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    Eat More Carbs and Food Overall to Build Muscle and Lose Fat: Dietitian Advice

    Adding sweet potato to chicken and vegetables makes a more nutritionally balanced meal.

    • A 56-year-old woman submitted an average day of eating to be reviewed for Insider’s Nutrition Clinic.
    • A dietitian said to eat more overall, including carbs.
    • If you’d like to have your diet reviewed by an expert, fill out this form.

    Helen, 56, submitted her eating routine to Insider’s Nutrition Clinic, where qualified dietitians and registered nutritionists offer advice on readers’ eating habits.

    She told Insider her goals are to gain muscle and lose belly fat, and she has been trying to do so by eating 1,250 calories a day for the past six weeks.

    “I have recently started working out five to six times a week; a mixture of HIIT and cardio,” Helen said. “I don’t necessarily want to lose weight but I do have a fair amount of belly fat and I do want to gain some muscle.”

    Dietitian Nichola Ludlam-Raine told Insider that Helen’s commitment to working out regularly is great but 1,250 calories is too low, and she would likely benefit from eating more.

    “While aiming for a caloric deficit is essential for weight loss, it’s crucial to ensure it’s not so large that it leads to muscle loss, especially since her goal is muscle gain,” Ludlam-Raine said.

    As Insider’s Gabby Landsverk previously reported, 1,200 calories is the recommended daily amount for a toddler and dropping your calories too low can lead to side effects including brain fog, muscle loss, fatigue, hair loss, digestive issues and more, not to mention it’s unsustainable for most people.

    “Sustainability is crucial,” Ludlam-Raine said. “Helen should aim for a diet and workout routine that feels sustainable and doesn’t leave her feeling overly restricted. Monitoring her energy levels, muscle recovery, and any potential signs of nutrient deficiencies will be vital.”

    If you want to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, you should aim to be in a small calorie deficit, eat a high-protein diet, and make sure you are strength training with heavy weights and progressive overload.

    “It’s essential to note that spot-reducing fat isn’t possible,” Ludlam-Raine said. “Fat loss will occur throughout the body based on genetics and other factors.”

    Get healthy fats, which are important for hormone function, in at breakfast

    For breakfast, Helen has a smoothie made from fruit, spinach, and plain Greek yogurt, plus eggs and a turkey sausage, she said.

    Ludlam-Raine recommended adding a tablespoon of chia seeds or nut butter to her smoothie to provide some healthy fats, and oats for an energy boost.

    Healthy fats, such as avocados or nuts, are vital for overall health and hormone function, so it would be beneficial to ensure she’s getting enough,” Ludlam-Raine said.

    Eat more carbs at lunch to boost your energy for workouts

    For lunch, Helen said she usually has around three ounces of a lean protein source with salad, vegetables, or a low-carb wrap.

    Ludlam-Raine suggested Helen increase her carb intake, aiming for at least 125 grams per day.

    “While she’s incorporating fruits and low-carb wraps, adding more complex (wholegrain) carbohydrates like oats, quinoa, and brown rice can offer sustained energy for her workouts, and benefit her gut health too,” Ludlam-Raine said.

    Eat plenty of protein to maintain muscle mass

    For dinner, Helen again eats a lean protein source, such as chicken, with vegetables.

    Ludlam-Raine suggested adding some sweet potato for an energy boost and to help replenish Helen’s glycogen stores after working out, as well as larger protein portions.

    “Her focus on lean protein is excellent for muscle repair and growth, but she might benefit from slightly increasing her intake, particularly post-workout,” Ludlam-Raine said.

    She recommends that people aiming to lose weight eat a minimum of 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight a day to help maintain lean muscle mass while in a calorie deficit.

    Drink enough water to keep hydrated

    Helen has two snacks most days, such as a string cheese, a piece of fruit, or rice cakes.

    Ludlam-Raine recommended protein energy balls or carrots and hummus for extra fiber and protein.

    Helen should also ensure she’s drinking enough water, especially given her workout schedule.

    “Making sure that her urine is on the paler side and that she is having at least 1.6 liters of water is advisable (or more in hot weather and on workout days)” Ludlam-Raine said.



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