There are so many articles that cover how to lose fat. I myself have written a lot of them. All that’s well and good, but there is a second topic that I feel should always go hand-in-hand with it. That is how to lose fat and lose your muscles.
Yes, you got that right, you can absolutely lose fat and your muscles too. All those intense workouts can be rendered meaningless if we do not educate ourselves and understand what it really means to burn fat the right way.
First, we must understand that weight loss and fat loss are two very different things. When I first started my fitness journey, I called it weight loss journey. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, however, weight can be a few different things. It can be fat, muscle, glycogen, or just water. All these things contribute to our “weight”. I mean, you can lose a leg and that’s counted weight loss too. So, the fact is, what we want to lose is fat, not just weight, and definitely not muscle.
Now, we all know that to lose fat, there’s really one thing we have to do - to create a caloric deficit. Simply put, we eat fewer calories than our bodies need to burn for energy. When this happens, our bodies are forced to find an alternative source to rely on for energy. In a perfect world, this should just be that much-hated body fat, but unfortunately, that energy can also come from those hard-earned muscles.
“Can’t I control my body to choose which to burn?” We all know that’s a pretty pointless question. There’s no switch we can flip to dictate that. As powerful as our bodies are, it’s not that “advanced”. It just knows that it needs the energy to function, so it can be from fat, muscle, or even both.
So, to make sure that we do not fall prey to this trick our body’s trying to play on us, I am going to share some tips with you.
1. Don’t Overdo the Workout
Caloric deficit does wonders for losing fat, but the truth is, it is also an energy deficit. So, it doesn’t bide well with anything training-related, be it work capacity, performance volume, tolerance. Your body will also have a hard time to recover from all those workouts when you are calorie-deficient.
So, what does this mean? You know all those exercises vital to building muscles? They can potentially be too much for your body to take and recover from because your body is in an energy-deficient state.
When this happens, you lose strength.
When you lose strength, in a calorie-deficient state, you lose muscle.
Okay, before you panic, I want you to know that this can be prevented. All you have to do is adjust your weight training and all other exercises, like cardio, to keep up with the calorie deficiency. How do you do that? Reduce your training volume. By volume, I mean the total amount of sets, reps, and/or the overall exercises you do. You also have to reduce the number of times you workout per week and per muscle group. You can definitely do a combination of these two ways, depending on your preference, but whatever you do, do not overdo the workout.
2. Don’t Overdo the Calorie Reduction
Wait, didn't you just say "Create a caloric deficit in our body"?
That I did, but you have to know that caloric deficit can be categorized as small, moderate, or large. You can base this on how far below maintenance you are willing to go and how much daily calorie reduction you apply.
You have to know that each degree of caloric deficit has its pros and cons, but most people find a moderate deficit of 20% works best for them. Why can’t I do a larger deficit to speed things up? Unfortunately, our bodies are not that simple. They’re more complicated than most people’s relationships, I tell you. I personally do not go for a larger deficit because I notice a change in my mood. I feel sluggish and hungry more than usual. Other effects can include metabolic slowdown, hormonal issues, and even libido. The biggest and most significant negative impact an overdone calorie reduction can do is to your training and recovery as I’ve explained in #1.
3. Don’t Skimp on the Protein
Protein is the building block of muscles. You need protein to continuously stimulate muscle growth. If you want to lose fat and not your muscles, be sure to eat enough protein daily. Studies have shown that if you increase your protein intake, even if you reduce your workout, a bigger portion of your weight loss is due to fat burning and not muscle loss.
Makes sure that you preserve your muscle by consuming the ideal amount of protein for you. This is 0.8-1.3 grams of protein per pound of your current body weight. So, if I weigh 150 pounds, I should be taking 195 grams (1.3 x 150) of protein daily. However, for those who are overweight or obese, they should compute using their goal body weight.
4. Don’t Skip the Pre and Post Workout Meals
Personally, I only drink a smoothie infused with my favorite pre-workout supplement and a hard-boiled egg before I hit the gym.
However, I want to make an emphasis that the meals we eat pre and post workout are very important. Don’t ever think that it’s better to have nothing in your tummy before you workout because that is wrong. You need the energy. After you workout, you need to recover. So, eat a meal with a nice amount of protein and carbs within 1-2 hours before and after you exercise.
5. Don’t Forget to Rest
Nobody hates sleeping, so this should be the easiest thing to do in the entire list. Muscle repair happens when we sleep.
If you get six hours or less of shut-eye, then your body does not reach the maximum point of production of important muscle-building chemicals such as the growth hormone. Excessive activity apart from your workouts and even stress can be a deterrent to your muscle gains.