Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dieting Smart

I was in the gym the other day and was approached by a guy that I talk to every now and then. He's considering the possibility of doing a bodybuilding competition at some point and wants my help with nutrition. I would say about once a month I run into him in the gym, he picks my brain a bit, I give him my 2 cents worth until the next time we have a similar such conversation.

After our conversation the other day, I decided to blog about it because I think it's a misconception that a lot of people buy into. So, I thought I'd take it upon myself to enlighten you. He tells me that he's doing great, he's losing weight and that he wants to lose another 10lbs to reach his goal weight and then once he does he wants to start adding muscle and putting on another 10lbs.

The pertinent questions I asked were:

  • How much weight are you losing a week? about 2-3 pounds. 
Okay, at 2-3 pounds a week he's likely losing some lean mass. 

  • How much protein are you eating? about 90 grams a day.
On a "cutting" diet you need at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, probably more like 1.5 grams...competitive athletes may need as much as 2 grams

  • How many calories are you eating a day? Well, I'm not sure, but I follow a 40-30-30 diet
Okay, I can do the quick math on that. He's eating about 1200 calories a day and working out 7 days a week. Guaranteed he's losing muscle.

I explain all of the above to him as we go and I ask him what, to me, seems the obvious question: "Why are you willing to lose lean mass just to get down to a certain weight? Why don't you diet to lose body fat rather than just to lose pounds? I guarantee you that putting that lean mass back on is going to be much harder than it is to take it off." Hmmm, it was food for thought and I could tell he was trying to process what I was saying. 

The bottom line: Anyone can diet to lose weight. But to lose body fat and maintain as much lean mass as possible you have to diet SMART. There is a science behind dieting for fat loss and "dieting" to gain lean mass. While it's true that a calorie deficit is what creates weight loss and a surplus adds pounds, it's also true that the kind of calories matters when it comes to losing body fat. If your goal is to create a sleeker, leaner physique you'll want to diet smart, not just slashing calories, not just the quick fix. 

So you're probably wondering what I told him...well, my off-the-cuff advice to him was to increase his protein to at least 1 gram/lb of body weight. He weighs 150, so I told him to add another 60 grams. Since his calories are way too low I told him not to cut calories elsewhere to compensate. He needs that extra 240 calories/day from the protein. He needs more, but this is a good place to start until he's ready for a complete diet overhaul. 

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