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A guide to supplementation for athletes

Jamie Wykes Hobday
Article written by Jamie Wykes Hobday

Date published 17 July 2019

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The goal of having high levels of muscle tissue with low body fat is pretty much universal.

It might seem obvious, but of course there are many advantages to having high muscle tissue levels, including:

  • Increased strength
  • Reduced likelihood of injury
  • Increase in self-esteem

Whilst the advantages of having a healthy low body fat level include:

  • Improved performance
  • Stronger immune system
  • Reduced risk of various fatal diseases

In an ideal world, our daily training would burn off excess fat whilst our muscle mass increased, but this is rarely a reality for most of us...

How to turn fat into muscle

The only time that this goal is said to be readily achievable is when an athlete or gym goer in the early stages of their training career.

When resistance training and calorie consumption is such a new and strange stimulus to the body, the body adapts to these changes by using calories to build muscle rather storing them as fat: allowing for simultaneous fat loss and muscle building.

Whilst various training methods can be implemented to effectively build muscle and lose fat, the rate at which this happens tends to vary from person to person. Whether you're new to training, or an athletic veteran there are several ways you can help your body to reach this 'impossible' goal. With a consistent diet, challenging training programme, and clever use of supplements, both processes can go hand in hand. With that in mind, here's our nutrition and supplementation guide to help you on your way:

What you need to know about building muscle:

In order to build muscle, a 'caloric surplus' is needed. This is where energy intake is greater than energy expenditure: it is all about energy in vs. energy out. For example, if 3000 calories are burnt and 4500 calories are eaten, there is a caloric surplus of 1500 calories. These surplus calories can be used efficiently for extra energy during workouts, enhanced hormonal system, cognitive functionality, or in some cases it will be stored as fat. So, how can you calculate how many calories and the ratio of macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) you need?

First, take your bodyweight in pounds (lbs) and multiply it anywhere between 18-22 (18 for the sedentary and 22 for the extremely active). In terms of protein intake, it is suggested to consume at least your bodyweight in pounds per day. However, depending on training severity, this can range from 1g to 1.5 - 2g.

Now for fats. Fats are essential for hormonal efficiency and cognitive function, as well as fat loss itself. But how much is required per day? Many will suggest anywhere between 0.3 - 0.6 per pound (lb) of bodyweight. For those who are looking to retain a moderate amount of carbohydrates in their diet, try to stay down the lower end of the scale as this will allow you to incorporate more carbs. Calculate 0.4 of your bodyweight and then divide it by 9 (= 9 calories per gram of fat) and you will have your fat intake. Once the protein and fats have been accounted for, we can move onto the fun stuff: carbohydrates!

To calculate your required amount of carbohydrates, simply take your remaining calories left over and divide it by 4 (similar to protein, 4 grams of carbohydrates per calorie). This can then be increased depending on the severity of your weight gain goal.

Fuel for fat Loss

In order to lose fat, you need to be in a caloric deficit. In contrast to a surplus, the aim is to burn more calories than you are consuming. For example: if you are eating 1800 calories per day, yet you are burning 3000 calories, you will be in an intense deficit of 1200 calories.

Again, let's look at how we can generate our required macros. Take the same method of finding out your bodyweight in pounds, except this time, simply multiply it by less as we are looking to consume fewer calories. Multiply your bodyweight (anywhere between numbers 11-14) depending on activity level. Whilst protein and fat requirements will be the same, all of the calories you have left over will be for carbohydrates. From this point in, week by week, amounts of carbohydrates/proteins/fats will be altered depending on progress. Whilst this is traditionally done via carbohydrate or fat reduction, protein tapering has proven effective for some, once again it's all about finding out what works best for you!

Whilst diet is the key in building muscle and fat loss, many feel cardio is essential for fat loss. However, cardio is not strictly necessary and should only be implemented when fat loss has stalled to add variation, or purely from a health perspective. Furthermore, while it is key for a caloric deficit to take place before anything happens, thermogenic foods can advocate the process. Whilst no foods will burn fat technically, there are foods that will speed up your metabolism via the process of thermogenesis such as: almonds, green tea, cold water, spices, lean meats, and greens.

How can supplements help?

The idea of supplements is that they supplement and assist an effective diet and training plan. The supplements are supposed to help but are not key players, but used effectively can help you to achieve simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain. With that in mind, here are some key supplements you may consider taking to aid you in your fitness journey.

Making the most of muscle growth

Protein shakes can be very beneficial for those looking for muscle growth, as they aid in cell growth and repair. The best time to take protein shakes are before and after your training sessions, in order to optimize protein synthesis. Meal-wise, whole foods such as tuna, chicken, egg whites, cottage cheese, and white fish are good protein sources.

If you're looking to maximise your lifting capacity, try creatine monohydrate: creatine plays a vital role in the reproduction of ATFP. ATP is the first readily available energy source for muscular contractions.

Contrary to popular belief, timing does not really matter with creatine. Furthermore, many think that creatine will make you 'hold water' in undesired body places, but this is not true. Creatine pulls water into the muscle cell which will in fact give the muscle a more rounded, full appearance. Natural food sources of creatine include beef, herring, and other forms of fish.

One vitamin we certainly do not get enough of here in the UK, is Vitamin D. Why is it so beneficial for those looking to build muscle? It promotes bone health also aids with muscular efficiency: key attributes for those who train often. Natural food sources where vitamin D is available include oily fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, and cheese.

Fighting fat with supplements

Caffeine will naturally ramp up your body's metabolism, is a natural diuretic (water loss tool), and also gives you more energy during workouts. The fact that you have more energy will result in you having the ability to burn more calories during your workouts. Whilst caffeine is extremely effective in fat loss, it is important to know how much you should have. It is recommended that you have 400mg per day which equivocates to roughly five espresso shots. Whilst caffeine can be ingested orally in pill or gum form, natural sources include coffee, green tea, and dark chocolate.

Vitamin C is a natural diuretic and can help rid the body of any excess water weight as well as benefiting your immune system. What's more it also aids nitric oxide production during workouts: increasing blood flow to the working muscles and therefore positively impacting your performance. Whilst dissolvable and chewable tablets are available to hit vitamin C requirements, grapefruits, oranges, lemons, spinach, and kale are all naturally effective sources also.

When in a deficit, it is easy to neglect many of the vitamin dense foods in order to save on calories. A worthy multivitamin tablet including all the essential vitamins A, B, B12, C, D, E and K can prove an extremely effective compensation for this.

Using a combination of these supplements alongside a carefully planned nutrition and training plan will really help towards your muscle building, fat loss goals. Whilst it is a challenge, for those who really care about their health and are dedicated to making their body the best it can be, it is achievable.

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Jamie Wykes Hobday

About Jamie Wykes Hobday

Jamie Wykes Hobday is a level 3 Qualified Personal Trainer through the European Institute of Fitness, and is a Sports Science/Business Management university graduate.