How to Lose Fat While Maintaining Muscle at the Same Time

Photo - woman does exercise at the gym. To lose weight while maintaining muscle, you should engage in resistance training.
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If you are overweight, starting a weight loss plan can be a positive step towards a healthier you. But, weight loss is not simply about shedding the pounds as fast as possible. Most overweight is caused by excess body fat, so it’s important that we focus on losing the body fat rather than muscle mass.

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Indeed, it’s entirely possible to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass. The key is balancing a calorie deficit with suitable physical exercise. Incorporating some resistance training and cardio helps you maintain a calorie deficit, while at the same time promoting muscle growth that will counter the muscle your body burns for energy.

Losing weight with a calorie deficit

A calorie deficit occurs when you consume fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight. This number of maintenance calories is called your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). You can use our calorie calculator to estimate how many calories you should consume to achieve your weight loss goal.

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If you consume less than your TDEE, your body will have an energy shortfall, forcing it to convert stored fat and the proteins in your muscles into energy. Fat is your body’s primary energy reserve, but in long term or aggressive calorie deficits, your body will lose muscle mass, too.

Calorie deficits can be achieved through diet alone. But, combining diet with an increase in physical activity can help create a more sustainable and healthier weight loss plan. Regular exercise not only burns calories during your workouts, but it also increases your resting metabolic rate in the 48 hours after exercising. This means your body continues to burn calories after you’ve stopped exercising.

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Importance of maintaining muscle mass

Losing muscle mass is a concern with any weight loss plan. Losing too much muscle can lead to general weakness, which can adversely impact your day-to-day activities. It can also affect your strength and energy levels. A lower muscle mass is associated with a slower metabolism, since more energy is needed to maintain muscle compared with fat.

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While achieving rapid weight loss might seem like an attractive goal, it can often result in negative outcomes. When we subject our bodies to rapid weight loss, it responds by breaking down more muscle tissue to meet its energy needs. This is a situation to avoid, because maintaining muscle mass is key to a strong body and good metabolic health.

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Maintaining muscle mass while losing weight

Consuming fewer calories is key to creating a calorie deficit, but you can also create a deficit by increasing your level of physical activity. This is because exercising regularly will increase your TDEE.

Losing weight while maintaining muscle needs both a calorie deficit and a sufficient amount of exercise. Aim to include both resistance training and regular cardio into your weight loss plan.

Resistance training promotes the growth of muscle, increases metabolic rate and increases bone density. Doing regular resistance training while losing weight can offset the muscle mass your body uses for energy. Resistance training also continues to burn calories long after you’ve completed your session. This phenomenon is known as the “afterburn effect”.

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Cardio complements this by promoting heart health, burning calories and improving your overall fitness level. Cardio exercises like running or cycling typically burn more calories during the workout itself when compared with resistance training.

The Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that healthy adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. Moderate activities include brisk walking and playing tennis, and vigorous activities include running or participating in a fitness class.

Protein and macros

To maintain or grow muscle mass while losing weight, it’s important that you consume enough protein in your diet. Protein is a key macronutrient involved in the growth and repair of muscle tissue. A protein intake of between 1.2 g and 1.6 g per kg of bodyweight should be sufficient for most people.

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Balancing your macronutrients is important when cutting calories. You need to make sure you are getting a sufficient amount of carbohydrates, fats and proteins to fuel your body. The standard ratio is 50% carbohydrates, 30% fats and 20% protein, but this might not provide enough protein if you have a large calorie deficit.

You can use a macro calculator to get a custom recommendation. This calculator takes into account your height, age, gender, activity level, as well as your current weight and weight goal. It ensures that your macros hit the recommended intakes of carbs, proteins and fats.

What about weight loss drugs?

GLP-1 weight loss drugs like Semaglutide can be an effective way to lose weight. These drugs mimic the GLP-1 hormone that is released after eating, and target the receptors in your brain that regulate appetite.

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Rapid weight loss may be appealing due to its quick results. But it can lead to the undesirable effect of muscle mass loss. It has been reported that people taking drugs like Semaglutide see the loss of lean mass, including muscle, in additional to fat (in absolute terms).

Although weight loss drugs are effective in terms of weight loss, they will not alone safeguard your muscle mass. Regular exercise, including strength training, is key to maintaining muscle as you lose weight.

It’s important to follow a well-rounded weight loss plan that includes a balanced diet, some strength training exercises and a sufficient amount of cardio exercise.

Workout plans to lose weight

  • 90 day workout plan – Our 90 day workout plan is a great way to get in shape for the new year. This plan is suitable for beginners, and includes exercises that target the whole body. The workout plan has 3 stages, featuring compound bodybuilding exercises, fat-burning cardio and individual body part muscle chiseling. And it takes just 30 minutes per day!
  • Workout routine for women – Our workout routine for women targets your arms, thighs, and abdomen. It also incorporates high-intensity interval training (HIIT), strength training and flexibility exercises.
  • 3 day full body workout – Our full body workout routine consists of 3 training sessions per week that see you work all your major muscle groups in each session. Full body workouts are an effective way to build and strengthen your chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs and core. This style of strength training is not only a great way to build muscle but, combined with cardio exercises, can improve your overall fitness and health.

References

Speakman, J. R., & Selman, C. (2003). Physical activity and resting metabolic rate. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society62(3), 621-634.

Ashtary-Larky, D., Ghanavati, M., Lamuchi-Deli, N., Payami, S. A., Alavi-Rad, S., Boustaninejad, M., … & Alipour, M. (2017). Rapid weight loss vs. slow weight loss: which is more effective on body composition and metabolic risk factors?. International journal of endocrinology and metabolism15(3).

Motevalli, M. S., Dalbo, V. J., Attarzadeh, R. S., Rashidlamir, A., Tucker, P. S., & Scanlan, A. T. (2015). The effect of rate of weight reduction on serum myostatin and follistatin concentrations in competitive wrestlers. International journal of sports physiology and performance10(2), 139-146.

Pratley, R., Nicklas, B., Rubin, M., Miller, J., Smith, A., Smith, M., … & Goldberg, A. (1994). Strength training increases resting metabolic rate and norepinephrine levels in healthy 50-to 65-yr-old men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 76(1), 133-137.

Piercy, K. L., Troiano, R. P., Ballard, R. M., Carlson, S. A., Fulton, J. E., Galuska, D. A., … & Olson, R. D. (2018). The physical activity guidelines for Americans. Jama320(19), 2020-2028.

Wilding, J. P., Batterham, R. L., Calanna, S., Davies, M., Van Gaal, L. F., Lingvay, I., … & Kushner, R. F. (2021). Once-weekly semaglutide in adults with overweight or obesity. New England Journal of Medicine384(11), 989-1002.


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