So you want to lose some weight but don’t want to lose that hard earned muscle? Well, it’s certainly possible but keep in mind that weight is made up of both muscle and fat, so what you really want to be shedding is the unwanted fat whilst hanging onto your muscles.
The main cause of weight gain (fat or muscle, or both!) is quite simply putting more calories in our bodies than what they require to function on a daily basis. Any extra energy from food that is not needed is stored as additional muscle or fat for use when our bodies need a little pick-me-up.
So, using this logic, if you’re looking to lose fat, all you need to do is eat fewer calories than what your body needs, right? Well, unfortunately our bodies are likely to take that energy from our muscles, rather than fat (which is harder to break down), so you might end up losing the wrong thing!
So how do you go about keeping the muscle and just losing the fat? A careful combination of diet and exercise can achieve this, so read on to find out just what you need to do!
You might think that going for a daily run or other types of cardio may be a good way to shed the pounds which yes, granted it will do, but our bodies don’t care where it pulls that extra energy from, so you could be taking away from your muscles – not good!
The best way to maintain your muscles is the same way you got them – with strength training. When building muscle, weight training is the best method as it tells our bodies that our muscles are where it should be sending the extra energy it’s been consuming, rather than storing it.
The same goes when losing unwanted fat. With strength training our muscles are being used regularly and therefore source their energy from elsewhere - in this case, the unwanted fat! If you are able to combine both weight training and cardio, you’re much more likely to keep your muscle and boost fat-loss.
Simply eating less to lose unwanted fat is not the best way to go about it. In fact, if you starve yourself, your body is likely to work harder to hold onto energy because it enters a ‘survival’ mode which slows down your metabolism.
The best source of food for your muscles is protein as it is used to build and repair your muscles, but how much protein is the right amount? The recommended daily amount of protein to eat if you’re trying to maintain muscle whilst losing weight is 1-1.2 grams (female) and 1-1.5 grams (male) for every pound that you weigh. Each gram of protein is worth 4 calories.
Another good food source to be eating is Omega-3 (which you can get from seeds such as flax, chia and hemp), which can actually help to instruct your body to take the energy reserves from fat instead of muscle!
Sat the end of the day, it’s all about balance – by creating a good equilibrium between weight training, exercise and having a diet to support them both, you will be able to lose fat but keep your hard-earned muscles.