For as long as I can remember, my goals has been to lose weight. Since I was in 4th grade, I have been conscious of my food intake and activity level. 4TH GRADE. That’s really not okay.
How I got started into fitness is a whole other story, but basically I’ve been lifting weights seriously for 2.5 years, but have found myself at a plateau for over a year straight. Why? (1) I wasn’t lifting heavy enough to gain strength because (2) I was not eating enough. I wasn’t starving myself by any means, but you can’t expect to get a big booty if you’re eating in a caloric deficit.
It all started right before Christmas. There is a lady I see from time to time at the gym. She is a solid powerhouse. She’s probably around 35-40 years old and is strong as hell. We say hi every time we see each other, but this particular day I was feeling frustrated with myself and really
needed some guidance from someone who really looks like they know what they’re doing. I asked her if she knew anything about nutrition, and it turns out she is a nutritionist. WHAT? What a small world. Anyway, she basically confirmed what I’ve been thinking for awhile, but could seem to get myself over the mental hurdle; she told me that my body is living in a state of constant caloric deficit.
What does that mean? I’ve been religiously consuming less than my body burns daily. That is how you lose weight, but if you’re living in a constant deficit your metabolism is basically taking a hit and not functioning like it should. So there I was, letting all my great workouts partly go to waste because I wasn’t fueling my body with enough nutrients to build muscle.
Now, I’m going to use specific numbers, but please know that these numbers are specific to my activity level, height, weight, etc. so they will not work for you! I am a 24-year-old, 145-150 pound, 5’8” female. I am not petite, I feel like I’m quite large for a female.
It’s slightly discouraging to see all my favorite fitspos who are “bulking” on a 2,000 calorie diet. So when I’ve been eating 2,000 calories and feeling like I’m restricting myself it kind of brings me down. What’s wrong with me? The problem is a lot of these girls are 5-foot-nothing. The bigger you are, the more your maintenance calories are, DUH! But it was still such a mental hurdle to get over; but I can now confidently say that I’ve done it and I’m THRIVING. I’ve never been eating more, felt stronger and lean at the same time, or have been more in love with training. I am so damn proud.
I am SHOOK at the progress I’ve made in the past 66 days. I feel like I’ve wasted so much time plateaued because of my stubborn mind convincing me that if I ate more, it would all be stored as fat. As it’s true I’ve gained a bit of fluff, I know that most of the 6ish pounds I’ve gained is from muscle because my strength in both compound lifts and isolation movements has gone up immensely. I went from curling 15s to 30s. I went from lunging 30s to 50s.
So let’s talk specifics. Here is what I’ve been doing differently that has gotten me results in the past 66 days:
I’VE INCREASED MY CALORIC INTAKE. For the past year, I’ve been continually eating 1,900-2,000 calories daily, which may be a lot for some people, but I still felt like I was restricting myself. And it turns out I was! I’m an extremely active person; I go to the gym 6 days a week, I walk to and from work, and am just always moving. According to my FitBit, most days I burn around 2,600 calories. So when I’m eating only 2,000 that’s already a 600-calorie deficit, which is not sustainable. And since I’ve been doing it for so long, my body adapted to it and basically went into starvation mode, holding on to all calories for dear life, ruining my metabolism. Theoretically, I could eat 2,600 calories and maintain my body weight because my caloric input and output would match. If you feel hungry, it’s because your body is low on calories SO EAT! I’ve been eating anywhere between 2,400-2,600 calories daily and my body and mind feel so good. You cannot build muscle if you’re not eating enough, my friends. This has made all the difference so far in 2019.
I’VE CUT OUT CARDIO. Of course cardio is important to maintain your heart health, but 10 minutes a few times a week seems to be perfect for me. I use it as a warm up, so things like LISS on the stair stepper or incline walk on the treadmilll get my heartrate up and ready to work. I used to only do cardio, so I understand the mindset of “I have to do cardio or I’ll gain weight”, but it’s just like the mental hurdle of eating more. Your body needs to use those calories to build and repair your muscles, which it can’t do if they’re being used as energy for your cardio sessions.
I LIFT HEAVY. And by heavy I mean if you can do 6-8 reps without making grunting noises you are lifting too light. I learned how to push myself to new heights and I am so damn proud of myself. Lifting is so addicting because now I just want to see how much more I can lift or how many extra reps I can do each week. Correct form is definitely the top priority, so if you’re just starting out, please focus on form. But I do want you to know that using 10 pound dumbbells is not going to get you big muscles.
I START EACH LIFT WITH 2 COMPOUND LIFTS. Compound lifts are usually done with barbells and are movements such as squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bench press, etc. and all variations of them. These exercises use more than one large muscle group so they get your heart rate up. These are staples exercises that must be done first and foremost. After 2-3 of these to begin each workout, I went on to more isolation, accessory movements. Stick to the basics, these exercises aren’t considered staples for nothing.
I TRAIN WITH PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD. Each set I increase the resistance and decrease the number of reps. My last set is 2-4 reps only, but I push my weight.
Again, I want to stress the importance that food has played in my progress. I couldn’t lift heavier because I had little energy because I wasn’t eating enough. Shoutout to my gym friend, you honestly changed my life and I am so appreciative.
You hear it all the time, but if you want to get strong you have to eat and you have to train hard. You need to push yourself. Change will not happen by continually using the same weight and reps. The mental hurdle is a huge one to jump, but once you do it, you will realize how good you feel. I promise. There is nothing wrong with hiring a personal trainer, coach, or nutritionist for help. As humans, we are wired to be stubborn as hell, but having someone qualified to tell you what to do might just be the push you need.