One of the most popular debates among fitness diehards is whether or not athletes can maintain or even gain lean muscle mass when dieting for fat loss. Most cutting phases involve caloric restriction, high-intensity training and cardio, which collectively can set up an environment of negative protein balance in the body that promotes fat loss and leads to
decreased muscle mass. Certainly, you must restrict calories to get to body-fat levels below 10 percent, but research and anecdotal reports suggest that this doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing all your hard-earned gains.
Case in point: Recent research from the College of Charleston (South Carolina) suggests that tweaking supplementation around workouts can promote greater fat loss while also sparing muscle. In the single-blind trial, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 16 resistance-trained males participated in a bodybuilding-style training program four days per week for eight weeks. They were instructed to drink either a whey protein shake (28 grams of protein each) or a carbohydrate-based nutritional supplement (28 grams of carbohydrates each) before, during and after workouts. The participants’ diets were customized for their baseline body composition and they were instructed to follow their customary diets for the entire eight-week training program and supplementation regimen.
The verdict: Although dieting coupled with the supplementation resulted in decreased bodyweight in both groups, only those who took whey protein maintained lean body mass (while losing fat mass). These data illustrate that decreases in bodyweight in the whey protein group were primarily due to fat loss. In contrast, those who took the carbohydrate-based supplements lost lean body mass and had a smaller (nonsignificant) change in fat mass. In terms of performance, both groups saw increases in lower-body strength, but only the whey group saw increased upper-body strength.
ACTION POINT: This study clearly shows that when undergoing a fat-loss diet and intense training regimen, taking a calculated scientific approach to supplementation can optimize your fat loss and muscle-building results. These data support what we’ve been preaching for years: Take in 20 to 40 grams of high-quality whey protein isolate 30 minutes preworkout, another 20 to 40 grams immediately postworkout and also take in protein during training sessions.