You’re hitting the gym, loading up on protein, and patiently waiting for your hard work to pay off. If you’re trying to lose weight and gain muscle simultaneously, Canadian scientists say they’ve discovered the quickest way for men to get results.
That is, if you’re willing to go through their rigorous fitness plan.
In a new study, McMaster University researchers suggest they’ve figured out how to strike the perfect balance between shedding body fat while gaining muscle mass. It worked in 40 university-aged men who were willing to cut back on calories and work out nearly daily, at least.
“The important point to realize is they’re going on this simultaneously. A lot of people will say you can’t have one and the other. The answer is you can, but it’s very difficult if you want to change your body composition,” said lead researcher Dr. Stuart Phillips, a McMaster professor in kinesiology and Canada Research Chair in skeletal muscle health.
“These guys were in rough shape but that was part of the plan. We wanted to see how quickly we could get them into shape: lose some fat, but still retain their muscle and improve their strength and fitness,” he said.
Gaining muscle while losing weight isn’t easy – the doctors say, typically, men put on weight, convert it to muscle and then attempt to shed the body fat.
In other instances, they lose muscle mass in the process of getting to their goal weight.
In this case, the Hamilton, Ont.-based doctors recruited 40 men. They were about 220 pounds, on average, with 25 per cent body fat, and “recreationally active,” which meant that they had experience with weight lifting and working out but exercise wasn’t a major priority in their lives at the start of the study.
(With 25 per cent body fat, the group was considered obese, according to body mass index, according to Phillips.)
The group went through a gruelling “boot camp” diet and exercise regime for four weeks: they had to shave off 40 per cent of their normal caloric intake while working out six times a week.
Their meals were provided by a delivery service – a mixture of fresh fruit, vegetables, protein and carbohydrates. Half the group was fed 240 grams of protein per day – about three times what’s currently recommended – while their counterparts had only half as much.
The protein was distributed through whey protein shakes.
“These were big guys so normally their daily intake is about 4,000 calories a day,” Phillips said. For the month-long plan, they were only eating about 2,200 to 2,300 calories.
The study participants also had to work out six times a week – weight training three times a week, followed by sprint intervals and time trials on a stationary bike and circuit training, such as push ups, jumping jacks and burpees.
“I’ll admit, at the end of four weeks, pretty much all of them were fed up with what we put them through. It was gruelling but intentionally made that way,” Phillips said.
“Weight loss is tough because being hungry is not pleasant at all. These guys, at the end of the four weeks, all they discussed, all they talked about was food,” he told Global News.
The results were positive, though. The group on a high protein diet lost 10.5 pounds of fat and gained 2.5 pounds of muscle. The low protein group, on the other hand, managed to only preserve their muscle mass, but lost seven pounds of fat.
Overall, the group lost about 12 to 15 pounds in total when factoring in water weight. They came out “stronger, fitter, and generally were in much better shape.”
The findings replicate similar results in separate studies on pre-menopausal women and in young women who followed similar regimes.
Can Canadians follow the routine at home to garner the same results, too?
“It’s doable. Like anything else, if you have the fortitude, you can try it. Look at the protocol we put these guys through, it’s pretty gruelling,” Phillips said.
The tough part is maintaining the results. Phillips said his team didn’t follow up with the group, but he plans to conduct lengthier studies that include a maintenance phase that’ll help the group transition.
The Canadian study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Read the full findings.