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Last Updated on March 26, 2021

Muscle Building Diet: How to Eat to Lose Fat and Build Muscle

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Muscle Building Diet: How to Eat to Lose Fat and Build Muscle

If you are looking to build lean muscle while shedding fat, a muscle building diet should be at the center of everything you do. Beyond getting the right amount of exercise and rest, a muscle building diet can make or break your ability to build strength.

Here, we’ll discuss calorie intake, answer the common question “How much protein should I eat to gain muscle,” and other important elements of a healthy diet that will help you build muscle and strength.

The Relationship Between Diet and Exercise

Which do you think is more important to building a body you want, your diet or your workouts?

Many say it’s 80% diet and 20% working out. As an experienced personal trainer, I say it’s 100% each. To get the results you want, your diet must align with your workouts.

A bad diet will translate into a sub-par workout, which will not give you the energy and intensity you need to get results. By eating a healthy diet, you can train hard in the gym and recover properly to build muscles.

Likewise, you can eat 100% clean and healthy, but if you’re not training in the gym multiple times a week with enough intensity, then you won’t be stressing your muscles enough to get them to grow.

If you need help finding motivation to focus on all of this, you can check out Lifehack’s free Ultimate Worksheet for an Instant Motivation Boost.

Your Calorie Intake

The holy grail of body transformation is to be able to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. We are inspired by those amazing transformations we see on the internet, and we think everyone achieved their results by transforming a fat cell into a muscle cell.

Successful body transformations start with understanding a little bit about how your body works.

For fat loss to occur, you must burn more calories per day than you eat. When your fat cells start shrinking, your body will metabolize the excess fat, leaving you reduced body fat.

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Building muscle happens when you eat excess calories. The extra calories will help to increase the size of your muscle fibers so that you gradually get stronger and increase your overall metabolism.

You may be asking how you are supposed to lose fat and build lean muscles at the same time, and the honest truth is that you can’t. They are opposing metabolic processes.

If you want to lose fat and build lean muscles, pick one to start with. My recommendation is that if you’re a woman with more than 30% body fat or a man with more than 20% body fat, your first goal should be to lose fat.

Having a layer of fat will often mask the muscle gains you reap from the gym. It’ll look as if you’re just getting bigger and softer rather than leaner and more defined as you add muscle to your frame.

In addition, as you eat a high-calorie diet to build muscle, you will inevitably be gaining weight through fat. It’s just the nature of building muscles, unless you are extremely meticulous about your calories.

To lose fat, calculate how many calories your body is burning, and cut out 10-15% of the calories to start the fat loss process.

To build muscle, add an additional 10-15% of the calories of your current caloric burn to your muscle building diet. Monitor your weight and body fat to ensure you’re not packing on too much fat during this period.

Protein: The Muscle Building Macronutrient

Adding more protein in your muscle gain diet can benefit you in multiple ways, as listed below:

Increase Satiety

A big reason why people fall off the diet wagon and quit their diets is because they’re hungry all the time. With food restrictions and calorie restrictions, the mentality of feeling deprived every day leads to an increase in hunger. Adding a substantial amount of protein to every meal will leave you feeling satisfied and keep hunger at bay.

Boost Your Metabolism

Out of all three macronutrients—protein, fat, and carbs—protein has the highest thermogenic effect. Everything you eat takes energy to digest, store, and absorb the nutrients, and discard whatever is left. The digestion of protein takes the most energy out of all three, so about 30% of the protein you eat gets burned off in the digestion process, increasing your metabolism.

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Build and Retain Muscle Mass

Muscle itself is metabolically expensive to maintain. It costs a lot of energy and calories not just to build muscle but also to maintain it, because it’s active tissue.

Protein is a macronutrient that your body cannot store. This is why it is vital that you eat protein around the clock to support muscle growth and repair. Without protein, your body will be unable to build new muscles that you are breaking down in the gym.

How Much Protein Do You Need To Gain Muscle?

Many people find themselves asking, “How much protein should I eat to gain muscle?” Like most things in life, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, but there are some guidelines that can help when it comes to muscle building foods.

How Much Protein Per Day?

The recommended dietary requirements (RDA) for daily protein is at a modest 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day[1]. This means if you weigh 130lbs, optimal protein intake would translate to eating a minimum of 47g of protein, or about 2 small chicken breasts a day as part of a muscle building diet.

This RDA requirement is the bare minimum of protein consumption and is based on the average sedentary individual. If you don’t exercise and also sit for 8+ hours a day, then the RDA recommendation is perfect for you, and there’s no reason why you need to eat more protein.

How Much Protein Per Day to Build Muscle?

I have found from training clients that a higher protein intake translates to faster fat loss and a higher metabolism versus a lower protein intake, even if you don’t do strength training. Adding more protein to your diet causes you to eat less, which results in weight loss.

For building muscle and fat loss, I would recommend about 40% of your total calories come from protein, or about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

If you are new to eating that much protein with a lean bulk diet, start by adding about 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal, and work yourself up to including protein snacks or even whey protein shakes to meet your daily requirements outside of your meals.

Good Sources of Protein

As you’re wondering what to eat to eat to gain muscle, you can start making a dent in your protein intake by eating a big breakfast if you’re looking into how much protein to build muscle is needed. Most people eat lots of carbs for breakfast, like oatmeal, a bagel, a smoothie, or a muffin and find themselves hungry well before lunch.

Instead, swap out your breakfast with high-protein choices like eggs, Greek yogurt, or smoked salmon, or throw a scoop of protein powder in your smoothie or oatmeal.

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Animal protein sources are complete protein sources and will be the best-quality protein for your diet because they contain high sources of lysine, which is the essential amino acid to build muscles. Make sure to get your protein from different sources so you’re getting different micronutrients and minerals[2].

Top 10 Foods Highest in Protein

    For someone who is vegan or leans towards a vegetarian diet, there are still plenty of options, but it will be more challenging because most plants are not complete sources of protein. Soy and its products like tofu, tempeh, and edamame are examples of a complete plant protein.

    Other examples of vegetarian sources of protein are quinoa, beans, and nuts. Again, you want to vary your sources of protein so you get different vitamins and minerals from your food.

    Should You Take Supplements?

    The most popular question that comes up when people think of building muscles is what type of protein supplement to buy.

    My recommendation is to try your best to get protein from food sources first because they are a natural source of amino acids, minerals, and micronutrients. Eating the protein versus drinking the protein will help to keep you full longer because your body needs to break down the food.

    However, there are times where you’re on the go, and you simply do not have time to sit down and eat. In that case, a protein shake would be a good option.

    Do your research on a protein supplement before you buy so you get the best one for your needs. Below are recommendations of what you should look for in a healthy and clean protein powder:

    1. 3rd Party Inspected

    The first thing you should research is if the protein supplement you are considering has been inspected by an independent third party company. This will tell you if the protein per serving on the nutrition label is accurate.

    At the same time, the inspection will also check for contaminants and heavy metals that could be present and harmful to your health.

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    2. Amount of Protein (g) per Serving Is Close to Serving Size (g)

    You also want to make sure that you’re paying for a protein supplement and not a meal replacement that is full of carbs and minimal protein for your muscle building diet. You can check by looking at the nutrition label.

    Often, the grams in a serving size are much bigger than the grams of protein in the serving size. This happens when there is excess filler in the form of coloring, flavors, and sugar additives.

    For example, one serving may be 30 grams, but it only has 23 grams of protein, with the other 7 grams being miscellaneous filler. This means with each scoop of protein powder, 25% of your money is going towards paying for filler ingredients.

    It’s also important to make sure a serving size actually has a gram amount listed, otherwise you will have no idea how much protein you’re drinking in each serving, which is deceptive marketing.

    3. Minimal to No Fillers

    Extracting pure, quality protein is an expensive process. To reduce costs, companies will add fillers, such as natural and artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and other components to make the powder mix nicely with whatever you blend it with.

    If you’re consuming a protein shake or two every day, it also means you’re drinking these artificial fillers, which are unhealthy and do nothing to benefit your muscles. Do your best to look for a high-quality protein, and use your dollars to pay for protein versus fillers and flavoring.

    Summing It up

    Body transformation journeys are exciting, life-changing moments to really showcase your health and body potential. They can really bring out the best in you when done right.

    Pairing the right workout with a muscle building diet full of healthy food and good macronutrient ratios will help you get results in a shorter time. By following the recommendations in this article, you will be well on your way to building muscles and losing fat.

    More on Building Muscle

    Featured photo credit: Alonso Reyes via unsplash.com

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    Candace Rhodes

    Join Candace's course 7-Day Rapid Results teaches you everything you need to get started for a weightlifting lifestyle to be toned and strong.

    Muscle Building Diet: How to Eat to Lose Fat and Build Muscle How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle to See Results Fast The Remarkable Benefits of Strength Training for Women 20 Healthy Eating Recipes Even the Pickiest People Will Love Fermented Foods for Better Digestive Health and Mental Wellness

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    Published on August 24, 2021

    What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

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    What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

    I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

    Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

    A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

    • Fruit
    • Vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Lean protein
    • Nuts
    • Water

    This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

    Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

    What Is a Whole Food Diet?

    By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

    In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

    Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.

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    Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

    Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

    For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

    • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
    • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
    • Berries five times a week
    • Five or more servings of nuts a week
    • Olive oil five times a week
    • Whole grains five times a week
    • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
    • Legumes and pulses five times a week
    • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
    • Vitamin D supplement
    • Minimally processed foods
    • No more than one glass of wine a day
    • One or two coffee or tea a day max
    • Two liters of water a day

    That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

    Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

    And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

    Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

    Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

    For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

    So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

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    As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

    Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

    In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

    A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

    In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

    Whole Foods and the Gut

    Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

    They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

    Whole Foods and the Brain

    The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

    In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]

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    Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

    • Oily fish
    • Nuts
    • Eggs
    • Berries
    • Broccoli
    • Whole grains

    Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

    Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

    It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

    Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

    This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

    Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

    Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

    Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

    Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

    Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

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    1. Practice Batch Cooking

    Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

    For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

    I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

    2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

    Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

    Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

    If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

    Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

    If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

    Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via unsplash.com

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