It's no secret that diet is crucial to most fitness goals, whether you're looking to burn fat, gain muscle, or both. "Abs are made in the kitchen," after all; you have to work to build the muscles and shed the fat on top of them if you want them visible, and the right eating plan is key to both of those goals. So what food should you be stocking up on to do just that?
Low-Carb Foods to Help Burn Fat
"Not having lots of carbs, especially from sugar, can help you burn fat," said registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick of the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. She explained that when it comes to diet, fat loss isn't so much about the exact foods you eat, but making sure you get the right levels of macronutrients — that is, protein, fat, and carbs — while depleting your body's glucose stores. "Glucose is the body's preferred fuel," she told POPSUGAR, and carbs break down into glucose — aka sugar — in your body. Eating fewer carbs gives your body less sugar to work with. To get the energy you need, you'll start burning fat instead.
Protein Will Help Build Muscles
No surprise here. Kristin confirmed that if you're looking to build muscle, protein is crucial. That's because it's made from amino acids, which she said are helpful post-workout, when your muscle fibers are broken down. The amount of protein you need depends on a few different factors, Kristin said, including the kind of workout you're doing (cardio vs. resistance training) and its length.
Low-Carb, High Protein Foods
If you're trying to both burn fat and build muscle, you'll be looking for foods that are brimming with protein and low in carbs. Kristin highlighted six that are good to add to your cabinet:
Two other strategies can help lose fat and build muscle: intermittent fasting and tracking macros. IF has been shown to protect muscle mass, Kristin said, and she added that some studies have shown that working out in the morning before you eat can bump you into a fat-burning zone.
Hitting your macros is also key — and more important than counting calories. That's what makes the keto diet so popular, Kristin said: "Calories are sky-high, yet people lose weight."
While keto and IF might not be for you, incorporating Kristin's six key foods into your diet, whatever it is, is an effective way to start shedding body fat and building your muscles.