The internet is full of interesting tips, theories and diets for helping athletes and non-athletes alike decrease fat and/or increase muscle. When it comes to sport performance, a desirable body composition for the sport can be the difference between a great athlete and an amazing one. Remember though, that what is considered "desirable" varies based on sport, position, competition level, and gender. There is no one-size fits all when it comes to an ideal body shape. Here is the truth about what it takes to change body composition.
1. Don't cut out sources of carbohydrate.
Many athletes see huge weight decreases when they cut out carbs...and rejoice, believing that they have successfully made themselves a lean machine overnight. Not so fast. Carbs are stored in muscle along with water. If you cut out carbs, you lose the water too. So, while you will lose weight, it is all water weight and you only really succeed is dehydrating your muscles (not good for sport performance). Plus, keep in mind that carb is the body's main source of energy during exercise. If you don't eat adequate carb, your body burns muscle. Dehydration and breakdown of muscle - that sounds like a losing game plan to me. Incorporate good sources of carb - such as whole grain breads, rice and pasta and fruits and vegetables - at all meals and snacks (yes - all!) to make sure you are fueling your body for desirable body composition changes. And we love those whole grains: in one study, people who ate whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, lost more belly fat than those who ate only refined grains, such as white bread and white rice.
2. Don't go overboard on protein.
Most Americans eat 2-3x more protein than they actually need, so increasing protein just because you are trying to build muscle is often unnecessary. In order to build and recover muscles, make sure you are eating lean sources of protein along with twice as much carbohydrate at meals and snacks. While protein may build muscle, carbohydrate opens the door to the muscles to make that possible. If you're an endurance athlete, aim for 1.2-1.5 gm protein/kg body weight per day. So, for someone my size (~60kg), that is 70-90gm protein daily. If you are not an endurance athlete, you'll need closer to 1.7-1.9 gm protein/kg body weight per day. However, this is not really that much when you consider that a typical serving of meat provides 25-35 gm protein (and that is just one meal).
3. Learn to love fat.
That's right - LOVE it. In fact, the more hours you exercise, the more fat your body needs. Fat helps decrease inflammation in the body as well as provides the energy your body needs, while helping you feel more satisfied after meals. Afraid eating fat will make you gain weight? In a 28-month study with nearly 9,000 participants, those who ate nuts at least twice weekly (a source of healthy fat) were 31% less likely to gain weight over the course of the study when compared to those who rarely or never ate nuts. In addition to nuts, choose other heart healthy sources of fats such olive oil, canola oil, nut butters, olives, flax seed, and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.
4. Sleep is good.
If you take away nothing from this blog, remember this: sleep is the most important thing you will do all day. No matter what type of body composition changes you are making, the majority of those changes happen overnight when you are sleeping. Aim to get 7-9 hours of deep sleep per night. How do you make sure you are sleeping deeply? Here are a few tips: no caffeine after 5pm, no more than 1 alcoholic drink in the evening, eat every 3-4 hours and hydrate properly throughout the day. Not following these steps will affect your body's ability to achieve deep body composition changing sleep.