Lean Life Hacks

Want to get — and maintain — a lean physique? These three science-backed life hacks will help you reach your goals.

By Dwayne N. Jackson, PhD | February 23, 2017

For most of us, the fitness lifestyle is a means to feeling great, living longer and looking fantastic. One of the best ways to achieve these life milestones is to stay lean and muscular all year long. Unfortunately, for many, being lean and muscular is a fleeting condition that is reserved for a few months in the summer.

The best assurance for a successful and lifelong body transformation is to make permanent (healthy) changes to your diet, modify your daily bad habits, participate in daily vigorous exercise and use key supplements aimed at supporting your transformation goals. 

In this article we present three science-based life hacks — and their supporting supplements — geared toward helping you achieve and maintain a lean and muscular physique for life.

Lean Life Hack #1: Sleep Well

The importance of sleep in health and fitness cannot be overstated. During slow wave (deep) sleep the body releases an abundance of growth hormone, which repairs and builds lean mass while promoting fat loss. While sleep-deprivation can blunt GH release and negatively impact your physique, recent evidence illustrates that sleep quality also impacts hormones associated with hunger and satiety (the feeling of fullness), especially when dieting. 

According to the data, sleep deprivation when dieting dysregulates the release of peptide hormones ghrelin and glucagon-like peptide 1 in the gut. As such, sleep-deprived men tend to have higher levels of ghrelin (a peptide that makes you feel hungry) in the morning than women. In contrast, sleep-deprived women tend to have lower levels of GLP-1 (a peptide that makes you feel full) in the afternoon. 

The take-home message: If you are dieting, maintain a normal sleep schedule of eight to 10 hours per night and you will find it easier to eat less.

Melatonin

Melatonin is an endogenous compound that’s synthesized by the pineal gland and is traditionally used as a supplement to effectively facilitate sleep. However, research from scientists at Baylor University (Waco, Texas) has shown that melatonin not only induces deep sleep, but also dramatically increases GH secretion. Furthermore, the effects of melatonin on GH secretion are even greater after training. 

Melatonin’s sleep-inducing and GH-releasing properties make it the perfect bedtime supplement for athletes looking to get lean and stay lean.

Dosage: Studies have shown that doses in the range of 1 to 5 milligrams work best, with the latter promoting the greatest GH release.

Mucuna Pruriens

Mucuna pruriens has been shown to enhance the nighttime release of growth hormone.

M. pruriens comes from an ancient Indian herb called velvet bean, which when ingested has been shown in many published investigations to elevate L-dopa (the precursor to dopamine). Several studies have illustrated the remarkable effects of M. pruriens on dopamine release in healthy and diseased people. Dopamine is a key player in the signaling for GH release by inhibiting hypothalamic somatostatin secretion, which leads to greater release of GH by the pituitary gland.

Dosage: To support your nocturnal GH surge take approximately 2,000 milligrams of high-quality M. pruriens (standardized to 15 percent L-dopa) immediately before going to bed.

Lean Life Hack #2: Consume an Abundance of Protein

Most protein recommendations are based on anecdotal evidence, so some dietitians and physicians question the efficacy of eating ultrahigh amounts of protein while trying to lose fat. However, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise tells us that resistance-trained athletes should consume at least 2.3 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day in an effort to preserve lean mass while dieting and training.

Whey Protein Isolate 

Whey protein isolate ingestion promotes a rapid and robust flood of amino acids into the bloodstream. The physique-enhancing benefits of whey protein are highlighted in a clinical trial published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, in which subjects who took a whey protein supplement while undergoing a calorie-reduced diet retained twice as much lean mass and burned off nearly twice as much fat mass as the control group (with the same diet). As well, it has been shown in other research that drinking a whey protein shake before a meal stimulates post-meal hormones that control satiety and regulate blood-sugar levels.

Dosage: For a daytime protein boost, mix 10 to 20 grams of whey protein isolate or a whey protein blend with 8 ounces of water and drink it 20 to 30 minutes prior to breakfast and dinner.

Micellar Casein 

In contrast to whey protein supplements, ingestion of micellar casein promotes a modest, slow and sustained (approximately 7 hours) elevation in blood amino-acid levels. 

This unique feature of casein contributes to an increase in protein synthesis and a marked (approximately 34 percent) decrease in muscle breakdown. These properties make micellar casein especially useful prior to bedtime and during periods when frequent protein consumption isn’t possible.

Dosage: For a sustained nocturnal protein boost, consume 40 to 50 grams of high-quality micellar casein protein 30 minutes before bedtime.

Lean Life Hack #3: Maximize Metabolism

When it comes to lifelong fitness, keeping your metabolism elevated is imperative. In addition to our suggestion that you boost your metabolic rate with exercise, we also suggest drinking four liters (about a gallon) of cold water per day. This not only keeps you hydrated, but also provides a decent kick to the metabolism. 

In fact, drinking 500 milliliters of cold water increases metabolic rate by about 30 percent for about 30 minutes, which equates to a total of about 25 calories burned! In males, water-induced thermogenesis is accomplished by burning fat, whereas females burn more carbohydrates. Based on this research, you can expect to burn about 200 extra calories per day if you drink four liters of cold water daily, which seems a lot easier than doing more cardio!

Acetyl-L-Carnitine 

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that during exercise there’s a transient decrease in muscle carnitine content, which correlates highly with a decrease in fat burning as exercise prevails. Research indicates that increases in skeletal muscle total carnitine content (e.g., via acetyl-L-carnitine supplementation) results in greater fat-burning effects and decreased carbohydrate usage, even during rest when there’s high carbohydrate availability. This is good in that fat is utilized as energy before carbohydrates. 

As such, it has been suggested those who use L-carnitine supplements burn greater amounts of fat during exercise than those who don’t.

Dosage: For best results, take 1.5 to 2 grams of acetyl-L-carnitine between meals.

Green-Tea Extract 

In a double-blind and placebo-controlled study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, scientists from the UK reported that green-tea extract supplementation enhanced total fat oxidation during cycling exercise by almost 25 percent, with no changes noted in those who took the placebo. Furthermore, they measured greater body-fat loss and a 10.9 percent improvement in exercise performance in those who took GTE versus those who took the placebo.

Dosage: To get 25 percent more fat burning from your workout sessions, take 500 to 1,000 milligrams of green-tea extract standardized for epigallocatechin gallate (aka EGCG) two or three times per day. For best fat-burning effects, always take one dose 30 minutes prior to doing cardio.



About the Author

Dwayne N. Jackson, PhD

Dwayne N. Jackson, PhD, is a professor and scientist in medical biophysics at one of Canada’s top medical schools, the University of Western Ontario. He has over 12 years of university education in physiology and has attended the University of Ottawa, the University of Western Ontario and the Yale School of Medicine. He also has over 20 years of competitive and recreational bodybuilding experience and is an expert in the areas of performance nutrition and supplementation.