Building muscle and losing fat not only involve commitment to strength and cardiovascular training, they also require dedication to a healthy eating program. Gaining muscle mass and losing fat simultaneously is difficult, because it requires your body to build up and break itself down at the same time. But by paying careful attention to your nutrition, you can put your body in the right state to reach this goal. The nine tips below will help you.
1. Get the Most Nutrition From Your Calories. It's possible to control your weight while snacking on cupcakes and brownies, but this is not sound nutrition. Junk food does not provide the nutrients you need to support your goals. Instead, focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods—foods that contain large amounts of vitamins and minerals relative to their calories and that give your body the carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fat it requires. Examples of such foods are fruits and vegetables, lean meats and plant proteins, non-fat/low-fat dairy and whole grains.
2. Write it Down. Keep an running record of the foods (and amounts) you consume. You don't have to do it daily, but writing everything down a few days a week can give you great insight. Are you surprised at how much or how little you are consuming? Your eating log should help you control some of the foods that may be contributing to excess calorie intake.
3. Timing is Everything. Continue to fuel your body around your training schedule. (Learn more about nutrient timing.) Before training, consume a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack that also includes a small amount of protein. Begin your recovery meal or snack within 15 to 60 minutes after your training session. This meal/snack should contain protein and carbohydrate. Try a smoothie made with yogurt and frozen berries or graham crackers with peanut butter and a glass of low-fat chocolate milk.
4. Reduce Calories on Rest Days. If weight loss is your goal, reduce calorie consumption on days when you are not as active. This tactic will allow you to eat more on training days, which will maximize performance and prevent fatigue.
5. Don't Get Hungry. Eat smaller amounts of food and distribute meals evenly throughout the day. This may prevent the kind of overeating that occurs when we get too hungry. Listen for your hunger cues and have healthy snacks available. Try a small piece of fruit and a low-fat string cheese or raw vegetables and hummus.
6. Slow Down. Learn to eat slowly and savor your food. It isn't going anywhere! It takes time for the stomach to signal to the brain that it's full, so when you eat quickly, you can easily overdose on calories. Take breaks from eating to sip water or engage in lively conversation.
7. Don't Deny Yourself the Foods You Love. A balanced diet that allows some flexibility can still result in good weight control without driving you crazy. Practice the 90/10 rule every day—90 percent of your eating should follow sound nutrition principles—including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and healthy fats. The remaining 10 percent can be reserved for treats.
8. Educate Yourself. Take time to learn about nutrition in general as well as your unique food requirements. If you do this, you will be taking a major step toward weight control and a healthier lifestyle.
9. Consider Meeting With a Registered Dietitian. A registered dietitian can calculate your personal energy requirements and check your current diet to make sure that it includes the right amounts of nutrients.
Although proper nutrition for building muscle and losing fat is not easy, the more time you spend educating yourself and practicing healthy habits, the more success you will have. The goal of training hard and paying attention to nutrition is not just to achieve a number on a scale, but to make a long-term investment in your health.
Katie Knappenberger, RD, ATC, is an assistant professor and athletic trainer at Daytona State College (Daytona Beach, Fla.). She earned her master’s degree in nutrition, with a concentration in sports dietetics, from the University of Utah and her bachelor’s degree in athletic training from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. She is a member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association and the Sports Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter (@KatieRdATC) for sports nutrition tips and cutting-edge research updates.