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I have a specific fitness goal that I want to achieve, and I wanted to take the opinion of some Fitness.SE members to ensure that I'm going in the right direction, and if not, what steps should I take to rectify it.

Goal: Reduce fat to an acceptable percentage of body weight (currently 23.6% on a 150 lb body weight, aiming to bring it down to 10-15% depending on my genetic potential), before embarking on a muscle-gain program (as I've read that its difficult to do both at the same time!)

Plan: I've started following the C25K program for running, and would be finishing it after 6 weeks (am in 3rd week now). Once I "graduate" from the program, I intend to run 5K 3 days/week, in the evening. I have also started keeping a "food log" (using the LoseIt app), which also keeps track of my exercise calories. Using this website (do let me know if there's a better/more accurate one), I've determined what my ideal caloric requirement should be (in order to lose weight @1 lb/week), and am devotedly keeping to that target.

Questions: There are quite a few of them, but due to the nature of my query, I can't split them into multiple separate ones without repeating a lot of the above info:

  • Does running 5K@3 days a week (for at least 6 weeks before I look for some kind of change) constitute a good exercise plan for losing fat? I've read multiple articles on the net regarding the frequency/duration of running for fat loss, and I'm a bit lost on the kind of contradictory infos that I have gotten on a routine Google search!
  • In case the answer to 1 is no, what other activities should I supplant my routine with? More cardio (on the same day/intervening days) using a different activity, or longer bursts of runs? I'm scared of injuring my back/knees by running too much, hence wanted to be sure.
  • Diet - According to this link on the FDA website, my diet should be limited to (based on a 2000 cal daily req, which I'd scale down to my caloric budget) :

    • >= 300g Carbs (>25g Fibers included in that)
    • Total Fat <= 65g, with Saturated Fat <= 20g
    • Sodium <= 2400 mg
    • Significantly, doesn't mention much about proteins, so at a loss there!

    Would this kind of a diet help me to lose fat while I'm running? If not, what should be the limits I should strive to in each of the food categories (if thats too much to ask, what should I be focusing on the most to ensure I don't take too much/too little of it) ?

My profile

  • Height : 5'10" (1.78m)
  • Weight : 150 lb (68 kg) (Fat % = 23.6% using a handheld BIA device)
  • Gender : Male
  • Age : 27

TL;DR: Ideal combination of diet/running to lose fat?

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Anything changed in the last 4 months ? (: –  Gabriel Feb 7 '13 at 18:09
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@Gabriel: Well, I got tested using fat callipers using a health services professional last week, and my fat % (using the 3 site method) came out to be 7.8%, which was quite surprising to me! I had completed C25K on Dec 31, 2012, and had been running full 5K thrice a week! Now that I've lost a lot of my initial fat mass, I've started the Starting Strength program to build up my core body strength - I'm gaining weight steadily, lets see how much of its fat/muscle when I go to get myself tested next month! –  TCSGrad Feb 7 '13 at 23:58
    
Awesome !! Keep up the good work ! –  Gabriel Feb 8 '13 at 9:46
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

1. Measure up

First of all, if you're serious about your weight loss and subsequent bulking, you may consider buying a body fat caliper. You'll get much more precise values and you'll be able to measure progress more accurately. If you're not willing to spend the money or are not sure you can use a caliper, The other solution is having a professional measure you up before and after. You won't be able to see the progress, though, only the end result. Your gym should provide that service. Let me express doubt about the body fat you provided. You're relatively lightweight for your height, and a body fat that high is unusual for such BMI.

Then, you should use some web forms to calculate your dayly calories requirements. You can use several and average the results. The forms should ask for your age, height, weight, gender and level of activity. Try http://www.medindia.net/patients/calculators/CalorieResult.asp and http://www.active.com/fitness/calculators/calories.htm

2. Plan your calories deficit through diet...

Then you can start making plans on calories deficit. You should spend more than you eat. Bodybuilders in cutting phase often do carb cycles. The routines are varied, but they are often 3 or 4 days cycles with 1 day with plenty of carbs (say 200g), 1 day with somewhat less (say 100g) and one or two depletion days with 50g of carbs.

Keep your fat intake between 20 and 30% of total calories, saturated fat below 7% of total calories. Your fiber intake looks good.

Try to eat many smaller meals a day, with an even carb distribution. This will help provide a sustained flux of energy and avoid insulin spikes, wich promote fat storage unless after exercising. Go for the complex carbs with whole grains, starchs. Avoid sugars, soft drinks et al wich, again, provoke insulin spikes.

Often times the cutting phase include a cheat day, during which you are allowed to eat anything in any quantity. This is a motivational relief since the daily routine of a controlled diet quickly gets hard to follow.

Since you don't work out yet, your protein intake can be 1 or 1,5g per kg of body mass per day. I'm not sure how the body fat percentage influences this, however.

Restrictive diets often lack nutrients. You may consider taking over-the-counter vitamins and minerals supplements. You may check your vitamin and mineral intake on http://nutritiondata.self.com/mynd/mytracking. Building the list takes some time, but you'll know what is going on.

3. ...and exercise

5km 3 times a week seems too low. With this amount, you're barely getting out of the "sedentary" category. Doing more cardio will probably reduce your lean mass too, which, as I understand, is not what you want. Which leads us to the next point:

Even if your goal is weight loss, you definitely should lift weights. Buidling lean mass actually helps loosing weight, since maintaining muscle requires more calories than maintaining fat. Lifting weight is also a nice way to burn calories. Just running might very well get absolutely boring. Bulking up will also help you feel better and look better, which is good motivation. Trust the professionals at your gym to come up with a nice and safe workout plan.

Try your best to calculate the calories you use during each cardio session and workout, then add the values to your daily calories requirements.

Notes

If you fear for your knees, which is a completely valid concern, you may consider switch to elliptical or bike for a start. They're safer.

Last point. Measuring sodium intake, and in fact all nutrients, is a complex and time consuming task. Read the nutritional facts, go on keeping logs and do your best !

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I'm looking at Body Fat Calipers to buy - do you know any well known/accurate ones that you've used and been benefited by (or simply know about)? –  TCSGrad Nov 14 '12 at 23:18
    
Good ! I bought a no-name down here in Brazil. I know nothing about brands, sorry. My guess is that any cheap stuff will do since you don't need extra .1mm precision. Plus, anyway, the relevant information is progress, not absolute value. –  Gabriel Nov 15 '12 at 10:29
    
Gabriel makes good points about strength training. My wife lost a lot of wieght strenth training, then decided to run a marathon. She reduced/stopped the strength training, and dramatically increased her running, up to a peak of 40 miles/week. During this time she gained weight despite maintaining the same diet she had been using. –  BillN Dec 26 '12 at 19:44
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At the end of the day, calories in < calories out = weight loss. There is some mixed data about the amount of calories, and the textbook "3500 calories = 1 lb" is somewhat suspect according to more modern studies, and the way that different people react, but all the studies agree (Whether atkins, paleo, grapefruit, etc) that caloric deficit is the main factor.

For protein intake, the RDA is .8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. So for your weight, theoretically 54.4 grams of protein should be sufficient. However, that is for a sedentary diet, the more active you are the more you need to bump that up to maintain/grow muscle. You should be safe staying around 1-1.5 g/kg per day. That's 408 calories of your 2000, or about 25%.

As far as the composition of the diet, I would emphasize the protein and healthy carbs such as fruits, veggies and grains as close to unrefined as you can get. Wheat bread (True wheat bread, not merely undyed white bread), quinoa, cous cous, things like this. Fats should be 10-20% of your diet in general, with an emphasis on the healthy, unsaturated fats.

For the exercise, the cardio is fine, but I would look at adding something like stronglifts 5x5 or similar to add a muscle building component, which will also help accelerate the fat loss as muscle burns more calories, and also tightens areas. I would recommend against this if you have plans for any kind of endurance competitions (such as 5k/10k running) as the extra muscle mass would work against you.

Lastly, I would address your fat rate. I would suspect that your bodyfat is probably less than the 23.6% that your handheld device is telling you. Bioelectric has an error rate in the range of +/- 5-10% depending on the model and algorithm used. I would test it against an underwater weighing, or a skin caliper test done by an experienced tester. While I carry extra muscle weight due to cycling, I am 5' 10.5", and at 170ish lbs (~77 kg), I am right around 10% bodyfat. I would tend to doubt that you are 14% more bodyfat than myself, at 20 lbs less weight.

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