Fat loss made simple: 12 tips to becoming a leaner cop
By eating healthy foods, getting proper sleep, and training intelligently, you will be ordering a smaller size duty belt before you know it
This article, originally published October 2015, has been updated with current information.
There are many reasons why an officer may want to lose fat. Officers who lean out will have better cardiovascular health, get less fatigued in physical situations, be lighter on their feet, and look better in a uniform.
A weight loss plan focuses on getting the number on the scale to go down at all costs. These plans often result in losing lean muscle mass and water weight as well as some fat. Focusing specifically on a fat loss plan will allow you to reduce your body fat and preserve your lean muscle.
Fat loss results tend to be long-term, whereas weight loss results tend to be short term. Make fat loss your goal and you will lose the right kind of weight as a result. Here are some things to consider if you want to lose fat.
Track Your Progress
1. Take photos
The easiest way to track fat loss is by taking pictures of yourself shirtless once per month from the front, back, and side, as well as a close up of your face. You may not notice many changes right away, but after a few months your progress will become obvious.
The “before” photos are a great motivational tool. If you ever feel the urge to stray from your fat loss plan, take a look at your photos.
2. Take measurements
Get some body tape and measure your waistline, once a month, around the widest part of your stomach near the belly button. If your fat loss plan is successful, this number will start decreasing and it will help you know when it’s time to buy a new duty belt.
3. Don’t sweat the scale
Don’t obsess about the scale. The scale tracks weight loss, not fat loss. If you lose ten pounds of fat and gain ten pounds of muscle you will look drastically different and your health will dramatically improve, despite the scale showing that you weigh the same.
You can use a scale, but weigh yourself at most once per week as soon as you get out of bed, and don’t let the number discourage you.
Nutrition for Fat Loss
4. Eat real food
A diet made up primarily of vegetables, chicken, fish, beef, pork, fruit and nuts is key to sustainable fat loss. Eliminate processed prepackaged foods like chips, baked goods, pizza, frozen foods and fast foods.
If it looks like it was a recently a live plant or animal, eat it. If it comes from a bag or box and can survive on the shelf for weeks, avoid it. If you need accountability, keep a food journal. When you are on duty, pack healthy lunches or opt for restaurants that serve salads with large portions of meat.
5. Drink mostly water
Staying hydrated will help spur fat loss. It will also keep you from consuming empty calories from beverages like sodas and sports drinks. If you need caffeine, drink black coffee or tea.
Drink two glasses of water with every meal — one before you eat and one with the meal. The first glass will help fill your stomach and keep you from overeating. If you get the urge to snack, drink a glass of water and wait ten minutes. Urges to snack are often actually signs of dehydration. Avoid fruit juice as well. This “healthy” option often has the same amount of sugar as soda.
6. Limit carbohydrates to 100 grams per day
Sugars and starches raise blood sugar, spike insulin, and signal your body to store fat. Your body will shut down fat burning until insulin clears the sugar out of your blood. Keeping your carbohydrate intake low will keep your blood sugar steady. Consider having one meal per day — ideally breakfast — extremely low carb.
A three-egg omelet with shredded chicken and spinach is a very filling meal that will keep you in the fat burning zone. I prefer to stay low-carb for an entire shift. I’ve found that keeping my carb intake low gives me more stable energy levels while I am on duty. When counting carbs, ignore fiber. Fiber is lumped in as a carbohydrate but it is safe to eat as much fiber as you want. Starches and sugar are the carbohydrates you want to limit.
7. Eat protein
Eating protein will protect your lean muscle mass and keep you full. Eat ½ to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
Exercise for Fat Loss
8. Walk as much as possible
Being active will help increase fat loss, and walking is the best way to stay active. Start the day with a 30 minute walk as soon as you wake up and take another long walk after dinner. While you are on duty, try and get out of the cruiser whenever it is reasonably possible. If you are feeling ambitious, talk to brass about starting foot patrols in appropriate areas.
9. Strength train
Follow a strength training program to help preserve your lean muscle mass and strength. Building new muscle mass will also increase your metabolism. Focus on a program that emphasizes compound lifts — like the squat and deadlift — and utilizes heavy weights. Keep the reps around five per set. Training for strength will protect your muscle mass during fat loss and make you a more powerful officer.
10. Sprint once per week
Metabolic conditioning and high intensity interval training are great fat burning tools. The easiest way to utilize this is to run sprints. Find a field, measure off 100 yards and sprint as fast as you can. Start with five sprints and add an additional sprint each week. Practicing sprinting will also help you move with better speed in foot pursuits.
11. Don’t overdo long, slow cardio
For years, slogging away on the treadmill has been associated with losing weight. Long, slow cardio is great for weight loss but is inefficient for — and may even hinder — fat loss. Chronic cardio can put the body in a catabolic state and break down muscle.
Chronic cardio also raises cortisol levels. This stress hormone slows fat loss. Don’t use this as an excuse to ditch cardio — going for a jog once or twice a week is perfectly healthy. Just don’t spend 45 minutes every day on the treadmill unless you are preparing for a PT test.
12. Get good sleep
Sleep is where a majority of fat loss and muscle building takes place. If you aren’t sleeping enough, cortisol levels will rise. When your body is chronically stressed, it will think an emergency is imminent and hold on to fat stores for that emergency.
Do everything in your power to get at least seven hours of sleep every day. If you want to lose fat, sleep is not something you can just hope to get enough of or catch up on later. You must make getting consistent quality sleep a priority. If you are working nights and sleep is an issue, try incorporating blackout shades, use naps before your shift, or try a magnesium supplement before bed.