How to lose weight without losing muscle mass
A healthy and sustainable weight loss means losing weight without losing muscle mass. Preserving muscle mass while losing weight is important for two reasons:
- A healthy and lean muscle mass can protect us from various chronic diseases like cancer and heart failure, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Lean muscle mass contributes to optimal organ function, skin integrity, immunity, and wound healing.
When talking about weight loss, what most people want is fat loss. If you go strictly down the calorie-restriction route without any exercise whatsoever, you will experience losing muscle mass. Please take a look at the table below from the US National Library of Medicine.
Let’s deconstruct the table above.
If you simply go on a calorie-restriction diet plus high protein, your muscle mass will very likely decrease. We preserve a healthy muscle mass by incorporating regular personalised resistance training into our exercise routine. See what happens when only endurance exercise is applied; muscle mass decreases.
Two ways to preserve muscle mass while trying to lose weight
To preserve your muscle mass while trying to lose weight, you need to maintain the proper ratio of volume and load (resistance training) and keep your energy intake in balance. Let’s describe each way in detail.
Maintain the proper ratio of volume and load in your resistance training
We have already concluded that to lose weight and maintain muscle mass at the same time, you need to include regular resistance training in your life. Many people think that high repetitions with low load (lightweight) is the path to losing weight. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you want to preserve your muscle mass, you need to incorporate a systematic scientific approach. This means including the moderate-heavy intensity within your resistance training programme, especially during the calorie-restriction period. This system aims to expose the muscles to high level of mechanical tension to preserve muscle mass and strength.
For those who are not familiar with a resistance training, we wrote a blog post Guide to resistance training for weight/fat loss. It might be useful to read it.
If you are a beginner with the weight loss goal in mind, it’s prudent to start with a load of less than 65 % of 1RM. The reason for this is to grasp the knowledge and routine of a proper form. If you are more experienced, you can start immediately with a moderate load of 65-85 % of 1RM. The number of repetitions ideally needs to be between 8-12 when talking about the moderate load. This is just general guidance. Your trainer should be able to design a more personalised resistance training programme for you.
Keep your energy intake in balance
If you simply decrease your calorie intake without resistance training, you will experience adverse psychological effects such as reducing your REE or resting energy expenditure. Resting energy expenditure represents the number of calories required for a 24-hour period by the body during a non-active period.
According to Harvard Medical School,
Because resting energy expenditure accounts for 60% to 75% of the calories you burn each day, any increase in resting energy expenditure is extremely important to your weight-loss effort.
So, by practicing personalised resistance training regularly, you will increase your REE which will boost your weight loss.
Please avoid a drastic cutting back on calories. This will only do you harm. It is true that if you want to lose weight you need to create a negative energy balance but make sure to do it with a regular resistance exercise and gradual calorie reduction personalised to your situation.
When thinking about losing weight, you need to think about a healthy weight loss. A healthy weight loss is a fat loss without losing muscle mass. There are people who are skinny and at your desired weight but not necessarily healthy. Just reducing your weight is not the goal. You want to preserve your muscle mass and live a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
To preserve your muscle mass, make sure to include regular personalised resistance training into your lifestyle coupled with a personalised nutritional programme.
Damir Pervan, Founder and CEO of TrainChampion