lose weight without losing muscle

The Best Way to Lose Weight without Losing Muscle

Lose weight without losing muscle can be challenging for some people. They try harder and harder and don't see any results... but that has a quick fix. Paying attention to different aspects of nutrition, sleep and training you'll be able to do lose weight without losing muscle.

In this post we'll go through the main considerations to lose weight while keeping your muscle mass. This will improve your body composition. Still jacked but with a few kilos less.

Do you wanna keep reading? Scroll down and enjoy the content!

HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT

First of all, let's talk about what 'lose weight' means. As the word already states, it refers to a drop in your body weight. However, a lot of people misunderstands and thinks about losing fat. Yes, you'll lose fat overtime, but that's not all.

With losing weight also comes liquids, visceral, and muscle tissue (study)(study). However, we can play around to favour fatloss while keeping muscle mass. This will ultimately improve our body composition (study)

GOALS OF LOSING WEIGHT

  1. Lose the max. amount of fat mass to lower the %body fat and all health consequences associated.
  2. Lose the min. amount of muscle and fat free mass to mantain training performance and improve body composition

The Energy Balance

Before giving you practical applications to lose weight without losing muscle, we'll talk about the principles of losing weight. Looking at our body as a 'black box', we burn and expend energy overtime. Thus, the equation would look like:

Calories balance = Calories in - Calories out

Managing both terms we can determine our weightloss, weight mantainance, or weight gain (study). To lose weight, we aim for "calories in" to be smaller than "calories out". In other words: if we want to lose weight, we need to intake less calories than those being spent during the day (calories in < calories out).

Calories In

This term refers to our dietary intake (a.k.a diet). By food calorimetry, we know the energy provided from different foods (study).

We also know the calories provided from different macronutrients. From this and the macro composition, we can also get the final calorie composition of foods:

  • Fats: 9kcal/g
  • Protein: 4kcal/g
  • Carbohydrates: 4kcal/g
  • Soluble fibre: 3kcal/g
  • Alcohol: 7kcal/g

If we track all the foods we eat during a 24-h period and add them together, we'll get our "calories in".

Calories out

While "calories in" is simple to calculate, "calories out" gets kinda tricky. Our organism is a dynamic body, and the caloric expenditure varies widely depending on physical activity, metabolic activity, stress levels, and many other factors... But we have simplified it to give and easier assesment of our "calories out" (study)

Formula for "calories out"

TDEE = BMR + TEF + EAT + NEAT

TDEE = Total Daily Energy Expenditure

BMR = Basal Metabolic Rate

TEF = Thermic Effect of Food

EAT = Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (programmed activity)

NEAT = Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (non-programmed activity)

The BMR refers to the energy expend simply for being alive. It cna be calculated easily from different formulas (calculator). The TEF refers to the energy needed to absorb and digest food. It varies within different macronutrients. However, it only provides 10% of the total TDEE (study). The NEAT and EAT refers to the thermogenesis coming from our daily activities. EAT is the programmed activity (e.x: training session), while NEAT refers to any unconscious activity (e.x: fidgeting).

Out of all components, BMR is what contributes the most to our TDEE.

TDEE formula

Calorie Deficit

If we look at the energy balance we explained above, we can get different scenarios and results:

  • Calories in < Calories out = weight loss
  • Calories in = Calories out = weight manteinace
  • Calories in > Calories out = weight gain

In order to lose weight , we NEED a CALORIE DEFICIT. In fact, it's the most important requirement if we want to lose weight. Science shows how the calorie balance is even more important than the macronutrient content of our diets (study).

Without calorie deficit, your body won't activate the pathway related to fat mobilization and oxidation, simply because there's enough energy coming from the outside (study).

Besides the calorie balance, there are some other aspects you can consider to improve your body composition. If you want to know how to make your perfect weightloss diet, I recommend you reading this post (click HERE)

LOSE WEIGHT WITHOUT LOSING MUSCLE

When it comes to lose weight without losing muscle, we can mainly play in two different fields: nutrition and training. Only paying attention to nutrition and dieting will give us results, but it's the combination of both what leads to losing weight without losing muscle.

Now we'll go through some aspects you should consider if you want to lose weight without losing muscle

Do Resistance Training 2-6x week

Resistance Training has been shown to improve muscle mass and strength (study). Not only that, but it also helps preserving muscle (study) and increases your EAT, part of the "calories out" equation.

In this study, three groups were selected based on their physical activity (low, moderate, high-intensity). All subjects were told to do a hypocaloric diet. After the study, the group that followed the high-intensity physical activity and hypocaloric diet showed the higher fat loss and mantainement (and slight improvement) of muscle (study).

Physical activtity and body composition

In this figure, you can see how the Intensive group (INT) showed higher fat loss and gained more muscle mass over the period of the study, when comared to moderate (MOD) and sedentary (SED).

All groups were told to follow the same calorie deficit, meaning that training is the solely factor affecting these results.

In simple words, resistance training helps you lose weight without losing muscle. It upregulates pathways associated to muscle growth and manteinance, increases your metabolic rate and improves body composition.

Don’t Go Crazy with Training Volumes

While you sometimes train like crazy when bulking, you should be more careful when cutting. The lower calorie intake provides less energy, making us more susceptible to excess muscle damage and potential injuries.

Volume load is directly related to increases of muscle mass (study). However, it's also related to increased muscle damage (study). Although muscle damage seems to be benefitial por muscle gain, an excess could have adverse effects on our performance and further adaptations (study).

When doing  a low-calorie diet, mostly in advanced stages, try to lower your volume load. Also, prevent and moderate the volume given to eccentric exercise (e.g: romanian deadlift). Eccentric phase has shown to induce large amounts of muscle damage (study)

Program Periodical Deloads

Periodized resistance training has better results when compared to non-periodized programs (study). Periodized programs consider the supercompensation theory and manage the recovery-fatigue ratio to a higher extent (study)

Part of a periodized program is to plan for deload weeks to avoid build up of residual fatigue overtime. When on a calorie deficit, the importance of deloads and management of the fatigue and catabolism is higher (study).

In these cases, we can benefit from a deload week to 1) enhance muscle recovery and 2) avoid excess catabolism which could lead to muscle loss.

As a rule of thumb, deload weeks can be done every 4-8 weeks, but this will depend on your trainings. Keep track of your recovery and your performance. Do a deload when reaching a plateau on performance and your recovery is poor.

Moderate Calorie Deficit

More is not always better. And this is one of those exceptions. Higher calorie deficits are related to faster weight loss, but is that weight all fat mass?

Higher calorie deficit leads to higher muscle loss as well, something we want to prevent (study). Although you may also lose more fat mass, the ratio of fat/muscle lost is worse than when doing a moderate calorie deficit.

In the picture below you can see how a rapid weight loss leads to mainly a decrease in lean body mass, while fat mass, body fat percentage and resting metabolic rate slightly decrease. On the other hand, a moderate calorie deficit leads to more fat loss, higher reduction of %fat and RMR, and ratio of muscle/fat lost more favourable for body composition

Diet to lose weight without losing muscle

Higher calorie deficit not only have consequences on muscle loss. It can also lead to a dysregulated hormonal profile and disturbed metabolic adaptations (study)

To prevent this, follow a moderate calorie deficit of 300-500kcal/day. That has shown the best results to lose weight without losing muscle, thus improving your body composition (study). This will lead to a weightloss rate of around 1lb/week.

High Protein Intake

As we saw in previous posts (read HERE), protein plays an important role in our nutrition. It's the most abundant macronutrient on our organism, being present in a huge list of different function.

When it comes to muscle building, dietary protein has shown to be an important aspect to consider. It is directly related with muscle mass (study), providing sufficient amino acids to synthesize new proteins.

If you are on a calorie deficit, your energy intake will probably be not too high. In a lack of energy, the body tends to degrade other non-glucidic molecules to produce energy. These are preferrably fatty acids (study), but it can also be endogenous amino acids (study).

To achieve an overall positive protein balance to avoid amino acid turnover, we recommend increasing your protein intake. General recommendations for active people indicates 2-3g/kg as optimum daily protein intake for muscle building and correct supply of dietary protein (study).

If you are on a calorie deficit, stick to the higher range. Aim for 2.5-3g/kg of daily protein.

Don’t Totally Remove Carbohydrates

There's a tendency to go no-carbs when dieting. But this is a mistake. Carbohydrates are the main energy supply for our metabolism, and removing them totally while dieting will decrease our overall energy status during the day and training performance.

You can safely do a keto-diet if you have time to adapt to the "no-carbs" stage, but that time is not available when dieting (study). Therefore, totally removing carbohydrates for a few weeks doesn't make sense at all.

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy (study). From carbohydrates, we can produce energy from glucose or store it in the form of glycogen to further energy production. Carbohydrate intake has been associated with better training performance (study)(study).

Carbohydrates and athletic performance

When it comes to body composition, higher carbohydrate intake are associated to a more "full" physique due to the intramuscular glycogen (study). In this study made with natural bodybuilders, those with higher carbohydrate intake placed better (study)

However, we sometimes reach a plateau-like region in where there's no further weightloss. In those cases, we can lower carbohydrate intake, since fats and protein are essential macronutrients (study). To be safe and mantain training performance and energy status, don't go lower than 1g/kg or 0,5 g/kg for male and females, respectively. This won't put you in 'keto adaptation' and you'll avoid the consequences associated with that transition state.

For more about carbohydrates click HERE

How to Lose Weight without Losing Muscle

OTHERS TO LOSE WEIGHT WITHOUT LOSING MUSCLE

Be Patient

If you want to lose weight without losing muscle, you should be patient. The weight loss will be slower, but that will allow you to mantain more muscle mass, keep training hard, and get better results in terms of body composition.

As we said before, moderate calorie deficit shows the best results after dieting (study). Besides calorie deficit, there are some other strategies, such as diet breaks, that can be used to dissipate possible metabolic adaptations and keep losing weight afterwards (study)

Although it changes throughout subjects, give you at least 3-4 months to get where you are. Knowing that the best weight loss rate is 0.5-1%w per week, you can calculate how long it would take you:

Initial conditions:

  • Weight: 80kg
  • %fat: 15%

Desired conditions

  • Weight: 70kg
  • %fat: 8%

Calculations:

0.005 x 80 = 0.4kg weekly weight loss

80 - 70 = 10kg overall weight loss

10 / 0.4 = 25 weeks

Don’t Miss Out with Sleep

Although some people understimate sleep, it plays an important role in body composition. Not only that, but sleep deprivation is also associated with a long list of health consequences (read more about it HERE)

Lower quality and less hours of sleep show worse food choices, higher calorie intake and macronutrients imbalance (study). In this other study, researchers concluded that higher sleep quality increased likelihood of success to lose weight (study)

During a calorie deficit, sleep quality is reduced due to the restricted energy (study). So, in these cases, you should prioritize even more sleep. Sleep helps you keeping you on track more easily and training better. This will ultimately lead to better body composition.

Prioritize 7-9h daily sleep. This has shown to prevent all consequences caused by sleep deprivation (study), improve training performance (study), and lower the risk of 'cheating' on your diet (study).

Listen to Your Body

Your metabolism is wise. It responds rapidly to external changes in the environment to survive and optimize metabolic work.

Calorie deficit is considered a 'metabolic stressor', and it causes changes on our metabolism when prolonged overtime. A reduction in the calorie intake is counteracted by decreasing metabolic rate and more food desire and appetite (study).

Not only that, but low calorie intakes can get serious if prolonged for too long. These involve fertility, dehydration, energy insufficiency, inmune system,... This is why it's important to listen to your body. Even when you haven't achieved your desired weight, it's okay to stop before if your body tells you to stop. Here you have the main symptoms of this stage to evaluate yourself (study)

In these cases, do a reverse diet and keep increasing calories progressively to undo all metabolic disturbances and prevent weight regain (study). And, once you are back at your manteinance calories, evaluate whether you want to go back to lose more weight or not.

CONCLUSION

Lose weight without losing muscle can be hard for some people, but it's easier than it seems. Being nutrition and training the two main aspects to consider, you can easily manage those two to lose weight while mantaining muscle mass to a high extent.

In this post we have gone through the main strategies to lose weight without losing muscle. If you come up with another one, feel free to put it in the comment section!

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