Attempting to reach a healthier body weight always involves some weight loss but be careful you’re not unintentionally losing something else – muscle mass. The trick is to shed fat but to preserve the muscle mass you currently have. But what’s the best way to cut fat mass while maintaining muscle?
When burning fat for weight loss while at the same time maintaining and building muscle mass, relies on specific diet and exercise habits. Here’s a look at dietary tricks that work and then reviewing physical activity tricks to prevent loss of muscle mass.
To maintain muscle mass as much as possible, here’s how to go about it dietary-wise:
- Eat more lean protein: Consuming more protein helps boost metabolism throughout the day since protein takes more energy to digest than carbohydrates or fat. Protein also helps you feel full longer creating satiety, keeping you from overeating. Aim to consume about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, a person weighing 200 pounds would first convert their weight in pounds to kilograms or take 200 divided by 2.2 to equal 91 kilograms in weight. Therefore, this person should be eating approximately 91 grams of protein each day, divided equally throughout the day of consuming 30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Be sure to get protein from lean sources such as lean beef (round or loin cuts), poultry, fish, pork, nuts, eggs, and dairy.
- Eat carbohydrates after a workout: If you are lifting weights, especially heavyweights, it’s important to consume carbs after working out. Weight lifting can lead to muscle fibers that are damaged and therefore your energy reserves need to be refueled. If you avoid carbs believing they are fattening, this only hurts your recovery after lifting weights. Choose instead to eat high-quality carbs post workouts. Pick healthy, filling carbs such as pasta, brown rice, baked potato, or sweet potatoes to start the recovery process and to pump your body full of energy helping it perform at its best.
- Avoid crash diets: The goal of weight loss is just that – to lose weight. But how much and how fast should it be? And does that matter to muscle mass? Yes, it does. Start with a moderate calorie deficit of only 500 calories to flip the switch for weight loss without sacrificing muscle size or strength gains. If you lose weight too quickly – such as diet plans promising five or more pounds per week – and very likely you’ll also be losing important muscle mass too.
A smarter way to lose weight safely while preserving precious muscle mass is to aim for no more than 1-2 pounds of weight lost per week. Cutting calories too quickly or going on a calorie-restrictive diet and your muscle tone will seriously suffer. This type of dieting causes the body to break down muscles for energy and fuel. That loss of muscle mass can also slow metabolism or the rate at which you burn calories. This matters as muscles are more metabolically active than fat. That means one pound of muscle burns more calories a day than one pound of fat ever will.
Physical activity tricks
- Do compound strength exercises at least three times per week: The most effective exercises for both fat loss and muscle gain are compound strength moves – meaning they work multiple muscle groups at once. Examples include squats, chest presses, and rows.
- Use slow aerobic cardio: Cardio exercises such as running or bicycling, are not the most effective ways to build or maintain muscle when you’re in a caloric deficit. They are great for cardiovascular health and for inducing weight loss but not ideal for maintaining or building muscle mass. It’s not to say you should avoid cardio workouts, but rather to perform low-intensity cardio such as brisk walking, jogging, gentle cycling or swimming to increase blood flow to bring oxygen and other nutrients to the muscle cells. Here’s the trick – in-between strength workouts, take advantage of light cardio as mentioned earlier. Stick to low-intensity workouts, without going full force. This will still provide a nice cardio workout without as much emphasis while also working on lifting weights to preserve and build muscle mass.
- Do HIIT workouts more sparingly: Once or twice a week, add in a high-intensity interval training workout such as repeated sprints on a treadmill, at a track, on an elliptical, or bike. These workouts help burn calories and reduce body fat while still maintaining muscle.