No matter what type of weight loss program you do, there’s one primary principle that must be embraced for it to work; you must take in less calories than what you burn. The fact is dieting is a type of controlled starving. Increasing the amount of demand (exercise) while giving it less fuel so it has to rely on its own fat stores as energy results in losing weight. However unfortunately, there’s much more to it than just giving the body less calories. It’s true, eating less calories may help you drop pounds, but what kind of pounds? Losing weight makes you smaller and this is a good thing for most dieters. However when they start out with the goal of dropping pounds, most dieters envision themselves and hope to become smaller and tighter with more muscular tone, not just a smaller fat person. The ultimate goal of a successful diet program is to shed only pounds of body fat, without losing a single pound of muscle. This will make a person not only smaller, but more fit and healthier.
The only way to do this is to set up a diet program with much more attention to detail than just a reduction of calories. The secret to only losing body fat during a weight loss program and ending up more tone and fit is protein. If you don’t eat enough protein while on a low calorie diet, your body will not only burn fat but it will also use protein as an energy source. While fat stores are obviously found in body fat, protein is stored in the skeletal and smooth muscles. This means if you don’t eat enough protein on a reduced calorie diet, you will burn up your muscles. Besides becoming physically weaker, this causes many problems. In regards to movement and body function, fat cells are merely energy storehouses and internal cushions for your organs. They take very little to no energy to maintain themselves (as they practically do nothing). Muscle cells on the other hand are what causes action in the body. They are responsible for all your movements and physical activities as well as internal processes like moving food through the gut (digestion) and your heart beating. Muscles take significantly more energy to work.
A person with more muscle than fat burns more calories at rest than a person with more fat than muscle. In regards to this, you can say the body’s metabolism is housed within its muscular system. Weight loss diets that don’t provide adequate daily protein often cause a loss of muscle leaving the dieter with less than he started with. With less muscle at the end of a weight loss program, you have effectively damaged/lessened the metabolism, leaving it slower than when you first started. With an even slower metabolism, weight gain comes on easier and is then even more difficult to get off. This is the basis for the common scenario of ‘yo-yo dieting’ and why so many people with good intentions to become lighter and healthier end up fatter and discouraged. The answer is to set your program up around eating the correct amount of protein. While eating less calories than what you burn is still a primary principle for weight loss, the most important aspect to keep your diet healthy is eating the correct amount of protein.
This will not be the same in all people and why cookie-cutter programs are not good to follow. People have different body types, different activity levels and different amounts of muscle. When you hear your friend lost a bunch of weight on a certain program, it’s tempting to try what they’re doing in hopes you’ll get the same result. However this is not smart without first making sure the amount of protein intake will also be the right amount for your body too. If you don’t do this, don’t expect the same results your friend got. This is a major flaw in many cookie cutter diet programs like Weight Watchers, Nutri-system and other popular fad systems. Most of these programs have many good points and help a lot of people, however they are ultimately flawed because they are simply a reduction of calories and not individualized for a person’s specific needs.
Figuring out the correct amount of protein to eat on your diet is not a difficult process but requires a little leg work before starting your program. The first step is calculating your lean body mass. Lean body mass is your body’s weight minus all body fat; this number tells you how much muscle you have. A good rule of thumb to follow for most weight loss diets is to eat 1.0 gram of protein/pound of lean body mass and add 10-20 grams. This is the minimum amount to eat per day so you don’t lose muscle mass on your diet. Depending on the amount of activity a person does and how accurate their lean body mass measurement is, this number may still not be enough but is a good place to start. For example, if your lean body mass is 150 lbs., plan to eat 160-170 grams of protein/day. This is more support for the reason to eat a number of small meals throughout the day. The average person (depending on activity levels, metabolism and LBM) can only reasonably digest 30-50 grams of protein in a sitting. So if you have to eat 160 grams/protein every day, divide this amount into 4-5 meals and you should eat 35-40 grams protein per meal.
To figure your body’s lean mass, you will first need to calculate your body fat percentage. Divide the percentage by 100 and multiply the number times your current body weight. This will give you how many pounds of fat you currently have on your frame. Subtract this amount from your current body weight and this will give you your lean body mass. There are several means to calculate body fat percentage and all have some controversy regarding accuracy. What matters most however with this measurement is consistency and establishing a useable starting point. In other words as long as you use the same method (and same parameters) to measure body fat throughout your program, the result will be good. Body fat percentage measurements that are pin-point accurate are unnecessary for a weight loss program to be successful and the means of which are unavailable to most people. For the most accurate results, it will be important to re-measure body fat percentage at various points during a program to make sure your program is working. This is the only real way to determine if you’re truly losing only fat and not muscle.
The easiest way to measure body fat percentage is by either calipers or a good body fat scale. Body fat calipers are not difficult to use however and most come with a short manual about how to properly take the reading. Some calipers are more accurate than others but require another person that knows how to use them. This can be the trainer at the gym, a doctor or even your workout partner. For more regular monitoring of your progress, a body fat scale provides probably the easiest access. These are available for fairly cheap prices with models ranging from professional quality versions used to weigh in athletes for official events to bathroom scales. Body fat scales use electrical impedance to electronically calculate your percentage on a digital readout. This requires stepping onto the scale with bare feet so a tiny, imperceptible current that runs through your legs. As muscle conducts differently than fat, the scale will make an estimate as to your body composition and give you a percentage. Comparatively, calipers are better to show fat loss changes in different areas of the body while the scale is really only reading the composition of your lower body.
Make maintaining/gaining muscle while losing body fat the main goal of your weight loss program and you will have both short and long term success. Start your next nutrition program with a body fat/composition measurement so you know your lean body mass. This way you will know how much protein to eat and can avoid losing muscle. I’m Dan Levesque, owner/operator of we are an online store that sells mma equipment, wrestling gear and weight management supplies for combat athletes. I have been a sports chiropractor and professional power lifter for more than 20 years and now act as a nutritional counselor and strength coach for several high school and college wrestling teams. For a great selection of body fat scales and other very accurate electronic digital scales used to weigh athletes for professional or amateur events, check out our website. If you have questions about how much protein to eat on a program or any other weight loss concerns, please feel free to contact us through our online store.