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How to Push Through a Plateau

August 13, 2020

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On the journey to getting fitter, we will hit roadblocks. Most of the time stalled progress can be solved relatively quickly by looking at your current habits. Erin Stern goes over common reasons why plateaus happen, and ways to push through them. Let’s dive in!
 

1. Not eating enough

This one may come as a surprise to many. If you’re looking to lean down or to lose weight, it would make sense that the less you eat, the more you will lose. But the body is amazingly adaptive. If you cut calories too much, your metabolism will slow down. Also, your daily activity level will decrease (this is NEAT, non-exercise activity thermogenesis). As a quick reminder, you do not want your calories to drop below your basal metabolic rate, or BMR.  BMR is the minimum number of calories required for basic function when your body is at rest.  To calculate your BMR click here.

Upping your daily caloric intake by around 300 calories should give you more energy and also help with weight loss. 
 

2. Eating too much

When calculating your energy needs, it’s usually a good idea to choose a level that is less active than what you might think you’d be. Even if you are training 6x per week, you may still be considered “lightly active” if you don’t move much during the day. When adjusting daily calories, adjust in increments of 300 calories. This will be enough for you to notice changes, and progress should be recorded on a weekly basis. Also, think in terms of a range for caloric intake. For example, if your goal is 1500 calories per day, then anything between 1350 and 1650 is fine. This can help alleviate stress that comes with trying to “hit your macros” or calories for the day.
 

3. Overestimating exercise/calorie burn

This happens a lot with wearable trackers. Trackers are fantastic for spotting trends over time, but they should not be used to help calculate food intake. Often, there’s a tendency to eat more when we think we have burned a lot of calories. A better and easier option is to set your caloric intake range for the week and assess at the end of each week. 
 

4. Underestimating/not weighing food

Especially when you first start out, measure and weigh your foods. Often, estimates lead to insufficient protein intake and an overage of carbs and fats. Simply increasing your protein can lead to feelings of satiety, greater muscle gains, better recovery, and increased metabolism.
 

5. Not accounting for some calories

Higher-calorie vegetables like corn, snap peas, peas, parsnips, and brussels sprouts should be factored into caloric intake. If you are chewing gum, eating mints, adding creamer and/or sugar to your coffee, or consuming drinks that have calories, they need to be accounted for. Also, watch your dry measurements of carbs like oats. Weighing them is a good option. If you use a measuring cup, make sure the amount is level and not a rounded scoop. Leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, and other low-calorie veggies should be considered freebies. 
 

6. Eating at the wrong times

Intermittent fasting (IF) has become very popular in the last few years. But, not all forms of IF are optimal. If you are looking to lean down, eating the majority of your calories earlier in the day can be more beneficial. We all have a sleep-wake cycle, also known as Circadian rhythm. Usually, cortisol levels and metabolism are higher earlier in the day. Later in the day, cortisol drops, and melatonin starts to rise. Melatonin can inhibit the release of insulin, which can hinder digestion. So, if you are calorie restricting all day and eat a big dinner, you may not see results – even if you are running a caloric deficit!
 

7. Eating window too large

This often occurs with shift workers and those who train very early or very late. The body needs time to rest, digest, and recover. If you are always in a fed state, this can impact sleep, raise inflammation levels, and can cause a stall in progress. For the goals of hypertrophy and fat loss, consider your food intake on a 24-48-hour basis. This means that if you are eating well throughout the week, that you will have enough fuel stored for workouts outside of the eating window, and you won’t need to “carb up” after a late training session. A 12-hour eating window seems to be ideal, but as always, finding your ideal may take some experimentation.
 

8. History of restrictive dieting

Examine your past habits. Were you a habitual yo-yo dieter? Did you cut carbs and add in cardio to get lean? If so, your metabolism may be slower than the BMR calculations. But, as mentioned before, the metabolism is elastic! So, you can rev it up. You may need to reduce calories initially, and slowly increase them from week to week. As your metabolism adjusts, you will find that you become hungrier, leaner, and the lifestyle becomes more sustainable.
 

9. Hormones

If you are over 35, and/or have a history of yo-yo dieting, it can be helpful to have blood work done. If your hormones or thyroid levels are not optimal, you will not see results. Often, a general practitioner will have ranges that are “normal”, but this does not mean “optimal”. You may need to seek out an alternative medicine doctor who will optimize your levels but keep you within normal and healthy ranges. There are also many natural supplements that can help balance your levels. Once you have your blood work, you can assess the options.
 

10. Sleep

Not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep per night. As we get older, we tend to need less sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, or if your sleep schedule is erratic, it will affect your progress. Try to get enough sleep each night and take an hour to unwind before bed. Blue light glasses, a hot shower, and having your last meal 2-3 hours before bed can help. Turning off electronics an hour before bed and making sure your room is dark and cool can also aid in a good night’s sleep.
 

11. Stress

Here comes an influence that we can’t see, and affects everyone differently. Stress is not the actual event, but our reaction to an event. If you have a lot of stress in your life, take measures to remove the stressors you have control over, and change your perspective on the things you don’t have control over. This is easier said than done, as it takes work. But it will reduce your cortisol levels overall. We are made to handle stress, as long as it is temporary. Cortisol levels normally rise and fall throughout the day. Chronic stress contributes to weight around the midsection and is connected with almost all ailments. So, take time to meditate, get outside, have some fun, relax, and allow yourself to breathe. You may be surprised what a difference it’ll make!
 

12. Consistency

Some people see results in a week or two on a new plan. Others are slower to respond, and it can take 4-6 weeks before seeing any physical changes. As you start a new plan, your body immediately responds, but it can be in the form of internal changes. This includes improved gut health, improved digestion, reduction of visceral fat (which can be tough to detect), reduced inflammation, and improved sleep. So, stick with it! Often, big changes happen after the initial few weeks. 

If your progress has stalled, assess which areas you may be able to adjust. Changes don’t happen overnight, but small tweaks can lead to big improvements over time. Thank you for reading! Until next time, eat well and train hard, y’all!

    
  Erin Stern
, 2x Ms. Figure Olympia

 

 

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