In the never-ending quest for washboard abs, pecs that will stretch a T-shirt, tight tummies and buns, quads/hams that will make it not so embarrassing to wear shorts, we all want to know the diet and supplement secrets to achieve this elusive state of body.
Fear not! For science and real-world experience show that a trim physique can be achieved and maintained. First of all, rid yourself of the notion (taught no less by out-of-shape nutrition “experts” who spend more time in their kitchen pantry than inside a gym) that all that matters is calories. Sure, if you starve yourself enough, you will lose weight— with much of that weight being muscle.
So let’s instead approach eating and supplementation the smart way, and check out what the latest science says. In a recent study from The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists looked at diets varying in protein and glycemic index. Study volunteers consumed one of five possible diets to prevent weight regain over a 26-week period: 1) a low-protein and low-glycemic-index diet 2) a low-protein and high-glycemic-index diet 3) a high-protein and low-glycemic-index diet 4) a high-protein and high-glycemic-index diet, or 5) a control diet. Can you keep all those diets straight?
They tested nearly 1,000 study subjects and found the following: The average initial weight loss with the low-calorie diet was 11.0 kilograms or 24.2 pounds. Interestingly, the low-protein, high-glycemic-index diet was associated with subsequent significant weight regain. Moreover, the weight regain was 2.05 pounds less in the groups assigned to a high-protein diet than in those assigned to a low-protein diet, and 2.09 pounds less in the groups assigned to a low-glycemic-index diet than in those assigned to a high-glycemic-index diet. So if you lose weight and don’t want to regain it, your best bet is to eat a lot of protein and low-GI index carbohydrates.
But what’s the best way to lose weight and keep it off?
Another study from The New England Journal of Medicine answered this as well. In a two-year weight-loss trial, scientists compared a low-fat, restricted-calorie diet with a Mediterranean diet (also calorie restricted) with a low-carb diet (no calorie restriction). The Mediterranean-diet group consumed the largest amounts of dietary fiber and had the highest ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat. The low-carbohydrate group consumed the smallest amount of carbohydrates and the largest amounts of fat, protein and cholesterol. The average weight loss for the high-carb group was 7.3 pounds, the Mediterranean group 10.1 pounds and the low-carb group 12.1 pounds. So once again, the low-carb group is better. But what’s intriguing is that the low-carb group did not restrict calories and didn’t have to diet per se.
What’s also fascinating is that with respect to cardiovascular disease risk reduction, the low-carb and Mediterranean groups were best and the high-carb group the worst. Other studies show a clear benefit of a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet over a low-fat diet for short-term bodyweight and fat loss, especially in men.
We know that ketogenic diets (i.e., high-fat diets that are very low in carbohydrate) may be useful in sports that include weight class divisions or require a smaller body mass (e.g., fight sports, gymnastics, etc.). However, the ketogenic diet produced a significant increase in fat loss with a slight gain in lean body mass. The authors concluded that “the undeniable and sudden effect of very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet on fat loss may be useful for those athletes who compete in sports based on weight class. In a relatively short time period (i.e., 30 days), it can decrease bodyweight and body fat without negative effects on strength performance in high level athletes.”
If you see a pattern in the research studies performed on dietary interventions, then go to the head of the class. In general, when you restrict carbohydrate consumption and replace it with protein or fat, body composition improves.
A study from the journal Nutrition & Metabolism concluded that the best way to improve your body composition is from a combined diet plus exercise intervention. Doing either exercise or diet alone is like trying to ride a bike with one wheel. You need both wheels to function most effectively.
Take-Home Diet Advice for Getting Big, Strong and Lean
First of all, rid yourself of the notion that one diet will work for everyone. Not true. Your goals determine your strategies. If your primary goal is to get lean, especially to lose body fat, a lower-carb diet (and perhaps even a ketogenic diet) may work best for most. If your goal is to gain maximal lean body mass, a diet closer to perhaps a 40:30:30 (carbs:pro:fat percentage) is likely better. But in general, the “foundational” diet that most of you can and should follow should emphasize protein (e.g., eggs, meats, milk-based protein, fish, etc.), fat (e.g., nuts of all kinds, fish fat, etc.) and unprocessed carbohydrate. Dieting should never be about advanced mathematics. Just choose the right foods and you’ll be well on your way to a bigger, stronger and leaner physique.
Supplements for Getting Bigger, Stronger, Leaner, Faster
In addition to diet, there are a host of supplements that will help you achieve your goals. These are just as important as following a great diet. Think of training, diet and supplementation as the perfect trifecta. Some excellent ones are listed below.
Nitrates are the next big thing. Who would have thought that beetroots (which, by the way, aren’t exactly on most folk’s top 10 delicious foods) might have an ergogenic (increasing capacity for bodily and mental labor) effect? The science certainly is promising in that beetroot contains relatively high levels of nitrate (NO3-). This increases nitric oxide levels critical for high performance. If straight beetroots are not convenient, go the supplement route, using one of these Nitrate Supplements.
I’d rank beta-alanine in my top 10 list of ergogenic aids. The supportive data on BA is growing and it would behoove any serious athlete or weight-conscious fitness enthusiast to add it to their supplement arsenal. The way BA works is by elevating intramuscular carnosine levels. Carnosine acts as a buffering agent so that exercises that produce a dramatic drop in muscle pH (i.e., you get more acidic) can be helped immensely if you supplement with BA. For those of you who hit the weights hard, do CrossFit, or are attempting to run a 5K race faster, beta-alanine may be the perfect ergogenic aid. Here are some of the top products containing Beta-Alanine.
Better known as baking soda, sodium bicarbonate isn’t new by any means. But the stuff works! The International Journal of Sport Nutrition published a study that stated there were no negative effects of combining caffeine and sodium bicarbonate. This can be found in a few relatively inexpensive and safe supplements.
Caffeine and Coffee
Caffeine is one of the most popular ergogenic aids in both the weight loss and athletic field. Caffeine has been known to stimulate lipolysis (i.e., the breakdown of fat) and this in turn spares intramuscular glycogen utilization during moderate-intensity exercise. Also, the enhanced thermic effect of caffeine can be leveraged to promote fat loss during exercise.
Perhaps the healthiest beverage on the planet, coffee contains caffeine, which acts as an ergogenic aid. In addition, though, coffee might play a role in the suppression of body fat accumulation. Science has shown that habitual coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Don’t have a pot of Starbucks handy? Try some of these recommended Supplements.
Creatine is by far the most highly studied dietary supplement known to man. It is utterly amazing the idiocy espoused by the mainstream press when it comes to creatine supplementation. A cursory search of the NIH’s database reveals literally hundreds of studies on creatine’s effects on exercise and/or body composition. Creatine has been shown to improve glycemic control, enhance memory, and enhance muscle mass and strength, with no side effects. You can supplement your diet with Creatine Supplements.
The essential amino acids are gram for gram some of the most potent anabolic agents around. Consuming the essential amino acids with carbohydrates stimulates muscle-protein anabolism or gain by increasing muscle-protein synthesis. And of the essential aminos, the one that is the most important is leucine. According to sports nutrition expert Jacob Wilson, Ph.D. of the University of Tampa, “The amino acid leucine literally serves as the trigger for skeletal muscle-protein synthesis (muscle building).” You can find these helpful Aminos in these supplement products.
For health reasons alone, everyone (especially those who don’t eat fish) should take at least a couple grams of fish oil daily. Not only is this amazing oil good for the heart, but also fish oil consumption has been shown to reduce muscle oxygen consumption and enhance fatigue resistance. Six weeks of fish oil supplementation (4 grams per day) using supplements such as those listed here will show a significant increase in lean mass and decrease in fat mass.
Protein is foundational supplement for all weight-conscious athletes. According to sports scientist and natural bodybuilder Layne Norton, Ph.D., “Getting in enough protein is crucial for workout recovery, performance, and improving body composition. Our lab’s research has indicated that approximately 25-30 grams of protein at each meal is needed for average-sized males to get many of the benefits of a high-protein diet. Make sure you opt for high-quality sources such as the Products listed here with a high concentration of the amino acid leucine like whey, eggs, milk, beef, chicken, fish and other animal sources of protein.” Certainly, I concur. You can’t go wrong consuming beef, chicken, whey, milk, egg and fish. High-protein diets can have positive effects on appetite, bone health, renal function, heart disease risk, and a host of other factors. Also, recent evidence shows that certain proteins like casein can enhance overnight recovery when you consume it prior to going to bed.
Dr. Paul Cribb did perhaps the single most important study in the category. He found that if you compare morning-evening supplementation, the pre-post group demonstrated a greater increase in lean body mass and strength. Thus, supplement timing is a simple but effective strategy that enhances the adaptive response to weight training. In conclusion, the most important meal(s) of the day is not breakfast, but, in fact, it is what you consume during the pre-, during-, and post-workout window. It’s all about timing, my friend.
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