How to Lose Fat And Maintain Your Muscle
Losing weight is relatively straightforward: move more, eat less, and you’ll shed some pounds.
But losing fat and maintaining your muscle is a whole other ball game. Achieving this requires the right tactics and much greater attention to detail.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into effective fat loss, why it should be your goal, and what tactics you need to employ.
The Problem With Traditional Weight Loss
Weight loss is a popular goal of many people today. Walk up to an overweight person at the gym, and they’ll likely say, “I train to lose some weight and get fit.” Similarly, visit most discussion boards and fitness forums, and you’ll come across countless people looking for tactics to lose weight.
The problem with this approach is that people don’t care about their body composition and instead only care to get thinner and lose pounds on the scale. While beneficial at first, traditional weight loss protocols often lead to significant muscle loss along the way.
To make matters worse, traditional weight loss doesn’t lead to a lean and athletic physique. Instead, it often results in a skinny fat physique: lacking muscle and being at a high body fat percentage. So, despite their efforts, many people feel dissatisfied with their results following a weight loss phase.
Luckily, there are specific tactics we can use to reduce these risks. But it all starts with a change in how we see weight loss. Instead of looking to shed weight, we should aim to lose fat. In doing so, we can maintain our muscles, reach our goal more quickly, maintain our metabolic rate, and look better once we reach our goals.
Four Tactics to Lose Fat And Maintain Your Muscle Mass
- Lose Weight More Slowly
Rapid weight loss might seem like a good idea, but doing so increases the risk of muscle loss. The reason is that your body can only break down so much fat in a given period. If you eat too little, your body will also break down significant amounts of protein to get the energy it needs.
According to research, the optimal rate of weight loss is between 0.5 and one percent of your body weight each week. For reference, if you weigh 200 pounds at the start of your fat loss, you can lose up to two pounds per week. But, as you get leaner, you should slow down the rate of weight loss because the risk of muscle breakdown will increase.
You should maintain a calorie deficit of no more than 500 to 600 calories to achieve this rate of weight loss.
- Do Some Resistance Training
To understand the importance of resistance training for effective fat loss, we have to look at muscle and fat tissue.
Skeletal muscle is a type of metabolically-costly tissue that produces force to create movement. Your body expends calories every day to support the muscle mass you have.
From an evolutionary standpoint, having too much muscle isn’t ideal for your body because it represents an unnecessary caloric expenditure that can threaten your survival during periods of famine. So, unless your body has good reasons, it prefers to break down excess muscle mass for energy.
In contrast to muscle, fat is what your body prefers to have. Fatty tissue is much less metabolically active, and your body doesn’t have to expend calories to maintain it. Aside from that, fat is calorie-dense and contains much-needed energy for survival during periods of food shortage.
Doing resistance training while dieting is important because it gives your body a solid reason to keep muscle mass around. You essentially tell your body, “Hey! This muscle is important for everyday tasks, so don’t break it down for energy.” As a result, your body resorts to getting more energy from fatty tissue and less from lean mass.
The great news is that you don’t need to do a ton of training to achieve these effects. As little as three solid workouts per week can be enough. You have to train each major muscle group, work hard to maintain your performance, and give your body time to recover between sessions.
- Consume Some Protein
While crucial, resistance training alone is not enough for your body to maintain muscle while dieting. There is a significant reason for that: protein turnover.
Your body is in a constant state of discarding old proteins and replacing them with fresh ones. In doing so, it maintains tissue quality and overall health.
Protein turnover depends on a delicate balance between protein synthesis and degradation. If we break down more proteins that we synthesize, we lose muscle. In contrast, if we synthesize more proteins than we break down, we gain muscle.
To maintain our muscle, especially while dieting, we need to maintain high levels of protein synthesis. So, we need large amounts of protein every day. By consuming enough protein, the body has enough building blocks (amino acids) to carry our protein synthesis, resulting in muscle maintenance and growth.
The good news is that we don’t need tons of protein to achieve this effect. According to most experts, we should consume roughly 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So, if you weigh, say, 170 pounds, you should consume 136 grams of protein daily.
- Get Enough Sleep
Sleeping enough is the fourth piece of the fat loss puzzle. While not an exciting subject, getting enough sleep is essential for proper metabolic function and fatty acid oxidation. These effects were demonstrated beautifully in one study from 2010. In that paper, ten overweight but otherwise healthy people had to go through two conditions:
- Significant calorie restriction plus 8.5 hours in bed (slept an average of 7 hours and 25 minutes)
- The same dietary plan plus 5.5 hours in bed (slept an average of 5 hours and 14 minutes)
Both conditions lasted for two weeks and were spaced at least three months apart to allow metabolic recovery. Subjects lost 6.6 pounds in both situations, which is a lot in just two weeks. But here is the interesting bit:
The participants lost fat and muscle at a 50/50 ratio when they slept over seven hours per night. In contrast, the same subjects lost fat and muscle at a 20/80 ratio in the sleep-deprived condition. With everything else the same, subjects lost 2.33 times more fat when they got a couple of hours of extra sleep. Conversely, folks in the study lost 1.6 times more lean tissue when they didn’t sleep enough.
Despite its issues (e.g., low protein intake, rapid weight loss, lack of physical activity, etc.), the study illustrated the profound impact of sleep for people on a diet.
So, a simple and effective way to improve your fat loss efforts and feel well is to sleep for at least seven hours per night.