Alright, you're ready to lose some weight, but you're worried about losing your hard-earned muscle mass. Do you have to sacrifice your gains to slim down? Of course not! This article covers a series of precautionary steps that you can take to ensure that you keep as much muscle mass as possible as you trim down and get into seriously jaw-dropping shape.
Weight-Loss Vs. Fat-Loss
The first thing that we need to talk about is the term weight-loss. That's what you want right? WRONG! Weight-loss is an outdated term, and I guarantee that it's not what you're truly after. What you want instead is fat-loss. What's the difference? Let me explain.
Weight loss could mean more than just losing fat. It could mean losing bone mass, muscle mass, water-mass or fat-mass. Therefore weight-loss is an outdated term that most conscious upcoming fitness enthusiasts are trying to throw out of the industry. If you want to be healthy, you don't want to lose weight; you want to lose fat. Losing fat is going to make you feel better, look better and will help you live a healthier longer life.
Now that we know the difference between weight-loss and fat-loss let's talk about three things that you can do to ensure you maintain your hard-earned muscle while on a fat-loss diet.
#1 - Lift Heavy
You've probably heard someone say at one time or another that if you want to tone up your body, that you need to lift light weights for more repetitions. This is complete and utter bullshit. Lifting light for more repetitions will not help you tone up. In fact, the term "tone up" doesn't make any scientific sense. You can't tone a specific body part. You can only lose fat, and you can NEVER target a specific area to lose fat in.
What you want to do instead is lift heavy for a smaller number of repetitions. Before you run away, understand that heavy is a relative term and is different for each person. What's heavy for you, might be light for me and what's heavy for me is probably someone else's warm-up set. That being said, you want to give your muscles a reason to stay.
Muscle takes considerably more energy to maintain than fat, which is why sometimes when you're dieting you can lose muscle mass. What your body is trying to do is conserve energy because if the muscle isn't being used, then why would the body waste its resources trying to maintain it. Your body doesn't care about how you look in the mirror; it cares about preserving itself so that you can live longer.
So what's the solution?
The most optimal repetition range to maintain muscle is 4 to 6 repetitions for 80-90% of your 1RM. You would do this for 3 to 5 sets and rest for 2 to 5 minutes in between your sets.
Another option is to lift for 6 to 8 reps at 60 to 90% of your 1RM. With this style, you can lower your sets to 3 to 4 sets. Lifting for 6 to 8 repetitions focuses on gaining/maintaining strength and also can help you gain some size as well if you're on a re-composition diet plan.
When lifting heavy for 4 to 6 reps, you want to mainly focus on your compound lifts like the squat, bench press, military press, etc. For isolation exercises like bicep curls, leg extensions, or lateral raises lifting for to 6 to 8 reps is more optimal.
#2 Increase Protein Intake
Oh no… Another fitness article is telling you to eat more protein. You get it, I know, but did you know why this was important?
Protein is used in the body to repair damaged cells and to help your body grow. It's important for many other reasons than just gaining muscle, and one of those is maintaining the muscle you have now. Most registered digestions proclaim that we don't need to eat as much protein as the bodybuilding community suggests and although that is partially true, there's a reason why most fitness experts recommend increasing your protein intake.
Many studies have shown that individuals who increase their protein intake, specifically 24 to 48 hours after resistant exercises, gain more muscle and keep more of their hard-earned muscle while in a prolonged deficit. The other great benefit is that protein-dense foods are usually more satiating, meaning you'll feel fuller for longer.
I suggest eating 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body-mass you have. So someone who is 175lbs would eat anywhere from 140 to 210 grams of protein every-day.
#3 Don't Diet Too Hard or Too Long
Numerous studies have shown that as long as you're engaged in some sort of resistant exercise, muscle loss will not happen, but this only applies to short-term diets (4 to 12 weeks).
In fact, a study was done where the participants only ate 800 calories a day (I would never recommend eating this low) for 12 weeks and none of the participants lost a single pound of muscle mass. Not one single pound! The crazy part? They only worked out three days a week.
So, although this article is about preserving muscle-mass while losing fat, I wouldn't worry about it if you're not planning on dieting for too long of a time.
If you believe that your diet is going to take longer than 12 weeks, don't create too big of a deficit (anything that would cause you to lose over 2lbs a week) and take a diet-break every 8 to 12 weeks. A diet break is a 1 to 4 week period where you eat at your new maintenance level (yes, it changes as you gain or lose weight). Diet breaks help regulate your hormonal profile and give you a psychological break from the hardships of dieting. In fact, studies have shown that individuals who take diet breaks are more likely to reach their fat-loss goals and maintain their new physiques for longer. So taking it slow is actually a really good thing in this scenario.
I hope you found this article entertaining and helpful. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to leave a comment below. If not, stay magical and happy lifting folks!