Fat loss is a little more than just “calories in versus calories out”

While it would be asinine to believe that total energy intake is not the major determining factor in whether an individual will lose or gain fat (or muscle, for that matter), it’s not the only determinant. The main reason is that eating has hormonal effects on the body, and hormones are ultimately what dictate what the body does with the food you eat.

For example, if you were to put two individuals on isocaloric diets, and have one eat a balanced diet composed of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat, they would most definitely see better improvements in body composition than someone who ate all of their calories from carbs and fats. Obviously the latter would be a pretty extreme scenario, but this is just meant to illustrate the point that macronutrient balance is still very important when it comes to optimizing fat loss (and muscle building for that matter).

With that in mind, there is even more than goes into fat loss than calorie intake and macronutrient balance. Many lifestyle factors that we overlook can either accelerate or hinder fat loss. Read on to learn what some of these factors are and how to lead a lifestyle more conducive to getting lean.

Ditch the alcohol: For better or for worse, alcoholic beverages are the predominant drinks of choice at social gatherings. As much as people may enjoy a few daily beers, alcohol may be destroying both your muscle-building and fat-loss efforts in the gym. In fact, research has shown that even acute alcohol intake can drastically decrease muscle protein synthesis and lower testosterone production. [1] Limiting, or ideally abstaining from, alcohol intake is a rather important lifestyle modification if you’re looking to reduce your body-fat and build muscle. If you can’t do without an occasional beer or two every week, that’s fine. Just don’t drink daily, and avoid getting intoxicated. 


Stand up to burn more: Studies corroborate that people who utilize a standing desk at school or work burn a significant amount more calories than those who sit at a standard desk throughout the day.[2] In fact, standing burns roughly 33% more calories per minute than sitting does. Even more, standing (as opposed to sitting) has been shown to activate a key lipolytic enzyme called lipoprotein lipase. (LPL).[3] If you find yourself in the common predicament of working/studying at a desk most of the day, it may be in your best interest to look into a standing desk.

Omega-3s for better health and less body-fat: Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fats found mainly in fish (especially salmon). There has been plenty of literature promoting the anti-inflammatory and cardiac benefits of these fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA. A study in the journal “Lipids” actually demonstrated that over-fed mice that consumed a high amount of EPA/DHA were less prone to body-fat accumulation than mice who ate less EPA/DHA. [4] For humans it is generally advised to consume about 2-3 grams of fish oil per day (from food and/or supplements), and preferably a high proportion of that should be from EPA and DHA.


Avoid fasted cardio if you want to retain your muscle tissue while leaning out: Many bodybuilders seem to believe that doing long bouts of low-intensity cardio while fasting is the best way to shed fat and get lean. Recent research actually suggests that doing long bouts of cardio while fasting is actually detrimental to muscle tissue and doesn’t improve fat-burning versus those who trained after consuming a protein-based meal. [5] Moral of the story is to at least eat a light meal or drink a protein shake before you hit the treadmill.

Eat more fiber: For whatever reason, gym goers tend to overlook the value of dietary fiber. Aside from being absolutely essential to gastrointestinal function, fiber promotes satiety and even growth of healthy microbes in the gut, which increase nutrient absorption.[6] Furthermore, not eating enough fiber is a fast track to being “backed up”, lethargic, and constantly hungry, especially when you’re on a cutting diet. As a starting point, aim to eat at least 20% of your total carbohydrate intake in the form of dietary fiber, per day, or 30 grams - whichever is greater.


Obviously this article isn’t all-inclusive as there are other lifestyle factors that can alter fat loss, but the points discussed herein are some of the most crucial ones to be aware of. Hopefully now that you’ve learned a few things that might be hindering your fat loss progress you can make the necessary changes and dial in that leaner physique you’re after.


  1. Lang, C. H., Wu, D., Frost, R. A., Jefferson, L. S., Kimball, S. R., & Vary, T. C. (1999). Inhibition of muscle protein synthesis by alcohol is associated with modulation of eIF2B and eIF4E. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism277(2), E268-E276.
  2. Reiff, C., Marlatt, K., & Dengel, D. R. (2012). Difference in caloric expenditure in sitting versus standing desks. Journal of Physical Activity and Health9(7), 1009.
  3. Owen, N., Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., & Dunstan, D. W. (2010). Too much sitting: the population-health science of sedentary behavior. Exercise and sport sciences reviews38(3), 105.
  4. Ruzickova, J., Rossmeisl, M., Prazak, T., Flachs, P., Sponarova, J., Vecka, M., ... & Kopecky, J. (2004). Omega-3 PUFA of marine origin limit diet-induced obesity in mice by reducing cellularity of adipose tissue. Lipids39(12), 1177-1185.
  5. Schoenfeld, B. (2011). Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss?. Strength & Conditioning Journal33(1), 23-25.