So what does matter, then?
Body fat. Muscle mass. And the ratio between the two.
To put it simply, the more lean body mass you have, the healthier you are. Not only in the gym, but for longevity and quality of life as well.
The key to changing your body composition will always be diet. There are certain foods that are ideal for building and maintaining lean mass, and others that are great for dropping fat and accelerating a fat-burning metabolism.
So here’s a rundown of my nutritionist favourites:
- Eggs. The incredible edible. Perfect protein; healthy fat. Low calorie. And versatile!
- Greek yogurt. If you can do dairy – do this dairy. Protein packed. Creamy. Filling. Substitutes for sour cream, cream cheese, tzatziki…the list is endless.
- Tuna. Cheapest quality protein source in town (but watch the mercury!). Portable with no refrigeration. Mixes with a lot of stuff (try spicy mustard or hummus for a taste sensation).
- Shrimp/Prawns. Super low-calorie protein that plays well with a lot of different dishes (soups, curries, even sandwiches when you chop it up and make a little salad out of it).
- Avocado. Super high in fat, sure – but it’s the good kind, the kind that keeps you full and encourages your fat-burning metabolism.
- Salmon. Omega-3 rich; high in protein; works in recipes; tastes good raw. Quadruple win.
- Nut butters. Make sure you choose the ones with nuts as the ONLY ingredient, and watch the portion (up to 2TB daily for women; 3TB for men; 4TB for active gainers).
- Protein powder. A great option for vegetarians, picky eaters, or those always eating on the go, find a high-quality product with AT LEAST 40g protein for 200 or fewer calories and 0-3 grams of carbs.
On a related note, here’s some of that “but I thought that was healthy!” stuff that you can definitely DROP from your diet when trying to gain LBM and/or lose fat:
- Fruit/juice. Think of it as a slightly healthier soda. Pure sugar.
- “Whole grain” processed food. They’re really only slightly healthier flour/sugar bombs.
- Oatmeal/granola. I am primarily referring to those little pre-sweetened packets of the former (plain, steel-cut oats do have some great health benefits, though the portion size is small for the calorie/carb tradeoff), and almost every variety of the latter.
- Bars/balls/squares/”energy” foods. Outside of certain protein bars (which I still only recommend as a backup plan to actual food and meals), most of these things are shockingly high in calories, carbs, sugars, and saturated fats. If there’s no label, that doesn’t make ’em healthier – and can often hide the high calorie density of ingredients like dates, coconut oil, and nuts.
Calorie deficit will always be foundation of all weight loss: if you eat more calories than you burn, you will not lose weight. But the composition of those calories – the ratio of macronutrients (protein/carbs/fat) and quality of the foods from which you get those nutrients – is crucial to how you look, feel, and perform.
For optimal fat loss and LBM gain, most nutritionists will recommend a steady diet of primarily lean proteins and vegetables with a proper balance of heart-healthy fats, including beans/grains/fruit in moderation for fibre and fullness. This, alongside a resistance exercise program of progressive strength training, will help develop the LBM that is the key to longevity, metabolic function, and a lifetime of health.