It’s month 3 of the Ultimate Oxygen Challenge for me and most of my Team Amanda teammates. The end is near and it’s time to get down to cutting calories, increasing cardio and carb cycling.

It’s time to get real. It’s time to discuss some fit truths that I don’t talk about as often as I do my 4 Keys to Real Fitness.

No matter how clean you eat calories matter.

How much it matters depends on your goals and where you are in your journey but they do count. For many of my teammates, month 1 day 1 was a drastic change in diet. They automatically reduced their calories by getting eating clean. They experienced some fantastic fat loss in the first 60 days. Many of them didn’t need to count calories. They simply managed portions and food quality, much like I recommend in the 4 Keys to Real Fitness.

I experienced this phenomenon myself when I started my own fitness journey over 16 year ago. Now, when I want my body to change I have to get into the weeds. For the first two months I ate my normal calories, even a little extra to try to gain muscle. At this point I’ve lost about an inch in my waist and gained about an inch in my booty. I’ve gained a little muscle but also a tiny amount (about .2 pounds) of fat. I feel solid and my smallest pair of jeans fit perfectly. Yet I can’t see these new found muscles as well as I would like because of the body fat covering them. This means month 3 is about eating less. Not starvation, not below my RMR, but 200-300 calories less per day than I might normally eat. Losing those last 5 pounds means cutting calories. It means splurging maybe once a week, maybe once every two weeks. It means being a little hungry on occasion.

Weights are great, but cardio is a necessary evil for fat loss.

When it’s crunch time for any fitness competitor cardio is a daily occurrence. For beginners cardio isn’t as critical because of the wonderful beginner potential of the untrained body. My cardio was neither consistent nor intense in the first years of my journey. Weights gave me my biggest and best results.

When it comes to losing the last 5 pounds (the vanity pounds if you will) it requires a lot more effort. When you get to 40 it requires more effort. In month 3 I am doing some sort of cardio every day. It might be HIIT by running stairs after an upper body workout. It might be an incline walk on the treadmill after leg day. It’s plyometrics with Amanda’s Better Booty workout on Fridays. Even rest days have a brisk walk involved. . To make sure I’m getting the most out of each workout, I have also started wearing a heart rate monitor. From warm up to foam rolling I am making sure I keep my heart rate up and my metabolism humming.

With only a 30-day window to shed some fat and let my muscles shine, I have to spend extra time to make it happen. I’ve rekindled my love affair with the gym so I am okay with that.  I’ve dusted of my “dungeon” basement workout space to save drive time on the mornings I am not at work. It has taken some juggling of priorities to make space for the extra gym time but I am fortunate to have a somewhat flexible schedule. The reality is to get bigger and faster results, it takes more work. When you have a goal, you have to make sacrifices. Just don’t forget to find joy in that process while you’re doing it.

You have to micro-manage your macros.

It’s time for carb cycling. I’ve done calorie cycling before (cutting calories most days with a maintenance level day or two during the week) by manipulating carbs but this is the first time I’ve cut my carbs this low. Before the challenge, I found my body worked about 40/30/30 (carbs, protein, fat). This was also Amanda’s recommendation in month one. That was part of the reasons one of the reasons I felt she was the right coach for me.

With carb cycling, there are 3 days where try to keep my carb intake between 40-45% and decrease my fat intake. They are leg days, the days in the gym when I work the hardest. The other days I keep my carbs between around 30% and increase my fat intake. I am not 100% sure I believe that it has the same effect on me as a type 1 diabetic but I pledged to trust the process.

This process is just as hard and detailed as it sounds. It takes work and a lot of juggling for someone who loves consistency. It takes mental effort to get the macros just right and it, along with the calorie cutting, causes my stomach to rumble on occasion. I am drinking a lot of water and tea along with the occasional piece of sugar free gum. Carb cycling has been my least favorite part of the program. Luckily it will be over soon. This is an ADVANCED technique that no one should maintain for more than a few weeks, by the way. You can use it break a plateau, you can use it to make weight, you can use it for a special event, but I don’t advise living this way. It takes a lot of effort and it loses its effectiveness after a few weeks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve always promised to keep it real, so here it is. Here’s the reality of  how to lose those last 5 pounds. Your body is trying to hold on to that “buffer” for self preservation and it isn’t in any hurry to let go. Even as a fitness professional, I can’t guarantee how my own body is going to respond to all this. (Much less anyone else.) Coach Amanda says to take it day by day and focus on giving your all. That’s my plan as I sprint to the finish line. I promise I’ll share my stats and photos in October, no matter what the outcome.

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