Lose the Fat, Keep the Muscle

July 10, 2019

There’s a common idea in the fitness industry that surrounds muscle loss and dieting that scares a lot of people into buying supplements they don’t need, and wasting time and money.  

What I’m talking about is the idea that you’re going to lose a ton of your hard earned muscle in the process of losing body fat. 

I can understand why you’d have this fear though -- it takes months and years of hard strength training and monitoring your nutrition to build a good amount of muscle mass. 

No one wants to waste all that just to get a little leaner. Well, the good thing is you can put that fear to rest. 

This fear of extreme muscle loss when dieting has been perpetuated and really blown out of proportion mostly by the supplement and fitness industry. 

It’s in their interest to make you think your bicep is going to fall off if you didn’t drink BCAA’s or have a shake right after a workout. 

This is being done to sell you a lot of products that you don’t really need, and can very easily manage with a few simple habits.

The good news is you can put this fear of muscle falling off your bones as soon as you start to diet for fat loss to bed. 

For most of you reading this who have an idea of strength training and nutrition you don’t have much to worry about.

That is unless you’re consistently crash dieting for fat loss, then you’ll run the risk of some muscle loss. 

Don’t do that.  

Instead check out the tips in today’s blog where we’re covering exactly what you need to do to ensure you hold on to as much muscle as possible while dieting.

Priority #1: Strength Train

Any way you want to look at it strength training is viewed by the body as a stressor, a positive stress, but a stress none the less.

The body’s adaptation to that stress is to build muscle. By building muscle in response to the stress of strength training your body is able to handle the same stress with less of an overall tax on the body, and the nervous system. 

When you’re consistently sending your body the signal via strength training that this physical stress is going to be a regular occurrence, it responds by preserving that muscle as a way adequately handle that stress.   

The number one thing you can do (that's legal anyway) to hold on to muscle when dieting is to strength train a minimum of three to four times per week. 

Within that strength training you want to use progressive overload to ensure you’re putting stress on the muscles just beyond what they’re adapted to handle. 

You can train more than three to four times per week, but you want to be mindful of how your appetite and recovery respond when you increase training. 

For some of you, more training will bring on hunger spikes and cravings making it much more difficult to adhere to your calorie intake for fat loss. 

With increased training comes increased recovery demands as well, and if you can’t keep up with those needs because you’re in a calorie deficit for fat loss then increased training might not work best for you. 

So make sure to keep an eye on your appetite and recovery if you decide to increase your training sessions or volume. 

To make sure you have the correct form, and a program designed to help you do just this, come into Vigor Ground Fitness in Renton and try out one of our classes with our world class coaches and trainers.

Priority # 2: Eat Enough Protein

Now that you have the stimulus from strength training consistently, let’s shift our focus and look at what you can do from the nutrition side to hold onto muscle while dropping body fat. 

When you’re strength training and using progressive overload to push your muscles beyond what they’re adapted to handle, you’re breaking those muscle down. 

This breakdown triggers the muscle to rebuild, and recover from the “trauma” of strength training.

The rebuilding and recovery phase is where nutrition and sleep become a key part of this equation. More on sleep later in the blog. 

The raw materials needed to rebuild that muscle come from the protein you consume throughout the day.

By making sure you’re giving the body sources of protein that include the entire amino acid spectrum, most importantly the amino acid leucine.

You’re providing the body the building blocks it needs to rebuild the muscle you’ve broken down. 

For those who are tracking their macros and protein intake I’d have you eat 0.7 - 1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. 

If you’re using more of a habit based approach then having 1-2 palms of protein at each meal is a good start. Then adjust based on your needs.

Also keep in mind when you’re dieting for fat loss, there’s bound to be some extra hunger and cravings that pop up from time to time.

Protein is especially helpful for helping you to feel fuller for longer, more satiated and curbing cravings as well as retention of muscle mass. 

You might be wondering how frequently you should be having protein to help with maintaining muscle during a fat loss phase ?  

As long as you hit that 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight for the day you’ll be in a really solid place, so I wouldn’t sweat it too much. 

However for those who love the details, a more optimal protein distribution throughout the day I’d recommend getting at least three to five protein feedings. 

At the end of the day it won’t make a massive difference in your overall goals so if you utilize fasting as a tool for fat loss then you’re still going to be set up pretty well. 

Some of you have likely been told that you can’t absorb more than thirty grams of protein in one sitting so you think you have to eat a ton of smaller meals all day long. 

The devil really is in the details sometimes, you can absorb a remarkable amount of protein at each sitting.

When it comes to how much of that protein you can use for muscle building is where a ceiling occurs, and is highly individualized based on three major factors. 

The first factor would be the size of the person, and the amount of muscle mass they have. With more muscle mass you’re be able to utilize more protein to repair and rebuild. 

Secondly, the amount of muscle mass you’re training during your trips to the gym. For example you could put more protein to use from a whole body workout, as opposed to  just hitting some bicep curls in the mirror. 

Lastly, your age plays a role with protein use, as a well established phenomenon named anabolic resistance happens meaning more protein is needed to get the same muscle protein response to repair and rebuild. 

With all these factors at play you can see how protein is an important part of the nutrition equation when looking to lose fat, but retain muscle.  

Things like chicken, turkey, lean ground beef, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, salmon, eggs, lean steaks and tuna are all going to give you the full amino acid spectrum you need to repair and rebuild muscle.

Priority # 3: Sleep More!

When it comes to any health or fitness related goal whether it’s losing body fat, building muscle or improving performance in the gym, sleep plays a massive role. 

This one of the most simple muscle maintaining habits you can do that is entirely free and in your control, but it’s also the most overlooked as well. 

When it comes to thinking about the role sleep plays in your muscle mass maintenance consider this really crucial point, all muscle recovery, rebuilding, and repair takes place when you’re asleep, not awake.

Everything from your muscle mass, hormones, energy and performance when strength training will all be positively or negatively impacted by your sleep habits. 

Let’s be honest most people don’t get  nearly enough sleep, on average most you likely get around 5-6 hours per night. 

A few tips that can help you to improve your sleep is to avoid screens 30 minutes ahead of bed time, don’t exercise too close to bedtime and try to cut off any caffeinated drinks roughly 8 hours ahead of your bed time to be safe. 

Have some sort of wind down routine at night so you can send the signal to your body and mind, it’s time to wind down from the day and prepare for sleep. 

If you really struggle with sleep using a magnesium supplement has been a complete game changer for multiple clients of mine. 

Everyone is different in how much sleep they need but an average of 7-9 hours per night is a good general recommendation, and enough for muscle repair and rebuilding to take place.

In Conclusion

The whole idea of muscle loss when dieting for fat loss is largely overblown in the nutrition and fitness industry. 

If you follow the simple priorities in this blog you’ll be in a really great place to hold onto as much muscle as possible while dieting for fat loss. 

Make sure you’re strength training three to four times per week and using progressive overload to continually challenge and stress the muscle to grow. 

If you can get more training sessions in without a huge increase in appetite and recovery isn’t hindered, increase moderately. 

Once you’ve broken the muscle down, you need to give it the raw materials to rebuild and repair in the form of proteins containing all the amino acids. 

Make sure you’re consuming 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight or 1-2 palms worth of protein at each meal.

The amount of protein you can put to use is based on your body size and muscle mass, the muscles you’re training and your age. 

Eating a little more protein is completely fine unless you have pre-existing kidney disorders then you need to be more careful and consult a doctor. 

Last but certainly not least, get 7-9 hours of high quality sleep in a dark room each night to maximize your hormonal profile, muscle mass and metabolism. 

To make sure you have all these boxes checked and a plan that  works for you personally come by Vigor Ground Fitness in downtown Renton, Seattle and give our world class coaching and classes a try!


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