3. Eat 25-plus grams of protein four times per day.
“We’ve all heard the cliché, ‘abs are made in the kitchen.’ It’s so true,” says Thomas Roe, an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer, endurance athlete, founder of TRoe Fitness and owner of Local Moves Studio in San Antonio, Texas.
Following a strict nutrition plan that’s high in lean protein (chicken and turkey breast, fish, tofu and tempeh are good examples) while doing the right kind of exercises can help maintain muscle.
That’s because your muscles use the protein you eat to grow bigger or stronger. When cutting calories, your body’s muscles may be less sensitive to the protein you eat, Spano says.
Hence why, in one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when exercising men followed a low-calorie diet that was high in protein for four weeks, they lost 10.56 pounds of fat while gaining 2.64 pounds of lean muscle. Meanwhile, those who followed a diet with the same amount of calories, but less protein, only lost 7.7 pounds of fat and gained less than a quarter pound of muscle.
“In addition, this protein intake should be spaced out evenly throughout the day,” Spano says. This keeps your muscles fed with a steady stream of building blocks.
In fact, a 2018 review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that for optimal muscle growth, people should consume between 0.2 and 0.25 grams of protein per pound of their body weight four times per day.
For a 180-pound adult, that equals four meals of 33 to 45 grams of protein. Other research recommends 25 to 35 grams of protein at every meal for most adults – and slightly more for vegetarians and vegans.