Nutrition Training

You’ve Hit a Weight Loss Plateau: Now What?

weight loss

So you’ve made the decision to take charge of your body. You’re eating right, hitting the gym, and the pounds start falling off. And then you hit a wall. Even though you’re putting in the same effort, you just aren’t getting the returns you enjoyed early on.

Time to overcome your weight loss plateau.

What Causes a Plateau

It’s extremely common for people to make great progress toward their weight loss goals right out of the gate. Then, all of a sudden, the diet and exercise regimens that were once so effective just stop working.

So, if you’d like to take yourself from reasonably lean to ripped, you’ll have to change your game plan. Unfortunately, the same tools that took you from 30% body fat down to 15% often won’t work for cutting the last 5%.

Here’s why: To become overweight, your diet and activity level had to be out of balance. A sedentary lifestyle and/or consuming massive empty calories isn’t a natural state for human beings, and results in an unnatural body composition.

To correct this, you simply have to right those imbalances. If you’re already trying to lose weight, you’ve likely tackled the major hurdles of cutting out the junk, replacing it with real food (greatly decreasing your calorie intake), and adding 3 to 5 days of gym time per week.

In your fitness toolbox, these are your big hammers – making these changes will get most of the job done.

But after you’ve used your hammers, you’ll need employ more delicate tools to refine your results.

Slashing calories further will only lead to loss of muscle mass and hangry (hungry and angry) behavior. Doubling your gym time will leave you exhausted and probably burn more muscle than fat.

So what do you do?

It’s time to fine tune the process. Here’s how:

Assess your hunger

If you felt satisfied with the amount of food you were consuming that led to earlier weight loss, great. You have a little wiggle room to cut more calories. Head on down to the next section on evaluating your intake.

However, if you’re constantly hungry, you may have a little more work to do.

In the process of losing weight, a lot of people get a little too ambitious and start slashing calories drastically. As a result, protein intake also suffers. Super restricted calories and inadequate protein intake lead to a loss of muscle mass and a decreased metabolic rate.

So if you’re constantly hungry, cutting food intake further isn’t a good idea. In this case, a mini-bulk may be in order to bring back some of the lost muscle mass.

Evaluate your intake

To jump start new fat loss, you need to know how much you currently eat to determine what you can cut out.

Certain diets, such as low fat, low carb, or paleo, are touted as the cure-all weight loss system and claim to eliminate the need to count calories. While it would be wonderful if that was the case, it simply isn’t true. It’s still possible to gain fat on any of those diets if you overeat.

To track your food intake, you don’t have to put all of your food on a scale. But you do need to have a good idea of what you eat consistently to help figure out where adjustments can be made.

I use the myfitnesspal app. It’s free and easy to use.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to track your meals like this forever. Once you’re a pro at monitoring your food, you’ll be able to ballpark things with sufficient accuracy.

Reboot your fat loss

Once you’ve got a handle on your intake, it’s time to make adjustments and reboot your fat loss.

(1) Cut about 200-300 calories per day –  As your food intake gets closer to maintenance levels, taking big bites out of your daily calories will just lead to muscle loss and overpowering hunger.

To find your maintenance calories, monitor your intake for a week or two and then find the average (use an app for this, trust me). Slowly reduce your caloric intake from there.

(2) Protein is #1 – Metabolic rate is largely determined by the amount of muscle mass you have. Preserving as much as possible, or even gaining, is your number one priority when you want to lose fat.

Consuming 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass is a good starting point. To calculate your lean body mass, I suggest these calipers and this formula.

(3) Fat is #2 – Dietary fat provides satiety and is necessary for proper hormone production. A good starting point for daily fat intake  would be about half your bodyweight in grams.

(4) Carbs are #3 – After you figure out your protein and fat requirements, add in enough carbs to make up the remainder of your calorie needs.

Tweak your workouts

(1) Focus on steady improvement in the gym – Now that you have the quantity of activity dialed in, and you know that adding more workouts won’t necessarily speed results, it’s time to focus on quality. Try to stick to an established program and focus on progress by doing more reps, more weight, or taking shorter breaks.

(2) Weightlifting is #1 – The biggest mistake people make when losing weight is neglecting the iron. Cardio alone will not produce a great physique, but weightlifting alone can. Preserving and gaining muscle mass are more important than lowering the numbers on the scale. Weightlifting is your best tool for this task.

(3) Activity is #2 – You should aim to live an active lifestyle. Try running errands by walking or riding a bike. Spend some time playing basketball, hiking a trail, building a tree house with the kids, or anything else that gets you off the couch.

(4) Cardio is #3 – After you’ve nailed everything else, you can go ahead and add some cardio into your routine. Just don’t treat it as the end goal. For optimal body composition, resist the urge to constantly improve your mileage or pace. You should put all of your available focus into progressing in the weight room and getting a solid amount of protein at every single meal.

Macro Recommendations

I’m a big fan of low carb diets for fast weight loss, but they can be expensive, inconvenient, and I often l lose too much weight on them.

When you’re trying to overcome a weight loss plateau, I like to look at things from a practical perspective (i.e., how the diet will fit into your lifestyle), so I recommend starting with macronutrients somewhere around 30% Protein, 20% Fat, and 50% Carbs.

If you opt for these macro ratios, you’ll find that they fit pretty nicely into normal eating habits, provided you make an effort to get in some extra protein with each meal.

Further, you don’t have to stick to these ratios exactly. Some people might not feel comfortable consuming so many carbs, so you can just decrease carbs and increase fat.

Whether you’re bulking or cutting, fat and protein can remain fairly constant. These are essential nutrients and contribute most to feeling full. When calories need to be cut, it’s generally best to cut out some carbs (not to zero though).

My current weight loss diet

I’m coming off a winter bulking cycle at the moment and looking to lean out a bit for summer. Since I started out skinny-fat, my body favors fat storage while bulking, and muscle loss during cutting phases, so I like to keep protein on the high side.

My previous macros were built up over the winter to around 110g fat, 230g protein, and 450g carbs for a total of 3,710 calories.

Currently, I’m consuming about 80g fat, 250g protein, and 400g carbs for a total of 3,320 calories daily.

As you can see, I decreased carbs and fat to cut some overall calories. I’ve also increased protein a little so I don’t lose too much of my hard-earned muscle in the presence of a caloric deficit.

Take-away points

Assess your hunger levels. If you’re ravenous, you likely can’t cut additional calories. Spend a couple months regaining some muscle. Once you’re feeling good, you can continue trying to lose fat.

Evaluate your current intake. Setting arbitrary numbers, such as 2,000 calories, is silly at best, detrimental at worst.

Cut calories slowly. Cut 200-300 calories from your daily intake. When weigh loss stops, cut another 200. Repeat until shredded.

Keep protein intake high. You want to lose fat, not weight. Severely restricted calories along with inadequate protein is a recipe for muscle loss.

Focus on making progress in the weight room. Weightlifting builds and maintains muscle, burns calories, and increases your metabolism long term.

Apply these tips and you’ll be smashing through your plateau before beach season!

All the best,

Nate

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Damian @ Dareandconquer
    April 16, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    The article is very good nate but there is something important i would like to add here.

    A re feed day can be extremely beneficial to kickstart your fatloss. A refeed day is what you can imagine: a day that you stop caring about fatloss and eat above maintenance levels. Eat whatever you like. This creates a great anabolic effect that makes your body’s fat loss progress start again the next day. You can have a two day refeed period or more if you like. A refeed can be also done by eating on your maintenance levels if you were cutting to much calories while on fatloss

    Additionally it increases leptin levels which is extremely important. Leptine levels go down when in fatloss and is especially due to insufficient amount of carbs. As a result it makes you feel tired, have reduced sexual drive and other side effects. That’s why i think low or zero carb fat loss diets suck. They are not enjoyable because leptin is decreased. So a refeed day can help boosting leptine levels.

    Additionally keep calories under maintenance by 200-300 like you said is very important. Cutting more calories will cause problems. What i want to add here is a good rule of thumb:Multiplying your weight in lbs x 15 and find your maintenance calories.That way you know how much you need to cut from the beginning and there is no need to experiment with eating less or more. Saves time.

    regards,
    Damian

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 16, 2015 at 9:59 pm

      Great tip Damian! Having a re-feed day can do wonders for your energy levels, mood, and progress during a diet.

      I do like to monitor food intake rather than using a formula because everyone is a little different. I, for example, maintain my weight at 3,400 calories per day. But if I multiply my weight, 190 lbs, by 15 I get 2,850. That would put me at a 550 calorie deficit before I even started cutting calories.

      If people don’t feel like monitoring their diet for 2 weeks, that is a good alternative.

      • Reply
        Damian @ Dareandconquer
        April 16, 2015 at 11:32 pm

        3400 for maintenance? You are expensive to feed! lol

        • Reply
          Nate
          April 17, 2015 at 12:13 am

          Haha, grocery shopping does take a good chunk of the budget. I’ve been slowly increasing my calories since last fall. I started at about 2500 for maintenance and worked up to 3700 with minimal fat gain. The key was to do it slow and steady. I’m hoping dieting won’t be too painful this time around.

  • Reply
    Chris
    April 16, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    I found I’ve leaned down just by focusing on testosterone. I eat lots of fats, and not many carbs, with looots of protein. Very similar to what you have here with the addition of zinc supps, not masturbating, and focusing on STRENGTH in the gym(which is actually harder with this diet, but it can be done). Chase does have a point, hormones are a big deal.

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 16, 2015 at 9:44 pm

      You’re right, focusing on protein and strength in the gym is the only way to ensure you’ll be able to keep your muscle mass while losing fat. Having healthy testosterone levels is also a must. People who diet aggressively typically run their hormone levels into the ground.

  • Reply
    Peter
    April 20, 2015 at 5:12 am

    Great tips Nate. With all the weight loss advice out there it’s easy to get lost. This makes it simple to prioritize and take action.

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 20, 2015 at 11:47 am

      You’re right peter. One trainer says you need circuit training while another preaches daily cardio. Someone tells you that dietary fat is evil while everyone else is waging war against carbs.

      They get lost in the details and forget the most important factors. All you have to do is eat slightly less than you do currently and do everything in your power to maintain muscle mass.

  • Reply
    PM
    April 21, 2015 at 12:57 am

    osta shred. the shit is amazing.

    • Reply
      Nate
      April 21, 2015 at 11:52 am

      I haven’t tried Osta, but have heard good things. I only recommend supplements after diet and workout are in place, though.

      Good tip!

  • Reply
    David
    April 22, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Great post Nate, simple and to the point. I see a couple of things I’ve been doing wrong. I’ll be taking your advice and changing my focus for a few weeks.

  • Reply
    Why a Workout Plateau Is Killing You & How to Overcome It
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    […] Moreover you could also check this article from my buddy Nate from IronandTweed: You’ve Hit a Weight Loss Plateau: Now What? […]

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