By Dan Gwartney, MD and Steve Blechman
The days get longer and the sun shines brighter; fingers snap to the beat of music playing and dancing starts in the street. Summer is here and suddenly life seems like a Kevin Bacon movie from the ’80s. People look up as they stroll along sidewalks and enjoy the feeling of a little sun on their faces. In parks, on the beach and inside the gym, tank tops and shorts replace wool sweaters and heavy pants. In the season of exposed skin, rolls and dimples aren’t easily hidden, making fat loss and toning major— though delayed, priorities.
As has been noted in accompanying articles, true success in sculpting the body through lifestyle changes requires a combined approach of resistance training, cardio and diet. Though there are shelves lined with diet books, most deal with weight loss in general, the authors not comprehending that many people not only want to be healthy, but also look good. To do so, it’s important to maintain and build muscle as the fat weight drops off. Certainly, several infomercials promise the Holy Grail of washboard abs and some even deliver. For those looking for simple guidelines that can be incorporated into a busy schedule, consider the following advice.
Losing Fat versus Building Muscle
Building muscle and losing fat are two different and sometimes opposing endeavors. Building muscle is an anabolic response and losing fat is catabolic, yet the goal is to have both happen in the same environment. To do this, careful planning and a preset schedule will help greatly. Of course, for most individuals, losing fat is the greatest concern, so the emphasis will be placed on that phase.
Losing fat requires the same conditions as losing weight. One must consume a hypocaloric diet (providing fewer calories than are burned in a day) and exercise. Exercising in the prescribed manner, first thing in the morning will greatly enhance the amount of calories from fat weight burned during exercise. However, it’s been shown that even the most vigorous exercise program offers little in comparison to reducing calories from the diet for losing weight.1,2 The main benefits of exercise are: promoting health, building muscle and adding to total energy expenditure (calories burned during the day).
Back to Basics
Programming the FitnessRx Ultimate Muscle, Fat-loss Diet requires a few initial steps. First, one needs to determine how much water and how many calories to consume. Water is important, not only because of the need for proper hydration during the hot, humid months, but also because it replaces calorie-containing beverages and may aid in energy expenditure. Drinking a half-liter of water actually increases the neurotransmitters that signal fat release from the fat cells.3 Also, drinking ice water forces the body to generate more heat to bring the water up to body temperature, another source of calorie wasting. The general rule of thumb (not counting any excess water loss during exercise) is 64 ounces a day of water. However, most athletes consume double that amount. One source offers a simple, if silly way to measure hydration— you should drink enough water to keep your urine colorless.4 Dark yellow urine is a sure sign of ensuing dehydration.
There are very complicated ways to determine how many calories a person needs each day to maintain weight and how many to cut to lose weight at a responsible pace.5 The simplest method is to take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply it by 10. If you weigh 180 pounds, then 1,800 calories per day can be consumed. Figuring out the calorie content of food can be a hassle, especially when dining out, so those truly wanting to succeed at fat loss will often prepare most of their meals. Calorie content is listed on most products now, so it’s a simple matter once you get the hang of it. If you dine out, try to get a calorie guide from the restaurant. Many fast-food places offer this if you ask.
Food selection can make or break a diet. The Atkins diet and similar programs have proven the fallacy of low-fat, high-carb diets being the only way to lose weight.6 The value of this revelation is immense for those seeking to look good, as low-calorie/low-protein diets cause muscle wasting and a sickly, depleted look. The U.S. RDA for protein consumption is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (1 gram equals 0.035 ounces). Scientists have finally acknowledged that active people have higher protein requirements than sedentary people and the suggested intake for an athlete ranges from 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram, assuming adequate calories are consumed.7 This equates to approximately one-half to three-fourths of a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Considering how the U.S. has failed to incorporate the metric system, it is necessary to calculate this relative to pounds rather than kilograms.
Though the evidence shows this amount of protein to be adequate for meeting the body’s metabolic requirements for amino acids, the FitnessRx Ultimate Muscle, Fat-loss Diet deviates from these suggestions by recommending a higher amount of protein. The purpose for this is three-fold: high-protein diets have been shown to work faster than other diet plans, the protein needs during hypocaloric diets are higher to maintain or build muscle and dietary protein reduces the appetite, increases thermogenesis and improves satiety, which makes it easier to stay within the daily calorie count.6,8,9
One gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day is the guideline for the FitnessRx Ultimate Muscle, Fat-loss Diet. For the 180-pound person, this would equate to more than 180 grams of protein (avoiding the metric system makes this so much easier). The calorie contribution of 180 grams of protein is 720 calories, leaving a little over 1,000 calories, which will be divided fairly evenly between carbohydrates and fats. Why no preference for one or the other? Both play a role in normal metabolism. Taking carbs or fat too low will lower testosterone, as has been shown in several studies.10,11
Carbohydrates include simple sugars and complex carbs. Simple sugars are everywhere, but except for one critical time during the day, they’re off-limits. Complex carbs include whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Fruits do contain simple sugars, but in moderation and the accompanying nutrients, vitamins and phytochemicals are necessary to promote health.
Also, recent research has shown that taking an amino acid or protein supplement one hour before overreaching high-intensity resistance training and after can prevent muscle protein breakdown, enhance protein synthesis and maintain biologically active free testosterone.