Top 5 Ways to Get Toned

Body fat obscures muscle tone and definition. Though plenty of products promise to rid you of excess fat, the only way to achieve a defined physique is through a strategy built around exercising more and eating less.

1. Calorie Deficit. A calorie deficit is a state in which you burn more calories than you eat. A calorie deficit is the only way to burn fat. When you burn more calories than you eat, the body is forced to make up the shortfall of energy from non-food sources, typically body fat. Over time, this causes an increase in muscle tone and definition. You can create a calorie deficit in a number of ways: eat less, exercise more or a combination of both.

Eat Less. Moderately restricting calorie intake is an important step in creating a calorie deficit. A moderate, rather than drastic restriction in calorie intake keeps your metabolism from slowing down. Keep your calorie deficit to about 500 calories per day. For example, if you burn 2,500 calories per day, you should cut no more than 500 and eat 2,000 calories per day. Drastically cutting calorie intake causes your metabolic rate to slow which impedes weight loss and fat burning. Use the calorie calculator to estimate daily calorie needs.

Exercise More. Exercise speeds up your metabolism for 24-48 hours. Certain types of exercise also builds muscle. Since muscle burns calories even at rest, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day. This further increases the size of a calorie deficit, leading to quicker results.

2. Eat Healthier Foods. Replacing unhealthy junk food with healthier options is the best way to reduce calorie intake. Digestion speed plays an important role in fat loss. Quick digestion leads to an increase in calorie intake because it does little to quell hunger. A food that moves through the digestive system quickly does not fill you up. Quick digestion leads to cravings and binge eating while slow digestion causes satiety. If two foods contain the same amount of calories, the food that moves through the digestive system slower keeps you full for a longer period of time. 'Slow' calories keep you from eating again too soon, keeping your calorie deficit intact.

A perfect comparison is a 100 calorie soda and a 100 calorie piece of fruit. Though both foods contain 100 calories, the fruit keeps you full while the soda does not. Examples of junk food include: sugar, fruit juices, soda, pastries and potato chips. Examples of healthier alternatives include: salads, vegetables, fruits, 100% whole wheat bread/pasta, brown rice, legumes, oats, chicken, low fat dairy, lean cuts of beef and fish.

3. Build More Muscle. Fat burning routines are typically high in cardiovascular exercise. Unfortunately, this type of exercise strategy does not lead to the most ideal results. Strength training increases muscle mass. Extra muscle increases energy needs because it is metabolically active tissue; muscle constantly burns calories. Two people that weigh the same but have different body fat percentages have different energy needs. Those with more muscle mass burn more energy than those with a high body fat percentage. Building muscle increases the size of a calorie deficit, helping you burn more calories throughout the day.

4. Circuit Training. A great way of combining strength training and cardiovascular exercise is circuit training. Pick a group of exercises that target different muscle groups and do them one after another with no rest. This burns a large amount of calories while combining elements of both cardio and strength training to save time.

5. Consistency. Once you take all the steps outlined above, make sure you follow them consistently. Cheating on a diet or skipping exercise sessions quickly eats into gains. Keep a food and workout log to monitor your progress.

The Bottom Line

Increasing muscle tone and definition requires a moderate restriction in calorie intake and an increase in physical activity. The combination of diet and exercise creates a calorie deficit forcing the body to rely on fat stores for energy. Over time, this leads to a decrease in body fat percentage and an increase in muscle tone and definition.