Let's cut to the chase. You'll come across dozens of articles for dropping fat fast, whittling away your problem areas, and finally sculpting the physique you've never been able to achieve. Will you read them? Probably. Will they help you do what they promise? Probably not. To make changes that last and become habitual, you need a plan catered to you—your age, size, goals, activity level, and experience.
We've cultivated somewhat of a blueprint for 5 different "guys." Now, you might not fall into the exact mold, but pick the one you relate to closest and you'll get a more persoanlized recommendation for where you need to make changes to your lifestyle. We've consulted with top-notch experts to pinpoint what you need to know as far as training, nutrition, and supplements go. Ready for 2017 to be the year you drop the excuses and dropkick the foolish fad diets and unrealistic workout programs? Good. Us too. Meet the experts:
- Joel Seedman, Ph.D., is a strength/performance specialist and owner of Advanced Human Performance.
- Joseph Maroon, M.D., is a clinical professor, neurosurgeon, sports medicine/health/nutrition expert and Ironman triathlete. He's also the Chairman of the Medical Advisory Board of GNC.
- Jordan Mazur, MS, RD, is the director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley.
THE GUY: 17-year old who wants to gain weight and build muscle, but has no gym experience and knows little about sports nutrition, including supplementation
What to be mindful of: "At this age, it can be difficult to gain a significant amount of lean muscle, because your metabolism is typically going at such a high rate," Seedman says. The main thing you have to be cautious of, and this is common among high school students, is overtraining. You’re young, have loads of energy, and see bodybuilders doing massive routines on social media, so it's easy to start doing too much volume and intensity. When this happens, though, you tear your muscles down more than your body is able to recover and regenerate from, making it difficult to grow, Seedman says.
Expert training tips: "This is when your nervous system and body are most pliable in terms of learning movements, so it’s probably the most important stage there is to learn appropriate and correct mechanics and form," Seedman explains. Because of this, you might want to hire a trainer or strength coach for a few sessions to learn strict form. "You want to groove the right neural blueprint into your central nervous system since this will affect your training for the rest of your life," he says.
Best type of workout(s): Perform full-body routines 2-3 times a week; or, do an upper- and lower-body split at most 2 times a week for 4 total workouts. Keep the workouts to an hour.
Optimal exercises: You want to do big, compound movements. "Focus on squatting, upper-body pulling exercises (pullups and rows), and upper-body pushing exercises (chest press and overhead press)," Seedman suggests. You don’t need too many isolation movements. It can be counterproductive, because you’re burning a bunch of calories without stimulating a lot of added muscle growth, he explains.
Recommended reps/sets/rest: Keep your rep range around 5-10 and the weight moderate. You don’t want to go so heavy where your form is breaking, Seedman says. "And rest at this stage, because you’re trying to reinforce proper lifting mechanics, should be 1.5-2 minutes so you can lift the most weight without fatiguing," he adds. "You’re learning how to lift properly and you have low levels of muscular efficiency, so the last thing you want to do is blow up your nervous system and build unnecessary fatigue, which will cause movement patterns to degrade over time," Seedman says. This is also why you don’t want to train to failure too frequently; leave several reps in the tank for each set.
You want dietary supplements that provide the building blocks for your training (and muscle-building goals) to be successful, Maroon says. Opt for:
- Multivitamin: Overlooked by many, a multi, when taken every day, can feed your body with key nutrients like zinc (necessary for healthy sperm) and selenium (touted for its ability to ward off some cancers).
- Protein with branch-chain amino acids (BCAA): Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the amino acids known as branch-chain amino acids, and they’re a main driver behind protein synthesis and metabolism, helping your muscles get key nutrients for growth and recovery.
- Fish oil: Combining fish oil with aerobic exercise has been shown to improve body composition, per research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Suggested macros for a guy who's 6'0", 170lb, who's lifting 3-4 days/week [NOTE: this is a very specific height/weight used as an example only and should be adjusted based on your own height/weight.]
Total Calories: ~3,346
Snack #1: 335
Snack #2: 335
Snack #3: 335
Daily protein requirement: ~140 grams
Key points to remember: "The biggest thing for teenagers to understand is you can’t out-train bad nutrition; you'll only see minimal gains until you plug in your nutrition game plan," Mazur says. And these late teen years are crucial for development. You want to be consistent with your eating habits, balance your macros appropriately, and vary your sources of protein, carbs, fats, fruits, and vegetables. You also want to eat 5-6 smaller meals per day for consistent energy, mental alertness, and to get the right kind of nutrients to build the body of your dreams.
A note on macros: Each of your 5-6 meals should contain the big four: complex carbs, lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats, Mazur says. As far as protein's concerned, this is where you want to be consistent. "The body isn’t efficient at digesting and utilizing large quantities of protein at once," he explains. There's a ceiling on how much you can use before the rest is stored as fat; the average guy can utilize 25-30g and bigger dudes can have upwards of 40g. With this in mind, you want to get "20-40 grams at each feeding opportunity throughout the day to increase protein synthesis and help supply your body with the essential amino acids it needs to build that coveted lean body mass," Mazur adds. This addresses your body's constant state of flux of building muscle and breaking protein down.
Eat more of these: "Make your protein choices lean like chicken, salmon, turkey, Greek yogurt, and low-fat dairy," Mazur suggests. But don't discount vegetables and complex carbs. Eat your fill of dark, leafy greens and check out some of the best superfoods for building muscle, as well as these 10 best sources of carbs.
Eat less of these: "Cut back on highly processed foods and sweets like cookies, chips, pastries, candy, and ditch the soda and fast food if you want to make real progress," Mazur says. All the added sugar and saturated fat will only lead to fat gain. Having a hard time forgoing soda? "Chose sparkling water and flavored seltzers if you like a bubbly beverage without the added calories," he suggests.
THE GUY: 25-year-old who used to play competitive sports in college, but has become overweight over the last few years—has some experience with working out and nutrition
What to be mindful of: "Oftentimes, guys try to commit to a 5 or 6, even a 7-day routine, and it’s unrealistic, so they set themselves up for failure," Seedman says. Don't assume you can jump back into your college regimen, because if you only get 3-4 days in and miss your goal, you'll feel like a failure. And you know the downward spiral that can stem from this feeling. Choose a routine, at first, that has you working out 3 days a week, then fit in other workouts when possible (whether it’s cardio or working smaller muscle groups), Seedman suggests.
Expert tip: Your focus has to be on nutrition and consistency of training, Seedman says. "You have a decent foundation just from having done sports and trained in the past, so stick to a practical and realistic routine."
Best type of workout(s): "Combine everything in one day: Do 3 days a week of strength training for about 45-60 minutes, followed by 20 (at most 30) minutes of cardio on 2, potentially 3, of those days," Seedman suggests. High-intensity cardio twice a week is plenty, especially if you haven’t been doing much over the years. You don't want to overreach and build up unnecessary fatigue; it'll mess with your ability to recover. Once a week or more, do low-intensity steady-state cardio. Go to the gym, track, or around your neighborhood and walk for 5 minutes, jog for 2 minutes, then do an ab circuit; repeat this a few times. No, it's not metabolic or particularly grueling, but you're still being active, which can promote fat loss.
Optimal exercises: "Do moves you did when you played sports to rely on past training history and neuromuscular memory that’s still etched in your central nervous system," Seedman says. You've got free reign to do pretty much any exercise, but you want 80% of your efforts to be big compound movements—like squats, deadlifts, pullups, presses— and 20% to be isolation work—such as curls, tricep raises, and leg raises, Seedman says. You also want to get plenty of core work in. "You’re probably starting to sit more and develop some low back issues and spinal or postural misalignment," he explains. Correct it now and prevent it from growing into a bigger problem by doing core stabilization moves like planks.
Recommended reps/sets/rest: This isn’t as important (or, rather, set in stone) as it is for younger guys. "At first, you want to have a slightly higher rep range just to build back some of that conditioning you’ve lost over time," Seedman says. You can do 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Again, you want to make sure you still have several reps left in the tank. Maybe choose a lighter weight you'd be able to do 15 reps with to bang out your 10-12.
If there are holes in your nutrition, supplements can help fill in the gaps and bolster your weight loss efforts, Maroon says. Consider taking:
- Protein with BCAA
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): Scientists have found CLA to be effective in diminishing fat in animal studies, though results aren't as consistent in humans.
- Probiotics: Supplementing with gut-bolstering probiotics has been found to reduce body weight and BMI, per a meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. Probiotics can also improve blood sugar control and regulate appetite.
- Fish oil
Suggested macros for a guy who's 6’3”, 220lb, lifting 2-3 days/week [NOTE: this is a very specific height/weight used as an example only and should be adjusted based on your own height/weight.]
Total Calories: ~2,709
Snack #1: 271
Snack #2: 271
Snack #3: 271
Daily protein requirement: ~180 grams
Key points to remember: "The biggest challenge for ex-athletes is breaking the habit of consistent training and high-calorie diets, especially since it’s often a lifestyle you've had since you were a kid," Mazur says. You need your caloric intake and nutrition to match your current activity and training levels.
A note on macros: "In general, a male between the ages of 21-25 who's moderately active (lifting and doing cardio) should aim for 2,600-2,800 calories per day," Mazur recommends. Be consistent with meals and make sure your portions represent your goals.
Eat more of these: High-fiber vegetables. These foods will keep you feeling fuller longer and can help stave off cravings for sugar and sweets, Mazur notes. Increase your intake of lean proteins and healthy fats, too; they'll help trim you down. "Protein will also facilitate muscle tissue recovery, hypertrophy gains, and help you drop pounds and improve body composition," Seedman adds.
Eat less of these: Carbs. "On days you know you're going to fall short of your activity goals, adjust your intake accordingly since excessive carbs you don’t burn off are stored in the body and can lead to weight gain," Mazur says. On days off, decrease your intake of grains, starches, and sugar. Seedman agrees: Make sure you’re not overdoing it with the carbs; keep it moderate, not low, though.
THE GUY: 33-year-old who's bored of his current routine, but needs to maintain lean body mass. He takes protein, but that's it.
What to be mindful of: "It’s easy to think bumping up cardio will get you leaner; but it should only be used as a way to maintain body fat," Seedman says. Do too much and you risk losing muscle. The get-lean secret: Focus on gaining more muscle tissue and cleaning up your diet.
Expert tip: Heavier weight and lower reps are your sweet spot. "At this stage, your body is getting a little stubborn and one of the ways to spark new growth is making sure you have a high level of neuromuscular efficiency, meaning you've got a good ability to recruit a large amount of motor units," Seedman explains. Get your body used to handling heavier loads to boost your strength and lift more over time.
Best type of workout(s): Incorporate as many different splits as possible: Do upper, lower, and full-body workouts emphasizing a major muscle group," Seedman recommends. Get 2-3 full-body workouts in a week, hitting all the main muscle groups, doing about 7-10 exercises per routine.
"If you’ve been training pretty consistently, I recommend undulating periodization," Seedman says. "Instead of doing the same workout and rep range over and over again, change things up over the course of 1-2 weeks, switching rep ranges on different days," he adds. So, you might do an upper-body workout on Monday and Thursday, then a lower-body protocol on Tuesday and Friday. Monday might incorporate low reps and heavier weight. The next time you work your lower body, on Thursday, you'll do higher reps and shorter rest. The third time you work your lower body, you'll hit a moderate rep range. "This keeps things fresh, hits different muscle fibers, and different energy systems," Seedman explains.
Recommended reps/sets/rest: If you're working through the undulating periodization, you'll constantly be changing up your reps, sets, and rest. But, if you’re doing low reps and heavy weight, you can use rest periods between 2-4 minutes, Seedman recommends. For higher rep sets and lower weight, you can rest for 30-60 seconds. For moderate rep ranges (6-10) and moderate weight, you can rest from 1-2 minutes.
Along with a well-rounded diet, these added micronutrients could strengthen overall health for a guy who has only taken protein before, Maroon says:
- Fish oil
- Vitamin D3: Can boost strength and muscle synthesis, and promote weight loss.
- SAMe (S-Adenosyl methionine): May reduce inflammation in your joints.
But, say you've taken a plethora of supplements over the years or you're not seeing the results you crave. Seedman suggests you try a couple different natural supplements to spark new growth and get leaner. Seedman says to take:
- ALA (lipoic acid): A fatty acid and antioxidant that serves to naturally improve body composition and fat loss.
- l-carnitine: Another supp taken for fat loss, which can give you the edge you're looking for, Seedman says. More research is needed to see just how effective it is in boosting exercise performance and weight loss.
Suggestions for a guy who's 6’0”, 185lb, lifting 1-2 days/week [NOTE: this is a very specific height/weight used as an example only and should be adjusted based on your own height/weight.]
*Since your main goal is switching up your workout plan, you don't need as stringent of a nutrition guideline. Follow your meal plan, but make sure you're getting adequate protein because of the extra work and effort you're putting into the gym.
Daily protein requirement: ~135 grams
Key points to remember: "The biggest thing about maintaining lean body mass is to provide your body with a consistent intake of protein, not simply more protein," Mazur says. Again, if you eat more protein than your body can use, it'll only contribute to your overall calorie consumption; it won't equate to bigger muscles.
A note on macros: Here's an example of the perfect protein meal plan for one day:
Breakfast: 30g (3 whole eggs + 1 cup of Greek yogurt)
Snack: 20g (1 scoop of whey protein in your post-workout smoothie)
Lunch: 30g (4 oz piece of chicken breast)
Snack: 25g (1 can of tuna)
Dinner: 30g (3-4 oz serving of salmon)
Eat more of these: Fiber-rich vegetables and fruits (in moderation); get more beans and legumes in your diet; eat seeds and wholesome carbs like quinoa, farro, and buckwheat. Also, get more amazing protein sources like these top 10 fish proteins and leanest meat options, ranked.
Eat less of these: Processed snacks and packaged meals; also avoid the 8 worst foods you can pump into your body.
THE GUY: 42-year-old who gained an extra 10-15 pounds over the last 10 years, has never worked out, eaten healthy, and knows little about supplements
What to be mindful of: “You’re not going to be able to dial in everything perfectly, so make sure every component of your fitness—strength training, cardio, and nutrition—is something you take into account,” Seedman says.
If you can’t crush it in the weight room like somebody who’s been training for 15 years, you might want to hone in more on cardio and your diet. Likewise, if you can’t lock your diet in 100%, you’ll want to make sure your training is substantial and decent—though know you’ll never be able to out-work a crappy diet.
Expert tips: “You’re going to feel pretty drained 4-8 weeks into the regimen,” Seedman says. But rather than trying to get an excessive amount of sleep and taking days off from going too intense, work at a low to moderate intensity for the first 8 weeks, he proposes. You don’t want to overtrain or be perpetually sore because that'll just degrade the quality of your workouts and potentially lead to injury and burnout. Lifestyle tweaks are huge at this age. “You need adequate sleep, to keep alcohol to a minimum, eat well, drink water, and rest for 48 hours before hitting similar or same muscle groups,” Seedman says.
Best workout(s): Traditional resistance training. If you need some added motivation, “get a trainer for maybe 4-8 weeks to kickstart a strength training workout program,” Seedman says. Pepper in some HIIT cardio sessions periodically and the lbs will start dropping off.
Recommended reps/set/rest: Do the standard 8-10 reps, Seedman suggests, and don’t worry about rest. Use internal markers and intrinsic feedback. When you feel ready, do your next set.
Optimal exercises: You want your workouts to be split 50/50 free weight exercises and machine moves. Here’s why: “Machines can help overload your muscles and free weights can help establish balance, movement mechanics, and get you used to handling standard equipment,” Seedman says.
Machines you should use: One of the most effective is a resistance rowing machine (the seated type that has a chest support, not the cardio erg), Seedman says. It will help strengthen your upper back, improve spinal alignment, and overall strength. The leg press is great if you’re not familiar with squat mechanics, he adds. Even something as simple as chest press machine can yield significant results.
Machines you should skip: “At this stage, isolation machines like bicep curls, leg extensions, and leg curls are unnecessary,” Seedman says. You want to hit multiple muscle groups at the same time.
"These represent the basic dietary supplementation that can help lead to a successful program to regain your health," Maroon explains:
- Protein with BCAA
- Fish oil
- Vitamin D
Because this is a profile for a guy in his 40s who has never really worked out or eaten particularly well, we're not suggesting specific macros for a set height, weight, and activity level. Instead, you want to start by making simpler, more general changes to your diet, rather than getting eaten up by numbers.
Key points to remember: Making some major changes, like overhauling your diet, can be overwhelming and incredibly difficult to follow through on. Ignore fads, trending tips, and conflicting messages. Here are 5 key tips to start your New Year’s resolution of eating healthy and losing those unwanted pounds, Mazur says:
1. Eat a balanced breakfast every day
Start the day with protein, complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables. It’ll set the tone for the day, help kickstart your metabolism, and fuel your brain. Studies show you’re less likely to eat later on in the day when you don’t skip breakfast, he adds.
2. Fill half your plate with vegetables at every meal
Everyone could use more vegetables. They can help you feel fuller and help prevent overeating. Plus, they also contain a load of antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to help your body operate optimally.
3. Plan ahead
If you take a few hours every weekend to shop and meal prep for the week, you’ll save money but also save on calories from eating out during the week.
4. Don’t backload your calories
Eat your biggest meals around the times of the day that you’re most active (for most guys that’s breakfast and lunch), then taper your caloric intake. This way, you burn off the calories when you need them and don’t store them when you’re not being active.
5. Follow the 80/20 rule
Allow yourself to eat the foods you love, just in moderation. As the name suggests, you’ll follow your fueling plan 80 percent of the time and 20 percent of the time you’ll splurge on the foods that aren’t that great for you.
A note on macros: “If you’re a little overweight, you’ll want to make sure carbs are moderate (no more than 40% of your diet)," Seedman says.
Eat more of these: So many people foolishly feared fat for years; meanwhile it optimizes endocrine function, which is crucial for testosterone, cortisol, and estrogen. Eat nuts, oils, and seeds; but be mindful of the portion size.
Eat less of these: Processed food, white bread, baked goods (bagels, muffins, donuts, etc.), and trans fat.
THE GUY: 51-year-old former All-American athlete and endurance competitor
What to be mindful of: "What’s common among athletes at this age who've been successful is an unwillingness to deviate from the current routine," Seedman says. “It’s worked for you in the past, it might not be perfect, and you might not be maximizing things, but it’s gotten you this far, right?” Well, here’s the thing: Your body can really start to break down in your mid to late 50s,” he says. You can develop joint issues, low back pain, and easily overtrain. What’s more, your hormones can take a major dive. Be willing to reevaluate your training, and introduce strength training that’s relevant to today’s standards, Seedman recommends.
Expert tips: Your first step is to hire an expert and see where you need to revamp your training program, especially with strength training. The truth of the matter is most guys have poor, improper lifting form. “Hone in on your mechanics, because it’ll affect your quality of movement, joint health, and performance,” he adds. And this translates to sports and endurance endeavors, too.
Best type of workout(s): “Make sure you perform slower eccentric movements,” Seedman says. By emphasizing a slower negative, this technique will help you maintain and promote additional muscle hypertrophy. “What’s more, eccentric moves and workouts are easier on your joints and help promote mobility and stability, helping to improve range of motion, quality of movement, and transfer into injury prevention,” Seedman adds.
Recommended reps/sets/rest: Because mobility is a common weakness, start off with light weights. Complete a few sets of 20-25 reps. You could use an empty barbell and do some overhead presses to amp up blood flow in your muscles so they don’t feel stiff.
Optimal exercises: "Make movement prep a part of your daily pre-workout routine and be sure to recover with a proper cool down and stretching after your workout, especially while your muscles are still warm and the blood is still flowing," Mazur says.
To make sure you activate your glutes properly, you can incorporate some mini-band work: lateral side steps in a low squat stance, donkey kicks, leg raises with band around your shins to warm up your ankles, knees, and hips. Perhaps even better than mobility drills and corrective exercises, focus on movement mechanics and really clean things up. Meet with a trainer who's experienced in your sport to find out which exercises are needed to enhance strength and athleticism, as well as strengthen weak points.
"Aging can bring the risk of muscle loss, chronic inflammation, and mitochondrial dysfunction," Maroon says. But these can help:
- Protein with BCAA
- Chondroitin sulfate: Chondroitin is a component of animal connective tissues (from cartilage and bone) that's meant to reduce pain and inflammation, improve joint function, and delay osteoarthritis.
- Acetyl Co A: Considered the gateway to the ATP cycle (your body's energy source), the supp is said to address the nutritional needs of anaerobic metabolism and provide targeted support for high-intensity work.
- Co-Q10: Found in your body’s cells, this supp can help convert food into energy.
- Resveratrol: Research has shown resveratrol supplementation can enhance endurance, oxidative metabolism, cardiac function, and performance.
- Vitamin D
- Nicotinamide riboside: The supp is said to promote longevity by reprogramming dysfunctional cells and reviving stem cells.
Let’s assume you've got a handle on your fitness and nutrition, Mazur says. Odds are good that if you're a successful endurance athlete, you've nailed down a solid nutrition plan. You just need to fine tune things. You're getting older; your body is changing; you don't recover as fast as you once did; and you have more aches and pains, he adds.
Key points to remember: "Most endurance athletes are catabolic, meaning they’re constantly in a state of being broken down," Seedman says. You want to be as anabolic as possible, as this will slow down aging and maximize performance. The easiest way to facilitate this is with protein; protein powder can help. "Instead of whey protein concentrate, try whey isolate or whey hydrolysate because they're much easier on your digestive system. Do some research and trial and error; you need one that's a high enough quality or else it can hurt your stomach.
Eat more of these: Eat oatmeal, kale, Montmorency cherries, almonds and pumpkin seeds, and salmon. Foods that reduce inflammation in the body can help reduce pain and protect your joints.
Eat less of these: Alcohol, soda, fried foods (fast foods), foods with artificial sweeteners, spicy foods, dairy products immediately before your workout
Make strong, healthy habits all-around. Sleep needs to be a priority to repair and rebuild what you’ve broken down and damaged during training, as well as let your brain rest and reset. Be realistic with your progress. Journal your struggles, successes, goals, and checkpoints. Celebrate each milestone and learn to appreciate your body. Check out 7 ways to boost your body image and happiness while you're at it.