FIVE Nutritional Musts For Fat Loss & Muscle Gain

By Mike Gorski

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Stronger, Leaner, Healtier, FOREVER

Introducing Functional Strength Training: 
The Monthly Membership Training Solution For People Who Want To Look, Feel And Function Their Very Best, Forever.

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For even the most talented coaches and athlete that make the gym their playground on a daily basis, putting together a goal oriented fat loss or hypertrophy nutritional program to match the needs of a training program can be extremely difficult.  But then again, that’s why personal trainers aren’t nutritional experts.  We’ll leave that to the registered dietitians!

Lucky for us, we have Mike Gorski, registered dietitian AND strength coach, featured this week with a guest article that will simply break down the complex game of nutrition for the two most popular health and wellness goals: fat loss and hypertrophy.

Learn how to match your nutritional requirements to your training, and finally achieve a physique that is as impressive as it is maintainable.

Here’s What You Need To Know…

1. Calories matter when you’re trying to throw on muscle or shed body fat.

2. One of the biggest problems with body recomposition is the reverse effect of losing muscle and gaining fat…simultaneously.  Weight loss and muscle gain is a process which is deemed successful by the ability to maintain it for the long haul.

3. Macronutrient breakdowns and timing can play a huge roll in supporting your body recomposition goals.  Figure out how much protein, carbohydrates and fats you need, then strategically place them into your dietary schedule.

4. Don’t believe all the hype of “If It Fits Your Macros”, because nutrient prioritizing density is one of the most effective ways to produce long term hypertrophy and fat loss.  You know, the kind that don’t go away after a weekend bender.

Lose Fat and Gain Muscle?

When it comes down to it, the end goals of exercising for aesthetics are pretty simple; lose fat and/or gain muscle.  Performance based goals may be included, but lets be honest, when most people have a goal to “get in shape” they usually are talking about purely aesthetics.

While strategic and specific exercise programming is needed to pack some muscle or shed some flab, different dietary approaches are needed to reach each goal at an optimal rate that will also yield the greatest long-term results.

Losing “weight” isn’t that hard.  Pretty much anyone can starve themselves into weight loss, but is that really optimal, let alone a healthy and long term practice that will allow you to build the body of your dreams?

While diets and nutritional programming seem pretty simple superficially, many dieters, both with goals of increasing muscle mass and cutting unwanted fatty tissue, are at risk of losing muscle and gaining fat…simultaneously.  Doesn’t sound like the right plan to get you ready for beach season, does it?

As a registered dietitian and personal trainer, here are my top five strategies that focus on slightly different approaches one must take to either lose body fat or increase muscle hypertrophy, without sabotaging the rest of the body composition.  Five steps towards a leaner, more muscular body…you can do that, right?

#5 Caloric Intake

fat loss hypertrophy

Fat Loss: Caloric Deficit

Calories matter. They actually matter a lot.  In order to lose weight one must be at a caloric deficit (1), end of story.  While the quality of calories also plays a huge role, think soda vs. fruit, or greasy fast food chicken vs. grilled chicken breast, a deficit is still the key overall.

A caloric deficit can be created by either increasing output (physical activity) or decreasing input (food/drink intake).  I prefer a slight decrease in food intake, while also incorporating a slight increase in exercise.  This is the best of both worlds, have your cake and eat it to…but you should probably skip the cake!

The best way to quickly figure out what will put you in a deficit, is to monitor your current average intake in the present.  If you have been maintaining the same weight for a moderate duration, then look to create a 300-400 calorie deficit (2,3,4). This may not involve removing as much food as you may think, as 300 calories spread out over the course of three meals, 100 calories per meal, would be the equivalent of removing half a cup of rice, one less tablespoon of butter, and your cream from your coffee.

If you have slowly been gaining weight overtime, aim to be closer to a 400 calorie deficit for starters.  Re-asses your weight after a few weeks, and adjust calories accordingly.

Muscle Gain: Caloric Surplus

In order to increase your bodies size, you need to add more food to your day, not more exercise.  Muscle hypertrophy and growth happens outside of the gym, with proper nutrition, hydration and sleep patterns, which all leading to better recovery and muscle repair and growth.

To increase muscle mass without adding on fat mass, aim for a caloric surplus of 500 calories per day (4)(300 or so for women).  This number may need to be adjusted if you find you aren’t gaining any weight, or gaining too fast (more on this later).  This point is especially important if you are a hard gainer, and have been stuck at the same weight for what seems like forever.  You may need to add up to 1000 extra calories, and no, adding an extra scoop of protein powder to your post-workout shake won’t quite get you there!

Increasing your intake by about 500 calories over three meals could be; one extra egg at breakfast (80 cals), three extra ounces of chicken (100 cals), a fourth of a cup mixed nuts (200 cals) and half a cup of 2% cottage cheese (100 calories).  It could also be as simple as consuming an additional meal throughout the day.  Use whichever method works better for your daily schedule.  The key is that you’re able to stick to a routine and get the calories that your body needs to grow.

#4 Rate of Body Recomposition

obesity fat loss

Fat Loss: 1-2 lbs/Week If  You Have >20 Pounds To Lose, .5-1lb/Week If You Have <10 Pounds To Lose (5).

The rate at which you lose weight can vary, but if your goal is to maintain as much muscle mass as possible (which it should be), you need to make sure you aren’t losing weight too fast.

Another good physical marker of healthy weight loss is to make sure that your strength is not decreasing while cutting down on your food intake. Make sure you are tracking your workouts and maintaining your poundage during your heavy compound lifts.  If you see your strength numbers drop off the cliff, you’ll know you are cutting too quickly.  In this case, reassess your plan and programming.

Muscle Gain: Aim To Gain .25-.5 lbs/week (4,6)

A quarter pound per week may not sound like much, but put that into a long term transformation.  That’s 13 pounds of muscle in one year- all while minimizing fat gain.

Gone are the days of “dirty bulks” and “fast cuts” for most physique oriented fitness competitors. The extreme ups and downs of fast weight gain and loss can mess with your metabolism, and make it harder and harder every time you try and cut in the future.

Slow and steady wins the race to optimizing body composition.  Going in with the mindset that quality muscle takes time to build, without also throwing fat around your mid section, will do many dieters that want results yesterday some good.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right!

#3 Manipulation of Macronutrients

protein fat loss

Fat Loss: Manipulate Macro Intake – Reduce Carbs, Increase Protein.

Carbohydrates aren’t the enemy that many make them out to be, especially if you are training hard weekly.  However, they may need to be reduced if fat loss is your goal, especially as you get closer to your peak time (7). As stated in the first tip on calories, aim to decrease your calories by 300-400, mostly from carbohydrates, and possibly from some fat.  The one macronutrient you want to keep the same, or slightly increase, is protein.

(Side note: I recommend a minimum of .7g Protein/Pound of bodyweight – and aim for a goal of 1g/pound of bodyweight (8). Proteins should be high quality proteins, high in Leucine. These include whey protein, chicken, beef, cottage cheese, and eggs)

Decreasing 300 calories from carbohydrates alone would be a decrease of 75 grams.  This may be a lot, especially if you are already eating less carbs daily.  Try reducing 150-200 calories from carbs (38-50g) for starters, and the remaining 100-150 calories from fat (11-16g).

Muscle Gain: Manipulate Macro Intake – Increase All Macro’s to Meet Calorie Goal

You can be a little more lax here, as all macronutrients can be increased to meet your new hypertrophy calorie goal. This does not mean that you can eat ANYTHING to get an extra 500 calories, as you still want to keep your diet relatively clean.  A 500-calorie increase can be easy when you choose to eat ice cream and a candy bar.

Assuming you already are meeting your protein goals, you may not need to increase your protein intake as some may recommend (7).

A 500-calorie increase may look something like 50-75g of carbs (200-300 cals), 20-30g of fat (180-270 cals) and 15-30g of protein (60-120 cals).

#2 Macronutrient Timing

carb fat loss

Fat Loss: Nutrient Timing – Keep Carbohydrate Intake Close To Workout

As stated earlier, carbs are still needed in a fat loss program, especially on your hard training days.  One of the best ways to time your carbs up is to eat the majority of your starchy carbs around your workout.

Carbs about 1-2 hours before your workout will provide you with adequate fuel for a brutal training session, and carbs right after your workout will aid in glycogen re-synthesis along with prevention of muscle protein breakdown (4).

Carbohydrates from mostly fruits and vegetables (mostly vegetables) can and should be spread out throughout the remainder of the day.

Another way to consider altering nutrient timing is to decrease slightly more of your overall carb intake on non-training days, and stick to the normal goal on training days to fuel your workouts, while still keeping them bookending your training sessions.

Muscle Gain: Nutrient Timing – Overall Increase of All Macros With Slight Taper of Carbs

Since size is the goal, and you are already trying to increase your calories by at least 500, you can be a bit more liberal with your timing of nutrients. Carbohydrates should still be increased following a training session, but do not need to be kept as necessarily close.

If you find that your weight gain is occurring too fast, and you are putting on fat mass, try tapering* your carbs the further you get from your workout in the day.

*If you workout first thing in the morning, this may not be the best approach, as you may need a little carbohydrate for a boost to train at optimal levels.  This can be most easily achieved through simple sugar drinks or workout nutrition, if food first thing in the morning is not an option.

#1 Nutrient Density

protein fat loss

Fat Loss: Nutrient Focus – Increase Nutrient Dense Foods

Nutrient dense foods are high in micronutrients and low in macros.

These foods are usually vegetables, fruits, and very lean proteins.  By focusing on increasing your intake of nutrient dense foods, you will generally be keeping calories lower, and also getting higher fiber in your diet; which in turn will help with any GI issues that may arise from cutting out more carbohydrates. Most importantly, because higher nutrient dense foods take up much more volume, they will help fill you up physically more than calorie dense foods.

It is also important to remember that fat is still very necessary in a fat loss diet.  Even though it is not low in calories, it can be considered nutrient dense.  Fish oils, coconut oils, olive oils, almonds and avocados are very nutrient dense in high quality fats, and should be the main sources in your diet.

Muscle Gain: Nutrient Focus – Increase (Healthy) Calorie Dense Foods

Calorie dense means more calories packed into a smaller volume of food.  This doesn’t mean start consuming Twinkies and Snickers bars.  Instead, look to get your calorie increase with lower volume foods, as many times you might feel physically full before you reach your intake goals, and eating past satiety can feel very uncomfortable for some.

Quality, calorie dense foods include nuts, peanut butter, raw oats, lean red meat, bagels, and dried fruit.  Also going from low-fat or fat-free to 2% or 4% dairy products (if you consume dairy) can add in calories without altering volume.

There are many differences when it comes to eating for fat loss vs. muscle gain.  Making the appropriate tweaks to an already solid diet can turn you into a body fat burning furnace or a muscle-gaining beast.  Choose your path, monitor your rate of change (to make sure you aren’t losing muscle or gaining fat), stick to it, and watch the changes come your way!

About The Author


Mike Gorski is a Registered Dietitian and personal trainer located just outside of Madison, Wisconsin.  Mike works with clients on a wide variety of goals including sports performance, post-rehab training, weight loss, and overall healthy behavior change.  His ideas and methods have been featured on some of the top publications in the fitness industry including the Personal Trainer Development Center.  Mike’s mission is to create positive behavior change with all his clients that will not only get them to their personal goal, but last them a lifetime.  Learn more about Mike on his:

Website:                  Facebook: mgfitlife                 Instagram: mgfitlife


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2) Hall, KD., “What is the required energy deficit per unit of weight loss?”. International Journal of Obesity. 2008;32(3):573–576.

3)Dunford, M. “How can athletes reduce bodyfat and fat loss?”. Fundamentals of Sports and Exercise Nutrition. (Excerpt). Human Kinetics, 2010. Online

4)Kleiner, S. Power Eating. Human Kinetics. 2007. Print

5) Garthe I, et al. “Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes.” Int J Spor Nutri Exerc Met. 2011;21:97–104.

6)Aragon, A. Girth Control. Online. 2007

7) Stiegler. P, et. al. “The role of diet and exercise for the maintenance of fat-free mass and resting metabolic rate during weight loss”. Sports Med. 2006;36(3):239-62.

8) B.Campbell, et. al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise fat loss”. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2007, 4:8 

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