Whether you’re looking to lose 30 pounds before summer or simply improve your overall health, losing body fat can be a hard feat.
Reducing body fat is one of the main reason people start exercising, whether it’s running, lifting weights, you name it.
Although it’s quite challenging, reducing body fat doesn’t have to be complicated.
When it comes down to it, weight loss is a numbers game – burning off more calories than being consumed. To shed the pounds the healthy way, you’ll want to focus on body fat reduction while keeping your muscle mass.
In this article, I’ll share some of the best science-backed ways for losing body fat fast, focusing on a fat loss diet and exercise for reducing body fat.
What Is Body Fat?
First things first, what do I mean by body fat?
The human body comprises two types of mass: body fat and non-fat mass. Body fat is the fat located under your skin, in muscle tissue, or among organs.
As the name implies, body fat percentage refers to the percentage of total body mass that is made up of fat. For example, a 180-pound guy at 20 percent body fat, has about 36 pounds of fat on his body. The remaining 144 pounds or 80 percent of his total body mass is known as lean body mass, or non-fat mass.
Non-fat mass includes muscle, bone, organs, water, and tissue. It might also be referred to as lean tissue. This mass is metabolically active, which means it burns calories for energy, whereas body fat does not.
The Importance of Body Fat
One of the most common fitness goals is lowering body fat percentage.
The objective isn’t to exterminate of all the fat. The truth is, some fat is essential for overall health, and our bodies require it to survive.
Body fat is key for:
- Optimal reproductive health
- Protect vital organs
- Balancing hormone levels
- Stores fuel for energy
- Healthy metabolic function
- Storming vitamins
- Brain and nerve function
- And so much more
Instead, the goal is to improve body composition. This means reducing the amount of body fat you’re carrying while improving your muscle mass.
From the perspective of Blanca Garcia, RDN, when you lower your body fat, you build a better body, achieving a more toned, slimmer look that you might be chasing.
When you lower your body fat, you build a better body, achieving a more toned, slimmer look that you might be chasing.
Reducing body fat can also help improve your posture, boost your energy, improve your agility and just make you feel confident and generally better.
Where is All The Fat?
In general, your body contains three main types of fat:
- Essential fat
- Subcutaneous fat
- Visceral fat
Essential fat, as the name implies, is the type that’s essential for life. It’s found in the brain, nerves, bone marrow, and the membranes around the organs.
Essential fat helps cushion and protect your organs, provides insulation to help keep you warm, and aids in nutrient absorption.
Subcutaneous fat consists of the fat that lies directly under your skin surface. It’s the fat that jiggles when you move, which makes it the type of fat you want to lose. You get leaner, look tighter, and drop dress sizes when you lose it.
Last but not least, visceral fat is the deep, internal fat stored inside your abdomen and surrounds your organs, such as your heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, etc.
Visceral fat is biologically active as it produces more toxic substances than other types of fat, making it extremely dangerous. So even if you’re within the healthy weight range, carrying excess visceral fat comes with a range of health risks.
Carrying an excess amount of visceral fat in the abdomen might signify metabolic syndrome. This refers to a host of disorders that include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance—all of which can put you at high risk for heart disease, type II diabetes, and stroke.
Excess visceral fat can also contribute to:
- Liver disease
- Lower back pain
- Fertility issues
- Gall bladder disease
- And so much much.
Weight Loss Vs. Fat Loss
Losing weight and losing body fat are not the same things.
All you need to do is shed the pounds to see the number on the scale go down.
The weight loss may come from fat, but other factors, such as muscle, food volume, water, etc., can affect this number.
On the other hand, losing fat is all about getting lean. It aims to reduce fat mass while maintaining muscle mass.
What is a Healthy Body Fat Percentage
Now that you know a thing or two about body fat, how much body fat is healthy for men and women?
What’s considered healthy varies throughout your life, so what’s appropriate for you now might not be the same in 5 or 10 years.
The ranges also vary between the sexes. These differences come down to the biological differences between the two genders. One reason is that women need more body fat for ovulation to have more fat in breast tissue.
For example, a male bodybuilder working hard on his physique can go as low as 4-5 percent. The same hard-working female bodybuilder can go down like 9 to 10 percent.
Healthy body fat for women:
Age 20-39 – 21%-33%
Age 40-59 – 24%-34%
Age 50-79 – 25% – 36%
Healthy body fat for men:
Age 20-39 – 8%-20%
Age 40-59 – 11% – 22%
Age 50-79 – 13% – 25%
How to Lose Body Fat – 14 Science-Backed Ways
Here are the science-backed strategies you need to start losing that body as soon as possible.
Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a diet pattern that involves regular short-term fasts and eating within a specific period. In other words, you simply cycle between periods of fasting and feeding.
And as far I can tell, this method is one of the best strategies for reducing body fat.
Of course, don’t take my word for it.
This Research has reported that intermittent fasting for 24 weeks can lead to significant weight loss in overweight women.
Another research looked into the impact of alternate-day fasting, an IF method that involves alternating between days of fasting and normal eating, and had some interesting results:
The Research reported that following this IF method over three months reduced body weight by about 7 percent and lowered body fat by 12 pounds.
Here is more good news. You can practice intermittent fasting following several methods. The most common ones include:
- The 16/8 method. This is a beginner-friendly method in which you fast for 16 hours and eat only during an 8-hour window.
- The Alternate-Day fast method. You simply shun food every other day and have your normal meals on non-fasting days.
- The 5:2 Diet. In this method, you restrict foot on two out of every seven days. Aim for 500 to 600 calories on fasting days.
Here’s what you need to do – find an intermittent fasting variation that works for you and suits your schedule and lifestyle.
I’d recommend starting with the 16/8 method, and once you get used to the lifestyle, try other methods. Just remember to keep track to see which one is most effective.
Avoid Refined Carbs
Refined carbs consist of heavily processed foods lacking fiber and other nutrients. Common culprits include bread, pasta, rice, etc. These foods tend to digest quickly, and they convert to glucose quickly.
One of the biggest contributors to excessive fat is added sugar.
Research has found an undeniable link between added sugar and obesity.
Foods high in refined carbs also top up the glycemic index list. Eating such items can increase blood sugar levels, which may make you feel hungrier than usual, thus overeating on your next meal.
When this excessive glucose reaches your bloodstream, it triggers the release of the hormone insulin, which promotes fat storage in the adipose tissue. This, in turn, results in weight gain.
Research has also found a direct link between a diet high in refined carbs and increased belly fat.
Eat less refined carbohydrates from pasta, white bread, pastries, breakfast cereals, and other processed foods.
The best way to do this is to swap out processed foods for healthier alternatives. Ideal good swaps include
- Nuts, seeds, and fruits for sweet snacks
- Whole grain bread, pasta, and rice instead of the white versions
- Water or unsweetened iced tea instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Eat More Protein
Following a high protein diet is another way to tame your appetite and burn more fat.
Again, don’t take my word for it. Research has reported that eating more protein can lower the risk of belly fat.
So how come protein helps?
Protein has a lot to offer, but its impact on satiety is what makes it so special.
Eating more quality protein triggers the release of the fullness hormone PYY, which tames appetite and promotes satiety.
For these reasons (and some more), if you consume a lot of protein, you’ll feel fuller for longer and likely cut down on unearthly snacking between meals or late at night—a common pitfall for most people.
Add a few servings of quality protein to your daily menu. Good protein sources include
- Lean meat
- Nuts and seeds
- Whey protein
Increase Your Fiber Intake
Fiber consists of complex carbs that go through your small intestine undigested and enter the large intestine, unlike starch and sugar. It’s simply carbs that your gut cannot digest.
Fiber is another key nutrient for a well-rounded diet. But it’s especially important when you’re trying to lose weight.
Overall, there are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber absorbs water and functions as a bulking agent, slowing down food from reaching your digestive system.
Thanks to the high water content, high soluble fiber food usually packs in fewer calories and has lower energy densities than low fiber food.
Research has revealed that increasing dietary fiber might help you feel more satisfied and improve your digestion, leading to weight loss and improving your overall health and well-being.
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Good sources of quality fiber include
- Vegetables and fruits
- Whole grain bread,
- Whole grain breakfast curtails
- Whole wheat pasta
- Legumes such as beans, peas, and pulses
- Nuts and seeds
If your current diet lacks fiber, I’d recommend supplementing as research has linked soluble fiber intake to fat loss.
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Increase your Healthy fat Intake
Whether you’re trying to reduce body fat, improve blood cholesterol levels, or just eat healthier, it’s key to consume the right type of fats.
Fat takes longer to digest and can help delay stomach emptying. This, in turn, can tame appetite and reduce hunger.
For example, this research showed that following a diet rich in healthy fats from olive oil and nuts, or the Mediterranean diet, may lower the risk of gaining weight compared to a low-fat diet.
Try incorporating fatty foods into your daily menu. Healthy sources include:
- Olive oil
- Fatty tuna
- Whole milk
Keep in mind that healthy fats pack in many calories, keep your intake moderate—or at the very least, know much you’re eating.
Limit your intake of unhealthy fat, mostly trans fat. This type of fat has been shown to increase body fat, especially in the waist and belly, according to a study.
Probiotics are a type of healthy bacteria found in your digestive tract that play a major role in many aspects of health and wellbeing.
Research has found that this gut bacteria has a finger in everything from weight loss to mental health.
For example, when it comes to weight loss, this review of 15 different studies concluded that adding probiotic supplements to one’s diet can help reduce weight and body fat percentage compared to those who took a placebo.
Another study revealed that people eating yogurt containing either Lactobacillus amylovorus or either Lactobacillus fermentum bacteria lowered their body fat by up to three to four percent.
You can take probiotic supplements with specific strains of bacteria. Or you can also try adding some of the following probiotic-rich and fermented foods to your diet:
There’s a reason why caffeine is an integral ingredient in virtually all fat-burning supplements.
Caffeine functions as a central nervous system stimulant that boosts metabolism and improves the breakdown of fatty acids.
Again, science backs this up. This research has concluded that coffee may temporarily improve metabolism and increase energy output by 3 to 11 percent.
Another study with over 58,000 participants revealed that increasing caffeine consumption could result in less weight gain over 12 years.
To make the most out of your daily cup of joe, skip the sugar and cream. Instead, go for a black or tiny amount of milk to prevent calories from adding up.
Additional resource – Here’s how to lose 100 pounds.
Consume More Vinegar
Trying to lose weight? Vinegar is another great addition to your daily menu.
Vinegar has a lot of health-boosting properties. Increasing your intake of the stuff improve heart health, stabilize blood sugar level, and, according to this Research, help boost up your fat burning.
Another research reported that having one to two tablespoons—or roughly 15 to 30 ml—per day of vinegar can help lower body weight, waist circumference, and belly fat over 12 weeks.
That’s not the whole story. Another study found that consuming vinegar daily may help reduce calorie intake up to 270 calories.
It’s easy to add vinegar to your Diet. I’d recommend adding white vinegar to your salads and barbecue sauces.
You might also consider diluting apple cider vinegar with water and having it as a beverage a few times a day.
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Do More Cardio
Although Diet is where the battle for fat loss is either won or lost, your exercise habits can also help bring you further to your goal.
Cardio training is especially important. It can not only burn mad calories but also strengthen your heart and lungs, improving your endurance and stamina in the process.
A review of 16 studies concluded that the more cardio workout one gets, the more belly fat they lose.
I can go on and on about the importance of cardio, but that’s a topic for another day.
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How much cardio to perform depends on your fitness level, training goals, and personal preferences, but most Research suggests between 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic training weekly. This means shooting for 30 to 45 minutes of mild to intense cardio three to four times per week.
Examples of good cardio include:
- Running (Here’s how many calories you burn running one mile)
- Chasing your dog around
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Lift Heavy Stuff
Also known as resistance training, strength training is key for building and maintaining muscle mass.
Strength training involves contracting muscles against resistance to increase muscle mass and strength.
Research has reported strong evidence for the impact of strength training on reducing body fat.
For starters, this review of studies assessing subjects with prediabetes, type II diabetes, and fatty liver, concluded that strength exercise might help reduce belly fat.
In another study, resistance training decreased visceral fat in 78 participants with metabolic syndrome.
Another study found that a mix of strength training and cardio exercise resulted in a drastic decrease in visceral fat in overweight subjects.
Building muscle is also key for healthy metabolism as the more muscle mass you’ve, the higher the number of calories your body burns at rest.
This Research reported that three months of strength training could help boost calories burned at rest by up to 7 percent.
It’s time to hit the weight room. Aim for three to four strength workouts per week.
Here’s the full guide on how to get started.
Try High-Intensity Interval Training
Or HIIT, high-intensity interval training is a form of exercise that alternates between quick and intense bursts of exercise and short recovery periods.
Many studies have reported that high-intensity training drastically reduces total abdominal fat, especially visceral fat, more effectively than low-intensity, steady-state exercise.
Let’s look at some of the Research.
This Research reported that subjects performing high-intensity interval training for 20 minutes three times per week shed on average 4.4 pounds of body fat for three months, even with no diet or lifestyle changes.
The subjects also reported a 17 percent reduction in belly fat and a drastic drop in waist circumference.
Another study found that HIIT burns up to 30 percent more calories than performing steady-date cardio for the same duration of time.
HIIT is easy to implement. For example, try alternating between sprinting for one minute and one to two minutes jogging recovery breaks on your next run.
You can also cycle between bodyweight exercises such as squats, push-ups, jumping jacks, plyo lunges, burpees with a short break in between. The harder you push, the better results you’ll get.
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Eating well and exercising regularly are undoubtedly important. But to make sure you’re reaping the full gains from your efforts, it’s also key to recover properly recover from your everyday activities.
Proper sleep isn’t only important for recovery but also for your fat loss efforts.
Research has reported that those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to gain weight, including belly fat.
Research has shown that sleep debt over time can result in weight gain. According to a study published in the journal Endocrine Development, not getting enough sleep can increase appetite and the stress hormone cortisol and compromise your body’s metabolism—all of which can set the stage for weight gain.
And it’s not just one study.
In another research, over 240 subjects who got at least seven hours of sleep each night improved their weight loss odds by up to 33 percent.
Another 16-year research involving over 68,000 participants revealed that those who sleep less than five hours per night were drastically more likely to gain weight than those who slept for longer than seven per night.
I can go on and on about the importance of sleep for fat loss, but that’s beyond today’s article scope.
Additional resource – Night running tips
Although sleep needs are different for everyone, most experts agree that at least seven hours is ideal for optimum health.
Quality also matters. To make the most out of sleep, do the following:
- Limit your intake of caffeine or heavy foods in the three to four hours before going to bed
- Develop and stick to a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on weekends.
- Sleep in the dark, relatively chill room with as little distraction as possible.
- Minimize your exposure to light and electronic devices to help the secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Stress triggers the adrenal glands to release cortisol, or what’s known as the stress hormone. This, at first, may tame appetite as part of your body’s fight or flight response.
But when you’re chronically stressed, cortisol levels can linger in your bloodstream. This, in turn, boosts your appetite and likely causes you to eat more than you should.
That’s not the whole story.
Research also found that high cortisol levels may promote abdominal fat storage.
On the flip side, the study also found that following a two-month stress-management intervention program caused a drastic decrease in the participants’ body mass index.
Some of the best methods for managing stress include
Breathing and relaxation technique
- Outdoor activity
Keep Track of Your Body Fat
You cannot improve on what you cannot measure. Reducing body fat is no exception.
So to make the most out of your fat loss plan, you’ll want to keep track of your body fat percentages. Otherwise, how would you know if what you’re doing I helping you make progress.
There are many ways to measure your body fat percentage.
The easiest way is to do it at home with the help of skinfold calipers. Calipers measure the thickness of your skin in specific parts to provide you with an estimate of the amount of body fat you have.
The following tutorial should get you started on the right path.
Other methods for measuring body composition include:
- Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA)
- Hydrostatic weighing
- 3D Body Scanners
- Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)
- Bioimpedance Spectroscopy (BIS)
- Body circumference measuring
- Electrical Impedance Myography (EIM)
- Air Displacement Plethysmography (Bod Pod)
Although these methods typically take place in a science lab and can be quite expensive, they’re not superior to skinfold calipers.
Skinfold calipers boast an error rate of 4 to 5 percent while, for example, DEXA scans have an error rate of about three percent.
How to Lose Body Fat – The Conclusion
There you have it. If you’re serious about reducing body fat percentage, the methods shared in today’s article are enough to get started on the right path.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.