Everyone these days seem to want the same thing. A tight, toned body, where you have “arms”. “I want to have arms, Erik!!”. I hear this all the time, especially from the ladies who train with me. However, at the same time, they want to see the number on the scale go down. Is this even possible? Is it possible to “lose weight” while simultaneously putting on lean muscle and getting those toned arms your after? Well, yes and no. Lets break down some science first.
We all have something called metabolism. Metabolism, by definition, is the chemical processes involved to keep you alive and your body functioning at its full capacity. Some people have a faster metabolism then others and there are a ton of factors that go into our metabolisms. Age, gender, overall body size, external environmental temperatures, daily and physical activity and lean muscle mass. This last one is what we will be discussing today. The greater your lean muscle mass, the more calories you will burn or the higher your metabolism will be. #BOOM! Muscle is more metabolically active and burns more calories than fat. Contrary to popular belief, exercise isn’t where you burn most of your daily calorie expenditure. MOST of the calories we burn is actually at rest or our RMR (resting metabolic rate). Research has shown that the greater the lean mass you have, the higher your RMR. Effectively meaning that you are burning more calories at rest because of the energy demand muscle tissue has. So How do we accomplish gaining new shiny muscles to show off this summer and start burning more calories!?!?!? Strength Training!
In order for muscle growth to occur, which is what we need for those toned arms, we have to BUILD muscle. This is called hypertrophy. My friend Todd (better be reading this) loves it when I toss this word around. In order for muscular hypertrophy to occur, we have to have 3 things: 1) Mechanical tension (weight or external load) 2) Metabolic Stress 3) Tissue damage (Microfiber tears in the muscle). Without these 3 things, coupled with the foundational principles of strength training (overload, progression, specificity, variability) you WILL NOT see results. Period. You can’t keep using the same 8lb weights every week and expect to see results. In order to effectively accomplish this, I would keep a log of your workouts. Right the weights down used after each session. Make sure that you don’t use the same weights or complete the same rep ranges week in and week out. Change up the exercise selection as well. For 2-4 weeks, use a barbell perhaps for your bench press, load just a bit more each week and change your rep ranges. The 4th or 5th week, change your exercise selection to a DB Press. This adds progression in a few different ways, engaging stability muscles and challenging the neuromuscular system a bit more. This is just one example out of a hundred and for more specifics on that you can always reach out directly.
Lean and Green Baby
Now we have talked about strength training and how it relates to losing fat and burning calories, I thought I would save the best and most important for last. Nutrition! We all know that for WEIGHT LOSS to occur, we must be in a calorie deficit. Right? Meaning we must burn more calories than we consume. So how do we lose weight without sacrificing those tight toned arms? Well first, stop focusing on the scale. Fat loss is not the same as general weight loss and that is what we want to focus on. Not only for that mirror we look into every morning, but for our overall health. Lowering our excess adipose tissue is really what is going to be a marker for better health and of course, the less fat you have on your body, the better you’re going to look in that bathing suit this summer (man or woman). Our bodies are going through a constant state of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) and Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB). What we want to avoid is having more of the latter which can easily occur when we starve ourselves of the proper ratio of macronutrients (calories) when we are trying to lose weight. Protein is going to be our savior of muscle tissue! Current protein intake recommendations for individuals involved in fitness programs are 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, so individual needs are going to vary. However, the LAST thing I want you to do is to start counting macros. That’s not my style. (not saying that it doesn’t work). The average person just needs to start focusing on a few select things and you will be able to accomplish those goals!
1) Eat less refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Most of our fat gain (up to 90%) comes not from our dietary intake of fat but from excess consumption of carbohydrates, a process known as lipogenesis. Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient to sustain life, like you know, brain function and things like that. MOST individuals don’t need more then 150 grams a day, which is the current recommendation.
2) Eat some form of protein with every single meal. Referring back to MPS and MPB (above) we want to have MORE MPS to sustain our lean mass. Amino acids are the building blocks of our muscles and those are carried in the foods we consume that contain protein. Without it, we can not sustain or gain new lean muscle. Which, as we previously discussed promotes calorie burn and fat loss.
3) When eating at a deficit, keep it minimal. Focus on trying to stay within a deficit of 250-300 calories a day. This is a sustainable deficit and will not have a negative impact on your metabolic set point. Some of these “Diets” out there have you at such extreme deficits that it can permanently alter your metabolism, in a catastrophic way. Anyone heard of the lawsuits from the biggest loser? Yeah, that’s a real thing.
4) Recovery. When lifting weights, you’re actually breaking down the muscle tissue, so giving your body the adequate rest and recovery to build itself back up is imperative. Don’t fall into the mindset of having to crush yourself every day. Strength training 3x week is plenty.
So, what are the main takeaways here?
- Strength Train 3x week
- Eat more protein
- Eat less refined carbohydrates
- Keep your calorie deficit at a sustainable number
- Recovery is key
Focusing on these 5 things will assist you in gaining new, lean, toned muscle and losing bodyfat. For more information or to sit down and discuss individual fitness and nutrition needs reach out to:
Erik Schreiber-CES, PES, CNC, CSCS