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Burning fat: it's not all about the cardio

Lee Nelson spent years at NEWS CENTER Maine as an anchor and journalist. Now he follows another passion: helping others achieve personal fitness goals

PORTLAND, Maine — For those of you who've pushed full speed into your New Year's resolution to shed the quarantine 15: how's it going? If you aren't seeing the results you were hoping for just yet, there are a number of reasons why that could be. 

Our former colleague, Lee Nelson, retired from news early to pursue another passion as a physical trainer with Foley's Fitness. I checked in with him to get some advice on burning that pesky fat, busting through myths, and that weight lifting plateau. 

We start with a pyramid from the Instagram account @ScientificallyShredded, sharing a set up from @SaltyLifts. Lee likes to refer to this when explaining some of the most important steps in fat loss. The pyramid shows what's most important -- what you eat, and how much of it you're eating -- to least important -- in this case, cardio. While cardio is important for overall health, it's not the most important when specifically talking about weight loss. 

Credit: Instagram: SaltyLifts

"Anybody who goes to the gym regularly sees a lot of people who just are in there five times a week for an hour on the treadmill or the elliptical, or something like that, and do they lose weight? Often they do. But they also lose any tone that they might have had," Lee said. "So often while they are losing weight they might not be happy with the results. So as you notice, this pyramid is more about fat loss than weight loss and so it’s set up to teach you how to retain some of that tone and just burn fat."

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Starting at the bottom of the pyramid, calorie deficit is shown to be most important. That starts with knowing how many calories you should be consuming each day. 

"There’s kind of an easy mathematical equation that is: if you take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 14," Lee explained. "I’m 185 pounds, so times 14, that’s roughly 2,600 calories per day. So if I eat 2,600 calories every single day, then I’m going to stay exactly how I am now. If you reduce your calorie intake by a couple hundred calories a day, then you’ll slowly start to lose that weight."

Credit: SaltyLifts

Slowly is the key term when it comes to fat loss. It's important not to starve your body and to pay attention to what you're eating. 

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Next on the pyramid is protein intake, followed by lifting weights 2-5 times a week. Lee said it's important to get over the mental hurdle when it comes to the weight room. 

"Lifting weights to stress your body, to actually create little tears in your body, the protein helps repair those little tears and build and tone. The protein does a lot of other things in order to hang onto that tone, therefore when you are burning calories, you’re burning a higher percentage of fat calories," he explained.

How do you know if you're lifting the right set of weights?

"If you can do 25 curls, you’re not doing enough weight, probably. If you can do eight to 10 or 12, but 9, 10, 11, and 12 are really hard, you're in the sweet spot," Lee said. "So that again is creating those tears. The protein that you eat is repairing those tears. The sleep -- and you’ll notice sleep is on this thing, too -- sleep helps you repair those tears. All of that work being done allows you to burn more fat than just general calories."

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