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On the diet side, restricting your energy or calorie intake is a must. You can't get around it and there are very few tricks or secrets, as even crazy diets like the Lemonade diet or Peanut Butter diet are based upon the premise of restricting your energy intake. But there is a catch. Restricting your calories to a significant degree can wreak havoc on your muscle mass and eventually negatively impact your metabolic rate as well as your ability to recover from the stress of the exercise program you are following.
The Dietary Implications of Muscle Loss
Research studies routinely indicate that 25% or more of the total weight loss during some form of energy restriction comes from muscle mass (Weinheimer, Sands et al. 2010). As highlighted above, this loss of muscle has been shown to negatively impact further weight loss (you plateau with your weight loss) and can compromise your efforts to maintain your weight after you stop following the diet regimen.
Much attention and focus has been directed towards the difficulty this creates for an obese person trying to lose some weight, but the problems which result from restricting calories and losing muscle while you are following this kind of program are equally concerning for an active, exercising person such as an athlete or bodybuilder. Not only will losing muscle as a result of restricting your energy intake leave you tired, but the inevitable loss of muscle will limit the gains you make as a result of training and can decrease performance and increase susceptibility to injury (Johnson, Friedl et al. 1994; Tharion, Lieberman et al. 2005; Artioli, Gualano et al. 2010). Call this an unhappy triad of outcomes due to energy restriction for performance-minded folks.
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The RDA for protein intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass each day and several studies indicate that higher intakes of protein can be helpful to limit the loss of fat-free mass. But researchers, nutritionists, dietitians and health care practitioners all debate over how much protein is needed. For starters, many research studies have reported that nearly doubling the RDA for protein intake at a dose of 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day was effective at limiting the loss of muscle while dieting. For a man weighing 170 – 200 pounds, this equates to 116 – 137 grams of protein each day. If you break that up across four to five meals each day, each meal should contain somewhere around 25 - 32 grams of protein. This dose is practical as well as it equates to approximately three eggs, one scoop of a high-quality whey protein isolate like ProSource's NytroWhey Ultra Elite, one scoop of ProSource's Vectron with added leucine, or a 4 oz. piece of lean chicken, pork, or beef.
While we're on the subject of protein supplements, it should be noted that not all protein sources are created equal. Of particular interest in this category is ProSource's unique physique-enhancing protein Vectron. Vectron contains Prolibra, an advanced weight management system clinically proven to help improve the ratio of lean mass to fat. That's an ambitious claim, so I'll let the science speak for itself. In an independent, randomized, double-blind, 12-week clinical trial published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, test subjects showed significant improvements in the ratio of lean mass to fat while taking 24.4 grams of Prolibra per day compared to a control group taking an isocaloric placebo. The subjects taking Prolibra retained twice as much lean muscle with 79% fat-loss compared to the control group at 51% fat loss. No other protein complex has been clinically proven to achieve this type of body composition improvement in a 12-week period. The Prolibra group also lost 6.1% fat.
NytroWhey Ultra Elite, with it's advanced Ultra Anabolic Protein Matrix composed of a premium-grade CFM whey isolate, as well as a rapid-action whey protein isolate, would also be a good choice for increasing your protein intake. NytroWhey Ultra Elite contains a unique leucine-bound leucine peptide complex (LBLP) designed to switch on anabolism when ingested. NytroWhey Ultra Elite boasts up to 4 times the leucine content of other premium whey protein products.
A Landmark Study Points the Way to
Emphasizing fat Loss Over Muscle Loss
Thus, it seems that diets with a higher protein intake do seem to do a better job of minimizing muscle loss while also stimulating just as much weight loss as other diet groups. Less information, however, is available to tell us more about how our muscle tissue responds to a situation where energy intake is restricted but more protein is delivered in the diet. A recent study published in FASEB Journal (The Official Publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) sought to determine some of these changes and they used 39 healthy military professionals as participants in their study (Pasiakos, Cao et al. 2013).
The study itself lasted around four weeks and the first seven days were considered a weight maintenance period. During the remaining 21 days, all participants were assigned to consumed a diet that provided the same amount of protein required by the RDA (0.8 grams per kg body mass), another group ingested two times the RDA (1.6 grams per kg body mass) and a third and final group ingested three times the RDA (2.4 grams per kg body mass). With their protein intake controlled at different levels, all participants were required to ingest approximately 30% less calories than their estimated daily needs. In other words, active, healthy, military personnel followed diet that restricted their calorie needs by 30% and ingested either 1x, 2x or 3x the RDA for protein intake.
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To compare the weight loss results side by side you can see that when greater protein was ingested, more fat and less muscle was lost as a result of dieting, exercise and energy restriction. Remember all groups lost around seven pounds, but the following changes happened (Pasiakos, Cao et al. 2013):
- 1x RDA: 58% of the weight lost was from fat-free mass, 42% from fat
- 2x RDA: 30% of the weight lost was from fat-free mass, 70% from fat
- 3x RDA: 36% of the weight lost was from fat-free mass, 64% from fat
A few additional points should be made. For starters, the amount of fat lost was NOT different between the 2x and 3x the RDA groups, but they BOTH lost significantly greater fat when compared to 1x RDA. Put another way, elevated protein intake to 2x the RDA appears to be important, but little to no additional improvements are seen when protein intake is further increased to 3x the RDA.
Protein is Your Dietary Best Friend When It Comes to Losing Fat and Supporting Muscle
The walk-away message from this is important. First, losing fat without losing muscle is very difficult. To lose weight, energy must be restricted from the body, but these losses oftentimes consist of a combination of both fat and muscle tissue. Second, increasing protein intake to a level where it doubles the RDA appears to be the most effective at stimulating losses of both fat and muscle. Certainly, food should be at the center of these dietary changes, but adding high-quality protein supplements like NytroWhey Ultra Elite and Vectron to deliver added amounts of leucine can work as well.
Artioli, G. G., B. Gualano, et al. (2010). "Prevalence, magnitude, and methods of rapid weight loss among judo competitors." Med Sci Sports Exerc 42(3): 436-442.
Johnson, M. J., K. E. Friedl, et al. (1994). "Loss of muscle mass is poorly reflected in grip strength performance in healthy young men." Med Sci Sports Exerc 26(2): 235-240.
Pasiakos, S. M., J. J. Cao, et al. (2013). "Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial." FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Tharion, W. J., H. R. Lieberman, et al. (2005). "Energy requirements of military personnel." Appetite 44(1): 47-65.
Weinheimer, E. M., L. P. Sands, et al. (2010). "A systematic review of the separate and combined effects of energy restriction and exercise on fat-free mass in middle-aged and older adults: implications for sarcopenic obesity." Nutr Rev 68(7): 375-388.
What's the worst physical impact you experience when dieting? Lack of energy? Decreased focus and attention span? Inability to convert workout efforts into muscle gain? Something else? Let us know in the comments section!