5. Adjust your protein intake. The protein calculations we provide here are just a guideline, which means you should keep track of your intake for a month or so and then make adjustments. If your fat loss has hit a plateau and you aren't suffering from overtraining syndrome--ironically, too much time at the gym or on the sports field will slow your fat furnace--bump up your protein slightly. If you're gaining a little fat, cut back on your protein. There should be little need to go beyond one gram of protein per pound of lean mass.
6. Diversify your carbs.
When planning meals, you may find it tempting to stick to a few familiar sources of carbohydrates. But your system works better when you keep it guessing a bit, so don't get caught in a carb rut. Eating a variety of carbs, even some simple sugars, is desirable for athletes, according to the journal Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning.
That's not an invitation to gorge on Fruit Loops and candy bars. The bulk of your carbs should come from foods such as potatoes, brown rice, pasta and vegetables. Most green veggies are very low in calories and may actually result in a negative calorie balance, since they can burn more calories during digestion than they contain.
As a rule, you shouldn't eat more than two or three grams of carbs per pound of body weight. Many people overdose on carbs, thinking them "safe" if they don't have a high fat content. But your system doesn't discriminate: It stores any excess calories--whether from protein, fat or carbs--as fat.
7. Alternate carb volume.
Once you've established your daily carbohydrate requirement, the tendency is to ingest precisely equal amounts of carbs at every meal. In the early phase of a weight-loss plan, this approach works quite well, as it trains the body to expect a certain amount of essential nutrients on a regular schedule for maximum benefit.
But over time, your body will achieve homeostasis, that is, it will adapt to the pattern and will work just enough to maintain its current balance of lean mass to fat stores. To continue getting leaner, you must continue adapting. (Click on "Metabolism Boosters" at right.)
8. Give yourself a carb shock.
Assuming you're not diabetic or prone to hypoglycemic episodes, another way to keep your body off-balance is to lower your carb intake to about 125 grams per day for 48 hours every two or three weeks. Your body will search for alternate energy sources, breaking its homeostatic rhythm and revving the metabolic process. Because it has been glycogen-depleted, your body will quickly utilize sugar carbs for energy when you return to normal levels of carb ingestion.
Do not go low-carb for more than a couple of days or take in fewer than 125 grams per day. Carbs are essential for maintaining crucial heart and brain functions. Depleting sugar stores can make you lethargic and irritable and can slow your thinking, so try this phase on weekends, not during the workweek.
9. Drink, drink, drink.
H2O is essential for protein conversion and carbohydrate uptake; the chemical translation of carbs into energy cannot take place efficiently without ample water. And, according to the journal Physiology of Sport and Exercise, you can't load muscle cells with glycogen or deliver amino acids to muscle tissue without adequate water. For starters, your training efforts will suffer greatly. More important, fat is mobilized through a process called hydrolysis, and insufficient liquids in your body will hinder fat breakdown.
Don't wait until you're thirsty-thirst signals the first stage of dehydration, which means you' re already too late. You must stay hydrated. Drink often throughout the day, and especially before and during a training session. Try to get at least 10 cups of water per day, although up to a gallon is okay. Some people actually carry around a gallon jug, which helps keep them on the hydration track.