How many times have you started working out? How many times have you started a new program by feeling excited, committed, and confident that this will be the time you finally get the body you’ve always wanted?
So you start, and a month goes by, then two, then three. Everything’s going well until one day, something comes up and you have to skip a gym day. “No big deal. It’s just one day”, you say.
Then you lose your momentum and start skipping a gym day here and there every couple of weeks. “I’ll make it up next week,” you say.
Then eventually, you start going one day a week less, until before you know it, you’ve stopped going completely. “I’m just too busy,” you say.
Why do people quit the gym? If the above story sounds like you, you’re not alone: lack of time/being busy is one of the most frequently quoted reasons for quitting the gym.
But for many of us, it’s not that we don’t have the time: it’s that we’re not seeing any immediate return on the time spent exercising and so we give up.
Time is valuable, and if we’re not getting any positive results from spending it at the gym (or anywhere for that matter), we will put our time elsewhere in activities where we do get results.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could end the cycle of start-stop, start-stop? Whether you’re on your first fitness journey or your fifteenth, here are some important things to consider to make sure the time you spend on your fitness is well spent so you never have to start over again.
Ever hear the expression, “6-pack abs are made in the kitchen?” It’s true: working out alone doesn’t mean much if you don’t also take control of your diet. If your goal is weight loss, you need to burn more calories than you take in. Yes, that means keeping track of your calories.
It gets really hard to stick with the gym when you aren’t seeing results after a couple of months. That’s because if you’re doing everything right and being consistent, you should be seeing progress.
But before you get too frustrated, know this: counting calories works and it’s not that hard if you can get a sense of how many calories your body needs. You can do that with the following steps.
1. At your gym or doctor’s office, get your body composition analyzed. For counting calories, what you need to get is your Lean Body Mass (sometimes called Fat-Free Mass) and body fat percentage.
2. Use your body fat percentage to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate, the number of calories your body needs to support itself, excluding the energy needed to move and do work. You can do that with this online calculator.
3. Once you have your BMR, you need to use it estimate how many calories your body uses in a day, including activity/exercise. That’s called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). You’ll need to multiply BMR with an Activity Factor that best reflects how active you are. Those activity factors are:
4) With your TDEE in hand, now you have a much better idea about how many calories your body needs to maintain itself. You need to adjust your caloric intake to your goals. You must reduce your daily calories to be under this TDEE and be consistent if you want to lose fat.
To gain muscle, although everyone agrees that you need to exceed your TDEE, the amount necessary remains difficult to accurately determine. One study of bodybuilders reports you’ll need to exceed it by about 15%., whereas the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends an overall caloric increase of between 300-500 calories a day.
It seems logical to use a scale to track your progress. You probably have one at home, and since you’re expecting to see weight loss changes, it makes sense to use it to track your progress. However, using a scale can give you a false impression of your progress that can leave you feeling discouraged, or worse – make you think you’re not getting results when you actually are!
If you’re new to the gym and you start incorporating some strength training in your routine, you’ll likely start gaining some muscle while you lose fat. Your muscle gains might not completely offset your fat loss gains, but they will influence your scale weight and make it seem like you aren’t making any progress when you actually are.
In this above example, this person increased their Skeletal Muscle Mass and decreased their Fat Mass. If the muscle gains are greater than the fat losses, this can lead to an overall weight and BMI increase.
However, this leads to an overall reduction in both body fat mass and body fat percentage. This means that even with increased weight, overall fitness and physical appearance will improve.
This happens because by cutting carbohydrates out of your diet, you’re also cutting out glycogen – the energy molecule provided by carbohydrates. Glycogen has a very interesting attribute: 3-4 grams of water bond to each molecule of glycogen. So, when you start cutting carbs out of your diet, you’re also cutting out the excess water.
Not seeing results after a lot of time and energy invested at the gym and in your diet is very frustrating. However, you can let go of a lot of this frustration by setting reasonable goals.
First off, you can’t expect any reasonable fat loss without being in a caloric deficit – using more energy than you’re eating. Without having an estimate of your TDEE, you’re going to be doing the fitness equivalent of grasping in the dark.
Once you have an estimate of your TDEE, you can set a reasonable caloric deficit to achieve measurable fat loss. Although there is some variation, most experts and resources, including the Centers for Disease Control, agree that a caloric deficit of about 500 calories each day equaling to 3,500 calories a week will result in a pound of fat loss per week.
This means there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that 1 pound of fat a week might be a little slower than you might have hoped for.
The good news is that this 1 pound of fat is a real pound gone, and as long as you don’t fall back into habits with poor diet and little activity, you can keep off that pound of fat even after you reach your goal.
Any discussion about how much muscle you can gain and how fast you can gain it invariably brings up discussion of your genetic threshold. It’s widely understood that you can’t (naturally) gain muscle at a constant rate forever and that beginner lifters gain more muscle faster than athletes who have been developing their bodies for years; however, what’s not so well understood is what the limit or rate is.
Lyle McDonald of Bodyrecomposition offers a model he means to be taken for general use which holds that in the first year of consistent and proper training, a beginner can expect to gain 2 pounds of muscle a month, or about half a pound of muscle a week.
Gaining muscle requires a whole different set of nutritional requirements and workouts from that of losing fat. Although both goals have their own challenges, building muscle may actually be the more difficult of the two.
Unlike fat loss, building muscle requires increasing your caloric intake beyond your TDEE and performing consistent strength-based exercises properly, while giving yourself the recovery time necessary to let your muscles grow and develop.
You’re also going to need to monitor your protein intake to makes sure you’re providing your body with enough nutrients to promote muscle growth.
Ultimately, a healthy body is a reflection of a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet that involves staying active and doesn’t involve overeating will result in the appearance you want.
Tying it all together, the best way to break the cycle is to think about your health and fitness as a lifestyle choice instead of something based on physical appearance or a number on the scale. Looking at it that way, time becomes irrelevant, as you will slowly and steadily work towards your goals. In time, you’ll get there, but in the meantime you’ll be enjoying all the physical benefits that living a healthy lifestyle can bring, including:
As well as the more intangible ones like
Make sure your time at the gym is worth it. In fitness and health, slow and steady really does win the race!