Written by: Aaron Whitten

As a personal trainer, the majority of persons that I encounter have similar interests, namely, losing body fat. My role in addressing their needs is two fold. First, I provide accountability. Most folks just won't exercise unless they have someone there waiting for them. If they would, they probably wouldn't need a trainer! Second, I provide education. Health and fitness isn't rocket science but you wouldn't know that from speaking to people at the gym.

There are tons of conflicting theories and a fair amount of plain lies and misinformation plaguing neophytes. My job is to cut through all of the bogus hullabaloo circulating around my clients and deliver the plain truth. And although there is a lot of individual variation in strategy, the basics are true for everyone.

With that in mind, I provide the following article to each of my new clients. They don't have to memorize it but I do expect them to be familiar with the key points. If they can learn and apply what is written below, they will have a great chance of reaching their goals.

Fat Loss Basics

Excess body fat represents a surplus of stored energy within the human body. This surplus is due to one or both of the following reasons:

  1. Inadequate activity levels compared to ingested calories
  2. Low levels of lean mass (muscle) resulting in a low metabolic rate.

In both cases the issue is a caloric surplus, translating into stored energy in the form of fat. In order to remedy this, a caloric deficit must be created.

The human body responds to a caloric deficit by dipping into stored energies (fat) to survive. According to the aforementioned reasons for fat gain, there are three methods of eliciting the needed deficit.

  1. Reduce calories in your diet
  2. Increase activity levels
  3. Increase lean muscle mass

The methods are listed in order of efficiency in producing the needed deficit. Diet allows for the greatest change, sometimes thousands of calories daily in extreme cases, followed by activity, which can burn several hundred calories daily and lastly, the addition of muscle which accounts for a very slow and gradual increase in needed calories.

However, lean mass is the clear winner over the long haul, as the increased needs that it causes last throughout the entire day, versus other non-resistance based activities, which create only an immediate deficit.

In other words, the muscle gained from intensive resistance work will continue to burn calories each day, whether you exercise or not, unlike cardiovascular exercise which only significantly expends calories during the actual workout.

The best fat loss strategy combines all three methods. First, establish a healthy eating plan that also represents a reduction in total calories, especially from carbohydrate sources. Secondly, perform cardiovascular exercise at least three times weekly.

Third, begin a resistance program that emphasizes proper exercise selection and execution. The following paragraphs address each of the three elements in detail.


The Standard American Diet (SAD) is based on high carbohydrate consumption. The excess of sugars is so great in the average diet that only a hummingbird could follow it without gaining fat.

It is without a doubt the primary reason for the rampant increase in unhealthy weight on people in America, especially amongst children. This epidemic is worsening, not improving, and will become a source of greatly elevated medical costs in the next generation.

Carbs have become such a dominant force in the American diet due to simple economics. Carbs are cheap to process, easy to ship and store, taste good and appeal to our survival instincts.

The human body will always crave carbs since they are so readily converted to body fat, making them an efficient means of preparing against future periods of starvation.

Protein Sources:

By comparison, protein sources are many times more expensive to produce, require costly transport and are less immediately satisfying to the palate. In contrast to the SAD, the most important changes an individual can make to their daily diet are to reduce carbohydrates and increase protein levels.

Proteins come from meats, eggs and supplemental powders. Other sources, particularly vegetable, are inferior and should not be counted within the daily tally. Protein needs are based upon current lean mass. For persons engaged in regular exercise, especially resistance work, one gram of protein per pound of body weight is a safe start.

Therefore, a person weighing 150 lbs would need 150 grams of quality protein daily, excluding those coming from lesser sources, like vegetables. For most folks, this will constitute a greatly increased intake of protein.

Protein is essential for two reasons. First, it is needed for growth and maintenance of bodily tissue. Secondly, protein has a metabolic 'building' effect, meaning it gradually increases the resting metabolic rate.

There is no need to fear health repercussions from such a heightened intake either; contrary to what the government health councils advocate, humans are very well equipped to handle large quantities of proteins regularly. Those same government entities should be criticized for recommending dietary practices that are guaranteed to increase unhealthy weight gain.

It is not a difficult to find the correlation between the government nutritional guidelines, which include an excess of sugars, and the lobbyists from companies selling such foods. There is also no fear of gaining fat from this increased protein consumption. Unlike carbs, proteins are difficult to convert to stored energy.

Provided that an individual ingests the proper amount of carbs, the body has no reason to convert proteins to fats. Desired meats are fish, turkey and chicken. If there is no history of hypercholesterolemia, lean beef can be used as well. Pork is not recommended. Egg whites are also excellent low fat sources of high quality protein.

Carbohydrate Sources:

Carbohydrates are not evil. The human body requires sugars to function. Without them, mental and physical performance suffers.

It is the quantities and sources that differentiate a healthy diet from the SAD. For most people who have typical sedentary jobs, 200 grams of carbohydrate daily is more than adequate.

This amount can be varied according to height, gender and activity. Sources should always be fruits and vegetables, never processed items. Examples are dry, bagged brown rice, oats and beans, all fresh fibrous vegetables, and all fresh fruits.

Carbs should be consumed in small quantities throughout the day, with a slightly heavier intake at breakfast, lunch and after workouts, and less in the late evening hours.

Dietary Fat Sources:

Fats should be from essential fatty acid sources and minimized elsewhere in the diet. Fats are by far the easiest macronutrient to consume perfectly.

Simply using a tablespoon of extra virgin olive on your salad at lunch and another tablespoon of flax seed oil on steamed veggies at dinner will suffice.

Saturated fats should not be an issue while following a healthy plan such as this because they are present in only small quantities in the recommended foods. It is also a good idea to use a high quality EFA supplement daily.

Vitamins And Minerals:

Due to the depleted nature of much of the world's soils, our foods only contain a fraction of their quoted vitamins and minerals. This, coupled with the fact that those engaged in regular activity have greatly heightened requirements of micronutrients, makes supplementation a necessity.

Without proper quantities of vitamins and minerals ingested daily, progress can be compromised. The remedy is simple: take an athletic potency multivitamin/mineral each day. Note the qualifier 'athletic potency'; one-a-day types found in groceries are totally insufficient and of very low quality.

You cannot fit the needed amounts into a single capsule unless it is the size of a golf ball. A quality supplement requires several capsules or tablets but is well worth the price and hassle. Why risk reduced progress?


Air is the only substance needed more than water by the human body. For this reason it is imperative that people stay hydrated with clean water.

Water is used in nearly every bodily process. Dehydration can therefore compromise nearly every function, including weight loss and muscle gain. Most folks are slightly dehydrated.

If you wait until you are thirsty, it's too late. Do not allow your progress to be impeded by dehydration. Attempt to consume one gallon of filtered water each day.

Purchase a one gallon jug and make sure that it is gone before retiring for the day. Small people may require less, taller folks or those who work outdoors may need twice as much.

Sample Nutrition Plan:

  • Meal 1:
    • Egg whites
    • Lean ground turkey
    • 1 large grapefruit
  • Meal 2:
    • Protein powder
    • 1 serving of fruit
  • Meal 3:
    • Chicken breast
    • 1 cup of cooked brown rice
    • Salad
    • Olive oil
  • Meal 4:
    • Fish
    • 1 cup of cooked lentils
    • 8 oz of steamed vegetables
    • Flax seed oil

Notice that protein quantities are not given; these will vary according to individual body weight. That's it - a simple, effective approach that will work for anyone. This coupled with proper exercise can bring anyone to a healthy body weight.

Body weight should be taken weekly under the same circumstances. First thing in the morning after a restroom visit, no food or clothing.

If weight loss is less than one pound weekly, reductions to quantities can be made. If weight loss exceeds three pounds weekly (excluding first week), increases can be made.


Start with 3 sessions weekly. Intensity should be light to moderate; you should be able to speak during the activity. Lowest impact forms are desirable.

Examples are elliptical trainers and bicycles. Treadmill is also acceptable if the individual is comfortable and familiar. Duration should be 30 minutes. This format should last 30-90 days, depending on the person's condition.

Incorporate three types of workouts:
Here you train at high intensity for 2 minutes, then recover for 2 minutes at a slower pace. Examples include running on a treadmill alternated with walking and high resistance stationary biking.
Simply go as hard as possible for 15-20 minutes. If you can exceed 20 minutes, you are not working hard enough. Examples are stair mills and high incline running.
Long Slow Day:

Much like the beginner program, just longer. Pick any activity that elevates the heart rate but allows for sustained duration. Examples are hikes and tennis.

You can go for extended periods; over an hour if desired. Intermediates should do at least 3 days of cardio training weekly; 4 should be the goal.


The advanced trainee should receive a significant portion of their cardiovascular training from intensive fast paced resistance workouts. In addition, dynamic cardio is used.

Here you choose three exercises and perform each for 2 minutes in succession, accomplishing 6 minutes of non stop activity before resting 60-90 seconds and repeating.

Three to four rounds complete the routine. Very intensive and exhausting yet brief and portable. Advanced trainees can perform dynamic cardio on days opposite to resistance training, bringing total training days to six.

Resistance Training

If a trainee has little to no experience with resistance work, the first step should be to have a qualified motion analysis performed to detect imbalances. This can prevent injury and greatly speed progress in the long run. If a trainer is not available, the best means of self analysis is to videotape yourself performing the overhead squat and applying the findings to a simple postural analysis.

The findings from a very quick test will show the muscles that are inflexible, tight and weak. Failing to address these issues before intensive resistance training may result in injury. If the trainee does not feel confident handling these matters, spending some time engaged in yoga and Pilates can often do the trick.

Most imbalances can be corrected within a couple of months. Once this is achieved, a more conventional training schedule can begin. Here is an example of a typical routine for an individual without major limitations.

Long Slow Day:

Much like the beginner program, just longer. Pick any activity that elevates the heart rate but allows for sustained duration. Examples are hikes and tennis.

You can go for extended periods; over an hour if desired. Intermediates should do at least 3 days of cardio training weekly; 4 should be the goal.

Sample Fat Loss Workout Routine:

  • Barbell Squat: 1-3 sets of 20 reps
  • Leg Raise: 1-3 sets of 20 reps
  • Push Up: 1-3 sets of 15 reps
  • Assisted Pull Up: 1-3 sets of 15 reps

Begin with just one set, striving for 20 repetitions on the squat and leg raise, only 15 on the upper body movements. After the first week, increase to two sets, and two weeks after that, increase to three sets. The routine can be done three times weekly on non consecutive days.

Progression is of the utmost importance. Never complete the same workout twice. Always work to increase the amount of weight handled or the repetitions performed.

The body only responds to new stimuli, so repeating a session is a waste of time and energy. It is crucial that each workout be slightly harder than the last. Doing the same work this year as last year will result in the same body as last year.


Follow these basic guidelines to achieve your desired body weight. Do not get bogged down in details. Remember to eat a diet composed of lean meats and vegetables, complete your cardio and always work to get stronger in the weight room. These simple yet essential points will bring you success.