The Best Diet to Preserve Your Muscle
by Dr. Victor Marchione
As far as diets go, a protein-based one may not be a bad idea. Researchers from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine have discovered that a high protein diet helps to shut down a key system in the body responsible for degrading skeletal muscle tissue. The system in question is called the proteasome system.
For those of you thinking of going on a diet, or are already dieting, this news may be of relevance. Often, when dieting, along with the loss of body fat, muscle tissue tends to disappear. For everyone, this can become a problem. For older adults, it becomes much more of an issue. It is more difficult as a senior to regain muscle tissue, which tends to slowly waste away as part of the natural process of aging.
For their study, the U.S. military researchers had young men and women follow a specifically controlled diet for one month. There were three different levels of protein assigned to the diet: the RDA for protein, two times the RDA, and three times the RDA. The remainder of the diet was carefully adjusted to maintain a constant body weight for the first two weeks of the diet. This helped the participants’ metabolism adapt to increased levels of protein. For the next two weeks, the researchers then lowered the caloric intake while increasing the amount of exercise the participants were asked to do. The goal was to have each participant lose about two pounds each week. All meals were prepared by the research staff who also supervised the exercise sessions.
The researchers think their findings are important as many diets do not account for which type of weight loss they induce. Some diets make you seemingly lose weight when, in fact, your body has lost much of its natural supply of water. Similarly, many fad diets trigger weight reductions in the form of lost muscle. Since preserving muscle tissue while losing fat is the best approach to dieting, going on a protein diet may be the way to go.
There have been some concerns expressed about following a high protein diet, however. Some experts have cited the risk for an increased intake of saturated fat which leads to problems with the heart and other organs. Then, too, there’s the issue that insufficient intake of carbohydrates is not good for the body either. You need some carbs for your body to function normally. High protein diets can trigger problems with the kidneys as well.
Nutritional research has shown that the body can’t store excess protein. There’s no system in place for it to use extra protein for energy or muscle. If you eat lots of protein, some of it will get excreted, while the rest gets converted to fat or glucose to be stored for later use.
This brings us back to the fact that the best diet of all is a well-balanced one: simply eat whole foods, in the recommended proportions, and stay away from too much sugar, fat, and salt.
- “Short-term energy deficits increase factors related to muscle degradation,” Medical News Today web site; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/269591.php, last accessed Dec. 2, 2013.
- Tang, M., et al., “Diet-Induced Weight Loss: The Effect of Dietary Protein on Bone,” J Acad Nutr Diet. October 30, 2013.
- Bendtsen, L.Q., et al., “Associations between dairy protein intake and body weight and risk markers of diabetes and CVD during weight maintenance,” Br J Nutr. October 30, 2013:1-10.
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Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The Food Doctor newsletter. Dr. Marchione has also served as Principal Investigator in at least a dozen clinical research projects relating to serious ailments such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).