We’ve all felt that familiar panic when pulling on a pair of slightly-too-small shorts while packing for next weekend’s beach trip. Or been drawn in by the urgent desire to head to the gym for hours each day, in a last-ditch attempt to sculpt sexy swimsuit muscles. (Just one…more…plank!) But how quickly can you really shed last-minute bloat — or pack on new muscle — without putting your health at risk?
Before you put your workouts on turbo-drive, consider this advice from nutritionist Georgie Fear, R.D., and strength coach Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Women’s Strength Nation.
How Quickly Can You De-Bloat?
We won’t kid you: Major weight loss is going to take a lot of time and effort. But if you’re simply looking to shed a few pounds, or deflate your body after a few too many salty takeout orders, that’s more doable. “De-bloating can be seen remarkably fast. Hormones, binge eating, and excessive salt intake in sensitive individuals can all lead to considerable weight swings both up and down,” says Fear, author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.
If you’re trying to eliminate ‘water weight,’ clean eating can produce faster results than you’d imagine. “After just one to three days of sound nutrition with whole foods, low intake of sugars and alcohol, and plenty of fruits and vegetables, people can already look and feel less puffy and bloated,” she says.
“If you normally work out moderately for 40 minutes, your max increase will be a moderate workout for 60 minutes.”
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However, if you have some body fat to lose along with that water weight, you’re going to need to be a bit more patient. “I recommend most people aim to lose on average one-half to one pound a week,” Fear says. Lose more than that — whether through extreme dieting, incessant exercising, or both — and you not only risk feeling like crap. You may also up your odds of developing a sluggish metabolism, losing muscle mass, and putting back on any weight as soon as your “must be slim by” date passes.
Follow a slow-and-steady pace and, in 10 days to a couple of weeks, you should be able to notice a clear difference in your physique, according to Fear. You will feel slimmer and your clothes will fit looser. To lose one-half to one pound a week, one strategy is to aim to take in 500 less calories than you burn every day, she says. (Everyone’s caloric needs will be different, so consult with a doctor or nutritionist before starting a weight loss program.)
To cut your calorie intake, focus on simple swaps: Eat more fiber-rich veggies, choose water over calorie-packed soda, alcohol and juice, and definitely keep those deep-fried Oreos to a minimum, she says. To burn more calories, opt for high-intensity interval training workouts, Perkins, author of Lift to Get Lean, advises. While strength training is vital to burning fat over the long-term, when you’re on a tight deadline, intense cardio is optimal for torching calories.
How much and how hard you work out should depend on how intensely you’ve been exercising during the last several months. “The body can only tolerate a 20 percent increase in time and intensity per workout,” Perkins says. “This is hard to quantify, but think of it this way: If you normally work out moderately for 40 minutes, your max increase will be a moderate workout for 60 minutes, or a hard workout for 40 minutes.” You can’t go from regular workouts to crazy, intense, long workouts without risking damaged muscles, carb cravings, crankiness and potential overtraining.
Looking to Tone Up, ASAP?
If you’re already at your ideal weight — but you’ve skipped workouts left and right — you’re going to need a good month to actually sculpt more muscles. “In the first four to six weeks of a brand-new strength-training program, any improvement in strength is 100 percent due to neuromuscular adaptations,” Perkins says. Your muscles become better able to communicate with your brain and fire when needed, but it isn’t until after those first four to six weeks that a new strength-training program really starts to add muscle to your physique.
“The only thing you can do is work hard, ensure proper recovery, and wait out the days,” Perkins says. To bounce back faster after each session, eat 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrates immediately after your weight-lifting workouts, followed 10 minutes later by 20 to 30 grams of protein, she recommends. (Here’s what 25 grams of protein looks like.)
“It takes hard work, time, and patience,” Perkins says. So, when you do reach your fitness goals, stick with your routine. It’ll make next spring so much easier.