Try a diet high in fat and protein to get lean and improve performance. A recent study from Poland showed that by eating a high-fat diet, athletes reduced body fat and improved balance of hormones involved in exercise recovery and peak performance.
Subjects were competitive, well-trained male basketball players who switched from a standard mixed diet of 50 percent carbs, 30 percent fat, and 20 percent protein to one that was 70 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 10 percent carbs for three weeks. They then ate a “carb-loading” diet for a week that was 70 percent carbs and 10 percent fat in order to refuel muscle glycogen stores.
Results showed that the athletes lost an average of 1.5 kg of body fat and reduced body fat percentage from 9.4 to 8.9 percent following the high-fat diet. They had no change in muscle mass, but did increase testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 levels following the high-fat diet. Furthermore, the players had much lower insulin levels and more moderate blood sugar from restricting carbs.
Athletic performance was maintained on the high-fat diet, however total work output was lower due to low glycogen stores. The athletes maintained peak power output on the high-fat diet—a measurement that is reached within the first 2 to 4 seconds of the initiation of the exercise bout.
The one drawback of the high-fat diet was a reduced total work output during a 30-second cycle sprint test, due to lower muscle glycogen. Following the carb-loading week, glycogen was refueled, allowing the athletes to perform more work than at baseline when they were on the mixed diet.
Researchers suggest that alternating between a high-fat diet and “refueling” phase can allow for “supercompensation” of energy stores that leads to significant increases in anaerobic performance.
At the same time, the high-fat, high-protein diet is an ideal way to improve body composition since it increases muscle building, fat burning hormones and leads to a drop on insulin and glucose. The body becomes more sensitive to insulin and is able to store glycogen at a higher rate when carbs are reintroduced into the diet.
To improve body composition on a high-fat, high-protein diet, focus on the following:
- Eat a variety of healthy fats and shoot for an even balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
- Completely avoid trans and hydrogenated fats.
- Restrict carbs to low-glycemic sources from primarily vegetables and some fruit.
- Eat high-quality protein from whole food sources.
- Make sure you are getting adequate fiber—low-carb, high-fat, high-protein diets tend to be extremely low in fiber.
- If you include “refueling” phases with higher carb intake, eat high-quality whole carbs and avoid processed or refined foods.