The biggest mistake you can make is not eating enough.
If your body is in a caloric deficit for too long, it adapts. In this adapted state, your body decreases its metabolic rate as a survival tactic. It simply doesn’t know how long or how severe this calorie restriction will end up being, so it adapts by using limited resources.
Thus, you end up burning fewer calories. When it comes to fat loss, a caloric deficit is king. But when your metabolism is decreased in this manner, achieving a caloric deficit becomes extremely difficult.
If you feel like you’re killing yourself in the gym and barely eating a thing, yet you’re not seeing any changes in your body, you need to start eating more. The goal is to slowly introduce more protein packed food to allow your metabolism to recover. This recovery period allows you to increase the amount of energy your body needs to perform everyday tasks! Meaning, you will be able to eat MORE to maintain your current weight and improve your performance.
Here are four major problems posed by existing in a consistent caloric deficit.
1. Dangerous Levels of Stress
Putting some stress on the body is good. In fact, it’s necessary if you want to force your body to adapt.
But not eating enough food for too long SLOWS your body’s ability to recover, adapt and ultimately improve.
This is why if you’re under-fueled you will see a plateau in your progress. Your body is too stressed trying to “survive” to be able to adapt and make the progress you want!
2. Tired, Sick and Injured
Putting your body under chronic stress increases your risk of injury.
Every time you train without eating enough to recover, you are just adding to the stress pool rather than helping remove from it!
If you’ve been noticing more strains and pains, and they are lasting longer than they used to, this is your body warning you that you may not be getting what you need to recover.
3. Goodbye, Muscle
When your body is stressed, it releases hormones (chemical messengers) that help direct the rest of the body’s response to the situation. When stressed, the types of hormones released are typically catabolic, meaning they break down tissues like muscle.
In response to a stress like strength training, muscle breakdown is good. This breakdown paves the way for adaptation. But to actually get in an anabolic state that allows us to get faster, fitter and gain more muscle mass, we need to provide our body with the macronutrients it needs to repair the microscopic tears in our muscle fibers.
But if you don’t eat enough to allow your body to properly RESPOND to this stress, you deprive it of the building blocks and energy it needs to create improvement.
Thus, your workouts are no longer building your body up. Even couch potatoes will lose weight when they eat under their energy demands. This is because eating under your energy demands forces your body to find fuel within itself to burn. When done right, this means turning mostly to fat. But when chronically under-fueled and overworked, it also means burning lots of muscle!
4. Not Losing Fat!
The science is clear. To lose mass, you need to be in a caloric deficit. This means burning more energy than you are taking in.
But when you don’t eat enough calories over an extended period of time, your body kicks into survival mode. Your body eventually adapts to the current state of decreased energy supply and figures out how to survive on that supply without continuing to break down tissues to make up for the deficit.
This adaptation of a slower metabolism is your body’s way of surviving and protecting the tissues (including the fat stores) it already has! Your body is smart, and it knows if you are not supplying it with enough energy, it better start conserving the stored energy it already has.
Not eating enough for too long means that you could see the very opposite effect of what you want in your body. Chronic under-eating is a stressor to the body. Stress hormones, like cortisol, increase the visceral storage of fat cells around your stomach, waist, and thighs.
When you are chronically stressed, eating more signals to your body that this “survival mode” is no longer necessary. This decrease in stress via increase in food allows your metabolism to recover. A recovered metabolism is a fancy way of saying you will be able to burn more energy both at rest and during any activity.
Simply put, by slowly introducing more food, your body gets out of survival mode and begins to operate in a more optimal manner—a manner where making the changes you want to see in your body again become possible.
Long story short, if you’re training hard but notice several of the following:
Not seeing the gains you want.
Have plateaued or declined in your training progress.
Regularly feel fatigued, irritable or defeated.
Have noticed a loss in muscle definition
Then it’s time to reconsider your nutrition!!
Do I Need to ‘Reset’ My Metabolism? No, because you can’t “reset” a metabolism. However, you can help it run smoother by reducing stress.
If you’ve been under-fueled for too long, you need to alleviate some stress.
What we do want to do is bring your body out of survival mode slowly by: Gradually increasing caloric intake. Increasing the frequency of your eating (especially if you’ve been skipping meals!) Maintaining a balanced macro ratio matched to your activity level.
When the body begins to recognize…“Hey, I’m actually going to be fed on a regular basis!”….it lowers production of stress hormones, increases the metabolic rate of every process your body performs, and allows you to finally recover and improve! More calories in equals less stress, less stress equals a faster metabolism, and a faster metabolism equals more total calories burned. Science for the win!
Chronic under-fueling shortchanges your potential and your overall well-being. There are healthy ways to change your body’s composition. But there are no quick fixes: cleanses, meal replacements and detox diets are all a scam. It’s also important to realize that you should not be obsessed with a number on a scale!!
Focusing more on how your clothes fit and how you’re performing in training, is a much smarter approach than basing whether you’ve succeeded/failed entirely on a number on the scale.
If you truly want to reach your performance and aesthetic goals, it takes time and consistency. Training along with fueling your body with MORE FOOD is going to lead you in the direction of the improved performance and aesthetics you’re striving for!