. These are chalk full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers. Your body needs it!
- Ensure that you are consuming some whole grains in your daily carbohydrates. This will help increase fiber and help you feel fuller for longer.
- Include healthy fats. While oils can be harder to fit in a low fat approach, some nuts and nut butters are great additions into your daily fat/protein allowance to support absorption of fat soluble vitamins and hormone health.
5. Not prioritizing protein
Protein is an underestimated micronutrient. Many who don’t know a lot about protein may think about either chugging whey protein shakes after a workout or damaged kidneys. Both visions are a little skewed.
Yes, it is important to have protein around workouts, but what is more important is eating enough of it to stimulate muscle growth. Aesthetically pleasing physiques have more muscle. To build muscle, you need adequate protein consumption. To keep muscle, especially while dieting, you need adequate protein consumption.
In your efforts to improve your physique it is so important to eat enough protein. And don’t worry, the wives tale of too much protein damaging your kidneys isn’t true.
The SMARTER approach to protein
- Eat enough protein. When you are trying to put on muscle to improve your physique, daily protein recommendations range, but getting in at least 1.8 g per kg of body weight or more will be beneficial. When you are in a calorie deficit (or also known as a diet phase), protein needs go up in order to maintain muscle mass. It’s recommended to consume at least 2.2 g per kg of body weight daily.
- Spread out your protein throughout the day. Not only will stuffing in a lot of protein at the end of your day be uncomfortable, it’s not optimal for muscle growth or maintenance. Spreading out your protein into 3-5 portions with at least 25g a portion will not only promote muscle growth more efficiently, but it also helps with satiety and managing blood glucose levels.
6. Not training intelligently
Improving your physique should include some kind of strength training. This helps build and maintain muscle, burn more calories, and helps increase your metabolism. However, there should be a method to your madness. If you only do the best looking Instagram “booty blasts” or “core crushers” you are going to waste a lot of time spinning in circles with muscle growth.
Progressive overload is needed to get stronger and increase muscle mass. If you do a different workout everyday there is no way to measure progress, which means no way to measure if your workouts are even working.
Don’t be afraid of lifting weights. Before you ask, NO you will not get bulky. Remember, more muscle is what you want to improve your physique and you’ll need to pick up some heavier weights for that.
The SMARTER approach to training
- Use an intelligently written program which allows you to progress and monitor how you are improving. If you aren’t making progress, you can make adjustments to training and nutrition. The stronger you get, the more muscle you will be able to build.
- Train muscle groups evenly. Hit each muscle group at least twice a week and incorporate deloads (discussed in the next section) when there is a stall in progress.
The all or nothing mentality is all too common when it comes to “getting healthy” or losing weight. This includes getting in the gym and training WAY too much. More isn’t always better when it comes to exercise. In addition, no matter how much you train you will eventually see a stall in progress which calls for a deload.
Deloads are 1 or 2 weeks where training is scaled back in an effort to rest and reset sensitivity in your central nervous system and increase recovery. These are SO important to insure you continue to progress. If you are overloading your system with resistance training 6 days a week plus tons of cardio you are going to do way more harm than good.
- Weight lifting too many days a week will not leave any space for recovery which will hurt overall gym performance and prevent progress from happening
- Training too many days a week will also burn you out VERY quickly leading to demotivation and falling off plan. This can also easily lead to injury, especially if you are not focused on good form.
- Incorporating too much cardio will most likely stall weight loss early on from metabolic adaptations. It also will drain your energy needed for your weight training sessions. You need productive weight training sessions in order to put on that muscle baby!
The SMARTER approach to avoid overtraining
- Train each muscle group about 2x a week leaving in active or complete rest days to promote recovery and control inflammation
- Incorporate a deload every 4-6 weeks to promote recovery and allow you to continue to progress.
When improving your physique and reaching your fitness goals, there almost always needs to be a combination of fat loss and increase in muscle mass. That happens most effectively when you take on an intelligent nutrition and training plan. It is important to work with professionals who have a “slow and steady wins the race” approach because improving your physique can be a very long process.
Although it may be a daunting task to change your body, it is nothing you can’t handle. You are strong and capable and can improve your health however you choose.
Hopefully some of these common mistakes speak to you and you can pivot towards progress. By taking a healthy approach, you can improve your physique and your health all at the same time.
Read about common food and nutrition myths to learn more!