The Lean Gains Lose Fat Experiment

For the entire month of June, I focused on losing fat without losing muscle, wanting to see if I could possibly even gain muscle while losing fat? I had a few different methods that I wanted to test for results so I switched it up mid-month.

I started the month with a form of HIIT. Unlike traditional HIIT, I wanted to see if there was a noticeable body change by performing 2 sessions of HIIT a day!

HIIT, or “High Intensity Interval Training” has been a very popular form of cardio for a few years running. The idea is to train in bursts, alternating back and forth between intense cardio exercise and light restful cardio.  The “bursts” are all-out “hard as you can go” intervals repeated frequently in a short duration cardio session.

The benefits of HIIT are many, including disease prevention, improved blood flow, better conditioning, greater testosterone levels and the focus of my experiment, greater fat loss.

Some still believe that low intensity cardio burns fat better. Let’s start with an accurate understanding of low-intensity vs. high-intensity cardio, in regards to burning fat. You do burn a greater percentage of calories from fat when you’re training low intensity (with a lower heart rate), but.. you will still burn more fat calories overall at high intensity and more importantly, you stoke your metabolic furnace and create an environment that is optimum for burning fat all day long. You will burn more overall fat with high intensity.

That’s the nutshell version of low vs high intensity cardio and it’s important to understand for the purpose of my 30 day experiment, as it is the first part of my 30 day diet experiment for the starting month of June, 2012.  I should also mention that low intensity cardio works great for anyone who is generally overweight and high intensity isn’t usually needed until you get down to burning those last 10 pounds of fat.  That’s when things get tough.

I’ll explain the details of my HIIT sessions toward the end of this article. It was extremely tough, as I performed HIIT every day (twice a day for the first two weeks) and worked my normal free weight sessions in during the afternoons (4 or 5 times a week).

Here’s the questions I wanted my 30 day diet experiment to answer:

  1. Are two high intensity cardio sessions, every day, a more favorable way to burn fat or is it too much?
  2. In eating as healthy as possible the entire month, can I actually gain muscle while losing fat?
  3. Will my metabolism improve as the month goes on, requiring me to eat even more calories to maintain weight?
  4. Are 15 minute cardio sessions enough to burn fat and improve physique dramatically?
  5. Is cardio or extreme attention to diet the primary factor in losing fat or is it an equal combination of both?

Here’s the experiment in detail:

I engaged in HIIT every day during the month of June, with 4 to 5 free weight sessions in between, every week. The timing for testing this was perfect, as I had been dieting as healthy as possible all this year and did very little cheating. I could count my cheat meals on both hands and those meals were never extreme. Furthermore, the month of May was the only month that I didn’t see any results (previously doing Intermittent Fasting) in fat loss, weight loss or strength gains. Since I’m obviously stuck at a plateau, eating the same as I have been and only changing the cardio variable (from low intensity 4X a week to high intensity 7X a week), the findings should be substantial.

For at least the first two weeks of June, this is how I did HIIT:

I performed exactly two cardio sessions every day, one in the morning and one late evening. I didn’t miss a day or a workout for the first 14 days. The cardio sessions were exactly 15 minutes long. Minute 1, I warm up and get ready, minute 2, I take it up to 70-80% effort and minute 3, I go all out at 90-100% effort, increasing intensity as I get closer to the end of the minute. I then repeat that 4 more times, slowing down in minute 4 to the place I need to collect my breath and be ready for another two minutes of working hard and repeating this cycle to the end.

That equates to 5 all out sprints p/ cardio session or 10 sprints every day I did this. That’s a lot of high intensity cardio! I used an elliptical trainer every day for all cardio.

Carb Cycling:
For the last half of the month, I’m engaged in carb cycling.. and fell in love with it! For the first half, I didn’t count my calories, but I ate the same foods all month long at the same moderation I had been. Only during the last half of the month did I begin carb cycling while counting calories, and tracking macro-nutrient ratios. I have been precise in tracking these numbers and I did not have any cheat foods at all during June.

Change in Cardio
After 14 days of 2 HIIT sessions a day, I wasn’t sure I saw any change and it was definitely time to switch it up.  Furthermore, I started feeling run down a bit and couldn’t quite recover.  Unfortunately, I don’t always get near the sleep I should while training.  It’s part of being a Dad.

I decided to go to one cardio workout a day, making it 25 minutes long and basically just try to interval back and forth between slowing down and then going very hard.  I settled in on five minute intervals, ramping up in intensity with each minute and basically going all out every fifth minute before slowing back down again in the next minute.  I’m still doing this and it feels great.  I’m still doing a session every day, as well.

The Results:
I posted my weight and diet and exercise log every day (see posts below) and it helped to keep me accountable.  It made for some rather boring posts in the month of June but there was no arguing the outcome.  I have learned that carb cycling (including tracking macro-nutrients), combined with a daily dose of intense cardio is the magic bullet for burning fat and dropping those last few pounds.  The last 2 weeks of June, I lost a full two pounds and it’s noticeable.  My strength actually increased after going to only 1 cardio session a day.

I plan to continue carb cycling all through July and then changing things up in August.

Here’s all 30 posts as I have lived and trained each day:

30 Day Fitness Challenge