Eat to Build Lean Muscles

Increase lean muscle mass and you'll perform, look and feel better. Why? More strength means more joint stability, stronger bones and ligaments, and increased calorie burn—even during rest—because muscle burns more calories than fat.

We're not talking about putting on 10 pounds of muscle—that amount of extra bulk could impede performance in endurance athletes. Rather, improve your body composition by shedding excess body fat and adding lean muscle, and you'll become a better and, most likely, lighter athlete. This plan requires a mental shift in how you view and approach weight loss—simply slashing calories won't get you there.

"Athletes who restrained intake in order to be lighter didn't fare as well," says Dan Benardot, Ph.D. and professor of nutrition at Georgia State University, who has conducted studies of elite athletes' consumption and training. "They thought an 800 to 1,000-calorie deficit would lower their weights. But that lowered the wrong weight. It lowered the weight that needs calories—the lean muscle mass."

More: 5 Weight-Loss Mistakes to Avoid

For the best and fastest results, follow a double-pronged approach that includes specific workouts, but emphasizes eating to get lean. Why focus on eating to get lean? Because you can negate a large part of the calorie-burning efforts of your training with less-than-ideal eating habits.

Here's a sample workout strategy:

  • Include functional strength training in your weekly regimen
  • Add intensity to your sport-specific training by completing speed intervals, or increasing frequency of training (for example, if you're a runner, add more miles by completing two runs the same day—one 30 to 40 minutes and the other 20 to 30 minutes—once a week to start)
  • Add a cross-training session for a calorie-burning boost

Eat to increase lean muscle mass and you'll improve your body composition, which will make you look and perform better.

More: How to Lose Weight to Train

Eat the Right Amounts of Food

It's a common misconception that athletes focused on building muscle should greatly increase the amount of protein they eat. But, eating more than the required amounts of any food—be it carbohydrates, fat or protein—will result in unwanted fat storage.

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