The 8 Strategies I Use to Maintain 14% Body Fat as a Female
Achieving a low body fat percentage is challenging.
Maintaining this low body fat percentage may be even harder. It’s easier to find motivation when you can see the end — the 6 week challenge, the body fat percentage that is almost within reach, the wedding you’re shredding for.
What’s harder is continuing to find that motivation once you’ve reached your goal. Here are the 8 practices I follow each day to ensure I stay on track for maintaining my current body fat percentage.
1. Morning fasted movement
I covered this in a recent article, and it resonated with a lot of people due to its simplicity.
This is something I learned from Ben Greenfield, and have implemented ever since. Performing some form of movement in the morning, and especially in a fasted state, is great for fat loss. It’s also great for optimizing your sleep quality due to its impact on the circadian rhythm, and movement is one of the top 3 practices I recommend including in the morning.
Combining this movement with caffeine reaps even more benefits. Fasted cardio is a powerful fat loss strategy on its own, but combined with caffeine, it becomes even more potent. Caffeine helps to mobilize fatty acids during your cardio, leading to even more fat burning.
During fasted cardio, your body will have minimal to no stores of readily available energy — i.e. glycogen from the foods you eat. Your body will therefore need to tap into energy stores in the body — i.e. stored fat. In fact, a study has shown that you will burn up to 20% more fat than you would have if you had eaten beforehand.
Interestingly, it is suggested that this protocol is particularly effective for stubborn areas, such as the thighs.
Furthermore, exercising in the morning will boost your metabolic rate and lead to EPOC — excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. This is where your body continues to burn calories for up to 24 hours after a workout, meaning you’ll be burning extra calories for the rest of the day.
Drink a cup of coffee or tea when you wake up (something with caffeine but no calories — no milk, sugar, or cream).
Engage in some form of cardio — go for a walk, do some yoga, go to the gym.
2. Intermittent fasting 13 hours a day
The 13 hour intermittent fasting protocol tends to have a circadian component, and when done in this manner, is called time-restricted eating, or TRE.
Our bodies have evolved to eat primarily when the sun is up — which is approximately 11 hours a day, depending on the time of year and where you live.
“Human metabolism follows a daily rhythm, with our hormones, enzymes and digestive systems primed for food intake in the morning and afternoon. Many people, however, snack and graze from roughly the time they wake up until shortly before they go to bed.” — Anahad O’Connor
If you can eat within this timeframe, you can optimize both your circadian rhythm and your health in general, and this protocol can have a good impact on fat loss. Our bodies like to eat on a consistent schedule, and especially when the sun is up. Eating out of congruence with this pattern can lead to sub-optimal health and fat gain.
“It is hard enough for the body to monitor hormones, genes, and clocks for someone with a strict eating routine. But when eating occurs at random times throughout the day and night, the fat-making process stays on all the time.” — Dr. Satchin Panda
Reduce your eating window
Figure out an eating schedule that works for you that involves a maximum of a 12 hour feeding window. For example, if you want to eat breakfast at 8am, make sure you have your last bite of the day by 8pm. Try to line this up with when the sun is up.
Eat at the same time, every day
Figure out when you want to eat breakfast, and eat breakfast at this time every single day, even on weekends. Similarly, figure out a lunch and dinner time that work for you, and stick with these every day.
Have your last bite at least 2 hours before sleeping
Finish eating and drinking (except water) at least two hours before going to bed, and ideally 3–4 hours before sleeping.
3. Low-level movement all day
Our bodies were not made to be still for long periods of time.
Low level activity mimics how our ancestors would have lived, spending much of the day walking, foraging, hunting, and building, among other things. They rarely sat down for long periods of time. We were not built to sit.
Incorporating low-level activity throughout your day is important for so many reasons. Firstly, we all know that sitting for prolonged periods is bad for us. It’s important to break up periods of sitting with movement. Ideally, for every 25–30 minutes that you sit, you should move for 5 minutes. But at an absolute minimum, get up every hour.
But this practice also has an impact on our body fat. Moving often increases metabolic efficiency — meaning your metabolism will work better and the body will use its energy stores, i.e. fat, more effectively.
Ben Greenfield explains why he is always moving, even when he’s working:
“I simply know the metabolic benefits of twitching and constantly moving and really kind of fooling your body into thinking you’re in this hunter-gatherer ancestral mode of just getting stuff done during the day rather than staying sedentary for extended periods of time. And when you’re sedentary, you see changes in insulin signaling and glucose transport and lower levels of lipoprotein lipase, which is the primary enzyme responsible for breaking down fat. So, the trick is to just figure out ways to move more.”
I have a non-negotiable goal of taking at least 6000 steps each day. This ensures that I am getting my body moving throughout the day. Find a goal that is relevant and achievable for you — something you can achieve every day, but something not too easy.
I also try to move for at least 5 minutes of every hour, so I am never still for more than an hour. These 5 minutes can be used to do anything — some chores, a walk with the dog, taking the stairs, a few bodyweight squats. If needed, set an alarm to go off at least once an hour to remind you to move.
While typically not associated with a fat loss regime, lifting weights actually has potent fat loss benefits.
As with the strategies above, lifting weights is an effective way to increase metabolic efficiency. Furthermore, lifting weights increases muscle mass, and the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn on a daily basis.
As with the morning movement, lifting weights is another great way to increase EPOC, and continue burning calories long after you’ve finished your exercise session.
Lift heavy things 2–3 days per week. Focus on compound movements, such as the big 5 — deadlift, back squat, bench press, barbell row, and overhead press. These movements engage a lot of your muscles all at once, making the lifting benefits even greater.
There are so many benefits to high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
One of the biggest benefits of HIIT is its impact on the metabolism; HIIT is a great way to boost your metabolism. Not only does it burn more calories than steady-state cardio of equal length, but you will also continue burning calories long after your workout is finished. Again, EPOC is the mechanism at play here.
For even more potent fat loss benefits, try sprint interval training (SIT):
A New Meta Analysis Has Found the Best Exercise for Fat Loss
And it only involves 2 minutes of exercising.
Incorporate some form of HIIT into your workout regime, 1–2 times a week.
If you want to learn more about HIIT and how to do it, I created a comprehensive guide to HIIT training here:
6. Avoid sugar and vegetable oil
I avoid both sugar and vegetable oil as much as I possibly can.
Sugar is highly inflammatory, and leads to large spikes and crashes in blood glucose levels. This can lead to issues such as insulin sensitivity and diabetes, and an inflamed body is more likely to put on fat and hold onto it.
And as for vegetable oil, it’s essentially poison — it’s one of the worst things you can consume. The brain is especially vulnerable to free radicals, which are molecules that can damage our cells as well as cause inflammation and disease. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, but vegetable oils disrupt the brain’s natural antioxidant system.
Vegetable oil, like sugar, is also highly inflammatory.
Processed and packaged foods are new — we have not evolved to be able to digest them, let alone to be able to get any value from them. And they’re doing damage to our bodies and impacting our health.
Eat foods your ancestors would recognize — foods that come in their natural form. If you’re eating a largely plant-based diet with moderate amounts of animal products, this will be easy.
I like to aim to always eat single ingredient foods — i.e. fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds, legumes.
7. Eating adequate protein
Protein is vital, whether we’re exercising or not.
It is the building block of our tissues, from muscle and skin to our DNA.
Protein also has a thermic effect, meaning we burn calories breaking down protein during digestion and metabolizing; protein takes energy to digest.
Furthermore, protein is highly filling, meaning if we’re eating adequate protein, we’re likely to be too full for other, less healthy foods. I write about this in more detail here.
Aim to consume 30g of protein at each meal during the day.
8. Eating lots of healthy fats
Fat doesn’t make us fat, despite what we’ve been told.
We need fats — our cells are made up of this vital macronutrient. However, the majority of fats consumed in Western societies are not good fats, and this is where the problem lies.
We need to be eating good fats, with a particular focus on omega-3 fatty acids and an active avoidance of omega-6 fatty acids (see point above about vegetable oil — the most common source of omega-6 in Western society).
Aim to include a dose of healthy fats at each meal.
We all respond differently to different types of fat, so pay attention to your body. However, we should aim for fatty fish (salmon, sardines), avocados, coconut oil and cream, animal fats such as butter and lard, and nuts and seeds — especially flax and chia seeds (high in omega-3).
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