3 Tips to Keeping Your Gains While Losing Fat
No matter if you have 10 pounds or 100 pounds to lose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that losing five to ten percent of your total body weight can lower your bad cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
The downside to losing fat is that it is more likely to burn lean muscle tissue. Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, but muscle gives you the physique you want. According to some research published over in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, you could expect at least 20 to 30 percent of the weight you lose to come from losing muscle.
Related - How to Gain Muscle Mass Fast
But there are some ways to prevent muscle loss. So let's check them out.
How to Keep Your Muscle Gains
#1 - You'll Need to Eat More Protein
It's probably not surprising that you need to eat more protein.
One study from the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that increasing your protein from the recommended 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day to around 1.2 to 2.4 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day along with a 30 to 40 percent calorie reduction maximizes fat loss while maintaining your existing muscle.
For example, if you are a 185-pound person, you could consume roughly 101 to 202 grams of protein per day and could theoretically maintain your muscle even when you cut your calories by 30 to 40 percent. You find this by dividing your bodyweight by 2.2 so you have your weight in kilograms and then multiply that by 1.2 and 2.4 to get your daily protein range.
Protein is such a vital component to your muscles that you could even build muscle while you are following a calorie restriction. But that means you'll need to start using all three tips.
Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition took 40 overweight young men and had them follow a diet that was either low in protein or higher in protein, 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day versus 2.4 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Both groups were to perform a combination of strength training and high-intensity interval training six days per week.
Both of the groups, however, followed a hypocaloric diet — reducing their estimated caloric needs by 40 percent. At the end of the four weeks, the group who ate more protein not only lost more fat than the other group, but they also gained roughly 2.6 pounds of muscle. The lower-protein group did not gain any muscle.
Fat loss was 10.6 pounds for the higher protein group, while the lower protein group lost 7.7 pounds.
So how do you eat more protein?
Ideally, you would consume more protein through whole foods first, and supplement with whey if you have trouble eating enough whole foods. The problem many gym goers have is they try to use supplements as a fix instead of supplementing to enhance a fundamentally-sound diet.
Protein supplements are great and you can create a lot of tasty treats with it, but it isn't any better at creating an anabolic response over any other protein source with a similar amino acid profile. But they are a lot more practical and versatile for someone who is struggling to eat enough protein.
Some solid protein sources include:
- Greek Yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
Eating a well-balanced diet that spreads your protein intake throughout the day is ideal. Protein will keep you fuller for longer, and will help you hold onto those precious gains.
#2 - Use Cardio Sparingly
What's the first thing someone does once they sign up for their first gym membership? They get on a treadmill for hours.
When January rolls around, many gym-goers opt for a cardio-only approach. They say they don't want to get "bulky," but what they really mean is they want to look skinny-fat.
Running, cycling, and swimming all are helpful for losing fat, but you need to look at cardio as a way to improve your overall health. According to the Journal of Applied Physiology, aerobic training appears to be the best exercise method for losing fat.
But there's a caveat.
Cardio offers many other health benefits that make it worth your time. In fact, running could help lower your risk of death from heart disease by up to 45 percent according to a long-term study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Remember how I said muscle burns more calories at rest? Muscle is also an easier source of fuel when your body is demanding fuel. So instead of running yourself ragged for hours on the cardio machines, combine your cardio with some strength training.
I invite you to try high-intensity interval training while on your cardio machine, too. HIIT takes less time and could help improve your fat loss while reducing the amount of muscle you burn.
Here are eight HIIT workouts you could try.
#3 - You'll Need to Lift Weights
The last part of the equation to keep your precious gains while you lose body fat is to lift weights. Performing regular resistance exercise will help you maintain or even build muscle while you lose fat.
There is plenty of evidence that suggests weight training can preserve muscle during dieting. If you have a lot of weight to lose as I did (and still do), lifting weights will help maintain muscle and improve your metabolism. You can check out what I've learned from losing 120 pounds twice.
I'm currently down 140 pounds now.
Anyways, resistance training breaks your muscle tissue down which will stimulate a process known as muscle protein synthesis to repair those muscles. Since you've eaten plenty of protein, your muscles will heal and grow back bigger and stronger.
Some research published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests performing resistance training after following a low-calorie diet for five days can stimulate your muscle protein synthesis to reach your pre-diet levels.
When the subjects ingested 15 to 30 grams of protein after exercising, their muscle protein synthesis levels were 34 percent greater than their resting level before they started their diet.
Another more recent review found that elderly obese subjects who performed strength training maintain their muscle while on a calorie-restricted diet versus those who did not strength train.
So if you're new to strength training, The American College of Sports Medicine recommends to start with two to three sessions per week. After six months of consistent work and progress, you could opt to add another weekly session.
You want to prioritize compound movements like squats, bench press, overhead presses, rows, bent over rows, pull ups, and any exercise that works more than one joint. Single-joint or isolation moves like dumbbell curls are great, but focus on compound lifts first.
Wrapping It Up
While I'm not proud to say I've lost 120 pounds, gained 150 back and now down 140 pounds, I can tell you that coming up with a plan and strategizing every move is important to your success.
You don't have to starve yourself, be in the gym for hours every day, and you definitely don't have to completely give up any foods that bring you happiness.
You just need to make a plan and stick to it.
Log your foods. Exercise when you can. Be reasonable. Think "nutrition" over restriction.
I've managed to hold onto a lot of my muscle through both of these journeys and it is because I've eaten plenty of whole-food protein, supplemented with whey, and choose to eat as many fruits and vegetables as I can.
Check out Imperfect Produce if you'd like to help the environment and score some awesome fruits and veggies.