Why eating “clean” doesn’t equal fat loss

These days, “clean eating” is nearly synonymous with being lean, muscular, and healthy. It shouldn’t be though, and here’s why…

The cult of “clean eating” is more popular than ever these days,

While I’m all for eating nutritious (“clean”) foods for the purposes of supplying our bodies with vitamins and minerals, eating nothing but these foods guarantees nothing in the way of building muscle or losing fat.

You can be the cleanest eater in the world and still be weak and skinny fat.

Why?

Because when it comes to body composition (how much muscle and body fat you have), how much you eat is more important than what.

You see, fat loss boils down to feeding your body less energy (via food) than it burns every day. We measure both the energy burned and eaten in calories or kilocalories.

When you feed your body fewer calories than it burns, you are creating what is known as a “calorie deficit.” Your body must get energy from somewhere, though, and so it turns to its fat stores. When you keep your body in a calorie deficit over time, total fat mass decreases. And maintaining a daily or weekly calorie deficit is the only way to do this.

The “clean eating” kicker is that “clean” calories count just as much as “dirty” calories when it comes to gaining or losing fat.

And what about when you’re focusing on building muscle? Many people are surprised to learn that total calorie intake affects your body’s ability to build muscle just as much as its ability to reduce body fat percentage.

This biological factor known as “energy balance” is the key.

Think of energy balance like your body’s energy checking account. A negative balance is a situation where your body is burning more energy than you’re feeding it (it’s in the red as far as energy goes). A positive balance, on the other hand, is a situation where your body is burning less energy than you’re feeding it (it’s in the black).

Now, as you already know, when a negative energy balance is sustained over time, total fat mass decreases. But this comes at a price: it also impairs the body’s ability to synthesize muscle proteins.

What is means is when you’re dieting to lose fat, your body simply can’t build muscle efficiently. This is why it’s commonly accepted that you can’t build muscle and lose fat, which is generally true but not always the case.

So, what this means is that when you want to maximize muscle growth, you must ensure you’re not in a calorie deficit

Instead, you must ensure that your body is in a slight calorie surplus, or a positive energy balance.

What that means in terms of actual numbers varies from person to person. Some people’s metabolisms are extremely fast and they require vast numbers of calories every day just to gain a pound per week (which is what you want to see when you’re bulking properly), whereas others don’t require nearly as many.

Finding your body’s optimal calorie intake for maximum muscle growth will require a bit of trial and error, but you can start here:

  • Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight
  • Eat 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight
  • Eat 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight

Take those numbers and turn them into a simple meal plan of foods you like to eat, follow it every day, and see how your body responds.

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