How to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle?

Updated on  February 25, 2023
William Toro

Published By:  William Toro

Fact Checked by: Bridget MacDonald, RDN

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It would be nice if every kilogram of weight lost was fat, and we wouldn't have to worry about losing muscle mass. However, in reality, everything is not so beautiful and simple. Depending on the type of diet you use and the type of exercise you perform, a significant part of the weight you lose may be derived from muscle tissue, which is exactly the opposite of what you would like.

Of course, there is no way to guarantee that any weight loss occurs only from adipose tissue. However, you can "tip the scales" by appropriate actions. Here are some tips to lose weight and not lose muscle.

Don't overdo it with cardio!

When you are trying to lose weight, you may be tempted to dramatically increase your cardio loads. Running on a treadmill, cycling, aerobics. You grab everything and do it for an hour, several times a week, hoping to burn a large number of calories and, consequently, fat. Doing aerobics, we actually burn calories, but more than a third of the calories burned are burned by muscles. Long-term cardio efforts of medium intensity are not an ideal solution if you want to maintain muscle mass of the body. A much better choice is short and intense interval training. All types of sprints improve aerobic and anaerobic performance, while maintaining muscle mass.

However, to benefit from this type of training, you do not need to do a sprint. You can get the same results in high-intensity interval training. Both sprint and HIIT workouts, as well as any short, intense workouts, will be the right choice, since they will promote the release of anabolic hormones. During long periods of cardio, especially when we are in a state of calorie depletion, the adrenal glands secrete more cortisol, which contributes to the destruction of muscles.

Instead of long, low-intensity cardio sessions, focus on short and intense workouts.

Don't cut too many calories in your diet!

If you want to lose weight, you will need a calorie deficit. However, the deficit is needed no more than 10-15%. Do not reduce the calorie content too sharply. Too large a calorie deficit will be difficult to maintain in the long term, and secondly, it will contribute to the destruction of muscle tissue. What can help you lose as little muscle as possible during contraction is increasing the amount of protein in the diet and strength training.

In one study, scientists studied the effect of protein intake in a calorie-deficient diet on the effects of weight loss. In this study, one group used a diet in which 10% of calories were protein. The second and third groups ate two and three times more protein, respectively.

The result? All participants lost weight, but those who consumed at least 20% of calories from protein lost less muscle tissue.

By reducing the number of calories, maintain a high protein intake (up to 2-2. 5 g per kilogram of body weight) and make sure that during the day you consume protein for the synthesis of muscle proteins (at least 20-30 g of protein per meal).

Heavy loads.

When you are trying to maintain muscle mass, you have to perform heavy workouts with a load. Heavy training maximizes the release of growth hormone. This helps to maintain body weight without fat. In addition, weight lifting leads to an increase in EPOC (excessive oxygen consumption after training, i.e. an increase in oxygen consumption after training).

When you are in a calorie deficit and your goal is to lose as much fat as possible while retaining as much muscle as possible, the worst thing you can choose is a large number of repetitions with small loads. The best thing you can do is a diet rich in healthy proteins and strength training. This strategy will help you lose more fat and less muscle.

Take care of recovery and sleep!

Lack of sleep dramatically reduces the ability to lose fat. First, lack of sleep stimulates appetite by affecting appetite hormones such as ghrelin and leptin. Secondly, studies show that sleep deprivation can slow down the metabolism at rest by as much as 5%.

In addition, research has shown that lack of sleep can affect the weight you lose. In this study, one group of participants slept 8.5 hours, while the second group slept only 5.5 hours a day. Both groups ate the same number of calories and lost the same number of kilograms. However, some important differences were noticed. In the group that slept for more than 8 hours during the night, 50% of the weight loss occurred from adipose tissue, whereas in the second group that did not sleep for a long time, the weight loss accounted for only 25% of body fat. The rest of the lost weight was without fat.

This is an important reason for you to sleep long enough and well enough.

William Toro

William Toro ‧ CPT & Nutritionist

William is a certified personal trainer from NASM, he has also been a rehab physiologist for sports persons. He has more than 15 years of experience training people. And has featured in multiple publications like FoxNews, CNBC, Bustle, and other. 

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