Gain Mass

4 Essential Truths About Dieting

There's no "one size fits all" approach to dieting. We break down the four essentials of muscle-building, fat-burning nutrition.

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Dieting for Muscle

If you give too much credence to mainstream diet trends, you’re pretty much doomed.

Maybe you’ll identify with the Paleo culture and become convinced that eating like a caveman is the way of the future. Or maybe you’ll jump on the “carbohydrates are the source of all your weight loss woes” bandwagon and subscribe to ketogenic dieting. Maybe you’ll take it a step farther with more extreme things like cleanses, unclogging hormones and biohacking.

The truth is: There is no “one true diet.” While this concept doesn’t have the sizzle to sell millions of books and millions in supplements, it works.

What is the truth about dieting?

It has several parts, or tiers, and can be envisioned as a pyramid of descending importance that looks like this:

  • Energy Balance
  • Macronutrient Balance
  • Food Choices
  • Nutrient Timing

Let’s look at each of the layers in detail.

No. 1: Energy Balance

Energy balance is the overarching principle of dieting. This dictates your weight gain and loss more than anything else.

Energy balance is the relationship between the energy you feed your body and the energy it expends. This is often measured in kilocalories.

The bottom line is that meaningful weight loss requires you to expend more energy than you consume, and meaningful weight gain (both fat and muscle) requires the opposite—more consumption than expenditure.

A century of metabolic research has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that energy balance, operating according to the first law of thermodynamics, is the basic mechanism that regulates fat storage and reduction.

No. 2: Macronutrient Balance

Next on the diet pyramid is macronutrient balance. In case you’re not familiar with the term, the dictionary defines macronutrient as “any of the nutritional components of the diet that are required in relatively large amounts: protein, carbohydrate, fat and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and phosphorous.”

You’ve probably heard that “a calorie is a calorie,” and while that’s true for matters relating purely to energy balance and weight loss and gain, a calorie is not a calorie when we’re talking body composition.

Sure, you can follow Professor Mark Haub’s lead and lose weight by eating nothing but protein shakes, Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos and Little Debbie snacks. But we don’t want to just gain and lose weight. Our goal is more specific: We want to gain more muscle than fat and we want to lose fat, not muscle. And with those goals, we have to watch more than just calories. We have to watch our macronutrient intake too.

If you want to go beyond “weight loss” and learn to optimize your body composition, the macronutrient you have to watch most closely is protein. Your carbohydrate and dietary fat intakes can be all over the place without derailing you, but eating too little protein is the cardinal sin of dieting for us fitness folk.

  • Eat too little protein while restricting your calories for fat loss and you’ll lose a significant amount of muscle as well. (This is why weight loss isn’t enough. Lose muscle and you lose weight, but you’re going backward in your quest to build an impressive physique.)
  • Eat too little protein while eating a surplus of calories to maximize muscle growth and you’ll build less muscle. This is one of the reasons “bulking” has a bad rap. When done improperly, it packs on way more fat than muscle and is counterproductive in the long run.

What is too little protein?

  • If you’re relatively lean and aren’t dieting for fat loss, you should set your protein intake at 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
  • If you’re relatively lean and are dieting for fat loss, you should increase your intake slightly to 1 to 1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. (Research shows the leaner you are, the more protein your body will need to preserve muscle while in a calorie deficit for fat loss.)
  • If you’re overweight or obese, your first priority should be fat loss, and your protein intake should be set at 1 to 1.2 grams per pound of lean mass per day.

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