Lean In

These four tricks will help you lose fat and retain hard-earned muscle.

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When you want to achieve it all — fat loss, muscle maintenance and improved metabolic rate — it’s a matter of following sage nutrition tips. After all, anyone can lose weight by drastically cutting calories. But that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective strategy for losing body fat. In fact, it’s not. That’s especially true over the long run. Severe calorie restriction leads to loss of muscle tissue and water weight, ultimately reducing your metabolic rate. This means it’s then easier to add body fat when you return to your normal eating patterns.

These four crucial tips are all you need to know to get the most from your diet: body-fat loss, muscle maintenance and metabolic support.

1. Only cut calories moderately. You should only reduce your calorie intake about 20 percent below your baseline for bodyweight maintenance. That means an active woman who consumes 2,000 calories a day should consume no fewer than 1,600 calories per day. The good news is that you’ll keep muscle, lose body fat and you won’t starve yourself, either.

2. Eat multiple small meals per day. Taking in six meals a day will help you in multiple ways. First, it will keep a steady stream of nutrients in your body. Second, it will help keep you from feeling hungry. Third, it will rev up your metabolic rate. And there’s a fourth: It will also help you burn more calories because digesting food takes calories. The more often you eat, the more you burn. That explains why the flip side, eating only one meal a day, leads to body-fat storage.

3. Consume fewer carbs. Carbs cause an insulin release, and this hormone drives carbs to the physiological process where they’re needed most. Unfortunately, at most times of day, your body perceives the need to add to body fat as its primary need. Reducing carb intake, especially when you aren’t within an hour or so of workouts, supports body-fat loss by reducing insulin impact.

4. Consume more fats and protein. If you’re cutting carbs quite a bit and only reducing calories moderately, you need to increase the amount, or at least the percentage, of calories that come from fats and protein. Fats provide satiety, and protein gives you amino acids that help prevent muscle-tissue breakdown. In addition, consuming protein also boosts metabolic rate, increasing your body’s ability to burn body fat.

Your Lean-In Plan

Breakfast: 400 calories

egg whites, spinach, turkey bacon

You can add a yolk or two for healthy fats

Midmorning Snack: 100 calories

cottage cheese, piece of fruit

The fiber in whole fruit reduces insulin impact.

Lunch: 400 calories

chicken breast, asparagus

You can add a little avocado for beneficial fats

Pre- or Postworkout: 200 calories

25 grams of sugar and 25 grams of protein powder

This is the best time of the day to take in sugar because it supports muscle growth and recovery.

Dinner: 400 calories

Salmon, broccoli

Fatty fish and vegetables high in fiber stay with you longer.

Bedtime: 100 calories

cheese, nuts or protein shake

Fats slow protein release, protecting muscle mass for longer while you sleep.

Total Calories: 1,600