In last week's blog post, I wrote about the importance of protein intake for weight and fat loss. Protein is an essential macronutrient for muscle maintenance and growth. However, protein by itself won't do much for muscle growth unless you combine it with some form of resistance training. Unfortunately for most people, our current way of life doesn’t elicit enough physical stress to strengthen our muscles. We sit behind a desk and work on a computer for most of the day. A sedentary lifestyle combined with a lack of resistance training will cause our muscles to wither away and atrophy. A decrease in muscle mass will increase one’s risk for gaining body fat. To prevent this from happening, we must increase our strength through resistance training. An increase in strength tends to be associated with an increase in muscle mass (1). So our goal will be to increase the strength of our body through resistance training.
Last weekend I traveled to South Lake Tahoe, California to hike for the weekend. If you were like me and never heard of Tahoe before, then you need to set aside some vacation days and head there. Now, Tahoe isn't just for hiking and being one with nature. There are plenty of places to party and socialize including casino's, bars, and live music. So of course, I gambled, drank and stayed up all night. Even though I drank heavily and slept little, I still woke up for my morning hikes. Don't get me wrong, it was hard to wake up on five hours of sleep, but once I got outdoors, I felt my fatigue disappear. I was shocked to have high levels of energy throughout the day on such little rest. Usually, I need between seven to nine hours per night to function, but I was running on five to six hours a night. And it wasn't like I was sitting around all day doing nothing. Over the course of the weekend, I hiked three trails that collectively totaled about 20 miles. My two favorite hikes of the weekend were Mt. Tallac and Maggies Peaks. (Excuse the selfie and click through to see Tahoe's beauty.)
Over the last decade, studies have shown protein to be the superior macronutrient regarding fat loss. Protein has been shown to reduce hunger, increase metabolism, and maintain muscle in a caloric restricted diet (1,2). Numerous studies have shown weight loss to occur when you consume less calories than your body needs (3). But if you want to maintain muscle mass and lose body fat, then you must consume enough protein (2).
To maintain or build muscle you must have a higher ratio of muscle protein synthesis (building of muscle) versus muscle protein breakdown. A lack of resistance training and inadequate protein consumption will increase muscle protein breakdown. If this continues on a daily basis, you will decrease muscle mass and put yourself at a greater risk for weight gain. To prevent this from happening, you must perform resistance training two to three times per week and have adequate protein consumption.
In my six year experience as a personal trainer, I am constantly asked if we should be eating past a certain time. When I am asked the question, the client expects a quick yes or no answer. Unfortunately, it is not black or white. From a calorie perspective, the timing of food has minimal importance. The most important factor is a caloric balance. But, nothing in life operates in a vacuum. We can't just look at calories in versus calories out when we are focused on overall health. We must look broader and include all the pillars of health.