On the road to get lean, you've got no shortage of questions. The Men's Fitness editors, many of whom have been on the same path, have the answers. It's easy to figure out a general weight loss program; get on a clean diet, head to the gym, avoid those unhealthy temptations. But when you get specific and cater the program to your own life, there's going to be tips you whish you knew. It's going to happen at 12:06 p.m. on a Tuesday when you have to sneak in a workout at the office. Or in the middle of the airport food court when all you can smell is the Cinnabon stand.
From the best lunchtime workouts to how to eat healthy pre-flight, we've got you covered. Taken from our Ask Men's Fitness series, here are our answers to your top 10 weight loss questions.
"I’d like a good lunch-hour workout that I can do at my gym in 30 minutes flat, giving myself plenty of time to shower and cool down. What do you recommend?" —Bradley S., Tacoma, WA
You don’t need to switch your regular workouts, just how fast you do them. “When we move at top speed, we engage fast- and superfast-twitch muscles, which send a ‘fight or flight’ signal to the brain,” says Justin O’Connor, head trainer of the Under 20 Workout fitness program. “This engages the pituitary gland, which releases human growth hormones and speeds both muscle building and fat burning.”
O’Connor recommends doing a series of high-intensity, short-burst exercises (burpees, rope jumping, weights), moving your muscles at top speed for 20–30 seconds then resting for 10 seconds. “It can produce up to 10 times the calorie-burning benefits,” he says. “After 20 minutes, you’ll have time to shower, cool down, and be back at your desk.”
"At what age does a person’s metabolism start to significantly slow?" -Stanley K., Queens, NY
Your metabolism—how fast you burn calories—slows way sooner than you might realize. When you’re just 25, it starts its inevitable decline—as much as 2–4% each year—according to celebrity trainer and fitness expert Obi Obadike. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to grow old and fat. Yes, there are a lot of theories out there—for example, that eating hot peppers, drinking green tea, and skipping meals can speed up your metabolism—so it’s tempting to look for shortcuts.
But there’s really only one way to keep your metabolism working properly as you age: By preserving and gaining lean muscle mass through exercise.“When metabolic loss happens, so does muscle loss,” says Obadike. “Between the ages of 25 and 65, you can lose at least five pounds of muscle every 10 years. But you can prevent this metabolic and muscle loss with consistent anaerobic training.”
"I wake up in the morning craving greasy food. It’s the first thought to crystallize in my mind. Is this common, and what can I do about it?" —Charlie C., Nashville, TN
Your cravings are perfectly normal, and they aren’t coming from nowhere. If you wake up dreaming of bacon, you’ve likely enjoyed more than a few bacon-heavy breakfasts. It was probably a positive experience, or the “neurological reward of a rush of calories,” says Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University in Boston. You want to reproduce that rush, thus the craving. To get rid of it, you have to replace it with a new craving. Roberts says two weeks is usually enough time to establish a new habit. Wake up to something delicious but healthy, like an egg-white and spinach whole- wheat wrap, and with enough time you’ll be craving that instead.
"I hate eating in airports. It’s all fast food and bland premade sandwiches. Do you have any tips for getting a good, healthy meal on the go?" —Henry O., Dallas, TX
Airports may never be a mecca of healthy eating, but they’re getting better. According to the 2013 Airport Food Review by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 76% of restaurants at major U.S. airports offer at least one low-fat, high-fiber, healthy option. That’s up from just 57% in 2001.
Your odds are best at Denver International, where 86% of restaurants offer plant-based menu items, or at either Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County or Chicago O’Hare International airports, which tied for second with 85% of restaurants offering healthy fare.
Susan Levin, R.D., the Committee’s nutrition ed director, says her favorite airport food is a black bean burrito bowl. “It’s an easy grab,” she says. “Just pile on the veggies, add spices, and skip the cheese.”
"I crave sweets after working out. Why? And what can I do about it?" —Tim W., Midland, TX
A quick lecture from Workout 101: During exercise your muscles deplete your glucose supply (aka sugar). Afterward, your body works to replenish it—hence the craving. So, in place of M&Ms or gummy bears (a once-popular bodybuilder guilty pleasure, actually), try a flavorful protein shake like Pro & Oats Frosted Cinnamon Roll shake from Universal Nutrition.
"I’d like to pick up a martial art to help me drop a few pounds. Which is the best one for getting into good, lean shape?" —Norman S., San Diego, CA
For a truly rigorous workout, Chris Casamassa, the president of Southern California’s Red Dragon Karate schools (you may also know him as “Scorpion” from the movie Mortal Kombat), proposes Muay Thai, which he calls “the sport of eight limbs.” “Like kickboxing, it incorporates the heavy use of elbow and knee strikes,” he says. “It’s a complete-body workout.”
"What's the "Ketogenic diet," and should I try it?" —Tim L., La Jolla, CA
Well, it’s a high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein diet that was originally conceived for patients with seizure disorders. Its goal is to get you to a metabolic state called ketosis, in which the body’s cells burn fragments of fats called ketones instead of glucose for fuel. It’s touted for weight loss because it causes the body to use stored fat for fuel instead of carbs—but it’s not sustainable because eventually you’ll want to eat stuff like potatoes and bread. In other words: Try another diet.
"Is there a superfast workout I can get in before leaving the house in the morning? Something I can do in 10 minutes or less, before I head out to work?" —Jose C., Miami, FL
We have one you can do in four minutes. Professor Izumi Tabata, a researcher at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, found that brutally intense interval workouts lasting just four minutes improved endurance better than more conventional interval training—and they even increased fat burning. Known as Tabata training, this technique is now used by athletes across the globe. “You need only one exercise,” says Men’s Fitness training director Sean Hyson, C.S.C.S., who suggests burpees: Perform reps for 20 seconds, then rest 10 seconds. Repeat for four minutes. You’ll get a burn going!
“I’m getting older and my joints are killing me when I lift weights. Is there anything I can do to train pain-free?” - Ray K., San Bernardino, CA
Start substituting more joint-friendly exercises. The bench press is a mighty upper-body builder, but using a standard barbell for it is hard on the shoulders and elbows. Keith Scott, a physical therapist and the owner of Impact Training & Fitness in West Berlin, NJ, recommends using a bar that offers angled or parallel grips. These bars are often called Swiss and football bars, respectively. “You can swap out traditional deadlifts for trap-bar deadlifts,” Scott says, “which put less stress on your lower back because you don’t have to reach forward as far.” For chinups, consider using a pair of rings rather than a fixed bar, which allow your arms to move naturally as you perform your reps. If you can’t make these substitutions, you can always do more dumbbell work, which is decidedly safer and more joint-friendly than barbell training. But remember this: Getting older doesn’t doom you to training soft. You can still go heavy, just not as often. Spend more time in the 8- to 12-rep range on exercises to prevent joint strain.