A High Power Fat Loss Program for Quick-Start Recovery

Bust That Holiday Weight Gain

A pile of vegetables in a grocery store.
A pile of vegetables in a grocery store.. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

This program is for all those people who like to party at various times of the year and who then struggle to get back in shape. Many of us do it to some extent -– overindulge and under-exercise.

The program features a high-intensity direct route for recovery of fitness and body shape and fat burning. It does take some discipline to carry through, and you need to be sure you have no existing health conditions that preclude vigorous exercise.

But I can guarantee that it will work for most people if you stick with it.

I call it High Power Fat Loss and it is a combination of moderate to high-intensity exercise including cardio and weight training plus a reasonably exacting dietary regimen. However, because I don’t like recommending programs that you can’t stick to for life, this program of nutrition and exercise is not so severe that you could not adopt it as a lifestyle program. Of course, I've tested it.

Elements of the High Power Fat Loss Program

The four components are as follows:

  1. Low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber eating
  2. Cardio at moderate to high intensity
  3. Circuit Training at moderate to high intensity
  4. Weight training at moderate to high intensity.

Who Can Use the Program?

High Power Fat Loss is for anyone who:

  • Is used to exercising but needs to lose weight and regain fitness. If you have not exercised in a while, get a medical checkup and a more gradual approach is advised.
  • Wants to recover from Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or any other period at which feasting and partying have compromised fitness and weight.
  • Needs to step up to fitness and fat loss quickly for pre-season sports training.
  • Wants to lose fat as rapidly as possible and maintain muscle while staying healthy and without very low-calorie dieting.

    Nutrition Plan for High Power Fat Loss

    The nutrition plan is low in added sugar, low in fat but not too low (20% to 25%), low in energy density and relatively high in fiber. Serving sizes should be adjusted according to your target weight. You will need to judge that yourself. On average, women need around 10 to 11 calories per pound of body weight each day to maintain their current weight and men need 12 to 13 calories per pound of body weight per day to maintain their current weight. (Multiply by 2.2 for kilograms.)

    How It Works

    To lose weight, you need to create an energy deficit either by reducing your food intake or expending more energy with physical activity. In this weight-loss program, the goal is to create the deficit by eating somewhat less and exercising a lot more. However, you should not undereat too much because that will lower your metabolism and you need to raise your metabolism -– which is what the higher-intensity exercise will do. Also, if you eat too little you will not have the energy to get through the exercise program.

    The way this eating plan works is it lets you eat sufficient food to satisfy hunger and to fuel the demanding exercise program while discouraging overeating. The low-fat, low-sugar (low-energy density) and high fiber nature of the diet is the key.

    This general eating (and exercise) approach has been proven successful as recorded in the National Weight Control Registry and also at Weight Watchers. The eating plan also borrows from the proven Volumetrics approach of Barbara Rolls, Ph.D.

    General Nutritional Principles

    How much of each? If you were to divide your dinner plate into four sections, make each plate of food two quarters (one-half) low-carbohydrate vegetables or salad (or some fruit), one quarter starch carbohydrate such as rice or potatoes (or some bread) and one quarter lean protein, meat chicken, fish or soy or bean protein. That is also an excellent general rule for lifelong healthy eating. You can adjust the proportions to suit body weight and exercise volume.

    Low fat. Cook lean: That means trimming the fat from meat, using a non-stick fry pan or grill and not adding any fat beyond a very light brushing of olive oil, if required.

    Don’t add butter or margarine to potatoes, soups, vegetables or anything else other than a small quantity of bread and toast if you find it necessary. No fatty sauces, cheese sauces, mayos or anything like that should be used. Use only low-fat, low-sugar dressing if you must use it on salads.

    Drink and eat low-fat, skim or non-fat dairy -- milk, yogurt, and cheese. Soy substitutes are fine.

    Low sugar. Don’t add sugar or honey to food or drink other than the following small allowances. Don't consume food or drink with large amounts of added sugar.

    You can only add three level teaspoons of sugar (cane, beet or corn), or honey, in total, to any drinks consumed each day -- tea or coffee being the obvious ones. One glass of fresh juice each day is allowed.

    You can consume a sports drink after each complete exercise session, but only then and only if you complete the 1-hour session. If not, drink water.

    You can only have one can of soft drink or pop in a week, low-cal or not. Remind yourself that soft drinks have 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar in a standard can. Have low-cal if you must, but you’re better off trying to wean yourself off sweet tastes.

    Fruit and vegetables. You can eat freely of most fruits and vegetables but don’t make it all potatoes, sweet potatoes, and bananas because they are higher in calories than other fruits and vegetables. Remember the plate quarters? These belong in the carbohydrate section and not in the salad vegetable section. However, you may need additional carbohydrate to keep your muscles fueled if you exercise at a high intensity.

    Bread and pasta. Choose mostly whole-grain, and if you are completing the exercise recommended in this program don’t be afraid to eat well of protein and starches. Some white bread and pasta will be OK in this case.

    Commercial products. Avoid products high in fat or sugar including commercial sweets, cakes, chocolates, pastries, cookies, biscuits, or glazed fruit or canned fruit with sugar syrup. Home baking or canning with substantial added fat or sugar should also be avoided.

    Be aware that many fruit yogurts are high in added sugar -- even low-fat yogurts. Low-fat products are not allowed if they are high in sugar. This is often how low-fat diets fail.

    Fast Food. You can have one fast-food meal each week but only small fries and drink are allowed and preferably after a workout. Avoiding fries and sugar drinks is preferable.

    Processed food. Restrict packaged and processed food as much as possible and choose fresh food instead. Some canned and frozen foods are fine. Avoid high-salt, high-sugar and high-fat processed foods and canned foods.

    Breakfast. It should be eaten each day and consist of a low-fat muesli, oatmeal, or low-sugar commercial cereal plus bran and no added sugar. You can add canned or fresh fruit. Avoid sugary fruit syrups.

    Plus, you can have the equivalent of an egg each day, or low-fat cheese slice or cottage cheese on toast or a spread such as ricotta, or low-fat yogurt (no sugar) to provide extra protein. Grilled fish or baked beans are other alternatives.

    Instead of cereal, you can have whole-grain bread or toast. But make it high in fiber at 5 grams per slice or higher with only a level teaspoon of butter or margarine if necessary and one teaspoon of honey or jam or fruit spread per slice, or you can include one peanut butter slice with no butter or margarine. Finish with fresh fruit.

    Snacks can include fresh fruit and salad vegetables. Or have nuts, avocado, olives and dried fruit to a serving size of a clenched fist. Or grab a high-fiber, low-fat and sugar muffin, toast or crispbread with a low-calorie spread. The nuts, avocado, and dried fruit are high in energy, so be sensible about them. Avoid commercial cookies, crackers and pastries because many are high in fat and sugar.

    Lunch and dinner should conform approximately to the plate-sized proportions and nutrient mix described above -- bearing in mind that this could be a sandwich or roll, or bowl of soup and fruit.

    Alcohol is limited to one standard drink per day of wine or beer; or a spirit with only half a glass of sweet mixer. Better still, give this up for the time you are on this program. Soda water with a little fresh juice makes a refreshing drink. (Choose potassium bicarbonate soda water and not sodium bicarbonate. Check the label to find this information.)

    Summing up the Nutrition Plan

    It’s tough but not too tough. Grasp the basic principles. Then apply them to your eating habits. You don’t need to conform word for word, and a few variations to reflect your eating habits won’t do any harm. Eating out is often the most problematic. Find restaurants or fast food chains that can supply you with the basic food types. Low fat and low sugar is the key to your weight-loss efforts. When you reach the target weight, then you need to balance your exercise expenditure with energy intake, especially your carbohydrate consumption.

    This low-fat, low-sugar eating plan combined with consistent moderate- to high-intensity exercise is a great lifestyle approach to health and fitness -- and it works.

    Exercise Program for High Power Fat Loss

    Here’s how it works:

    You exercise for 5 days per week for an hour each day with no more than two sessions consecutively. Thirty minutes of the one-hour session must be at a heart rate at or higher than 70% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). You can approximate your MHR by subtracting your age from 220. If you’re 40, your maximum heart rate estimate will be 180 beats per minute (220 less 40). Seventy percent of 180 is 126. That's your target heart rate. You can train at a higher heart rate if you feel comfortable with it, but you must reach that 70%.

    This is an estimate only and people vary in their heart rate maximum. Another way to approximate this is to see how well you can talk or hold a conversation while exercising. If you can carry on a conversation, yet it’s a bit labored and interrupted by breathing, that’s about right. If you can talk easily or sing The Toreador Song from Carmen, then you need to speed up a little. If you gasp for breath each time you try to talk, that’s likely to be higher than 70% of your highest heart rate.

    Here is an example schedule that you can use. Like the eating plan, these are general principles and you can modify them to suit your circumstances as long as you stick to the general principles.

    Day 1. Sixty minutes of cardio: Walking, jogging or cycling, with 30 minutes at 70% effort or higher. That means a solid pace for 30 minutes. You should get quite a sweat up. The second 30 minutes can be at a slower pace. You can do either intensity first, depending on how you feel or you can mix high and low intensity in 10- or 15-minute blocks. You can use a treadmill or cycle at the gym or home if that suits.

    Day 2. Weight training, moderate to hard. Use the Basic Strength and Muscle program or the Dumbbell Program. Put the effort in with these lifts. Do 10 minutes of cardio warmup and cooldown either side of the weights session to get your 60 minutes completed.

    Day 3. Rest.

    Day 4. Circuit training for 30 minutes moderate to hard, plus 30 minutes cardio at a pace of your choice. The dumbbell circuit can be done at home or at the gym. You can peddle a stationary cycle for the additional 30 minutes as an alternative to treadmill walking or jogging.

    Day 5. Same as Day 2.

    Day 6. Rest.

    Day 7. Same as Day 1.

    Summing up the Exercise Plan

    Remember, you need to hit that 70% of maximum heart rate for 30 minutes each session and you need to keep moving for another 30 minutes.

    Energy expended per hour should be in the range 500 to 700 calories for most people. And importantly, this level of intensity should create some afterburn effect, which will continue to rev up your metabolism for quite a few hours after exercise.

    You should refuel with a carbohydrate drink or meal, including a little protein, within an hour of exercise completion. It’s important that you eat well. But eat normally in this phase and don’t overeat to reward yourself, otherwise the plan will fail.

    Sources:

    Ello-Martin J, Roe LS, Ledikwe J, Beach A, Rolls BJ. Dietary energy density in the treatment of obesity: a year-long trial comparing 2 weight-loss diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jun;85(6):1465-77.

    Shick SM, Wing RR, Klem ML, et al. Persons successful at long-term weight loss and maintenance continue to consume a low-energy, low-fat diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 1998 Apr;98(4):408-13.

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