Diets and Body Composition

 In Literature Review, Nutrition


One of the major struggles for people when it comes to diet and exercise is the constant barrage of information that is constantly thrown at them. Both industries have a lot of myths, misconceptions and out-right lies that spread like wild fire. These usually all start from someone who is trying to sell something.  To help clarify nutrition and exercise advice, often it helps to look at the research and literature reviews. Who has time for that? Who wants to do that? I DO!

In June 2017, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published an article concerning diets and body composition. Titled, International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition, the position statement detailed 9 different positions providing research to form the foundation of their position. These 9 positions were:

1.       There is a multitude of diet types and eating styles, whereby numerous subtypes fall under each major dietary archetype.

2.       All body composition assessment methods have strengths and limitations

3.       Diets primarily focused on fat loss are driven by sustained caloric deficit and slower rates of weight loss can better preserve lean muscle mass.

4.       Diets concerned with building lean muscle mass (body building) are driven by a sustained caloric surplus. This facilitates the anabolic processes and support increasing resistance training demands.

5.       A Wide range of dietary approaches (low-fat to low carbohydrate/ketogenic and all points between) can be similarly effective for improving body composition.

6.       Increasing dietary protein to levels beyond current recommendations for athletic populations may result in improved body composition. The higher protein intake may help athletic populations preserve lean muscle when in a calorie deficit. Emerging research shows very high protein intakes thermic, satiating and lean muscle preserving effects of dietary protein may be amplified in resistance trained individuals.

7.       Intermittent caloric restriction shows no significant advantage over daily caloric restriction for improving body composition.

8.       The long term success of a diet depends upon compliance and circumvention of mitigating factors such as adaptive Thermogenesis.

9.       There is a paucity of research on women and older populations, as well as a wide range of untapped permutation of feeding frequency and macronutrient distribution at various energetic balances combined with training. Behavioral and lifestyle modification strategies are still poorly researched areas of weight management.

So what does that all mean? And how can you apply this to your body composition goals?

1.       Basically all diets can be grouped into categories of similar diets. Most “new diets” are really just imitated or slightly modified versions of existing diets.

2.       Trying to estimate body fat percentage using measurements, scales, body calipers etc. all have a margin of error. To track weight loss or body composition, pick one method and use that one as your primary tracking measurement. If your numbers are improving consistently then you are heading in the right direction.

3.       People that have large amounts of weight to lose can target higher rates of weight loss as they have more stored energy and their primary goal and health concern (I am assuming) is to lose weight. For individuals hoping to achieve a small to moderate weight loss goal, slow and steady is the best way to go. This will allow you to preserve lean muscle (body tone) while achieving your goals.

4.       This kind of ties in with #3. In terms of body composition YOU NEED TO PICK weight loss or weight gain. You cannot “build” new muscle while in a calorie deficit. Muscles require calories to maintain themselves. If you are already constantly in a deficit your body will not have the required calories to build or maintain new muscle. The best you can hope for is to maintain the muscle you have. If your goal is to gain more new muscle you must eat in a calorie surplus.

5.       All diets work because ultimately they all need you to eat less calories than you need to maintain your current weight. The one that works best? That will be the one that you can stick to for the longest period of time. Most people yo-yo. They go on an extreme diet lose 10lbs in a month and then gain back 12lbs the next month. Pick a diet that you can follow for an extended period of time. This will lead to your best success.

6.       For certain populations’ higher protein intake may be beneficial to see optimal results.

7.       Intermittent calorie restriction is just another form of calorie restriction and ultimately the rates of weight loss are more or less the same.

8.       Adaptive Thermogenesis is going to be the subject of a later post, but basically when we diet our body slows down our metabolism to match our weight. Adaptive thermogenesis is when the body lowers our metabolism (both resting and active) below what it should be. This leads to a weight loss plateau and ultimately a quick regaining of the lost weight.

9.       Nutrition and exercise training have been the subject of many research projects and reviews. One area that has not been looked at as thoroughly is lifestyle modification and behaviour therapy. Eating habits play a large role in body composition and so one would think that learning how to retrain those habits or behaviours could have a beneficial effect on body composition.

Knowledge is power. Enhancing your knowledge of both exercise and nutrition can help you get better results, recognize misinformation and help you make better choices. The positions listed by the International Society of Sports Nutrition are a great foundation to start your pursuit of information from. Number 8 will be of particular interest to many people and I will touch on this more in a future post!

To your success,





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