If you follow me, it is likely that you also follow a number of professionals in the health and fitness industry.
You see them on social media and maybe you want what they have: a lean, fast, strong body with low body fat and powerful lean tissue.
The problem I see is that if you have body fat you want to lose and lean tissue you want to gain (aka- lose fat and gain muscle), it’s not effective to go after both at the same time.
I know for a fact that many of those fitness superstars you follow had to cycle their training and nutrition protocols to target specific goals at specific times.
Now I know all of us want everything and want it now but if you want to actually see changes and have them be long lasting you will require a strategy!
And a strategy can only be made if you choose one goal and focus solely on that goal right now. Stop trying to do everything at once because that will put you on the fast track to burnout and failure.
Are you eating and working out to lose body fat?
Or are you eating and working out to gain muscle?
Rather than getting into the weeds about the types of exercise regimens you will be partaking in, we are going to focus strictly on the nutritional side of things (while making some general assumptions that a workout protocol to support your goal is being followed). This is because the eating style is different depending on whether you are aiming for fat loss or muscle gain.
And I am not just saying this for the sake of it but rather this information is coming from experience I’ve had working with athletes in both the strength and endurance worlds!
If you need help with programming the right exercise protocol for you, you can reach out to me for a free :15 minute coaching consultation HERE!
GOAL #1 - LOSE BODY FAT
Assuming your exercise regimen includes more low intensity cardio in the 'fat burning zone' with some HIIT sprinkled in, here is what I recommend: eating a low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet.
The reason for this is to get yourself into ketosis!
In case you aren’t familiar with what ketosis is, here’s a short review:
Our body’s primary source of fuel is carbohydrates (ie., glucose). When our body does not receive enough carbohydrates from our diet to turn into glucose, it turns to an alternative source of fuel which is FAT.
The body breaks down fat in order to get glucose from triglycerides. This is a completely normal bodily function.
When the triglycerides are turned into glucose, their by-product is something called ketones, which are built up in the body and can be used by various body tissues as energy.
Since ketosis is a state of burning fat, then following a diet that puts your body in ketosis is a great strategy for burning more fat!
You can make sure you are actually in ketosis by measuring with a ketone meter, like the Keto Mojo.
It’s important to understand that the state of ketosis isn’t guaranteed just because you are following a “low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet”!
You can eat a lower carb, higher fat diet and still be utilizing carbohydrates as your main source of fuel. If this happens, the likelihood of you continuing to store dietary fat as body fat and continuing to burn sugar is likely.
To get into a state of ketosis, there is a strict limit on carbohydrate intake. But this limit can be slightly different from person to person depending on their bioindividual needs and activity levels!
According to Dr Jockers, you need to have three things lined up for yourself in order to get into ketosis:
Eating moderate protein ensures that you aren't losing lean tissue (because NO ONE wants that). It also ensures that protein does not interrupt the process of turning fat into fuel since protein can also be tapped into when glucose stores are low! This is why having something like a DEXA scan can help you know exactly how much protein you should be consuming so you aren’t eating too much or too little .
To start, aim to consume the weight of your lean tissue (in pounds) in grams of protein each day. For example, if you are made up of 100 pounds of lean tissue, you should eat 100g of protein daily.
If you are counting macros, the general guideline to get started with a ketogenic diet is 65-70% good quality fats (from things like avocados, olives, lard from wild or pastured animals, butter from grass fed animals, fish oil, and coconut oil) + 5-10% carbs (from non-starchy vegetables) + 20-25% protein (from organic, pasture raised animals).
Again, these ranges are here because you are different from the next person and you have to find what works for you!
If weighing and measuring food isn't your thing (for most of us it isn't!), then use the 3-2-1 rule for your meals:
3 servings of low starch vegetables + 2 servings of good fat + 1 serving of protein.
(1 serving of veggies = 1 cup or the size of your fist/1 serving of fat = 1 tbsp or size of your thumb/1 serving of protein= the size of the palm of your hand)
It can be incredibly helpful to know your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and basic caloric needs in a day and consume SLIGHTLY lower than that amount.
By slightly, I mean 5-10% less of your caloric needs.
For example, if your RMR is 1,200 calories, and your Garmin or Fitbit show that you burn an additional 1,000 calories per day from movement, your total caloric need to maintain your mass is 2,200 calories.
If you want to lose body fat, consider consuming 2,000 calories per day so you are in a slight deficit. That may equate to just one less snack per day!
If you reduce your caloric intake too much, your body will see this as a stress and lower your metabolic rate to meet the low caloric intake. No one wants to lower their metabolism!
A DEXA scan can be used to calculate your RMR and basic caloric needs but in case you are unable to obtain one there are some formulas out there that you can use (although their accuracy can be questionable).
Check out this article for formulas: Resting Metabolic Rate: Best Ways to Measure IT - and Increase It.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT GOING INTO KETOSIS:
This is a tool. Sure, there is nothing wrong with eating this way forever (assuming you are eating clean keto that is mostly plant based), but once you have lost your desired body fat, switching your diet to support others goals is a great idea. This is particularly true for athletes who have different requirements depending on where they are in training.
You need to be all in if you are going to do this. You can't eat a few keto meals, then eat a meal rich in carbs, then go back to eating keto. It won't work. Your body takes a few days to transition to burning fat and if you eat a carb rich meal every few days, you'll never get into ketosis.
The first few days will be hard! You will likely feel fatigued, sluggish and unmotivated. Know that this won't last long and the most important thing you can do during this time is be kind to yourself! Allow yourself a nap if you can. Schedule yourself a massage. Take more gentle walks outside. And by all means, drink enough water with a pinch of sea salt. The dreaded 'keto flu' that so many people talk about/experience during the transition from sugar burning to fat burning is usually a combo of dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Eating higher fat is helpful at the beginning (sometimes more than 70% of your caloric intake). At the beginning, your body will be using the exogenous fat from your diet to make those ketone bodies that make you feel better. Eventually, if you want to actually burn your own body fat, you need to be mindful of your fat intake from your diet. If you've gotten yourself into ketosis (measurable on a ketone meter) but aren't seeing body fat loss as a result, you might be eating too much fat. Try lowering your fat consumption from your diet closer to 65% and see if that helps (whether you increase carbs or protein depends on different factors so be sure to speak to your coach to make sure you adjust accordingly!)
GOAL #2 - GAINING LEAN TISSUE
Before I jump into the nutritional focus, there are two things you must consider that have been proven to help athletes gain lean tissue:
Once you know these two are in place, then prioritizing protein consumption and eating enough calories will be key to reaching your goal!
First you’ll want to start off by learning what your lean tissue amount currently is. You can do that by getting a DEXA scan done (as you can see, a DEXA scan can give you a lot of helpful information!).
If you want to maintain your lean tissue, you need to consume AT LEAST your body weight of lean tissue in grams each day.
For example, if you have 100 lbs of lean tissue, you need to consume at least 100g of protein per day.
If you want to GAIN lean tissue, you should consider eating 5-10% more protein per day (105-110g in this sample example).
The protein needs to come from complete sources. What I mean by complete is that the source of protein you eat includes each of the essential amino acids your body needs to function at its best.
Animal proteins are ideal, but plant proteins in the right combinations can also create a complete protein profile. You don’t always have to eat plant based protein sources together. Instead focus on consuming a variety throughout your day to ensure you consume each of the essential amino acids.
Here are some of the best sources of food that can help you gain lean muscle mass due to their protein profiles:
Besides protein consumption, if you want to gain lean muscle, you need to make sure you are in a slight caloric surplus. Again, to calculate this you should know what your RMR is! This will provide you with a baseline to work off of.
Why do we need more energy?
Simply put, if you want to GROW lean tissue, you need to have the energy (aka. calories) to do that. If you are in a caloric deficit, your body will choose to burn tissue to obtain the extra calories it requires to meet its needs. Ultimately resulting in a loss of lean tissue!
However, we also want to be careful that we do not overdo it. Our body can only work so fast and if we over consume calories, we can end up storing excess energy as fat without noticing any difference in changes in lean tissue.
WHAT SHOULD I BE EATING?
Now that we have covered HOW you should eat to reach each of your goals, I want to briefly discuss the WHAT!
At the end of the end of the day, the food you fill your calories with MATTERS. Sure, if you stay in caloric deficit eating junk you may still lose weight HOWEVER you will not be getting the appropriate nutrients your body needs to function optimally which means you may not see the gains and experience more fatigue.
Which, as I understand it, is not something you want when you’re aiming to improve your performance!
I also do understand that eating chicken, broccoli, and rice all of the time isn’t exciting so I like to suggest to clients that they follow an 80/20 approach when it comes to their diet.
Keeping in mind that they will still need to hit their required numbers, 80% of intake should focus on consuming whole, nutrient dense, real foods!
These are the foods you find on the perimeter of your supermarket such as veggies, fruits, meats, poultry, nuts, seeds, dairy, and eggs!
The other 20%? That’s leftover to allow you to loosen up a bit and not feel so restricted! It can also help you feel better about some of the “not-so-perfect” fitness supplements out there.
To make your life a little easier, I have decided to provide you with a FREE download that includes my list of FOODS TO EAT and FOODS TO AVOID.
Click here to get yours today and make sure you print it out and hang it on your fridge.
SUMMING IT ALL UP
I get it, most of us want to lose body fat and gain lean tissue at the same time like….yesterday.
But if it is ideal to be in a slight caloric deficit to burn fat and a slight caloric surplus to build lean tissue, you can see how these things don't really work together.
My advice: Pick one, then the other.
Besides, it’s sometimes easier to just focus on one thing at a time.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop lifting if you are trying to lose body fat or stop conditioning if you want to gain muscle. Instead, you are just shifting priorities until you reach one goal and then shifting once more to reach your next goal.
Helping people like you is what I love most so if you are interested in learning more about setting yourself up for success, then do not hesitate to reach out! We can setup a free discovery call to talk about your ambitions and how I can help you achieve them!
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!