Everybody wants to know what it takes to flip the switch on their metabolism to make their body a fat burning machine. If only it really were that easy! As much as we don’t want to hear it, it’s true….there’s no switch, no magic pill, no hidden secret to share. Fad diets are a total bust, fitness trends change with the seasons.
If you want to build lean muscle and cut fat at the same time, the basic tried and true,
science-backed formula is this:
Eat the right things
Add in strength training
EAT OFTEN – By eating meals and snacks more frequently, you are giving your body fuel to burn rather than forcing it to dip into muscle stores, which means you can keep the muscle mass you’ve already got. Eating small meals often throughout the day also keeps your blood sugar stable which prevents the release of cortisol (a stress hormone) into the bloodstream and subsequently keeps you from feeling panicked and hungry as well. Not surprisingly, eating regularly can also help control your mood and improve your concentration.
EAT ENOUGH – One of the biggest mistakes people make is relying on calorie cutting to lose weight. This practice is outdated and even harmful, causing the body to cut into muscle stores as well as fat stores at the risk of leaving you depleted and without energy.
“Your body will make a choice: lose body fat or lose muscle. An inadequately fueled body will choose to drop calorie-burning muscle rather than fat. Excessive loss of lean muscle mass leads to weight loss without improvement of body composition or health. This leaves you frustrated and ever-battling your weight.” – Hana A. Feeney, MS, RD, CSSD
If your body is constantly in a calorie deficit, it means that you are routinely depriving yourself of important nutrients and fuel. On top of that, it puts you at increased risk for injury and illness, and nobody wants that, right you guys?
EAT THE RIGHT THINGS – All calories aren’t created equal, so don’t think of the directive to eat more as a license to eat more of whatever you want! Quantity AND quality are both important when it comes to nutrition. Generally speaking and as far as strength training and fitness are concerned, eating the right things looks a lot like paying attention to your macronutrients.
Macronutrients, or macros, are the three main components of a healthy diet: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Finding the right balance of these three macros can have a hugely positive impact on your ability to burn fat, and build that all important lean muscle mass. My IdealFit nutrition programs are carefully constructed to include the correct macro content depending on your individual body weight, taking the sometimes complicated guesswork out of it!
As far as macros are concerned, here’s what you need to know:
- CARBS ARE IMPORTANT – Carbs are NOT the enemy! In fact, they’re a vital energy source and especially important for fueling workouts and daily activities, but they’re also not all created equal. Generally, the more processed a carbohydrate source is, the faster it digests and the higher it spikes your insulin levels, adding glucose in your blood stream. This is significant because insulin is what dictates how our body decides to use the food we eat, whether to add to fat stores or use immediately as an energy source. When insulin levels spike and subsequently crash from eating fast digesting carbs (simple carbs), the body is more likely add to fat stores over time. Carbs that come from whole grain sources generally digest slowly over time, allowing insulin levels to stay level and convert into energy rather than adding to fat stores.
The glycemic index is always a good reference for figuring out how quickly a carb will digest. Again, you should always shoot for slower digesting complex carbs over quick digesting simple carbs.
EAT MORE PROTEIN – Protein is THE key component to building muscle since it is, quite literally, the stuff your muscles are made of. Proteins which are made of amino acids are the building blocks of all major tissues and organs, even the brain. These tiny proteins are especially important because they dictate how your body builds and maintains muscle. Since lean muscle is your most effective tool in the fight to burn fat, you want to make sure you’re taking care of what you do have, and also working to build more by getting enough protein. My recommended amount of protein equals about 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
Common lean protein sources can include:
- Ground turkey
- Lean red meats
- Protein supplements
Protein supplements are an excellent way to increase your protein intake and are commonly used by fitness enthusiasts and professionals. It pays to be picky (like me!) when it comes to protein supplements. Take care to choose a high quality supplement, free from excess sugars, carbs and fillers.
- DON’T FEAR THE FAT(S)- Fat gets a bad rap. The truth is, fats are a vital energy source and provide the lasting energy your body needs to sustain a workout once it burns through any carbohydrates. Fats are also important for brain development, managing inflammation, and regulating body temperature. Your body can’t make certain fatty acids, like linoleic acid, and relies on your diet to provide them. Fats also help important vitamins like A, D, E and K absorb into your bloodstream.
Saturated fats from milk, cheese and other animal products can be high in cholesterol and should be consumed moderately. Trans fats like those found in fried food, processed foods, some baked goods, and butter substitutes like margarine and other spreads should generally be avoided all together. When it comes to adding fats into your diet, shoot for heart-healthy unsaturated fats like those found in nuts, nut butters and olive oil.
WHY STRENGTH TRAINING?
Unlike other cardio based forms of exercise, you’re not at risk of losing your existing muscle mass while trying to lose fat.
“When Penn State researchers put dieters into three groups—no exercise, aerobic exercise only, or aerobic exercise and weight training—they all lost around 21 pounds, but the lifters shed six more pounds of fat than those who didn’t pump iron. Why? The lifters’ loss was almost pure fat; the others lost fat and muscle.” – Women’s Health
Lean muscle and strength training is also what helps you burn additional calories, improves your overall health, and has even been shown to extend your life.
The basic recipe for burning muscle and building fat incorporates these four principles into your daily routine. It can seem complicated and difficult at times, but the science and benefits are crystal clear: strength training in combination with eating nutrient dense food, eating enough of it, and eating it often throughout the day is the fastest and most effective way to cut through excess body fat and build that all-important lean, toned muscle.
The more lean muscle you have, the more fit and active you are, and the better your quality of life. Talk about a winning combination!