Everybody wants to lose weight but on the other hand they also don’t want to lose their muscle too. So, here in this article, we will talk about how to prevent muscle loss in a calorie deficit. So let’s start: To lose weight, you must consume less calories than you consume. There’s a lot of detail about weight loss and getting into a calorie deficit on this page, but here’s a quick rundown:
- If you want to lose weight, you must give your body less energy than it needs to sustain your current weight.
- You can use any online calculator to estimate how many calories you should consume in order to lose weight.
- Prioritize protein and unprocessed foods to feel fuller with less calories while increasing the calorie burn (via the thermic effect of food).
But the key thing that comes to mind is: how do you avoid muscle loss when losing weight?
Why You Need to Keep your Hard Earned muscle!
You worked hard for months, maybe even a year or more, to add a few pounds of muscle, diligently getting in your protein, monitoring your lifts, and gradually overloading. You don’t want to jeopardise it all by making a mistake during your weight loss phase! In the absence of food, the body can use whatever it has on hand for energy and nutrients when you’re in a calorie deficit.
This doesn’t only apply to body fat. Your body can and will use muscle for energy if you allow it. If you lose muscle, you will find yourself back where you started. Build muscle and gain fat > lose fat and muscle = you’re back to square one! Nobody wants to waste years by spinning their wheels!
More Muscle Means You Burn More Calories at Rest
Muscle is a high-metabolic-cost organ. This means that, in comparison to other forms of tissue, it takes a lot of energy to keep it healthy. The good news is that you’ll be able to consume more food simply to control your weight! You’ll have a higher TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) and gain weight would be more difficult than when you had less muscle! You will have bigger “sugar reservoirs,” since muscle stores the majority of your body’s glycogen. Glycogen is a material that your body stores in your muscles and liver as a source of energy that you can access quickly.
Glycogen is nothing more than sugar (glucose) derived from carbohydrates. Glucose is the body’s preferred energy source. When your body needs energy, it will use any available glucose in the bloodstream. If it isn’t available, your body will instead depend on glycogen or bodyfat stores. Glycogen would be used first because it is already glucose and does not need to be converted to use as energy (unlike body fat).
More Muscle Makes it Harder to Store Body Fat
Since the above mechanism also operates in reverse, it is more difficult to accumulate fat when you have more muscle. If the body has to use the glucose right away, it won’t be stored as fat in the bloodstream. If the stocks aren’t already complete, any surplus would be stored as glycogen. You have more places to store glucose if you have more muscle. Excess glucose is only stored as body fat until the glycogen reserves are depleted.
Most people never use the glycogen in their muscles because they never engage in any strenuous physical activity that requires the body to access such readily available energy stores. During a calorie shortage, their bodies never use those glycogen stores for energy. As a result, their glycogen reserves are still complete, and any excess glucose must be retained as fat. That’s why adding muscle and doing strength training makes you stronger and more insulin responsive (which is a positive thing) while also making it more difficult to gain weight.
More Muscle Correlates with Longer Life and Better Quality of Life
You’ll lose 3-5 percent of your muscle mass per decade as you get older (after about 30). That may not seem like much, but consider a 180-pound thirty-year-old man with 35% muscle mass. They’d be 63 pounds of muscle (which is about average). They will lose 60 lbs of muscle by age 40, 57 lbs by age 50, 54 lbs by age 60, 51 lbs by age 70, and 49 lbs by age 80 if they lost 5% of their mass every decade. That’s a 14-pound muscle loss. This is why the elderly are more vulnerable, more susceptible to noncommunicable diseases, and have a lower quality of life.
- When you get older, you lose muscle mass (sarcopenia).
- Since you spend less calories when you have less muscle, it’s easier to consume in a calorie surplus and gain weight.
- It’s easier to accumulate weight because you have less places to store excess energy as glycogen.
- Life becomes even more complicated when you have less muscle and more fat.
- As a result, you move less and accumulate more weight as your muscle mass decreases.
All of this contributes to an increase in frailty, a lower quality of life, and a higher risk of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
How to Prevent Muscle Loss While You Lose Fat
You now understand why it’s important to keep as much muscle as possible. Unfortunately, the human body isn’t flawless, even when you gain muscle, some fat is stored. The 100 percent lean bulk is a mysterious concept that will most likely elude you for the rest of your life. You’ll probably want to lose fat at some stage during your muscle-building journey. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to avoid muscle failure.
1. Be resistance training
Lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises sends a message to your body that muscle is still needed. If you’re losing weight and in a calorie shortage, it’s use it or lose it when it comes to muscle.
2. Continue lifting heavy
DO NOT adhere to the WRONG belief that “lifting light weights with high reps to lose fat” is the way to go. This is completely false. If you add muscle or lose fat has nothing to do with how hard you lift or how many reps you do. You must be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. Continue to lift heavy so that your body recognises the importance of your muscle mass and is less likely to use it for fuel.
3. Do not go for a reckless calorie deficit
Excessive calorie deficits are dangerous. More than 20% to 25% of your TDEE is considered reckless. You’ll lose weight easily, but the muscle mass will be jeopardised. Keep in mind that your body is only concerned about your survival. It is unconcerned about your appearance. You are signalling to your body that there is a food shortage if you have a careless calorie deficit. Your body will produce more stress hormones in the hopes of assisting you in surviving.
You’ll be really food-driven, so you’ll probably have extreme cravings and find it difficult to adhere to your diet as a whole. You’re more likely to suffer from food shortages and to feel awful. Your immune system may be weakened, making you more susceptible to illness. These factors will increase the chances of snapping and bingeing, defeating the aim of the calorie deficit in the first place.
However, for the purposes of this article, a significant calorie deficit is more likely to result in muscle loss than a small calorie deficit. This is because your body recognises that maintaining the muscle takes more energy. It will eliminate muscle mass, allowing you to live on less calories. Much of this should be avoided. Maintain a calorie deficit of 20-25 percent of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Any online calorie calculator will give you a rough estimate of your TDEE.
4. Keep Your Protein Intake High
Muscle repair necessitates the consumption of protein. If you’re destroying them with lifting (as you should be; note, use it or lose it), the protein to fix them has to come from somewhere. Protein is also needed for skin, nails, and other tissues to develop and heal, as well as enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. I know you’re desperate to lose weight, but resist the urge to minimise your protein intake in order to cut calories even further! It’s not a good idea. If you don’t get enough protein in your diet, your body can supplement with amino acids from other sources. Oh, look, there’s a lot of muscle lying around that we can use!”
5. Reduce Lifting Volume
If you’re on a calorie-restricted diet, you’re unlikely to add much, if any, muscle. Hanging on to the muscle you already have should be your top priority. At this point, continuing with a high-volume routine is insane. All you have to do is lift heavy weights at a high intensity to let your body know the muscle is still needed, and then stop! Per body part, a couple of work sets close failure of a compound lift is sufficient!
You won’t be able to heal if you manage to rip your muscles apart with countless drills, sets, and reps several days a week. The standard of your workouts will quickly deteriorate, and it’s possible that you won’t have the nutrients you need to rebuild your muscles. You’re breaking down the muscles in the gym, but you’re not properly rebuilding them outside of it. Over time, this would result in the gradual eroding of muscle tissue.
6. Have Diet Breaks!
Don’t go into a calorie deficit for too long! When you’re in a calorie deficit for months on end, your leptin levels drop. Leptin is a key hormone that controls hunger and metabolism. Leptin deficiency is an indication that your body is attempting to conserve energy in order to keep you alive during the current food shortage. You will die if you manage to lose weight indefinitely.
As a result, the body is forced to take action. It reacts by lowering leptin levels. You’ll feel a lot more hungry, a lot lazier, and a lot more exhausted if this happens. You’ll move less subconsciously, exercises will be difficult, and being motivated to do something other than eat will be difficult. When people go through the (in)famous “starvation mode” struggle, this is frequently what happens. They aren’t on the verge of hunger.
There isn’t anything like that. They’re simply moving less and eating more, and they’ve lost weight, so their maintenance is now lower. It becomes more painful if you ignore the temptation to eat and force yourself to move anyway. You’ll need to shed pounds. This is when you’re most likely to lose muscle. Muscle is an energy source as well, and it’s now fair game. You’re fighting for your life right now! Much of this can be avoided by actually going on a diet break.
Take a week off at maintenance for every month you were in a calorie deficit. You might do this once a month or wait three months and then take three weeks off. If you like, you might also do two weeks in a deficit and then two weeks off. If you take a longer-term approach and do this, fat loss would be much simpler.
Get a new routine if you’re making these mistakes in your current one.
The most common mistake I see in the gym is people lifting WAY TOO MUCH.