LOSING weight is one thing, but not if it comes at the expense of muscle loss. So it makes sense to wonder — is it actually possible to achieve fat loss while maintaining muscle mass? Surprisingly, the answer is yes — but it does involve a smart approach to fitness and nutrition.
A lot of the time, when people lose weight, they wind up with a lot less muscle than they started out with. Why? Weight loss requires an energy (calorie) deficit and muscle building requires an energy surplus. To implement a calorie deficit, you need to either eat less calories or burn more calories through exercise, or do a combination of the two.
However, while eating less is necessary for losing overall body mass, this calorie deficit is counter-productive for building muscle at the same time. What’s more — if a person is restricting carbohydrates — fats (in the form of ketones) and proteins will be used for energy instead, therefore won’t be available for muscle repair and growth.
So, how can you achieve both goals? These six science-backed strategies will help.
1. Don’t overly restrict
Drastic changes in calories will not only sabotage your workout efforts, but will ultimately slow your metabolism, partly due to the loss in muscle that comes when you drop overall body weight. And since muscle is the greatest determiner of your metabolic rate, this muscle loss may largely explain why so many people struggle to keep weight off once they lose it.
To prevent this, your food intake should never dip below your ‘basal’ metabolic requirements, which is the minimum number of calories your body uses to keep all its systems functioning correctly. There are a plethora of online tools that can help you calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). While their accuracy is debatable, they will give you a basic understanding.
2. Protein is key
Protein needs are based on age, activity, sex and whether you are breastfeeding or pregnant. However, most authorities recommend around 0.75-0.84g per kilogram of body weight, but many round it up to 1g per kg to keep things simple. For example, if you weigh 75kg, you would need roughly 75g of protein per day. But, in order to preserve lean muscle tissue, adjusting your protein intake slightly is an important piece of the puzzle.