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Build Muscle and Lose Fat: Top Three Tips

The myth that you cannot build muscle and lose fat is just that – a myth. You lose fat by calorie deficit? And you gain muscle by eating more? Right…, so how does that possibly come together? Well, it comes across as an unachievable performance goal because most routines that attempt this fail to consider our top three, yet science-backed, tips for how to build muscle and lose fat.

So let’s grab some science, and bring on the top three tips to build muscle and lose fat…

1. Maintain Healthy Protein Levels in Your Diet

To build muscle, your body needs to synthesise more muscle protein than it breaks down – simply put, you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein. Protein also plays an important role in weight loss. Evidence suggests that eating protein can stimulate your metabolic rate and burn more calories in addition to reducing your appetite. Check out a study by researchers at Maastricht University that demonstrated even an increase in protein from 15 to 18 percent of calories reduced the amount of fat people regained after weight loss by 50 percent.

What is a healthy protein level? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training. Protein intake should be spaced throughout the day and after workouts.

2. Manage Your Calorie Intake

This is where it can get tricky. You need to own up to managing your calorie levels if you want to build muscle while burning fat. But keep in mind since you are attempting to do both, the results will not be as noticeable or as fast as if you were only doing one or the other. That is, if you were building muscle, and bulking, your calorie intake and workout routine would readily add mass, while in contrast, a calorie reduction with high weight training and cardio could lower fat quickly. But in this instance, we are working to walk between these goals.

The first thing you need to do is figure out your maintenance calories – that is, how many calories you burn on your rest/non-workout days. (This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate, BMR, and is the number of calories required to keep your body functioning at rest.) There are many ways you can determine this number, but an online calculator is likely the easiest option. Here is one from the Mayo Clinic that uses the Mifflin-St Jeor equation. But understand this number is not going to be your constant intake – it is the guide to figure out your intake. To balance fat loss and muscle building, use the following calorie intake levels, based on your maintenance calories:

  • Weight training day: Increase your caloric intake by 5-15% with a focus on protein.
  • Cardio day: Stick with your maintenance level calories
  • Rest day: Decrease your caloric intake by 5-15%

You need to focus on this part of the effort – calorie management. This is where your program is made or broken. And before we move on, do not neglect to manage your macronutrient levels. We talk about this in our Performance Diet Tips.

3. Focus on Resistance Training In Your Workouts

Resistance training is the best method to build muscle and burn fat – if done properly. You can spend hours in the gym moving weight around, our you can maximize a workout with heavy, compound lifts. It’s not completely that simple – but, just about that simple. Compound movements burn more calories. The very fact that you have to use more muscles to stabilize the weight means that you stress and develop more muscle and burn more calories and fat as a result.

Focus on multiple sets of heavy compound lifts, with smaller isolation motions as finishing moves. This will enable you to keep your focus and energy on the primary lifts. You do not need to get fancy on this – just stick to the basic press and pull motions. You can find numerous online sites with workouts that focus on compound lifts – check them out.

Now keep in mind this is not about toning up, or physique training – as we tend to stay away from that with performance training. What our top three tips to build muscle and lose fat are for is just that – build muscle and lose fat. There are variations to what we call out above, and of course, every body is different – so you will have to see exactly how you respond to the training and diet management. But if you follow these general tips, you will find that losing fat while adding muscle is possible.

-Train Hard!

Top Five Performance Diet Tips

Your training efforts are only as solid as your diet. You might not want to hear that, but the truth is that you cannot out-train a poor diet. And supplements, they are there to supplement – not replace a poor diet. If you want to improve your performance, it only makes sense that you implement these top five Performance Diet tips.

Before you allow images of lettuce and rice cakes to flutter through your mind, you need to understand that the Performance Diet is not about going hungry or starving yourself. Quite the opposite – it is about ensuring that you are obtaining sufficient macronutrient balanced calories to support your training efforts. In fact, you may find yourself eating more than you imagined!

What is a Performance Diet

Let’ start this with what a Performance Diet is not. It is not something you go on, then off, then on again. That’s a yo-yo diet, and those are the exact opposite of a Performance Diet. A Performance Diet is something you follow – it’s a lifestyle, not fad.

It is a diet that ensures you have sufficient calories and macronutrients to meet your daily needs – physical, mental, and recovery. It is a diet that evolves over time, changing with your needs – but always meeting your performance needs – never undercutting them.

Top Five Tips

1. Develop dynamic caloric requirements

Your routine is never static – you will go through periods of intense training, maintenance training, down-time/rest, bulking, cutting, etc. Depending on your program, all these phases have different names. They also have difference caloric intake and macronutrient needs.

You need to work with information sources, nutritionist, or a trainer, to ensure that you are adjusting your caloric and macronutrient needs for each of these phases. For example, a calorie and protein-heavy Performance Diet is perfect for putting on muscle mass – but if you are working to shift your training to perform well in a half-marathon, while the calorie count might remain high, the protein level will not. This is an example of how a Performance Diet is not always a Performance Diet if it does not align with your current needs.

The take away is to keep monitoring your current needs, and adjust your Performance Diet, to sustain performance results.

2. Don’t neglect protein in your morning meals or snacks

Protein is important for your body to repair tissue damage from training – in simple terms, sustain and build your muscles. As it is more dense than other foods, it also requires more calories to digest, and creates a sense of fullness when consumed.

By consuming protein as part of your day’s first meals or snacks, studies have shown this to benefit muscle health and to support weight loss by increasing muscle mass, energy expenditure, satiety hormones, glucose regulation and by decreasing the desire to snack at night. Notably, a 2017 study examined the effect of a high-protein breakfast compared to that of a high fat or high carbohydrate breakfast over a period of 12 weeks on glucose and insulin levels following the consumption of white bread four hours after the breakfast meal. The participants who consumed a high protein breakfast showed improved blood sugar control and insulin levels after consuming the white bread.

3. Cycle your nutrients and calories to match your daily needs

Not all days are created equal when it comes to your caloric and macronutrient needs. So do not treat them as such with your diet.

This tip is about looking at your caloric and macronutrient needs at the weekly level, not daily. It enables you to increase your caloric intake on days of long or intensive training, and cut back on days you do not need as much.

You can work out how to cycle particular macros in this tip as well – using high protein and fat on days of intense training – to force your body to use more fat resources for energy while focusing on carbs more during rest days.

This is also a tip in which we are going to point you to a great article on Healthline.com for more reading. We could repeat it all, but just click the link to read a solid, research-based summary on calorie cycling – why it works, and how to apply.

4. Focus on food before supplements

Many people fall into the trap of thinking supplements can make up for poor diets. This is not the case. Your Performance Diet needs to come first from food. When that is not enough, then you can kick in with the supplements – which research has shown to have positive effects on performance.

In a Performance Diet, we are likely referring to adding protein or meal replacement shakes when you lack the ability to eat more, or possibly access to normal food. Running around all day between client sites – OK, protein shakes are a great tool to get in a healthy snack that promotes tissue health and provides a sense of satiety – keeping you from nutrient-weak, yet easy to obtain snack options. Or if you just cannot eat more (sometimes your stomach just says “done!”) – but you know your workouts will suffer if you do not get enough calories – then have a shake.

Studies have also shown that many in developed countries actually do not obtain sufficient nutrient levels from food – even though the caloric intake is adequate. This is another reason to consider supplements – if your diet is lacking a nutrient value necessary for your performance. But the stress to this point is “necessary,” and you should not be taking any supplements that lack a direct value to your performance goals.

If you use supplements, be sure to check they are of quality, without excess filler ingredients or sugar, or other elements that work against your efforts. So even when used on top of healthy food choices, you still need to read the labels when choosing them.

5. Do the math to figure out your needs – do not guess

Performance Diets are not guesswork. Hate to say it, but you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers.

There are several online tools for this, and we’ve even covered it in our Achieving Your Target Weight article. What you need to understand is that while there is some truth to the old saying of “listen to your body” – the reality is more often than not, your body is not accurately telling you what you need to sustain a Performance Diet.

Do the math, trust the numbers.

How to Maintain

The first part of maintaining your Performance Diet is understanding it takes time. Time for you to see real results of the diet change. Why? Because this is about performance – obtaining real performance.

If your performance diet is set right, you will see results, and will be able to sustain them – not just look or feel good for a moment. But give it time. Everyone starts from somewhere…

But as your performance efforts continue, the key to maintaining the Performance Diet is to go back to the books – back to the math and update your needs. For example, if you start your performance journey overweight, without much muscle mass – but now have less fat and more muscle – and are more active, your dietary needs to sustain and grow performance from that point are different from when you started. That might sound obvious, but…

What makes most people give up is the plateau – and while there can be many reasons for one, dietary issues are common. In this, we mean that people fail to adjust their diets to meet their newly found performance levels, and then fail to see more growth. Do not fall into this trap. We recommend that every 2-3 months, you take some time to assess your Performance Diet. Check your calories and macronutrients against your current body and activity, and where you want to go next. Make a plan, and execute…

In the end, performance fitness means owning your workout effort, and your diet. Cheat at one; you fail at both.

-Train Hard!

optimize protein drink consumption

Optimizing Protein Shake Consumption

Protein shakes can be a great tool to help improve your fitness performance by helping meet your macronutrient needs. Optimizing protein shake consumption is an important aspect of your training regimen. The online fitness industry has thoroughly covered the benefits of protein supplementation – We’ve even done it here.

However, maximizing the benefit requires you to know when are the best times to add the supplement to your diet. What we offer below is based on studies, and represents what the general population should follow.

How you consume a protein supplement depends on your goals. We will keep it simple here – are you trying to lose weight and preserve lean mass, or gain weight?

Protein Intake for Losing Weight

This section is not really about shakes – but rather protein consumption to lose weight. You can take shakes, but here we intend to help you understand the benefits of protein snacks in your efforts to burn fat.

Protein is a key macronutrient for fat loss. Its consumption increases metabolic activity, and reduces your appetite through the reduction of the hormone ghrelin. Thus, a steady intake of protein throughout the day will help your calorie management efforts – a key element to both losing and gaining weight.

A study published in 2014 examined whether a high-protein afternoon yogurt snack improves appetite control, satiety, and reduces subsequent food intake compared to other commonly-consumed, energy-dense, high-fat snacks. The findings demonstrate that when compared to high-fat snacks, eating less energy-dense, high-protein snacks like yogurt improves appetite control.

The summary is that consuming protein-rich snacks throughout the day, whether food or shakes, will help control your appetite and support your ability to eat less. Combined with effective calorie-burning resistance training, this method will directly support your efforts to burn fat.

Protein Shakes for Weight Gain

To build muscle, the science is simple – you need to consume more protein than your body uses during resistance training. But with that, we begin a tale of two proteins – whey and casein. Both support your efforts to build muscle tissue, but their make up varies:

Whey

One of two major milk proteins. It is the liquid remaining after the milk has been curdled and strained. There are three varieties of whey – protein powder, protein concentrate, and protein isolate. All provide high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine).

Casein

Casein gives milk its white color and accounts for 70 – 80 percent of milk protein. The casein protein exists in a micelle – that has a hydrophobic inside and a hydrophilic outside. During digestion, casein is released as the micelle breaks down. The casein released from multiple micelles then aggregates and is digested via proteolysis. This is the process by which proteins break down into simpler, soluble compounds. Digestion is slow due to the aggregation of casein. This allows the protein to provide a sustained release of amino acids – sometimes lasting for hours.

There are other forms of protein, but as this is focusing on protein shakes – we’ll keep it to the most popular products as of this article’s publication.

When to shake, and when no to shake…

Optimizing protein shake consumption is not an exact science, although several studies demonstrate consistent data. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2017:

“…The timing of energy intake and the ratio of certain ingested macronutrients may enhance recovery and tissue repair, augment muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and improve mood states following high-volume or intense exercise…”

Here are highlights from the assessment:

  • Consuming carbohydrate solely or in combination with protein during resistance exercise increases muscle glycogen stores, ameliorates muscle damage, and facilitates greater acute and chronic training adaptations
  • Ingestion of essential amino acids (EAA; approximately 10 g) either in free form or as part of a protein bolus of approximately 20-40 g has been shown to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS)
  • Post-exercise ingestion (immediately to 2-h post) of high-quality protein sources stimulates robust increases in MPS
  • Ingesting a 20-40 g protein dose (0.25-0.40 g/kg body mass/dose) of a high-quality source every 3 to 4 hours appears to most favorably affect MPS rates when compared to other dietary patterns and is associated with improved body composition and performance outcomes
  • Consuming casein protein (~ 30-40 g) prior to sleep can acutely increase MPS and metabolic rate throughout the night without influencing lipolysis

A 2002 study also suggested that consuming a small meal of mixed macronutrient composition (or perhaps even a very small quantity of a few indispensable amino acids) immediately before or following strength exercise bouts can alter significantly net protein balance, resulting in greater gains in both muscle mass and strength than observed with training alone. This suggests there is a window right before and after training that optimizes your protein intake.

What this means is you should be consuming protein throughout the day. How much depends on the macronutrient requirement for your fitness objectives. Ideally, you should consume as much protein as possible from lean, non-processed food sources. You can use the above findings in the study to help you understand when to assist and maximize your protein intake with a shake.

Now, why are we not saying explicitly to take X at the following times? Simple – your training plan, combined with your metabolism and diet requirements will create an “optimal window” unique to you. But you want to be following four rules in general:

  1. Consume most of your protein from whole, unprocessed food sources
  2. Target a good source of protein 2-3 hours prior to your workout (snacks right before the workout should be more carb-focused)
  3. Consuming a good quality, high-protein shake within two hours of resistance training is likely within your “optimal” window
  4. Casein protein shakes will work best before sleep, as it takes longer to digest and your body’s recovery will benefit from the sustained amino acid release.

And finally, remember – protein shakes are a supplement. They should be taken to supplement your whole food consumption – not as a replacement. If you use them, be sure to select ones with quality ingredients, without fillers and other non-essential ingredients.

-Train Hard!

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