There are plenty of articles that cover how to lose fat. Unfortunately, they often forget to talk about losing fat WITHOUT losing your muscle. Did you even know that was an issue? If not, you aren’t alone.
Many people, myself included, embark on a weight loss regimen without we’re at risk of losing muscle as well. If you’re someone who is in decent shape, or who has put a lot of work into gaining muscle, the last thing you want to do is end up in worse physical shape than you were in before your diet.
Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat
Too often people focus only on losing “weight,” without realizing that weight is just a number on a scale. You can lose weight through water loss, glycogen loss, muscle loss, or fat loss.
If you get loose skin removed in a tummy tuck or for a more extreme example, if you cut off a limb you’ll lose weight as well. That’s weight loss, but it’s not fat loss.
What we really want to lose is fat, NOT muscle. And despite the outlandish claims of many fad diets, there is really only one thing required to lose weight a caloric deficit.
Caloric Deficit and Alternative Energy Sources
Simply put, a caloric deficit is all about “calories in, calories out.” This means that the amount of calories you expend each day (whether that’s from exercise or just the calories spent keeping your body alive and functioning) must be higher than the amount of calories you consume.
This forces your body to turn to an alternative source of energy besides consumed calories in order to maintain body function. As we diet, we hope that our bodies choose to mobilize our fat stores so our fat can be used for energy, to make up for the deficit in calories. However, if we don’t eat right, our bodies can choose to use lean muscle tissue as an energy source, instead of fat meaning those muscles that some of us have worked very hard to get!
Your body doesn’t care that you want it to burn fat. It’s going to choose the most easily available energy source, and that could mean that it chooses to burn muscle, fat, or a combination of both.
Turn On Your Fat-Burning Furnace
If you want to maintain your pretty muscle as your body ramps up its search for an alternative calorie source, you’re going to have to give it what it needs. It’s absolutely crucial to give your body the proper nutrition if you want it to stay healthy and function well as you lose fat.
By eating a sufficient amount of protein in your diet every day, you’ll make sure that you have enough protein to keep building your muscle tissue. This is the most crucial thing you can do to prevent muscle loss. Even if you aren’t keeping up with a proper weight training regimen, you can still retain the muscle you have by upping your protein.
The ideal amount of protein recommended tends to be about 1 gram of protein for every pound of your body weight. Be sure that you get this in its natural form through beans, lean meat, etc.
Go Easy on Calorie Restriction
Although you may be gung-ho to get your fat loss going, don’t get carried away. You do need a calorie deficit, which requires calorie restriction. But if you restrict your calories too much, your body may rebel, either by slowing down your metabolism (and also your rate of fat loss) or by turning to muscle to get the extra energy it wants.
Don’t make your body cannibalize itself! A reasonable calorie deficit of about 20% less than you need to maintain your current weight should be plenty. You can determine the right base calorie amount by searching online for a basal metabolic rate (BMR) calculator, which tells you what calorie level you need just for your body to maintain itself.
Then you’ll need to add in extra calories for any extra exercise you get during the day, from being at work, walking around, participating in hobbies, or performing your exercise or strength training regiment. Figure up the amount of calories you expend in these activities, and add that to your BMR.
Muscle Loss Can Be Prevented
You don’t need to avoid dieting in order to avoid muscle loss. You just need to eat smarter. I’ve learned the hard way that taking short cuts by cutting too many calories or eating lazy and not getting enough protein can have disastrous results.
If you don’t take the time to make sure you’re doing things right, before you know it your workouts are harder, you’re feeling a little weaker, and you can’t do the number of reps or amount of weight that you could before. The last thing you want to do is lose muscle and strength along with the fat.
You can prevent muscle loss by making sure you’re eating healthy and giving your body the nutrition and protein intake that it needs. Then you can burn the fat, keep the muscle, and get your body in the shape you’ve always wanted.