Sunday, February 7, 2016

Gaining Muscle While Losing Fat

Simultaneously losing fat and gaining muscle is the goal for many people embarking on an exercise program. Because this is so difficult, it's usually much better to focus on just one at a time. What can make it easier though is increasing the ratio of calories from protein in the diet.

This article from the New York Times gives a great discussion of recent research on the topic:
A Diet and Exercise Plan to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle

From the article:
"The routine had succeeded in incinerating pounds from all of the participants. The men in both groups weighed about 11 or 12 pounds less, on average. 
But it was the composition of that weight loss that differed. Unlike most people on low-calorie diets, the men on the high-protein regimen had actually gained muscle during the month, as much as three pounds of it. So in these men, almost all of the 11 or 12 pounds they had lost over all had been fat.  
These results strongly suggest that extra protein is advisable during weight loss, Dr. Phillips said, to avoid stripping yourself of muscle. 
But exercise is also key, Dr. Phillips continued, particularly weight training, since it is known to build muscle. Even the men on the lower-protein diet lost little muscle mass, he pointed out, which was unexpected and almost certainly due, he and his colleagues concluded, to exercise."

A few important points:

  • The comparison is made to the RDA of protein, which is a minimum, and does not consider additional needs from exercise, especially strength training(good discussion here).
  • Carbohydrates still accounted for 50% of the calories. This is not a high-protein, ketogenic diet.
  • Overall calories were restricted by 40%. That is huge cut, and unrealistic for most people even for a short time.
  • The subjects were novices. Well trained individuals will find this harder.

28 g protein powder(20 g protein)
While the RDA for adults is 0.8g/kg of body weight, I suggest 1.5-2.0 grams per kilogram for anyone doing strength training. That means an athlete weighing 68 kilos(150 lbs) needs about 120 grams of protein per day. This is a rough guide- a more accurate number depends on lean body mass(muscle) not total weight, age, and how intense the training program is. This is still not an upper limit, and additional protein may offer even more benefit.

Gaining muscle is easier in a calorie surplus- eating more calories than are used by your metabolism and activity, but if you want to also try to lose fat, add even more protein while decreasing overall calories.