My journey to weight loss didn’t involve any exercise whatsoever. I didn’t discover my love for Pilates and fitness until years after I lost 150 pounds. The number one question I get (mostly timidly) is “what about toning Up after weight loss?”
However, there’s no denying both cardio and strength training (1) can help speed up your weight loss efforts and carve out definition once you’ve reached your goal weight.
Your food and supplement choices also contribute to toning up after weight loss. They help you build muscle, reduce exercise-related inflammation, and improve your overall health.
Key point: you don’t have to exercise to lose weight, but it certainly accelerates your results.
Top food choices for toning up after weight loss
At Lose Weight by Eating, we operate by the 70/30 principle, which mean 70% of your results come from diet and 30% from exercise. The same principles apply when you’re toning up after weight loss.
Your food choices are just as important after you’ve lost weight as they were during your weight loss journey. You just need to make a few adjustments since your goal at this point has changed from weight loss to toning up after weight loss, but your meals should still be clean and align with your efforts.
Eating to sculpt means you need to focus on foods that help you maintain your new weight, shape your muscles, and reduce exercise-related inflammation. It’s important to eat a balanced diet, high in unprocessed foods including fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and other health-promoting foods.
Unprocessed foods are the smartest choice for toning up after weight loss. Researchers have noticed that processed foods do lead to weight gain (2), even if the calorie count between a processed diet and an unprocessed diet is similar.
Fruits and vegetables are some of the best foods for weight loss (3), so let’s explore the top choices.
Key point: Even though your focus has changed from weight loss to ttoning up after weight loss, you still need to focus on clean, unprocessed foods.
Fruit is one of your greatest allies when it comes to rapid weight loss and sculpting. They’re full of vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants to load you up with the best kind of fuel.
Fruit sometimes gets snubbed because of its sugar content, but if we only looked at this nearsighted picture, we’d miss some of the most fabulous benefits from fruit. The low amount of natural sugars is wrapped in a low-calorie package with fiber, water, and other nutrients that make your body happy (4).
Fruits from the citrus family, berries, and apples provide some of the best toning benefits for your body. Your best options include:
The high fiber and antioxidant content in fruit help you get closer to your ideal shape. Fiber fills you up faster, protects against obesity, fights inflammation, and regulates your blood sugar (5)–attributes that work in your favor when you want to tone your body.
Berries and apples, in particular, contain polyphenols, which provide significant anti-inflammatory benefits. Since inflammation is associated with weight gain and obesity (6), we’ll take all the polyphenols we can get!
Check out my 10 Weight Loss Smoothies to give you some new ways to experiment with fruit.
If you want to lose weight and gain muscle, vegetables hold the superpowers you’re looking for. Your best vegetable choices are:
Tomatoes, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables, in particular, support your efforts the most. These vegetables help your body fight inflammation, allowing you to recover better from exercise and aid in toning up after weight loss (7).
The cool thing about vegetables is their low calorie count and high fiber content. Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables add bulk to your diet with very few calories, meaning you can eat just about as many as you’d like!
This is good news since little more than 1 in 10 of us gets enough vegetables in our diet (10). If you want to lose weight, boost your metabolism, build muscle, and reduce your risk of chronic disease, you need to put more of your focus here.
Make it easier to get more vegetables in your diet by adding greens to your smoothies (10 Green Smoothie Recipes) or adding vegetable purees to your soups.
While you’re busy toning up after weight loss, you want to make sure you include plenty of protein in your meal planning. If you’re still in the process of losing weight, protein allows you to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time (11). For toning up after weight loss, you need adequate protein to make your muscles grow.
If you were to track your food for a few days, I could make a wild guess that you’re not getting enough protein, and you need even more to gain muscle (12). So, you might need to do some adjusting in your diet to increase your protein intake.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a protein intake of 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight to tone your muscles. So, if you weight 150 lbs, you need 75 to 120 grams of protein to sculpt definition.
The best sources of lean protein to help you develop muscle definition include:
Fats, spices, and legumes also support your efforts to lose weight and in toning up after weight loss. Fats like olive oil, walnuts, and avocado provide immense anti-inflammatory benefits for the body (13). Walnuts also have the added benefit of omega-3s, which help suppress your appetite and aid in weight loss (14).
Anti-inflammatory spices such as cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and garlic help your efforts to firm up by feeding your muscles. Cinnamon also helps regulate your blood sugar and revs fat burn (15), turmeric targets fat (16), and cayenne pepper speeds up your metabolism (17).
If you want to lose weight and tone up, you can’t ignore legumes. They have protein, fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties (18) that pretty much feed your system what it needs to burn through fat and increase definition.
Drinks for toning up after weight loss
Drinks also play an important role in toning up after weight loss, especially water. Whereas sodas and juices contribute to weight gain, tea, coffee, tart cherry juice, and water help you reach your weight loss goals.
We talked about the anti-inflammatory effect of ginger earlier, and ginger in tea form decreases inflammation too (19). Drink ginger tea hot or add it to a refreshing glass of Mango Ginger Detox Water.
Anti-inflammatory green tea also helps you lose and maintain a healthy weight. The catechins and caffeine in green tea work together to increase fat oxidation and energy expenditure, creating a thermogenic effect (20). In other words, green tea destroys fat!
Coffee has an ergogenic effect that allows you to work out harder and longer (21). Ergogenic is a fancy term that means it improves physical performance and stamina. Drink a cup of coffee one hour before your workout to get the most benefits (22).
The polyphenols in coffee also protect against inflammation (23), which we’ve discussed quite a bit. Essentially, coffee gives your worked muscles a little TLC by toning down some of the burn.
There’s a reason why you see bodybuilders and fitness competitors carry around gallon jugs of water. Every single system in your body requires water to perform effectively, including your muscles.
Even minor dehydration detracts from your workouts and proper digestion. Just a 2-5% deficiency in water can severely affect your performance, causing you to get tired faster (24).
Water also helps fill you up and displace calories you might have eaten if you didn’t drink enough, helping prevent weight gain. If you drink enough, you’ll eat 200 fewer calories on average (25).
Tart cherry juice
We had to add tart cherry juice to our list of toning ingredients. Studies show tart cherry juice reduces post-workout muscle soreness (26). Sip on a sensible serving so you don’t hurt so bad after a tough training session.
A small glass contains enough nutrients to tame inflammation, so pay attention to serving sizes. It’s important to remember that if you drink a lot of fruit juice, you could actually gain weight (27). More isn’t better, in this case.
Exercise for toning up after weight loss
So, I’ve already shared that I’m a big fan of Pilates, and I want to inspire the same excitement for exercise in you. Honestly, the best exercises for weight loss and toning up after weight loss are the ones you’ll stick with.
You need to find exercise that makes you feel good, or at least doesn’t feel like torture.
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week for optimal health (28). That amounts to 30 minutes of heart-pumping activity, 5 days per week. Some of the best cardio for weight loss and toning include walking, running, cycling, and swimming.
The CDC also recommends two full-body strength training days per week. You need both strength training and cardio to firm up your soft spots and help improve your body shape after weight loss (29).
Your weight loss gym routine should work all the major muscles groups to keep your body strong and capable. These include the legs, hips, back, abs, arms, chest, and shoulders. You can try Pilates, weight lifting, barre, or yoga for weight loss and toning.
In addition to toning your body, resistance training and aerobic exercise can also help you bust through a weight loss plateau and maintain a healthy weight (30). In fact, exercise is one of the best predictors of long-term weight maintenance.
Even though we’re talking about toning up after weight loss in this message, the health benefits of exercise extend far beyond the external improvements. Physical fitness improves your overall health and wellness and prevents disease.
Aerobic and resistance exercise protect against:
Type 2 diabetes
Key point: Exercise not only helps you lose weight faster and sculpt a new physique, but it also makes you a healthier person overall. The best type of workout is the one you enjoy.
Get a little toning help from our favorite firming creams
Sometimes, no matter what you do, you still have creases and dimples after weight loss. But don’t worry, you can show off all the hard work you’ve put in with some skin enhancing creams. These are a few of my personal favorites and help in toning up after weight loss:
I feel like I’m spreading healthy nutrients all over my body when I put this on, and in a way I guess I am. With its proprietary hydration formula, including coenzyme Q10, the lotion creates a certain suppleness as it smooths over bumps and lumps.
You can practically feel this gel working as you rub it into your skin. The hydrating gel contains Q10 along with L-carnitine and I really notice a difference after using it. It’s a great way to help improve upon what diet and exercise are already doing to your body.
How long it takes to firm up
Everyone’s timing is different. And while it feels like a cop-out saying that, it’s so true. So many factors influence how fast you lose weight and tone up. Age, hormone levels, digestion, metabolism, you name it.
However, there are a few known factors that influence how quickly you can sculpt your body.
First, the older you are, the longer it takes to reach your body goals. We all lose muscle mass as we age.
You have the most muscle capacity between the ages of 20 and 30, and then you experience a gradual decline between ages 30 and 50. After 50, the slide happens a bit faster, causing you to lose 1-2% of your lean body mass and 1.5-5% of your muscle mass per year (X).
Second, it’s harder for our bodies to create muscles as we age, probably due to hormone decline, poorer blood flow, and less insulin production to slow muscle breakdown (X).
The good news is, if you maintain your activity level or add exercise to your routine, you can override some of this decline. Weight training, in particular, helps reverse this effect. You can gain the benefits of exercise no matter what your age.
Some more good news?
You should notice positive mental benefits after your very first workout as the endorphins and serotonin kick in. You should notice how everyday activities get easier after a few weeks and visible changes in your body after several months.
Rest assured you’re doing good things for your body by implementing a weight loss exercise plan, even if it isn’t outwardly apparent yet. A small 5-10% reduction of body fat lowers inflammation, takes considerable pressure off your joints, and decreases blood pressure and cholesterol (31).
By making positive changes a little at a time, you create a snowball effect that influences other areas of your life. You have more energy, stamina, and self-confidence to keep you moving in the right direction.
Toning up after weight loss requires a multifaceted approach including some of the best foods for weight loss and best weight loss exercises. Throw in some fat-destructing drinks and smoothing skin creams, and you should be well on your way to a tighter, leaner body.
As you focus on toning up after weight loss, remember how long it took you to lose the weight and take a moment to consider how far you’ve come. It’s important to appreciate your weight loss journey and give yourself credit for all the work you’ve done.
Use the momentum you’ve gained from your weight loss programs to sculpt more definition and improve your longevity in the process.
No matter where you are in your health journey right now, it’s never too late to start putting better habits into place.