Ah yes, fat loss plateaus. We’ve all faced them. They are universally hated – but they happen to everyone so no sense complaining about it.
Whether your goal is to build muscle or lose fat at some point you will hit a plateau – and this is where most people get off track and ultimately drop out.
Being aware of plateaus is important because you can anticipate them and find ways to work around them. There are a number of reasons why plateaus happen and they can occur at different times for everyone.
There is no true single solution because everyone plateaus for a different reason.
Today we are going to look more into the plateau phenomenon and help you figure out what you can do to break right through it.
Did You Hit a Plateau?
First it’s important to figure out if you even hit a plateau. Ask yourself what your goals are and how do you track them? By your weight, body fat measurements gut size, etc.
You shouldn’t be relying on just one because that can be deceiving. For example, let’s say your weight on the scale stays the same for two weeks. If that is your only measurement of progress you might think you have plateaued.
However, if you also measured your waist size you might find that it was still decreasing over this time. Therefore, you actually did not plateau – your weight likely stayed the same because you put on some muscle or you are carrying more water.
Now, had you only been using the scale you wouldn’t have caught this and likely would have started making changes to a program that was still working well for you.
Additionally it can be hard to see minor changes in the mirror, so the fact that you didn’t look noticeably different would have validated your concerns.
To mitigate this possibility, simply measure more than one progress metric and do it at the same time every week. For example, every friday morning before you eat or drink anything.
You can weigh yourself, then measure your waist and other areas along with whatever other metrics you want to track.
Taking a progress photo is also a good idea. You can also consider adding a fat burning supplement to your diet at this point.
When Do People Hit Fat Loss Plateaus?
Typically plateaus tend to hit people after 1-2 months of training on a new program. The body start to adapt to what you are throwing at it and finds ways to deal with it more efficiently.
How does this look in a real life situation?
Well say you are trying to lean out for summer. You adjust your diet and track your macros making sure you have a slight calorie deficit each day. You go to the gym and perform resistance training along with some HIIT cardio.
You get great results and start taking your foot off the gas a bit, figuring the progress will keep rolling.
6 weeks in you hit a plateau – your weight hasn’t gone down in two weeks. You start to panic that you won’t have that sub-10% bodyfat physique in time for your vacation.
Time to start questioning what the problem might be.
Have you been sticking to the plan?
Have you been tracking your macros every day, limiting cheat meals, measuring your waist, etc? Or are you just kind of going with the flow? After all, as long as you are eating healthy foods you will lose fat, right?
Well the truth is that tracking your daily macro intake is very difficult unless you are making a point of writing down everything you eat. It’s very easy to over or under-estimate your macros and screw up your diet.
Just because you are eating healthy foods doesn’t mean you will get shredded. In fact, it’s possible to gain fat from eating nothing but healthy foods if you are eating too much of them.
This is why it is so crucial to make sure you track everything from the beginning. Without detailed notes on your diet and plan it will be very difficult for you to pinpoint the cause of your plateau.
For all you know it could be something easily corrected – particularly if it’s just a matter of reducing calories a little bit each day.
Plateaus at the 3-4 Month Mark
We’ve already covered this in much more details in our guide to fat burner supplements. – You can read that here.
Ok, now let’s say you make it all the way to the 3 or 4 months mark before hitting your first plateau. Since you were able to make so much progress it’s safe to assume that you were following your plan well and that this is not necessarily a behavioral issue.
Unfortunately the body doesn’t like to change.
In fact, the leaner you get the more it will desperately hold on to those last few pounds of fat. As a result, what used to be a calorie deficit for you is now eating at maintenance calories.
So how can we avoid having our metabolism drop while on a diet? – (Learn how to boost your metabolism in our complete guide here)
One great strategy for keeping metabolism relatively high is called carbohydrate cycling. This is a great way to increase your calories while still maintaining a net deficit for the week.
To do this, simply assign a few high-calorie days and then have the rest of the days be low-calorie days. While some days might be at or over maintenance and others under maintenance the goal here is to be at a deficit for the week.
However, because your body is not getting the same amount of calories each day it will have trouble creating a baseline level and will instead just burn more calories throughout the day.
Try to have the high-calorie days land on your workout days so you have sufficient energy to get through your routine.
One major benefit of cycling this way is that it prevents you from getting bored. If you are eating the same food every day, for the same amount of calories it can get frustrating and even drive some people crazy.
It also helps keep your mind sharp and avoid complacency. To make things easier you can also add a reward day for yourself where you get to eat much more calories, particularly of foods you like.
This high-calorie day will also help prevent your metabolism from dropping as your body thinks that more calories could be coming. Also, you get to eat some more of the foods you like.
While this might have a slightly negative impact in the short run it will ultimately help you stay on your program for longer which will mean better results in the long run.
It’s worth noting that regardless of what your diet looks like you should keep protein high. There are a number of reasons to keep an eye on this but for starters it will help keep you full.
Obviously it can be difficult to avoid food cravings while on a deficit but if you at least feel full you can make it easier on yourself.
Second, protein will help you maintain muscle mass. Remember that muscle burns a lot of calories on it’s own so you want to hold on to it as much as possible.
Plateaus After The 4 Month Mark
If you hit a plateau after the 4 month mark then chances are your body has just adapted to your diet. You’ve done a good job making it this far but your hormone levels are no longer optimal for fat loss.
If you try and push the issue it will mean drastic calorie deficits which leads to muscle loss. At this point take a break from dieting for a bit – eat at your maintenance calorie level for a few weeks and enjoy some of the foods you’ve been missing out on. Just be sure not to give all those gains back!
After a few weeks you will be ready to get back on the diet.
Additional Tips to Avoid Plateaus
Unlike most other bodybuilding blogs, we keep it real with you.
The professional athletes you see on Instagram most often do use some illegal steroids to get shredded faster and to smash through fat loss plateaus.
That’s still one of the dumbest things you could ever do to your body.
Not only are they banned but can also cause serious damages to your body and can even cause you to have a heart attack.
Besides, the natural supplement industry has already researched and developed supplements that help you smash through plateaus with safe and natural ingredients, that don’t come with nasty or dangerous side-effects. You can see which ingredients work in our ultimate guide here.
Now onto another point, if you aren’t already doing a resistance training routine then start one! This is probably the most important tip we can give you and it will be the difference between cutting down to a lean, shredded physique or a skinny fat one.
By working your muscles at the gym you will help prevent your body from dropping it’s basic daily calorie requirements since it will need fuel to repair the tissue.
In fact, you should be putting more emphasis on your resistance training than on your cardio, even when on a cut.
Speaking of cardio – it’s essential that you do not perform too much of it.
While it might seem like a great way to get your daily calories below maintenance level it will actually hurt you if you do too much of it. You see, excessive cardio will force your body to go catabolic – meaning it will start breaking down muscle tissue.
Obviously you don’t want this to happen.
When you are setting up your program make sure it is sustainable. Don’t commit yourself to some extreme diet and training regimen you simply know you can’t keep up with.
This will only encourage you to go off your diet and skip your gym sessions, thereby derailing your entire progress.
Fat loss plateaus are frustrating, we get it. Knowing that you were making such great progress only to hit a wall all of a sudden sucks, period.
However, if you employ some of the wisdom from this article you will have a much better chance of avoiding plateaus. Also, should you encounter one you will know exactly how to get through it.
Remember to set yourself up with a solid, sustainable program and most importantly track your progress. If you don’t have notes about what you are eating, how your weight has changed as well as other metrics you simply won’t know where you’ve gone wrong.
Also, by tracking all of these metrics you will be less likely to reach fat loss plateaus in the first place.
Now go forward and SMASH your fat loss plateaus, your shredded abs are waiting for you!