How do you lose the most weight/fat while preserving the most muscle?
Should you avoid fats or carbs?
What is the mechanism?
First off, both work…to a degree, one just better than the other.
It’s very much possible to lose fat on a low-fat diet. Here is an article I wrote about it. However, many people who do it this way report muscle loss. For instance, more fat retention around the waist and muscle and fat loss around the shoulder area. But that’s just in the case of a very low-fat diet.
But it all comes down to insulin for fat loss. Insulin inhibits lipolysis. Lipolysis is the process where fats are transported out of your adipose tissue to be used as fuel, and that is how you lose weight. Insulin inhibits fat loss. That’s why most bodybuilders need to go in a caloric deficit to lose fat, because that’s when insulin levels drop. Same happens during intermittent fasting. During a very low carb diet, your insulin drops very rapidly, fat loss takes place fast, you become leptin sensitive again (leptin increases energy expenditure and thermogenesis), and you’re not nearly as hungry (after you have adapted, which takes about 1 week). But still, if the deficit is too big, you will get hungry, have low energy and your muscles will look flat and smooth.
Benefits of a ketogenic diet for fat loss.
- Your insulin is really low, allowing lipolysis to run full speed
- Your adipose tissue is insulin resistance – assuming you’re consuming mostly saturated fats (fat is stored in adipose tissue under the command of insulin when they are insulin sensitive),
- You are leptin sensitive (leptin increases thermogenesis, satiety and catecholamines, such as adrenaline and noradrenaline to increase lipolysis)
What about muscle retention/preservation?
Your body needs glucose from somewhere, so it’s going to break down your muscle to provide amino acids for gluconeogenesis, right? Just remember, your body can make glucose from glycerol (the backbone of triglycerides, which is released during fat burning), lactate, and lastly amino acids. And because you are insulin resistant, only the tissue that cannot run on fatty acids or ketones, will receive the glucose. Thus, your body only has to make glucose for those tissue, while the rest run on ketones and fatty acids.
Furthermore, a ketogenic diet is superior for preserving muscle mass during a caloric deficit. Once you are in ketosis, your body is producing ketones, one being beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). BHB inhibits muscle protein breakdown and even increases muscle protein synthesis. (1) Also, adrenaline is increased when you have low blood glucose. Adrenaline directly inhibits proteolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue) via the beta-adrenoceptor (2).
Let’s look at a few studies:
- 1000 calories, 10g carbs daily for 10 days, lost 600g a day, of which 97% was fat. (3) Obviously, it was not 582g of fat daily, but also water and glycogen. Only 3% (18g) of protein was lost.
- Three groups ate 1,800 kcal/day with 115 g/day of protein, but with different carbohydrate intake. After nine weeks on the 30-g, 60-g and 104-g carbohydrate diets, weight loss was 16.2, 12.8 and 11.9 kg, and fat accounted for 95, 84, and 75% of the weight loss, respectively. Not only was fat loss the most during least carb intake, but the muscle retention was also the best. Plus they used underwater weighting, which gives very accurate results. (4)
- Normal-weight men used an eucaloric ketogenic diet (8% carbs) for 6 weeks. After 6 weeks they lost 3.4kg fat and gained 1.1kg lean mass. (5)
- Group 1, keto (1855cal, 130g protein, 36g carbs, 130g fats) vs group 2, low fat (1562cal, 79g protein, 224g carbs, 39g fats). Group 1 lost 5.6kg fat while group 2 lost 3kg fat over 50 days. (6)
- Elite gymnasts underwent a ketogenic diet (200g P, 120g F, 22g C) and reduced their bodyweight by 1.9kg, which was all accounted for as fat (no lean mass lost), after just 30 days. The high protein intake would have prevented them from going into ketosis, by keeping liver glycogen topped up, but considering how many hours they trained (30 hours per week), they were still able to stay in ketosis. (7)
This contributes to the clear indication that a very low carb diet gives significant fat loss and is superior for muscle retention. However, this studies were not performed on the athletic population who wants to get really ripped, so this cannot be taken as a sure sign that this is the way to go to get shredded.
After about 1 week of the ketogenic diet, you will lose water mass and muscle glycogen (as glycogen attracts water), but fat loss will keep on going down rapidly. I took measurements of my waist, hips, chest, shoulders, arms, quads and calves to see the progress and to monitor if I’m losing muscle or not. I can safely say that I have not lost muscle and my measurements are even going up (even though I was suspecting it to decline a bit due to water and glycogen loss), except for my hips and waist, which are getting smaller.
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