What's the Best Way to Lean Out?

Some research suggests that nearly half of us want to lose weight. Boston Medical says that each year, 45 million Americans go on a diet and spend $33 billion on weightloss products. Ironically, nearly 2/3 of us are overweight or obese. 

We're doing something wrong. 

To be clear, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to losing body fat. What's best for you will depend on a number of factors, and there are many approaches that can work. 

So, we can't tell you exactly what to do. What we can offer, however, are a few general "rules of thumb" widely accepted as efficient ways to shed some unwanted fat.  

Here are some of our best tips for leaning out.

athlete doing side plank

How to Lean Out and Lose Fat

Step 1: Nutrition

They say "abs are made in the kitchen" for a reason, and it's because you can't out-exercise a bad diet. 

One more time: You cannot out-exercise a bad diet!

Nutrition is the foundation of everything and as important as fitness, if not more important. If you want to lean out, fueling yourself properly is mandatory.

It's Not Just Calories In/Calories Out

This myth has long persisted — that all that matters is your total calorie consumption. 

False!

Why, you ask? Because not all calories are created equal. Eating 500 calories of carbs is not the same as eating 500 calories of protein. 

Yes, total calories matter. But if you want to lose body fat, you need to look beyond calories to the individual macronutrients you consume — meaning carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Your body wants a specific amount of each, depending on a number of factors like your age and activity level. And manipulating these numbers allows you to manipulate your body composition (read: your amount of fat and muscle). 

So, how do you know the amount of each macro that you should consume? There are online macro calculators you can use, although working with a qualified coach is the safest and quickest route. But here are a few things to chew on.

Watch Your Carbs, Especially the Not-So-Healthy Ones

People think that fat makes you fat. Fact: Too much of anything will make you gain weight. Carbs are different, though, because of the way your body responds to them. 

pasta dish

The more active you are, the more carbs you'll need. If you're mostly sedentary, you won't need nearly as much, because your muscles (which use carbs for fuel) aren't working as much. 

It makes sense, then, to be mindful of your carb intake. In particular, watch out for sugars in processed foods, like candy, cookies, and pop. These are very different from the sugar/carbs you'll find in healthier alternatives like potatoes and oats.

Eat Your Protein

Protein is part of every cell in your body. It's literally one of the building blocks of life. 

Additionally, protein keeps you feeling full and satisfied, meaning it can help curb cravings. 

How much protein do you need, exactly? That will depend on factors like your weight and your activity level. An athlete, for instance, will typically aim for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. For someone less active, that number will go down. Try using a protein calculator!

chicken cooking on the grill

Final Note: Don't Fear Fat

One day, someone convinced America that if they wanted to shed fat, they should eat low-fat foods. Things haven't been the same since. 

Let's clear the air: Certain fats are good for you! Fats offer health benefits for your brain, heart, and cholesterol, to name a few. 

Also, bear in mind that low-fat/fat-free foods often substitute in other less-than-desirable ingredients to fill in the gaps. Beware!

Step 2: Fitness

If nutrition is one half of the pie, fitness is the other. 

Don't get back on the treadmill just yet, though, because straight cardio isn't going to cut it.  

Yes, cardio will burn calories, but here's the thing. With cardio, you only burn calories while you're training. It doesn't do much to help you avoid gaining body fat once you step off the treadmill. You know what does? 

Strength training.

woman training with dumbbells

You probably already know that muscle burns more calories than fat. So, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn — even at rest. 

This is a big difference between cardio and strength training. Strength training gets your body to burn more calories even when you aren't exercising, which means you'll lean out. 

The goal, then, is to build muscle, which happens through strength training.

Cardio is Still Good for You

None of this is to say that cardio doesn't offer any benefits. It does wonders for your heart and lungs. The point, though, is this: If you want the best of both worlds, you need to get a little strength training mixed with a little cardio. 

For many people, this equates to HIIT — high-intensity interval training. For others, it might be a grueling squat session followed by 20 minutes on the rower. There are many ways to go about it. Just be sure to combine a bit of both, and you're likelier to see results. And importantly, choose something you enjoy that makes you feel good, because that's the workout plan that you're likeliest to stick to.