When you’re training to lose weight, it’s easy to get caught up in the number on the scale.
But it’s an unreliable marker of progress that only reflects total weight, not its composition (i.e. the ratio of lean mass to fat mass).
When overemphasized, preoccupation with pounds can lead to excessive calorie reduction and ultimately muscle loss.
Thanks to the fad diets and quick fitness routines that fill social media feeds these days, many of us are losing both fat and muscle when we lose weight – but it doesn’t have to be.
Consider the following signs that you’re also losing muscle as warnings that it’s time to re-evaluate your weight loss strategy in favor of one that’s more muscle-friendly and more sustainable.
1. Your performance plateaus in the gym (or worse)
Does your workout routine seem harder than normal? Are you unable to lift as much weight as usual during several successive workouts?
Everyone has days off, but if you’re consistently underperforming, it could be a sign you’re losing muscle mass, says Marley Oldham CarnesMS, RD, CSCS, CF-L1.
“If you want to lose weight while maintaining muscle, start keeping a training diary to make sure you’re not losing strength,” she says.
2. You lose more than a few pounds a week
The average person can permanently lose somewhere between one and two pounds a week, says Oldham Carnes.
If you lose more than that, you could lose muscle and water in addition to fat.
Also note: If you’re using a diet program or product that promises faster weight loss than this healthy range, abandon ship, warns Oldham Carnes.
3. You feel sluggish throughout the day.
When you lose muscle mass, more than your workouts suffer. “You might also lack overall energy and feel tired, sluggish and less motivated,” says Oldham Carnes.
Often, crash diets, excessive cardio, stress, and insufficient protein intake that contribute to muscle loss also cause (or exacerbate) mood and energy issues.
How to be sure you are losing muscle mass
That said, the only real way to identify whether or not you’re losing muscle is to measure your body composition.
The most accurate ways to measure your muscle versus your fat involve fairly sophisticated techniques (like X-ray scans called DEXA or underwater weighing), says Oldham Carnes.
However, your local gym, university, or doctor’s office may have a body composition scale that can give you a general idea of your progress.
How to keep muscle while losing fat
“In order to lose weight and maintain muscle mass, we must use a proper exercise plan that includes strength training, consuming a balanced diet with adequate protein, and avoiding too large a calorie deficit (calories burned versus calories burned). calories consumed),” says Oldham Carnes. .
1. Eat enough protein
Eating too little protein — or too few calories overall — can force your body to break down muscle tissue. (Not to mention mess with your energy, mood, and overall health.)
This is why the personal trainer Lisa RoseauMS, CSCS, USAW recommends consuming 20-30 grams of protein at each meal and incorporating small snacks.
“That way you’re less hungry and less likely to overeat, have more stable blood sugar and energy, and provide your muscles with the nutrients they need to grow,” she says.
Recommended daily protein intakes vary, but most people should aim to consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
These grams necessarily increase with increased activity, so regular exercisers should eat more.
2. Muscle training
To build muscle, you need to challenge your muscles, so make sure strength training is part of your workout routine. (The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least two to three sessions per week.)
3. Log Meals and Workouts
Finally, to make sure you’re getting enough calories, track your diet and activity to keep your calorie deficit at 500 calories or less, suggests Oldham Carnes.
This way you will create enough of a deficit to see results without pushing into muscle wasting territory.