When I graduated college, the freshman 15 that happens to so many graduates skipped me. I could still fit into my high school clothes and I was proud I didn’t put on extra weight.
But there was one problem about my body that I was unhappy with, I looked dreadfully skinny in my pictures. My sister said my body looked really gangly, a very unflattering term I hated since I already thought my arms was excessively long and skinny like a monkey.
I longed to fill out my jeans and have more definition in the arms so I started lifting weights but didn’t pay attention to my diet or to what I ate because I ate healthy. I had three well balanced meals a day based on my Asian culture: a bowl of rice, little bit of protein and lots of vegetables.
After a few years of lifting, I compared my side by side pictures of before and after and I was shocked. I looked almost exactly the same as if I never lifted weights! It was a sad wake up moment that triggered me to hire a strength coach to help me out. He completely revamped my diet and helped me put on pounds of muscles in a short period of time.
In this article I will share with you what I learned about the muscle building diet to build lean muscle while shedding fat.
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A muscle building diet and workout
What 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.
You cannot expect to get great results if you train hard in the gym but eat like crap. 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.
So diet and training are equally important for optimal muscle growth and fat loss.
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 than you eat. When your fat cells start shrinking, your body will metabolize the excess fat leaving you reduced body fat.
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 are you supposed to lose fat and build lean muscles at the same time? The honest truth is you cannot. They are opposing metabolic processes.
If you want to lose fat and build lean muscles, pick out which one start out 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 lose fat.
Having a layer of fat will often times mask the muscle gains you reap from the gym. It’ll look like 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 in caloric surplus to build muscle, you will inevitably also put on some 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 between 10-15% of the calories so you start the fat loss process.
To build muscles, add an additional 10-15% of the calories of your current caloric burn to your diet. Monitor your weight and body fat to ensure you’re not packing on too much fat during this period.
Protein – your muscle building macronutrient
This missing macronutrient in my diet was the reason for my lack of results.
At the time, I didn’t understand the importance of protein till my strength coach had me eating 175 grams of protein every day in the last phase of my transformation. It was a huge struggle eating that much protein primarily because I ate so little of it in my meals. I had to really focus on planning my meals to meet those requirements every day.
In the long run, increasing my protein consumption paid off because I dropped from 30% body fat to 22% in a matter of months without starving or being hungry.
Adding more protein in your 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. Yes, you read that right! 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. How awesome is that?
- 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 should you eat?
The recommended dietary requirements (RDA) for protein is at a modest 0.8 g/kg of bodyweight per day. This means if you weigh 130lbs, it would translate to eating a minimum of 47g of protein or about a 2 small chicken breasts a day.
This RDA requirement is the bare minimum of protein consumption and is based on the average sedentary individual. If you don’t exercise and 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.
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 strength train. Just by 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 bodyweight in pounds.
If you are new to eating that much protein, start by adding about 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal and work yourself up to including protein snacks or even proteins shakes to meet your daily requirements outside of your meals.
What are good sources of protein?
You can start making a dent in your protein intake by eating a big breakfast. Most people eat lots of carbs for breakfast like oatmeal, a bagel, a smoothie or a muffin of some sort and find themselves hungry well before lunch.
Instead, swap out your breakfast with high protein choices like whole eggs, Greek yogurt, smoked salmon or throw in a scoop of protein powder in your smoothie or oatmeal.
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.
For someone who is vegan or lean towards the more 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.
To supplement or not to supplement?
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 versus a protein shake just passes through.
But 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. It is 3rd party inspected.
The first thing you should research is to check 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.
2. Amount of protein (g) per serving is close 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. You can check by looking at the nutrition label.
Often times 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 in it only has 23 grams of protein with the other 7 grams of 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 that you want 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. Very 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 everyday, it also means you’re drinking these artificial fillers which are unhealthy for you 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 are wonderful challenging moments that bring out the best in you.
Pairing the right workout with a healthy diet and 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.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com