Can I build muscle and lose fat at the same time? When should I eat carbs? What should I eat on a rest day?

We spoke to performance nutritionist Danny Webber to get his answers to some common health and fitness questions

when should I eat carbs?
Can I build muscle and lose fat at the same time? Photo: TerryGeorge/Flickr

Can I build muscle and lose fat at the same time?

Yes, it is possible but for how long this can be maintained for is unknown. A calorie deficit is essential for fat loss but with sufficient dietary protein and training stimulus, increases in lean muscle mass can be achieved. A short-term study this year by Longland et al. put 40 overweight young men on a 40 per cent energy restricted diet that contained either 1.2g/kg or 2.4 g/kg protein per day, and performed whole-body resistance exercise training and HIIT 6 days per week. Both groups showed gains in lean muscle mass, with significantly greater improvements in those who consumed 2.4g/kg protein.

Should I eat the same amount and the same foods on a rest day as training days?

Diets should be periodised to suit daily energy requirements. For example, carbohydrates fuel high intensity and prolonged efforts, whereas fats fuel low-moderate intensity activities. Therefore, if you go for a 60-minute run and burn 800kcal, your body needs the additional calories including a higher demand for carbohydrates for fuel and recovery. On rest days, your energy demands are significantly reduced and without the need for high carbohydrate intake. Instead, focusing on proteins and fibrous vegetables and increasing dietary fats (e.g. omega-3 rich salmon) will better suit total energy balance and substrate utilisation.

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Do I really need an insulin spike after workouts?

Post-exercise carbohydrates do not influence muscle protein synthesis rates when sufficient protein is ingested (20g). However, skeletal muscle is more sensitive to insulin in the hours after training so it is a good idea to include carbohydrates in your post-training meal to replenish muscle glycogen stores.

What supplements are best post workout? Should I also have them on rest days?

Whey protein is important after training to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Nutrition X’s Big Whey is an ideal product because it contains additional leucine, an amino acid that triggers the anabolic response. Depending on training goals, creatine is effective for individuals looking to increase muscle mass and strength, or who compete in repeated high-intensity sports. Nutrition X’s Ultimate is designed for such athletes and contains creatine, leucine and carbohydrates to aid recovery after resistance training.

Protein supplements are not needed on rest days as daily requirements can be met through food alone. Creatine can be taken to boost recovery if muscle damage/fatigue is an issue.

Is it worth paying more for organic meats, fruits and vegetables?

A lot of people will argue that organic food is healthier than non-organic food because it contains less pesticide residue – however, the only two things you’re guaranteed is that is it actually organic, and that it’s more expensive. A review in 2012 found no differences in nutritional quality between organic and conventionally grown foods with the exception that organic milk may be slightly higher in omega-3. The levels of pesticides on non-organic fruit and vegetables are not actually as bad as they’re made out to be, and the amount of foods a person would have to eat to reach an adverse effect equate to 175 servings of blueberries or 529 apples a day.

milk benefits

Milk is the best thing to have after training, says Danny WebberPhoto: Jeepersmedia/Flickr

How important is it to spread my protein intake out over the course of the day?

The total amount of protein you have in a day is more important, but in order to maximise protein synthesis this total should be evenly distributed throughout the day. Whether you eat three, four, five or six meals in a day, aim for 20-40g protein each meal focusing on high quality protein sources, with a slow release (casein) protein before bed.

When should I eat carbs?

If you’re an athlete who trains multiple times per day, aim to include carbohydrates on an hourly basis after the first session to replenish energy (muscle glycogen) stores ready for the next training session. However, if you’re next training session is not on the same day then carbohydrates are not essential immediately after training. You can still include the bulk of your carbohydrates in the post-training meal otherwise you can include them gradually throughout the day.

If I don’t want to take protein supplements, what other natural sources of protein would you recommend?

Milk is the best thing to have after training and can actually improve recovery better than any commercial supplement. Milk is a natural source of protein, sugars, and sodium aiding all elements for optimal recovery. Additional carbohydrates can be included by switching to a flavoured milk product or having some fruit i.e. banana. A smoothie is also a great option.

I’m a naturally skinny guy looking to build more muscle. What changes should I make to my diet?

Ensure you’re hitting your calorie requirements, eating 20-40g (animal based) protein in every meal (four to six times per day), include a casein based protein source before bed and get eight hours’ sleep each night.

What foods should I avoid when looking to lose fat from around the lower abs?

Unfortunately you can’t target fat in one particular body part. The lower abs is typically the hardest area to lose fat from, but as long as you’re in a calorie deficit then you will lose body fat. Effective dietary strategies to support an energy restricted diet include:

– Having lean protein sources (meat, fish, offal, eggs, low-fat dairy) with every meal

– Focus meals around high protein sources and fibrous vegetables, maximising food volume and avoiding calorie dense foods, e.g. nuts.

– Include whole-grains and other low-glycaemic index carbohydrates

– Avoid alcohol

– Keep hydrated

– Avoid sleep deprivation (less than six hours per night)

What are the best snacks for slow releasing energy?

Low-glycaemic index carbohydrates should be focused for slow-releasing energy. These include fruits (i.e. berries, apples, oranges etc) brown rice, quinoa, oats, sweet potatoes, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans) and dairy sources.

Performance Nutritionist Danny Webber is one of the expert team at Informed Sport approved sports nutrition brand Nutrition X, find out more at www.nutritionx.co.uk.

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