I'm around 5'8 144 lbs and for the past two months I have been consistently doing at least 30 minute cardio running, 30 minutes of oblique + upper + lower ab exercises and dieting really well with enough protein(and maybe once a week eat some sugary snacks) but have not seen much if any change at all. I still have a lot of body fat, love muscles, but you can see some lean muscle underneath throughout my whole body. Is there something I am not aware of doing?

  • What is your goal? – Eric Warburton Jul 21 at 21:34
  • Mostly lose fat ideally 10-20% body fat and have more noticeable muscle. Right now I have abs, but it's covered by fat. Same for my arms and chest – Harry Iguana Jul 21 at 21:59
  • Is there a reason you only do ab/oblique exercises? – JohnP Jul 22 at 13:46
  • Focusing on toning abs, but I do calisthenics to improve my arms, back core and legs as well – Harry Iguana Jul 22 at 14:24

The basic tenet of fat loss is to be in a caloric deficit.

If you burn more than what you eat then you will, barring unusual circumstances, lose weight over time - this is a marathon, not a sprint.

One thing to pay attention though here is that to avoid losing muscle while on a caloric deficit you need to exercise the muscles too and eat enough protein.

Running and abs are not the ideal whole body muscle stressors, ab exercises are not the best bang for your buck to grow a muscular body, as you are just training a single and relatively small part of your muscles.

30 minutes of cardio are burning at most 600 kcals per hour, depending on the intensity, so it may be even less than that. 30 minutes of just abs is less than that

So let's assume you're burning 500kcal per session (which is optimistic.)

You aren't specifying how many sessions per week you're doing, but, for the sake of calculation, let's assume you do it daily, which is 3500 kcal a week.

A pound of tissue has roughly 3500 kcal, so if your weight was constant before and you eat roughly the same amount as before starting to exercise, and you did it over time (let's say 8 weeks, you shouldn't expect immediate results), you would expect to be about 8 pounds lighter at the end of the 8 weeks in the best case. If you exercise less than daily, then it would take even longer, as your deficit would be proportionately less.

If you're not seeing anything close to that, the most likely problem is that your energy intake is greater than what you need it to be for weight loss. In my experience, whole body strength training is very effective at both growing muscles and losing fat if you manage to be at a caloric deficit.

There is a caveat here in the sense that if you are growing muscle and losing fat at the same time, the weight metric is no longer enough as muscle is denser than fat. You might even gain weight! You need different metrics (DEXA scans, calipers, or a mirror - if you're seeing you're getting more muscular and your weight's going up, be happy!)

Also, healthy food only means that it is better for your health, not that it will make you lose fat directly, healthy food can help indirectly in fat loss in the sense they can be more satiating and add more micronutrients, but they are not a replacement for being in a caloric deficit.

So, to sum up, I'd personally recommend switching the abs exercises (and the cardio too unless you enjoy it) for full body strength training or calisthenics and that you pay closer attention to your food intake - something that has helped me personally in the past is to keep a food journal. We tend to eat more than we think we do without realizing it, especially if you are one of those who think "hey, I just exercised, I can eat more!" and such a journal can help us notice when and maybe find out why.

The final piece of the puzzle is finding out how much should you eat, and there are tons of formulas to calculate your BMR (Base Metabolic Rate) and your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), but at least at first, I suggest just experimenting and seeing trends over time and being aware of what you eat and what you exercise, you can always iterate and improve later.

For reference, exercise can be up to 35% of the total energy your body uses daily - you can't directly control the remaining 65% of your body's energy expenditure, you can only control how much total energy you give to your body and this is why controlling the intake is key (and arguably more important than exercise to lose fat, although exercise is really important to be healthy and fit).

Energy expenditure summary

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  • 3500 calories = 1 lb of fat loss is somewhat of a fallacy. – JohnP Jul 22 at 13:46
  • I agree. It's just that the references for a better number are not public, or at least I haven't found any, and given my previous experience here I didn't want to put anything out without a reference. Also, given the level of OP (two months in and not doing strength), a more accurate number wasn't needed to carry the point across. Do you have a public reference to a better number? The data I have says that it's closer to 4130. – Paribus Ceteris Jul 22 at 13:51
  • @ParibusCeteris thanks for that, a couple things that might benefit me telling is that I actually do train in calisthenics and HIIT workouts daily, such as 15 pull ups, 50 push ups, dips squat etc. I'm using an app called lose it to check my calorie progression, but for me I am recommended to eat 2800+ calories, while I burn around 1000 every day from exercise. – Harry Iguana Jul 22 at 14:23
  • @HarryIguana I don't know that app, but many apps overestimate how much you burn and also overestimate how many cals should you eat (is 2800 for fat loss? That's a strange rec from an app). Also, how are you tracking what you eat? In any case, if you are not seeing results with what you are doing, try to improve it, maybe 2800 is too much, or maybe you're eating even more than what the app recommended. In two months with a strict adherence you should at least see some changes even if not all of them. So it's either the plan itself or your execution of it. – Paribus Ceteris Jul 22 at 14:56
  • Finally, cardio is not the best way to grow muscles, see mennohenselmans.com/the-cardio-comedown – Paribus Ceteris Jul 22 at 15:03

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