When we think about fat loss or muscle gain, everyone wants to have a body that is worthy of showing off to others or on social media. But understanding what is realistic to achieve that body can be the difference between just dreaming about it and actually making it happen. How much fat can I lose and how fast? How much muscle can I gain? What rate of progress is good and what's not good? Let's check it out.
Let's take 2 different clients we have worked with in the past (different names are used for their privacy). Both have different goals.
John - a man in his mid 30s - has 50+ pounds he would like to lose after a big career transition got his life out of routine. He wants to be able to play with his kids without getting out of breath.
Rupa - a late 20s female - She doesn't consider herself out of shape, but want to change her body to put on a little bit of lean muscle and lose some fat she has put on since college. Ultimately she hopes to lose around 10 pounds to tone up.
Both clients say they are ready to do whatever it takes.
Know all this, how long should it take for them to achieve their goals?
Answer: It depends.
Each option may be doable, but every goal we want to achieve comes with tradeoffs. These 2 people need to fully understand this and set their expectations appropriately so they don't end up disappointed and give up.
When trying to lose fat or gaining muscle, people often get frustrated when the results they are getting are not matching their expectations. People will quit early when:
They start with unrealistic expectations. (6-pack in 30 days!)
They couldn't sustain their initial rate of progress.
All of the above.
It doesn't have to be this way.
In this article I want to address how you may look at your journey towards your goals differently, so that you make more realistic expectations and actually achieve your goals.
So, let's look back at John. Let's say he lost just 6 pounds in the first month of working together with us. He may be disappointed in that progress. After all, he has been eating better and working out for a whole month right?!
From our standpoint, that progress is amazing! If he kept up that rate of progress, he would lose all the weight he wants in just 7 months. That's a HUGE body transformation! Losing that much weight may be more than others ever dream of losing.
Yet, all too often guys like John can feel like they are failing because they want faster progress or results.
This is why, when we first start with a client, we try to get real specific with the outcome goals that he or she wants. Then we work backwards to understand the tradeoffs or regular behaviors that need to happen over time in order to achieve those goals.
Does it require perfection? No
But the bigger your goals, the more tradeoffs there will be. So we try to have a discussion to see what tradeoffs are actually acceptable for you. This may actually require a little bit longer time expectation for you or even considering altering your goals.
Want some examples of the tradeoffs I am talking about? Here are some examples of the behaviors you would need to commit to in order to achieve different goals.
As you can see, depending on how healthy and lean you want to be, the trade-offs may be different. What is acceptable to you?
What if you are willing to do the trade-offs? What is realistic for fat loss. Here are some realistic rates of fat loss per week.
Extreme fat loss - 2-3 lbs for men, 1.65-2.5 lbs for women.
Reasonable - 1-2 lbs for men, 0.8-1.65 lbs for women.
Comfortable - less than 1 lb for men, 0.8 lbs for women.
How consistent do you have to be in order to achieve these?
Extreme: 90-100% consistency
Reasonable: 70-85% consistency
Comfortable: 50-65% consistency
As you can see, it is totally possible to still make some progress even if you are not that consistent. In any class setting, some of these percentages would be considered unacceptable, but our bodies are not a class room.
The more consistent we can be over time, the better we will work towards who we want to be.
If you keep on trying and do your best to be more consistent over time rather than being Mr. or Mrs. perfect from day 1, you will be able to gradually make realistic and significant progress.
It may take longer for some than others, but that is ok. Fat loss tends to be faster when you are first starting out and slows down as you get leaner. This is totally normal. This just means that we would need to be more consistent over time, which is a good thing because that is a natural and realistic thing to expect as we get more consistent with habits when we regularly practice them.
What about muscle gain?
Muscle gain is a little slower as our bodies have to actually build it and not just burn it off.
Muscle gain can be different based on how long you have been working out already. Here's realistic numbers for rates of muscle gain per month.
Beginner: 1.5-2.5 lbs for men, 0.65-1 lb for women
Intermediate: 0.65-1.25 lbs for men, 0.325-0.5 lbs for women
Advanced: 0.375-0.625 lbs for men, 0.1625-0.25 lbs for women.
Much like fat loss, muscle gain is not linear. You get a lot more gains when you first start working out than when you have been working out consistently for years. The more advanced you are, the more effort it takes to pack on some muscle. Depending on your age or gender or natural build, you may put on muscle easier than others.
So, this is all some really interesting stuff. If I lost you in the numbers, let's bring it back in. The real purpose of this article is to help you understand what does it look like to set realistic expectations to reach your goals.
And that client, John? We worked together and he has indeed lost over 50 lbs in the last year and has started getting into more sports and fitness events in his community as a new favorite hobby.
Whatever your goals may be, understanding what it takes to get there and setting realistic expectations can help you stay more committed to the process.
If you need someone to help you get there and be consistent? We're here to help you get there.
Coach Caleb, CSCS