For the bodybuilder or athlete, holding too much body fat hinders optimal performance. So, bodybuilders and athletes strive to reduce body fat as much as they can. Of course as a bodybuilder, you can never be too ripped and as an athlete, there is typically an advantage to being leaner and quicker. The most common dietary approaches used today to decrease body fat usually involve restricted caloric consumption. Unfortunately, reducing caloric intake can be grueling, especially if the food you’re ingesting doesn’t mitigate hunger to some degree.
The aforementioned energy-sparing mechanisms are counterproductive, and diminish the ability to burn body fat. Incorporating dietary approaches that decrease hunger and impede fat-saving, compensatory mechanisms should more readily encourage fat loss. Consequently, innovative dietary routines, supplemented with the right macronutrients and compounds that effectively improve energy expenditure and decrease hunger, should ease the difficulty from a low-caloric diet and improve the ability to shed body fat.
Intermittent Fasting Works
One of the more effective dietary protocols for fat loss involves the consumption of roughly 600 calories per day a few days per week, followed by normal caloric intake. This approach, known as intermittent fasting, may seem a bit extreme because of the very low amount of caloric intake. Yet, this approach strongly activates the energy-sensing molecule AMPK, resulting in fat loss above the expected amount, by simply consuming only 600 calories per day.1 This added fat-cutting effect is likely due to the cyclical nature of caloric consumption during the intermittent diet that uniquely activates AMPK for superior fat loss.
Another advantage of intermittent fasting, not usually associated with caloric restriction, is improved muscle growth. This is because intermittent fasting reduces caloric consumption for a brief time, which greatly decreases intramuscular fat stores. The decrease of fat within muscle tissue has been shown to enhance the muscle cell’s response to the muscle-building hormone insulin, which drastically increases muscle protein synthesis, supporting greater muscle growth.
The Right Macros and Protein Quality
In addition to dietary approaches, the right macronutrients also play an essential role in minimizing body fat. One of the more well-characterized macronutrients copiously ingested to support fat loss has been protein. However, it is not just the quantity of protein in your diet that reduces body fat, but also the quality of protein consumed that has a significant effect on fat loss. Protein quality is defined as the percentage of essential amino acids to total protein consumed, and diets with greater levels of essential amino acids (protein quality) increase fat loss.
Previous studies have clearly shown higher protein in the diet decreases body fat, yet a more recent investigation by Loenneke et al. demonstrates that consuming high-quality protein rich in essential amino acids may be the more precise way to reduce body fat. In this study, 27 men and women had their diets monitored for the consumption of quality protein, with the threshold being 10 grams of essential amino acids per meal. At the conclusion of the study, body fat measurements were made, and the individuals who consumed the highest quality of protein had the greatest decrease in body fat.
Putatively, high-quality protein enhances fat loss because essential amino acids, especially leucine, stimulate muscle protein synthesis – leading to greater muscle mass. The increase in muscle boosts metabolic rate, which increases the consumption of fatty acids, leading to fat loss. In addition, leucine also has the ability to inactivate the energy-sensing molecule AMPK in the brain. The inactivation of AMPK in the brain decreases hunger, conceivably lowering food intake and ultimately resulting in greater fat loss. Of course, at the same time, leucine also inactivates AMPK throughout the rest of the body. Since AMPK stimulates fatty acid oxidation, the inactivation of AMPK from leucine intake would likely decrease fatty acid oxidation levels and therefore, fat loss. That said, it seems plausible that leucine’s ability to enhance energy expenditure and reduce hunger is greater than its negative impact on fatty acid oxidation, as leucine intake has clearly been shown to lower body fat.
Mediterranean Diet a Healthy Choice
In addition to high-quality protein intake, the Mediterranean diet includes the high intake of olive oil, fish, fruits and vegetables along with a moderate consumption of dairy products. All told, this diet is loaded with additional macronutrients and compounds that reduce the risk for heart disease and certain cancers, while also enhancing fat loss. As a result, it has gained considerable attention as an effective fat-loss regimen, with plenty of science to back it up.
For starters, the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil and fish have definitively been shown to help burn more calories. In fact, fish oil has also been shown to positively impact body composition, causing greater fat loss, especially around the waist – as subjects given fish oil had a larger reduction inwaist circumference relative to controls consuming no fish oil. In addition, olive oil also contains a wide variety of polyphenolic compounds, like oleuropein, that enhance thermogenic fat loss for an even greater loss of body fat.
The consumption of fruits and vegetables associated with the Mediterranean diet provides carbohydrates with a low-glycemic index that triggers a lower insulin response because low-glycemic carbohydrates don’t cause blood sugar levels to rise very quickly. So the requirement for insulin secretion is lowered. Since insulin directly inactivates fatty acid oxidation, the lower insulin levels in response to low-glycemic carbohydrate sources raises the level of fatty acid oxidation, resulting in lower body fat.
Finally, the consumption of dairy products while following the Mediterranean diet also improves the ability to lose fat, as many scientific studies have shown that the inclusion of dairy products, like milk, in the diet accelerates the reduction of fat mass.11 Since milk is loaded with calcium, which indirectly activates the AMPK-driven fatty acid oxidation, scientists believe that calcium is one of the key ingredients in milk that burns fat.
Milk is also fortified with vitamin D, which together with calcium, has been shown to promote greater levels of fat loss. In fact, a study by Siddiqui et al. looked at two different groups of obese rats that were fed a low-calcium, low-vitamin D diet or a high-calcium, high-vitamin D diet. After weeks on both diets, the rats consuming a high calcium and vitamin D diet demonstrated reduced body fat mass due to a greater level of fatty acid oxidation.
For most of Michael Rudolph’s career he has been engrossed in the exercise world as either an athlete (he played college football at Hofstra University), personal trainer or as a research scientist (he earned a B.Sc. in Exercise Science at Hofstra University and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Stony Brook University). After earning his Ph.D., Michael investigated the molecular biology of exercise as a fellow at Harvard Medical School and Columbia University for over eight years. That research contributed seminally to understanding the function of the incredibly important cellular energy sensor AMPK – leading to numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals including the journal Nature. Michael is currently a scientist working at the New York Structural Biology Center doing contract work for the Department of Defense on a project involving national security.