If not trying to outrun a bad diet, people always want to know what to eat to build muscle and lose fat.
They ask as if there’s a magic food in particular to accomplish either, like all they have to do is munch on the bunghole lining of a Peruvian sheep (it can only be Peruvian!) and the pounds will melt right off and heaps of muscle will grow. Presto! Sexy body accomplished.
There is no special food.
All there are are macronutrients. And they’re what you should concern yourself with if you want to build muscle and lose fat.
I. Prepare For Disappointment…
Macronutrients ensure that we actually burn fat and gain muscle (or don’t lose it), in addition to balancing our hormones and keeping our energy levels high. Macros — as they’re known in the biz — include protein, carbohydrates and dietary fat, all obtained from food. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them before, but yeah! Those are macros! They each play an integral role in your developing a body to die for (and being healthy, if you’re into that sort of jazz).
At this point each macro should be discussed. But before we dive into that topic, we must first understand what muscle is and does to better understand why macros are so important for reaching our desired health and appearance.
Don’t you just hate it when you read an article that promises to answer a question but makes you read something else just as it seems that it’s about to present the solution? You’re not alone. I HATE IT TOO!!! <guilty face>But here I am doing it</guilty face> Hypocrite much? Why, yes. YES, I MOST CERTAINLY AM! But at least I warned you to prepare for disappointment. Too bad your parents couldn’t have been given the same courtesy about you.
II. Need A Tissue?
Skeletal tissue is one of three types of muscle tissue in the body, the others being cardiac and smooth tissue. We don’t care about those two because their control is largely out of our hands and they don’t play as big a role, if any, in our cosmetics as much as skeletal tissue does.
Being what people mean when they talk about “muscle”, skeletal tissue is organized into bundles of long, striated cells called muscle fibers. These muscle cells are responsible for posture and support, as well as the movement of our bones.
Additionally, as every gym brah knows, it’s thanks to muscle that they can have bulging biceps, flaring lats, a barrel chest, and tree trunk legs — if gym brahs actually trained legs, that is!
While gym brahs know about the many wondrous ways that muscle helps compensate for their lack of personality, low self esteem, baby dick size and other shortcomings (see what I did there?), many of the opposite sex miss that muscle is what gives the body the curves and lady lumps they desperately want but don’t weight train hard enough for because they think they have dormant mutant genes that are going to turn them into Schwarzenegger in drag if they even look at a heavy dumbbell! That just isn’t so, boo-boo!!! Without the introduction of anabolic androgenic steroids, women lack the necessary amount of testosterone to produce male-like changes to their musculature.
Pardon that mini-rant!
Moving along now…
Muscle also serves the vital function of heat production, an act that helps the body burn calories even at rest. How big of a deal is this? Just consider that a pound of muscle burns 14 calories a day while a pound of fat burns 2-3 calories. Now consider that muscle burns those 14 calories even when you’ve been glued to your TV all football Sunday rooting for teams and players that don’t give a fuck about you — instead of you…hmmmm…using that time to do something more constructive with your family. Yeah, that’s right. Muscle whoops fat’s fat ass in calorie burning!
As we see, there are a handful of reasons why building muscle and preventing its loss are of paramount importance. Keeping this in mind, let’s turn our attention to macronutrients and how they factor into the loss or retention of our highly prized muscle.
III. Macro-Level Analysis
To recall, the macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and dietary fat. Their individual role in muscle growth, the metabolism, and other body processes is as follows:
Protein, or amino acid, is generally thought of as just the building block of muscle. Leaving it at that severely undersells how large of an impact protein has on the entire human body.
In all fairness to it, protein is involved in nearly all of the biological processes that are key to survival and proper functioning, from the synthesis of enzymes, hormones, and proteins that make up most of the body’s solid matter (e.g. skin, eyes, bones); to giving cells their structure; to nutrient transporting and storage; to even acting as a source of energy (which we don’t want to happen!).
Broken down into amino acids from animal-based products (protein-rich foods and protein powder, less preferably), protein should be a part of any diet in order to supply the body with an adequate stream of essential and non-essential amino acids, which are necessary to keep the body in an anabolic (muscle-building) environment so muscle protein synthesis can occur — i.e. the body repairing itself and making bigger and stronger muscles in response to microtrauma from weight training.
The body’s primary source of fuel is carbs, which it breaks down into glucose and stores as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells. What’s unused as energy is stored in reserve as fat for the body’s future needs.
There are two kinds of carbs. Complex carbs (think bread, rice, pasta, beans, grains, and veggies) are long chain sugar molecules that are rich in fiber and consequently keep you feeling fuller longer. Complex carbs also provide you with long term energy due to their high fiber content causing them to digest much slower than simple carbs (think fruits, candy, table sugar, syrups, pastry, basically anything delicious), which are made of significantly less sugar molecules and quickly break down into the bloodstream for immediate energy.
A diet too high in carbs will lead to the excess stored as body fat. For some this isn’t a problem because they’ll just burn off the stored fat later. But for others who are sedentary or respond poorly to insulin — the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels and nutrient partitioning (i.e. telling nutrients where to go) — the fat gets stored in the hard to lose places around the abdominal organs (e.g. liver, pancreas, kidney), producing the dreaded “love handles” that give the person a beer belly or muffin top look.
A diet too low in carbs will have you draggin’ ass in the gym, meaning that you won’t have enough energy to push yourself hard during your training sessions — on top of that, you also won’t be able to go about your daily business without turning into a sourpuss because you have no energy to be that delightful puddin’ pop that everyone’s grown to know and love (or at least pretend to). Moreover, deprived of carbs to power itself and on account of the role that fat plays, the body is more likely to become catabolic. What does that word mean? It’s a fancy schmancy way of saying that the body breaks down lean tissue (muscle) for its fuel needs.
As was said above, unused glycogen is stored as fat for later use as energy. Other than just a power source, fat also offers protection for the inner organs and provides insulation. Almost everyone knows this about fat. What may be lost is that fat helps the body absorb vitamins and is essential for proper hormone and brain function. Fat also helps cushion the joints, which is important as you begin lifting heavier weight, something you HAVE to do in order to build that body fat burning doohickey called muscle. Dietary fat comes in different varieties, none of which I’m getting into here. Just know that fat is primarily found in meat, dairy, fish, nuts, and oils.
Eat too much fat and…you won’t get fat! Well, not necessarily. Fat doesn’t make you fat. But like eating too much of anything else, what you don’t burn off gets stored for future purposes as body fat.
As for a diet deficient in fat, a spate of issues arise. Hormone imbalances, insulin resistance, poor cognitive performance, heart problems, and mood disorders are just a few of the things brought on by inadequate fat consumption, explaining why the body isn’t too keen on letting go of it!
IV. Welp, There Goes Dinner!!
Dang, I go and tell you there’s no need to dine on Peruvian sheep bunghole just when you were getting ready to go to town on a shitload (again, do you see what I did there?).
I know how forward you were looking to it and waking up a brand new person!
I’m well known for dashing people’s dreams, so it’s par for the course that I ruin your hope of there existing a particular food that will help you get in the best shape of your life.
There isn’t a superfood or powerhouse fruit and vegetable on Earth that’ll help you achieve that alone. Maybe in a galaxy far, far away. But here on Earth? Nope!
Instead, what to eat to build muscle and lose fat is a diet covering all the macronutrients. And it should go without saying that your diet should be combined with a workout program, but it has to be said because people apparently don’t know this either.