In my last article, I briefly explained how muscle building happens. How we gain it. So, in this article, I would like to focus on another aspect of gaining muscle and losing fat, it’s the most important aspect, and if you fail to focus on it, not only will you not gain any results, but chances are you might lose what you did gain. That aspect is diet & nutrition that you supply your body with.
Let me first start with clearing up some things about fat loss. Starting with;
Weight loss ≠ Fat loss. They are two different things.
Weight loss can occur not just when the fat is burned, but also when you lose muscle, when you lose water, when you stop eating and not gain any mass, when you throw up, even while you‘re sick and your body can‘t, won‘t or don‘t get the necessary nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy weight, it can also be a genetic disorder where your body cannot process certain types of proteins, or vitamins, etc. Weight loss, despite what many think, is actually harmful to your health, your body weakens during weight loss, you lose physical strength, you become less active and get tired and fatigued more easily.
Fat loss on the other hand, is different, there’s another misconception about ‘fat loss’ and ‘fat burning’, many people think, that when we workout, we turn fat into muscle, well, I’m sorry, but that’s not accurate, not even close, fat does not ‘turn’ into muscle magically, nor does it build muscle in any way. Let me first start by stating what Fat burning is, fat burning is where fatty acids are used for fuel as opposed to glucose (sugar in the human body). During times of very low intensity workouts, the preferred fuel for energy, is fat.
How is fat metabolized?
Now where exactly does the fat go when we’re “burning” it? Well, here’s where a little chemistry and biology comes into play. Just bear with me here, okay? So, the process of fat burning is basically converting matter (fat) into energy. But that process isn’t as simple or direct as you might think. We cannot and do not convert matter into energy with a direct process, but via a biomechanical process.
Firstly, if you don’t already know, fat is stored in fat cells called adipocytes (lipocytes), they are mainly composed of the adipose tissue which is specialized in storing energy as fat in our body. The fat cells don’t go away. They aren’t moved somewhere to be burned, they stay where they are, i.e. thighs, arms, stomach, butt, on top of our muscles. Which is why, you can’t see the muscle definition in the areas where body fat is high.
Now, the fat stored inside the fat cells are stored in the form of triacylglycerol or TG or triglyceride. What is that? Well, when we consume carbohydrate or protein, the excess of it is converted to triglyceride and stored in the lipid droplets of adipocytes.
When the fat burning happens, it doesn’t happen in the fat cell itself. Instead, the contents of it need to be released from the cell, so when stimulated to do so, the triglyceride is released into the bloodstream as FFA’s (Free Fatty Acids) and are transported via the blood flow to the tissues where energy is required. So, when you talk about losing fat, you are simply talking about metabolizing the triglycerides stored in your adipocytes via this process.
The biology and chemistry of fat burning
Delving more into the process of ‘fat burning’, we will continue to see what actually happens on a cellular and chemical levels in our body.
For stored fat to be freed from the fat cell, lipolysis, splits the molecules of triaglycerol into glycerol and free fatty acids by hydrolysis. The enzyme called Hormone-Sensitive Lipase or HSL is responsible for this reaction. The stored content in the cells then get released into the bloodstream as FFA’s and they’re sent off to the muscles where energy is needed. The more the blood flow increases to the muscles that are being used, the more FFA’s are delivered to the ones that need them. Lipoprotein lipase, an important enzyme, plays a critical role in breaking down fat in the form of triglycerides, and then carrying them from the adipocytes into the bloodstream via the molecules called lipoproteins. It’s this enzyme that helps FFA’s get inside the mitochondria of the muscle cell, where they can be used for energy. When the FFA’s are released from the fat cell, the fat cell shrinks and you look leaner due to the loss of fat, it’s because the fat cell is now smaller.
Now, that was the metabolic process of fat, now, if you are aware of basic chemistry, you must know that metabolizing fat results in us left with carbon-dioxide, water and energy. When we breathe out, we exhale Carbon-dioxide, so, yes, you can actually lose fat by just breathing out, not as much as you’d think, but you do, and the rest of it is gotten rid via urine, sweat and feces and the energy is diverted to the muscles that are doing the work.
When a research was conducted on this process, the researchers followed the path of the released atoms. They found that when 10 kg of fat was oxidized, 8.4 kg was converted and exhaled as carbon dioxide via the lungs, and 1.6 kg of it became water.
So, now that you understand the biomechanical process of how fat is metabolized, we will move on to the term that’s used so often in this industry, but with so little understand of what it really is a ‘CALORIE’ and how it ties into ‘fat loss‘.
So, I’ll start with a bit of history of how the term ‘Calorie’ came to be. So, while searching on the topic of caloric intake, I came up on the history of how the term Calorie came to be and what it really is.
In case you’re not aware, a Calorie is not a physical thing that you can touch or taste but a unit of measurement. It’s a way to measure something’s ability to create heat. The term was introduced sometime between 1819 to 1824. A Calorie is basically the heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water from 0 to 1°C in our atmosphere. The term that was used to measure this before the ‘Calorie‘, was ‘Joules’ but the numbers it produced were too large and as a result, the term ‘Calorie’ was used to make it easier for calculations and conversions.
There are two different kinds of calories;
- Gram calorie – Which is written as ‘calorie’ with a small ‘c’ with symbol ‘cal’.
- Kilo calorie – Which is written as ‘Calorie’ with a capital ‘C’ with symbol ‘kcal’.
- 1 calorie = 4.184 joules
- 1 Calorie = 4184 joules
- 1 Calorie = 1000 calories
Now, you must’ve heard how there are these “low-calorie” foods, yes? Well, the thing about that is there is no low-calorie food technically, the Calories aren’t “removed” from them, it’s just that they are made out of different ingredients that create less heat. There are no foods that ‘cut’ calories, etc. The best way to do that is by voluntarily moving your body in a certain set of range of motions and using your muscles to move heavy stuff, otherwise known as ‘exercising’.
You need Calories, just like water, to create heat and energy to fuel your body. Just your involuntary body functions and doing your day-to-day work, use about 1000-2000 calories. Your voluntary movements, like exercising or walking to work/school, etc. burn over 2000 calories, depending the distance and your speed and your type of workouts etc. And of course, there’s eating, chewing, swallowing, digesting and metabolizing (breaking down the nutrients) your food itself can cause you to use calories.
Calories that our body doesn’t immediately use are kept into ‘storage’ for later use. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Without stored calories, we would die off, due to our body having nothing to fuel its functional needs. Calories are stored as either glycogen, as glucose, as tissue or as fat in the adipose tissue. Remember, every kind of food has calories. Your main goal for fat loss should be to consume low amount of calories compared to that which you’re using everyday and the best way to count calories is to count the amount of your Carbohydrates and Protein intake, and modify it based on whether you need to lose (down) or gain (up).
The reason you should avoid counting calories is because you will expend different amount of energy every day on different amount of work you do, as a result your caloric burn won’t be equal. But with a more balanced macronutrient (Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats – saturated, unsaturated) diet, you are going to burn more calories. On an additional note – Your Protein intake should be at least 1 gram per pound of body weight. Don’t get below 0.8gms per pound of your body weight.
Putting it all into action
Now that we’ve discussed the process of ‘fat burning’, muscle gaining via reparation and what calories actually are. In the final section of this article, I’ll be adding a mini-guide on how to form a diet plan and add some exercises you can do to help you gain muscle, lose fat and improve your overall performance.
The most important part of your training is what you eat. Without a proper diet plan, all your efforts will go to waste and you won’t get the desired results.
So, to begin, if you have heard something along the lines of ‘Eat when you are hungry and don’t eat when you are full’, well, that’s far from being accurate as proper eating, takes proper preparation.
Step 1 is to figure out the amount of protein you need per day according to your body weight.
Step 2 is dividing the total amount of protein intake by the number of meals you consume throughout the whole day. For example, in my case, being 143 lbs or 65kgs, my protein intake (for muscle gain) is around 180gms and if it‘s just to maintain my current body type, it‘s around 160-165gms (max), which I am going for right now. Now, I eat three times a day and I consume around 50-55gms of protein per meal according to my schedule. You can also divide your meals into six parts; Breakfast, Post-workout, Lunch, Snacks, Dinner, Pre-bed snack. Remember to calculate your protein intake based on how much work you do (your energy expenditure) and your body-weight.
Step 3 is avoiding food with lots of saturated fats.
Step 4 is adding complex carbohydrates for morning meals or meals before workouts, they will help fuel your body for your daily routine or your workout. Simple Carbohydrates are recommended for post workout meals, for an insulin spike to get the protein into your fatigued muscles. Servings of Carbohydrates can vary in different individuals, so adjust the amount of carbohydrates intake according to what you feel is needed, start out with more and cut as much as needed.
Best sources for protein
1- Protein shakes – Whey, casein, egg and soy are different options for protein shakes. Each has its benefits. Whey is the fastest to absorbed and Soy is the hardest. Make sure you choose the one you find delicious, if you don‘t like it, you won‘t drink it.
2 – Eggs – I eat them raw or hardboiled most of the times, but they can be cooked many ways, scrambled, fried, soft-boiled, baked, etc. etc. But be careful about which oil you use, since oil is a fat.
3 – Chicken and Turkey – Breast piece is leaner than the rest of the parts, and is high in protein.
4 – Red Meat.
5 – Fish – Cold water fish are leaner than warm water fishes.
6 – Soy – For vegetarians. Almost zero fat, and high in protein.
Additional Notes –
- Never eat carbohydrates alone, always make sure to include Protein as well.
- Avoid eating anything around 3 hrs before going to bed.
Finally, I’m including 12 workouts from each type; Weight training and Bodyweight workouts, that you can do to focus on all your major muscle groups.
- Bench-press – Reps depend on the weight and how much you are benching. Make sure to have proper form, or you will injure yourself.
- Dumbbell curls
- Landmine press
- Barbell back and front squat
- Deadlift – Make sure to learn proper form first, or you will throw out your back and possibly injure it for a long term.
- Dumbbell Wide to close press
- Shoulder press
- Dumbbell stepping lunge
- Russian Twists
- Barbell Ab rollout
- Diamond Push-ups – 30-40 reps in a set ; 10 for beginners
- Spider-man push-ups – 25-30 reps in a set ; 7-10 for beginners
- Military push-ups – 50-60 reps in a set ; 20 for beginners
- Prisoner Squats – 30-40 reps in a set ; 15-20 for beginners
- Regular Squat – 50-60 reps in a set ; 20-30 for beginners
- Tricep Dips – 25-30 reps in a set ; 10-12-15 for beginners
- Walking lunges – 40-50 steps ; 15-20 steps for beginners
- Burpees – 15 reps in a set or do as many as you can within 60 seconds ; 8-10 reps for beginners.
- Plank hold – Minimum 2 minutes per set ; 60 seconds for beginners.
- One-sided plank hold – Minimum 1min 15-30 seconds per set ; 45-60seconds for beginners.
- Double crunches (a combination of leg pull-ins and crunches)
- Flutter kicks
Some things to keep in mind;
- Working out at least 4 times a week will give you good, visible results, provided you eat right.
- Make sure to have rest days to repair your muscle fatigue.
- Rest days usually have some sort of light to moderate stretching or light cardio exercises that don’t focus much on the muscles you work on your primary exercise days.
- Try and combine weight training and bodyweight workouts in every session for best results.
- Stretch before using weights and use a foam roller (if available), after workouts (with proper form).
That’s it and remember, you’re your own no.1 motivator. As long as you put in the efforts, you will see the results. Be patient and be consistent.
I’ll end this article here. I’ve tried my best to put as much info as possible, which is why it took me more time that I thought, to publish it. It’s not everything, but it’s more than enough to help you get going.
If you read all of it and made it to the end, then it’s really awesome and I hope you found the article informative and liked it, please feel free to share it with anyone you think would benefit from it.
As always, Thank you for reading 🙂