05 Sep The Fat Loss Game Changer: Track Your Steps To 10x Your Results
If there was one addition to a fat loss program that I’d classify as a ‘game changer’, it would be tracking your steps.
Most people’s days tend to look something like this:
- Wake up and get ready for work
- Sit in the car and drive to the station
- Sit on a train to work
- Sit at their desk for 8 to 12 hours at work
- Sit on a train on the way back from work
- Eat dinner and sit in front of the TV
At some point in the day, you may add a training session. But besides this, you’re essentially sitting down all day.
What Does This Have To Do With Fat Loss?
At the most basic level, to lose body fat you need to be expending more calories than you consume.
Whilst many overthink the process, it’s ultimately about energy in vs. energy out.
Your energy consumption comes from the food you eat.
Your energy expenditure comes from three things: your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the thermic effect of the foods you eat (TEF) and your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
To break it down a little further…
BMR is the body’s energy requirement while immobile or resting, without any activity.
TEF refers to the caloric cost of digesting and processing the food you consume. This is dependent on the type of nutrient too. For example:
Protein – 20-30% (this is one reason why protein is so important for fat loss dieting)
Carbs – 5-6%
Fats – 2-3%
NEAT is the energy expended for everything we do that isn’t sleeping, eating or intentional physical activity (e.g. weight training, cardio, sports). It refers to activities such as walking, shopping, cooking, cleaning, fidgeting, and maintaining posture.
Because of the wide variety of activities NEAT encompasses, it can be hard to define. But it’s extremely significant, and can make up anywhere from 15-50% of your total energy expenditure – which is why it can prove to be such a game changer.
As a result, it’s something we need to keep an eye on if fat loss is the goal.
Why You Don’t Have A ‘Slow Metabolism’
How many times have you or someone you know complained about their ‘slow metabolism’?
And how you can just ‘look at food and gain body fat?’
Unless you’ve got a legitimate endocrine problem, this is usually just an excuse for your lack of movement. More specifically, it’s typically a NEAT issue.
Take a look at your naturally lean friends.
The ones that seem to get away with eating a ton of food but always look in shape.
Chances are, these people are naturally more active in their daily lives, and not just blessed with a racehorse metabolism that burns through everything they eat. They’ll tend to fidget more, always be on the go and have active jobs, while your sole activity in the day may only be a 45-60 minute weight training session (which might not burn as much as you think it does!).
In fact, this is why you think you could ‘get away’ with a lot more calories when you were younger at school and university as opposed to in your adult working life.
It’s not that your body has become resistant to burning body fat. It’s more that you’ve gone from being active for most of the day, to sitting on your backside for all your waking hours!
So How Do I Increase My NEAT?
The only real way we can gauge NEAT is through tracking our daily step count.
Due to NEAT’s ability to influence energy expenditure so strongly, setting step targets per day can accelerate fat loss results tremendously.
In order to make this work in the long run, you need to think about how you can build movement into daily routine, without it affecting work and life in general.
Here are some of the best examples:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or lift
- Take phone calls while walking
- Walk to the bus stop or train station
- Get off a few stops earlier on your commute
- During your breaks at work, go for a walk
- If your office has a standing desk, stand instead of sitting down
- Have ‘walking meetings’
How Many Steps A Day Should I Take?
We’ve all heard the 10,000 steps a day rule thrown about by many of the wearable device companies.
This originated from Japan in the run up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when a company came out with a device called manpo-kei, which means 10,000 step meter.
When adding a step target to your routine, the first thing I’d do is check what you’ve been naturally averaging on a daily basis.
If you have an iPhone or Android, you should have an in-built step counter in the ‘health’ or ‘heart’ section.
Typically, most people tend to average between 3000-5000 steps a day when they’re not aware of it. Sometimes even less.
If you fall in this bracket, the first goal should be to bump this up to around 8000.
From here, slowly ramp it up over the course of weeks and months.
In my own recent bodybuilding contest prep, here’s how I increased it:
Week 1-4: no tracking
Week 5-8: 10K a day
Week 8-10: 12K a day
Week 10-15: 15K a day
Week 16-20: 20K a day
Where you end up will depend on how extreme your goals are, how much fat you need to lose, and how active your lifestyle is in general.
For most people, around 12-15K tends to work great.
What it doesn’t depend on is time! I often hear from people that they don’t have the time to be more active.
I call BS on this. Most of our clients are very busy people with long working hours and hectic social lives so they simply make the effort and build it into their lifestyle.
I actually remember one of my clients Mits (in preparation for an upcoming photo shoot) telling me he knew he was going to be sedentary all day long, so decided to wake up at 3am, walk to his local 24 hour gym to do his cardio, and then start walking to work before the tube opened!
Other Benefits of Increasing Steps
Besides being able to keep a consistent measure on NEAT, there are many benefits to increasing your daily step count:
- More Energy, Better Digestion and Less Tightness
Everyone I’ve recommended increasing their step counts to always reports back increased energy, improved digestion and reduced muscular tightness (especially in the hip flexors).
Given how long people typically sit, this is no surprise.
I can attest to this too. Most of my work is done spent sitting at a desk, so staying active throughout the day means my hips and lower back are less tight then they used to be when the only time I’d ‘move’ per se would be to go to the gym.
- Maintains Calorie Deficit Late In Transformations
When you’re in the latter stages of a body transformation, and calories and body fat are low, you typically start feeling drained, low on energy, lethargic and lazy. What happens then is you’ll start subconsciously moving less.
However, it’s critical at this time you make the effort to stay as active as possible in order to maintain the deficit required to continue dropping body fat.
Remember, NEAT can be responsible for up to 50% of your daily energy expenditure. So if you go from being active and normal, to lazy and lethargic, chances are if you’re not careful you may reduce or even possibly eradicate your calorie deficit.
Tracking, and slowly increasing your steps as your diet advances is a great way to prevent this from happening.
- Female Fat Loss
For women, step counting makes a significant difference, particularly if you’re quite light.
It allows you another variable to play with when you may have already bottomed out on food and traditional cardio.
Adding more NEAT into your day can allow you to create larger deficits while keeping a healthy amount of food in – which in turn will ensure gym performance, daily life and health is maintained.
- Creates Goals
If you’re goal oriented, and like challenges, you’ll love this.
At first it can be quite tedious, but after a week or two most people are hooked, and start looking for ways to be more active.
Whether it’s a walk with their friends or colleagues at lunch, or making more active plans on the weekend, it begins to stay in the back of your mind to always make a conscious effort to move more.
I can’t see any down side to this. We’ve all heard the ‘sitting is the new smoking’ slogans, and I’m in 100% agreement with it.
- Maintains Your Results
The people who maintain their results best after a body transformation tend to have two things in common: 1/ they don’t binge 2/ they stay active.
If you finish your diet at 20K steps a day, and then drop back to 5K the following week, don’t be surprised if you start gaining body fat quickly.
15K steps represents a large drop off in energy expenditure, so it’s important to taper this as you come out of dieting.
In my own example, 4 weeks after my bodybuilding show, here’s what I’ve done, after topping out at 20K a day.
Week 1: 15K
Week 2: 14K
Week 3: 12K
Week 4: 10K
Week 5 onwards: 8-10K daily
I think 8-10K a day is a eatice realistic target, and a healthy amount of activity to maintain on a day-to-day basis, which will reap all the benefits of increased activity without the fatigue that 15-20K a day can often create (unless you’re in an already highly active job that requires this).
The benefits of increasing and tracking your NEAT make setting step goals a no brainer.
If you’re looking for maximum body composition results, you want to have all your bases covered.
And keeping an eye on your steps is one that has the potential to have a tremendous impact on your rate of fat loss and your physique development.
If in doubt, move more.