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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Ultimate Change in Body Composition: Increase Muscle and Lose Body Fat....At the same time!

 By: Andrew Jagim

In gyms all across the country, Stu Phillips PhD is quickly becoming as popular as Harrison Ford aka Indiana Jones as they both seem to have successfully completed their respective Quest for the Holy Grail.  A recent article that has taken the mainstream fitness world by storm is sweeping across the nation.  Stu Phillips' lab published an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition titled: "Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial."

The title of the article pretty much gives it away but essentially what they found is that it is in fact possible to gain muscle while losing body fat at the same.  What was once thought of as a myth or at least an extremely difficult training outcome now gives hope and at least a template to follow for lifters everywhere. If we dive into to some of the physiological mechanisms behind each one of these adaptations, it becomes evident as to why they are so difficult to achieve at the same time.  Increasing muscle mass is often referred to as an anabolic process meaning it is the "building up" or assimilation of tissues from smaller constituents or in this case building skeletal muscle protein from amino acids.  An anabolic process is one that requires a substantial amount of energy and therefore it is thought that a calorie excess (meaning you are eating more than you are burning on a daily basis) is required for this to occur.  And when people think of eating extra calories, often times they also expect an increase in body fat and often accept it as something that is more or less unavoidable.  Now, when we look at fat loss we see a different situation occurring.  Typically fat loss is referred to as a catabolic process as it consists of the breakdown of stored fat within the body which is oxidized for fuel.  In order for this particular catabolic process to occur it is thought that a caloric deficit is required meaning we are burning more calories than we are consuming so that we can lose mass, particularly fat mass.

So one can see how trying to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time is rather conflicting in nature. So how did these researchers pull it off? With a specifically targeted nutrition and strength-training plan.  Specifically they created an anabolic and catabolic environment simultaneously.  One thing we didn't mention with building muscle is the fact that not only does a calorie surplus play a role but so to does  protein availability as protein provides the building block for lean muscle accretion.  In this particular study the researchers showed that even when calorie intake was dropped 40% below recommended intake levels, the subjects were still able to gain substantial amounts of lean mass by ingesting 2. 4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (Carbs: 50%, Fat: 15%, Protein: 35%).  The control group on the other hand consumed 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (Carbs: 50%, Fat: 35%, Protein: 15%). The researchers also paired this with a strict exercise regimen consisting of a high-intensity interval training program combined with strength training on 6 out of 7 days each week over the course of 4 weeks.

This isn't just strictly for bros either as this type of body re-compositioning is one the strategies we recommend for individuals trying to "lose weight" when really they should be focusing more so on increasing or at least maintaining muscle mass while concomitantly decreasing body fat.  These are ideal changes for long-term weight maintenance and helping to improve an individual's overall body composition as the more fat-free mass (muscle makes up a large portion of this) you can maintain during a weight loss program the more likely you are to lose weight (most of it being body fat) and keep it off! If we go back to the study, both groups lost approximately 11-12 lbs of weight in ~4weeks however the high protein group actually gained ~3 lbs of muscle so not only did they gain muscle and lose weight, most of that weight loss was pure body fat!

In conclusion, it appears as though it is possible to lose body fat AND gain muscle at the same time as long as protein intake is increased. In addition, calories will also have to be reduced below maintenance calories to promote losses in body fat so that you can get the best of both worlds. And lastly, exercise is obviously very important as well. It appears as though a combination of strength training and high-intensity interval training is the perfect compliment to a high protein, lowered calorie diet.
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