Building a lean and muscular physique can often seem like an impossible task, especially if you have a considerable amount of weight to lose when first starting out.
Although there is no substitute for consistent effort, there are certain tricks of the trade that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you shed body fat and build lean muscle more rapidly.
In this article we are going to look at 10 tips for losing weight and building muscle, covering everything from diet and exercise to the psychological side of weight loss.
1. Eat More Protein
One of the first things you want to do if you’re serious about losing weight and building muscle is increase your protein intake. Not only will a higher protein intake help you to retain lean muscle mass as you drop body fat, protein is a more “difficult” macronutrient to process than fat and carbohydrates.
The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is a measure of the amount of energy the human body requires to digest and metabolize nutrients. Protein has the highest TEF of any macronutrient, which essentially means that you burn more calories simply from consuming it.
Eating protein still results in a net positive calorie balance, but its thermic effect will help you to build a stronger and “hotter” metabolism so that you are burning more calories on a daily basis even at rest. (1,2)
2. Use Glucose Disposal Agents (GDA)
There are a number of foods and dietary supplements that are classified as Glucose Disposal Agents or GDAs. These foods and supplements help the body to more efficiently digest carbohydrates by increasing the body’s sensitivity to the effects of insulin, thereby removing glucose from the bloodstream in a more effective manner.
This is a great news for sufferers of insulin resistance as it may help to stem the tide of type II Diabetes, while also making any carbohydrates you consume less likely to be stored as adipose tissue (body fat).
Examples of Glucose Disposal Agents include:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Lemon and Lime Juice
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
There is also a range of supplements on the market containing blends of lesser-known GDA ingredients, but we recommend starting off with those that come in the form of food so that you can see how well you tolerate them. (3,4)
3. Reduce Your Stress Levels
You might be surprised to learn that high levels of stress can make it incredibly difficult for you to lose weight, build muscle, and generally maintain a lean and toned physique. The human body reacts to stress by signalling for the adrenal glands to produce a hormone known as cortisol.
Studies have shown time and time again that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol contributes to an increased appetite and even has a direct effect on the storage of fat in your abdominal region of the body.
This can become a vicious cycle due to the fact that individuals with larger waist sizes produce more cortisol than their slimmer counterparts, contributing to further weight gain.
Controlling your stress levels through yoga and meditation, and improving your sleep patterns by adopting a disciplined bedtime routine can have a profound effect on your weight loss and muscle building results over time. (5,6,7,8)
4. Lift Weights
Resistance training with weights has become known as an essential mainstay in every weight loss or muscle building exercise program, and for very good reason. We already discussed how the body uses up more energy to process protein than it does for fat and carbohydrates, and a similar fact is true about maintaining lean muscle mass in the body.
You may have heard people talk about how muscle weighs more than fat, and while this is not strictly accurate (muscle is around three times more dense), the body does have to expend more calories to maintain lean tissue in general.
It is not the body’s preference to maintain lean muscle mass due to it being “metabolically expensive,” but lifting weights on a regular basis will encourage the body to maintain and even build new muscle tissue. This can quickly turn your metabolism into a blast furnace.
5. Perform Cardiovascular Exercise
Although cardio is far from being the most exciting activity in most exercise routines, it is an incredibly effective tool for fat loss when used in an intelligent manner.
Studies have shown that the most effective way of losing fat is to combine both resistance training with aerobic exercise, although there is a lot of debate surrounding the question of which form of cardio is the most effective.
Longer duration, moderate-intensity cardio typically involves walking, cycling, or jogging on a piece of aerobic exercise equipment, while high-intensity cardio such as HIIT or Tabata tends to work on the basis of performing short intervals of very intense activity ranging from 10 seconds all the way to a couple of minutes.
Anecdotally, the most effective approach seems to be to alternate between the two forms of cardio. For example, try using moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for a week or two before moving onto shorter duration high-intensity cardio.
6. Minimize Liquid Calories
One of the best things you can do when looking to lose weight is to eat foods that are not calorically dense. This typically involves eating a large amount of green fibrous vegetables that are very dense in nutrients without packing too much of a caloric punch.
On the other end of this scale are things like milk and fruit juices, which enable you to consume hundreds of calories within a matter of seconds.
We recommend minimizing your intake of liquid calories for the simple fact that they make it too easy for you to exceed your daily recommended intake without even realizing it.
Keep in mind that fruit juice typically contains just as much sugar as soda, placing you in just as much risk of gaining fat. At best, these sweetened beverages will make it far more difficult for you to achieve your goals in the long run. (13)
7. Improve Your Digestion
Adding more soluble fiber to your diet can help to slow down your digestion and keep you feeling fuller for longer after eating a meal. Furthermore, this can even help to reduce the number of calories that your body absorbs from the food you eat.
Studies have shown a direct correlation between the amount of soluble fiber in an individual’s diet and the rate at which they were able to reduce their belly fat, so be sure to eat foods such as oatmeal, flaxseed, and legumes which are rich in soluble fiber.
While you’re at it, we recommend adding more friendly bacteria to your diet in the form of probiotics.
Probiotics include strains of bacteria such as Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus fermentum, and Lactobacillus amylovorus, which can help your body to absorb more nutrients from the food you eat while also making it easier for you to lose fat from your abdominal region.
You can purchase probiotic supplements such as acidophilus which come in a convenient capsule format, or you might want to consider adding fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi to your diet.
8. Track Your Food Intake
While at first it might seem tedious to track every gram of food you eat, you will be amazed by just how much you learn by keeping a closer eye on what you are putting into your body.
Almost all of us consume more calories on a daily basis than we think we do, and taking a few days to weigh out your portions and record these numbers can really help you to curb any bad habits.
There are a wide variety of different food and fitness trackers available online or as apps for mobile devices, or if you prefer to take a simpler approach you can simply write down what you eat with pen and paper.
However you choose to do it, pay close attention to your intake of protein, carbohydrate, fat, as well as your overall caloric intake for the day.
It is also worth mentioning that measuring your food intake makes it far easier for you to make adjustments down the line if your weight loss stalls. How else will you know what changes to make if you don’t even know your current food intake?
9. Start Your Day with Lemon Water
Although it won’t make or break your weight loss efforts, we do recommend starting each day with a glass of lemon water made with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Aside from their Vitamin C content, citrus fruits such as lemons and limes contain a phytonutrient called D-limonene which helps to cleanse the liver, ridding it of toxins in helping it to do its job more effectively.
The liver plays a vital role in the fat burning process within the body. Lemon water can help to encourage the production of detoxifying enzymes and bile in the gallbladder, while even providing a level of protection against carcinogens.
As an added bonus tip, we recommend using warm water because cold water can cause the stomach tissues to contract, which will reduce the rate of nutrient absorption.(18)
10. KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid!)
We have thrown a lot of different advice at you in this article, but perhaps the most important piece of advice we can provide when it comes to weight loss and muscle building is to keep things as simple as possible.
There are so many fad diets, overpriced supplements, and gimmicky pieces of exercise equipment that can easily sucker you in with promises of overnight results without putting in the hard work.
We can confidently assure you that there really is no easy way or shortcut when it comes to achieving the kind of body you want. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news!
Having said that, there are lots of little tips and tricks like the ones we discussed today that you can implement in your day-to-day life to make the process a little quicker and far more enjoyable overall.
The foundation of your weight loss efforts should involve plenty of healthy foods and regular physical exercise, anything else on top of that is a bonus.
We hope that this article has opened your eyes to some of the safer methods that you can apply to make your own fitness journey more successful.
Again, we want to emphasize the importance of not overcomplicating things when it comes to improving your health and losing weight. Paralysis by analysis is a very real possibility for most people, so focus on the things you know to work before anything else takes precedence.
Maintaining a level-headed approach to your fitness and keeping your expectations as realistic as possible will help to ensure that you don’t lose heart if your weight loss slows down or if other factors in your life distract you from your goals.
A combination of working hard and working smart will greatly increase your chances of success.
We wish you the very best in your fitness journey!