Get lean or lose weight? Which do you choose?

I recently completed a webinar put on by Dietitian Central, a website that is certified to offer continuing education units for registered dietitians. Because I love sports nutrition, I’ve purchased credits to participate in the webinars of my choice. I don’t need anymore CEUs to renew my registration come 2018 as I’ve collected many over the last 4 years, but I enjoy learning and engaging my brain.

This webinar was conducted by Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, an RD practicing in the Dallas Ft. Worth area and although we don’t have to complete a test or questions at the end of the webinars, I always like to take notes.

Here are some of the take aways from this webinar. A lot of it is info I’m familiar with, but it never hurts to take these courses, and of course, I do learn new information.

So many of the clients I’ve worked with over the years have been for general weight loss. Athletes have different requirements, but anyone looking to lose body fat or change up their body composition can benefit from this information.

Our bodies are made up of four main components when looking at what makes up our weight: lean body mass, fat mass, water, and bones. A common goal of not only athletes, but many average gym goers, is to gain muscle and lose body fat. If your goal is simply to “lose weight,” can you be more specific? Do you want to lose body fat, or do you want to lose overall body mass (both fat and lean body mass, LBM)?

Would you rather have 5 pounds of muscle or 5 pounds of fat? Muscle makes up lean body mass.

A great way to know what our body composition looks like is to do a DXA scan or jump into a bodpod, but that’s not always accessible to most people. If your gym has an in body analysis device, you can use it, but always ensure to use the same machine at the same gym as there is variance between machines. While they are not 100% accurate, you can use your first reading as a baseline and go from there to monitor results.

Here’s a chart to see where you stand if you’re able to analyze your body composition:

Female Male
Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-25%
Obese 32%+ 25%+

As you can tell, I took this photo from somewhere else!

Athletes have more to factor in when considering diet and meal plans. They typically need to consume more calories than the average gym goer and often their particular sport will dictate what types and how much food should be eaten. If you’re an athlete, you may have a difficult time getting in all the calories you need and if you’re in the leaning out phase, restricting energy, losing weight can be difficult. Actually, losing weight can be difficult for anybody! When we restrict energy, our drive to eat is stronger. More ghrelin, a hormone that signals hunger, is produced. When more ghrelin is produced, people may eat more, leading to weight gain, the opposite of the intended goal, weight loss. A common issue or reason for people to not stay within a calorie restricted diet necessary for weight loss is because they feel hungry. If this happens to you, there are some measures you can take. Ensure you’re getting adequate fiber in the diet. Fiber leads to a feeling of fullness and slows digestion. Some low calorie sources of fiber are in low carb vegetables. Adding some greens is a great way to not only get fiber, but other vital vitamins and minerals, so feel free to get some in with every meal. Another trick is to ensure adequate protein at mealtime and with snacks. It also digests slowly and has proven benefits when consumed over the course of a day.
On the flip side, leptin is the hormone that signal fullness. Eat slowly and pay attention to these cues to prevent over eating.
When it comes to energy expenditure, or simply, burning calories, there are four components.
RMR: Resting Metabolic Rate- the rate at which the body burns calories to sustain life. This is what you’d burn in a given day doing nothing. It costs calories to think and breathe. Our organs also burn a lot of calories.
TEF: Thermic effect of food: Eating food burns calories, but only to an extent. It comprises about 10% of calories burned per day and some foods burn more than others. Protein burns the most calories during digestion, about 30%, because of it’s complex process of metabolism. Carbohydrates about 5-10%, and fats, about 0-5%. To clarify, I looked this up on line and found a more specific breakdown for an example on bodybuilding.com actually, but it makes sense. The author writes, “If you eat 200 calories of protein, your body will use between 40-70 of them in digestion.” In that example, those numbers fall within that approximate 30% range.
EEE: Exercise Energy Expenditure: This accounts for how many calories are burned during exercise. This is the most variable component. The more we exercise, the more calories we burn.
NEAT: Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis: Energy expended through typically uncalculated movements and activity throughout the day. This can include walking up and down stairs, getting up to get something, even body posture contributes. Some people may expend more it they fidget often, tap their toe, bounce a leg, etc.

Something to think about: as we age, our RMR slows. Females can experience a 2% decline per decade and males, 3%.

Of the four components mentioned above, EEE is the most variable and depends on frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise. Furthermore, high intensity exercises will increase the amount of calories burned over the course of the day via EPOC, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. According to ACE, the American Council on Exercise, “EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function.” This process requires additional energy so the more intense your workout, the more calories you’ll burn in a day. (But you don’t need to do high intensity workouts every day, allow the body time to recover).

So, what’s the best way to change your body composition? Do you want to lose weight? Add lean muscle mass? First, determine how many calories you need by figuring out your RMR and basic activity level. I shared a link in another post about this very subject, refer back to it here:
If you want to lose weight, subtract about 400-500 calories, but to start, don’t take in less than 1,500 per day (women). If you hit a plateau in the future, you’ll need something to manipulate, and calories are one of those things. Also, it’s difficult to get all the nutrients you need on a lower calorie diet. If you want to gain body mass, eat a few more hundred calories per day and lift weights. Look at how much protein you need. A good calculation is 1.5 g/kg body weight (one kg=2.2 pounds). Ensure you distribute your protein intake over the course of the day. You also need fat and carbohydrates, but this ratio is better chosen with goals and preferences in mind. Carbohydrates provide energy and can fuel an athlete for optimal performance. Fat can play a tasty roll in a low carbohydrate diet, but that route is not for everyone. Either way, make sure fat comprises at least 20% of the calories in your diet. With a standard 2,000 calorie diet, if minimum fat intake is 20%, then 200 calories, or 22 g of fat would be a guideline and I’d even say that’s a bit low (but I’m an avocado and peanut butter lover, so I need my fats)!

PB and Avocado

A few tips for weight loss: eat small meals frequently, don’t skip meals, (not eating enough calories is not the optimal route to weight loss), after exercise, ensure you have a snack that contains both carbohydrates and protein to replenish glycogen and aid in muscle repair. Avoid refined carbohydrates, fried foods, and alcohol and also watch beverage intake. Drinks can be a source of added calories.

A few tips for weight gain: increase calories, eat small meals over the course of the day, make sure you eat breakfast, add some high calorie foods such as 2% milk, nut butters, high calorie protein supplements, have a pre and post workout snack, and you can even have something mid-workout to fuel you even more. Have a high calorie meal or shake before bed (I prefer casein shakes) and make sure you get quality calories!

Whatever your goals may be, whether it’s adding lean body mass, losing body fat, or training for optimal performance, you can achieve them. Monitor your workouts, calories in and out, and make sure to rest and recover!

Author: Tiffany Batsakis

Registered Dietitian
Fitness Fanatic
World Traveler
Food Lover
Weimaraner Owner

2 thoughts on “Get lean or lose weight? Which do you choose?”

  1. Thank you Tiffany. What is a good carb/protein snack that I can have after my workout? Something easy that I can take with me and have in the car? I’ve noticed that I’m not eating until a good 45 minutes or so after.

    1. Sorry for the late reply! You know some of my favorite options are Greek yogurt, a protein shake blended with a banana, or even a protein cookie from the Protein cookie Comoany. (They are available at HEB now)!

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