Holding on to your muscle when dieting is one of the best things you can do for successful fat loss. Learn how to lose fat without losing muscle.
Keep Your Calories Up
I suspect that the majority of people who have stalled weight loss are not eating enough calories to lose weight. When you go too low on your calories, many negative feedback mechanisms start to materialize. While a slowed metabolic rate and reduced thyroid output are a couple of side effects of a low calorie intake, your body also starts to shed muscle mass.
While we love our muscle, our bodies don’t quite share the same feelings when it’s in a prolonged extreme calorie deficit. Muscle is expendable. It burns too many valuable calories that are needed to maintain key body functions. Always start high with your calories and then come down as needed – not vice versa.
Provide a Stimulus to Your Muscles
Use it or lose it. If you don’t give your body a reason to hold onto your muscle, it’s going to break it down and use it for energy. Some form of strength training is mandatory if you want to lose fat without losing muscle.
If you try dieting without any, you will still lose fat, but the ratio of weight loss will start shifting more towards muscle loss. Weight loss and fat loss are not the same thing. If you want the majority of your weight loss to come from fat stores, give your body a good reason for why it should hang onto your muscle.
Keep Your Protein Intake High
Muscle is mostly made up of amino acids – which are the building blocks of protein. Protein not only makes up your muscle tissue, it’s also a key component in every cell of your body. Protein is one of two essential macronutrients (EFA’s being the other) that you don’t want to under-consume.
The amount of protein you need will vary based on many factors like your activity level and your carbohydrate intake, but generally speaking, an intake of .6-.8 grams/lb of body mass will be sufficient to maintain a positive nitrogen balance and prevent muscle wasting when under calorie restriction .
Don’t Run Low On Glycogen
Muscle glycogen is essential to any kind of high-intensity training. While we can derive some energy from the ATP-PC system, it is very limited in storage capacity. Muscle glycogen is the primary source of energy for prolonged anaerobic activity.
Our muscle glycogen is derived from the glucose we produce. Whether that glucose comes from carbohydrates, from protein via gluconeogenesis, or from glycerol (a byproduct of fatty acid metabolism), excess amounts in the blood stream that aren’t immediately used are transported by insulin to muscle and liver cells and get converted to glycogen.
The best way to make sure you don’t run low on glycogen? Eat carbohydrates. If you don’t tolerate carbohydrates well, you might do better consuming them around periods of high insulin sensitivity. These times are during your first meal of the day and pre/post-workout.
Go Easy on the Cardio
For many people, cardio and weight loss go hand and hand like peanut butter and jelly. Here’s the thing though – cardio is not necessary to lose weight. Can you lose weight doing cardio? Of course you can. Is it necessary? No.
The only thing that is necessary for weight loss is a calorie deficit. Better yet, find ways to make your strength training more intense so that you can incorporate cardiovascular training at the same time. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a great way to accomplish this.
Specific physical fitness goals aside, do just enough exercise to maintain or put on muscle, but no more. You don’t need to kill yourself in the gym every day of the week to get results. Your nutrition is the biggest factor in weight loss.
While you might burn a few hundred calories during your workout, you burn thousands the rest of the day. Focus on using exercise to create a favorable metabolic environment for fatty acid mobilization, and then create a calorie deficit using your diet to lose fat.