People always say that life doesn’t give you everything, you gain something, you lose another, and sadly that applies to weight loss too.
You may notice your weight on the scale getting down very quickly, but don’t get too excited, your body isn’t just losing fats, it’s getting rid of your muscles too.
It’s important to maintain lean muscles mass while losing weight, as it significantly affects your metabolism, but most people don’t pay attention to their muscles when they’re losing fats and looking more fit.
Luckily, there are several things you can do to maintain your lean muscle mass, and they can all be found in this article.
First, you should take care of your diet!
Increase Your Proteins Intake
If you want to keep your muscles, you don’t have to look for long, the most important nutrient for maintaining muscles is protein. Nothing else matters when you’re eating just the right amount of proteins.
When it comes to nutrition, trying to keep your muscles while losing weight depends mostly on how much protein you’re eating throughout the day.
Studies have shown that even if you don’t train regularly, your lost weight will be mostly fats, not muscles, due to increasing your protein intake.
Here are some protein-rich foods you can add to your diet:
1- Eggs: Eggs hold nearly 7 grams of high-quality proteins, they contain a huge value of leucine, which is an important amino acid for gaining muscles.
2- Greek Yogurt: This product contains high-quality proteins, fast-digesting proteins, and slow-digesting proteins. Studies have shown that consuming fast and slow digesting dairy proteins combined, causes an increase in average lean mass. But don’t mistake greek yogurt for normal yogurt, because it contains a lot more proteins than the regular one. Eating this snack is preferred after a heavy exercise, or right before bed. It’s definitely a keeper!
3- Shrimp: Those little sea creatures contain more protein than you think, nearly 50% of their nutrients are proteins. Adding shrimps to your diet is a simple way to build your muscles without eating extra unwanted calories. Shrimp, like eggs, is also rich in leucine.
4- Peanuts: It may seem strange, but peanuts actually are a great source of nutrients. They contain all the way from proteins to carbs, and they have leucine more than the other plant-based products. The only downside is they contain a lot of calories, so they are a good solution if you want to increase your calories intake and gain muscles at the same time.
5- Salmon: Not only a delicious treat but also a perfect meal for gaining muscles and overall health of the body. Every 85 grams serving of salmon holds about 16 grams of protein, nearly 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids and many essential B vitamins. Omega-3 fatty acids will aid you more than you think during your workouts to gain muscles.
6- Cottage Cheese: Although not a popular meal among people, it contains much more proteins than you think, and it’s one of the most important sources of the muscle-building amino acid leucine. Like the rest of dairy products, cottage cheese can be bought with varying fat contents. Try not to settle for high-fat versions of this cheese as it provides more calories than you need. Choose what type of cottage cheese suits you, depending on your need to cut or add more calories to your diet, and don’t worry, all of the types are great for building muscles.
7- Chicken Breast: Everybody loves chicken! And now you even have more reasons to love it. Chicken breasts are very important for building and maintaining muscles. They pack heavy doses of proteins, including high-quality proteins. They also have huge amounts of B vitamins. These vitamins aid your body in functioning properly during workouts and pieces of training that are required for muscle gain. Studies even showed that high-protein diets involving chicken may be helping with losing body fats.
8- Lean Beef: What more do you want in life more than a delicious meal, that’s also rich in proteins? Obviously nothing! Luckily, you have lean beef in your life. Lean beef is packed with bioavailable iron, B12 vitamin, and many other nutrients that are important for your health. Each serving of 85 grams of lean beef contains nearly 25 grams of proteins, accompanied with almost 185 calories. If you are trying to follow a low-carb diet, it may be a good idea to shift from lean beef to fatty cuts of beef.
So if you want to keep your lean muscle mass, you should add those changes to your diet. Need more delicious, protein-rich food examples? Check our article: 41 High-Protein Bulking Foods to Transform Your Body!
Maintain a Healthy Amount of Calories
It’s no secret that if you need to lose weight, you have to reduce your calories intake. But you can’t reduce it to an unhealthy amount, your body still needs those calories to function regularly. Always remember that if your body doesn’t find enough calories to burn, it will start burning your muscles to provide energy.
You can reduce your calories by small, moderate, or a large rate, based on how much weight you want to lose. Each rate of those has advantages and disadvantages, but the moderate rate turns out to be suitable and healthy for the majority of people.
If you’re wondering why you can’t just reduce your calories intake to a minimum and enjoy while your fats get burned, it’s because your metabolism gets negatively affected by this reduction, you may experience some hormonal issues and mood swings, not to mention the worst effect it has on your training and recovery time.
One of the most critical side effects of reducing calories intake is, of course, loss of lean muscle and strength. If you want to keep those muscles, we’d recommend settling for a moderate rate of reducing calories.
Don’t Let Hunger Attack!
You may think it’s natural to feel hungry if you’re going on a diet, but it’s actually the opposite. It’s a human instinct to look for something to eat if you feel starved, your willpower will suddenly disappear and you’ll pack up a few calories.
This change will affect your fat loss, therefore will affect your muscles growing. Your muscles depend on food as a fuel to recover and grow, if you take away the fuel, you take away the muscles, and you need them to burn more fats if you’re following a weight loss plan.
Refeed, Don’t Cheat!
If you reach a stop in weight loss where you’re hungry all the time, and your body just got tired from following a tight schedule, resist the urge to cheat a day out of your diet. It may seem like a harmless cheat, but it could really affect your metabolism, and you don’t want that if you’re planning to lose a lot of weight.
Just settle for a single high-carb meal, composed of slow and medium digesting carbs, and of course, don’t forget the rule of eating at least hours before going to bed. This meal will demolish any feeling of hunger and starvation, as your body will be tricked into absorbing those carbs all night.
Watch Your Carbs!
Your body needs carbohydrates to function normally, but if you’re planning to lose a lot of weight, you should only consume carbs when you need them.
The ideal time to consume large amounts of carbs is right when you wake up in the morning, and around workouts (After or Before). Those are the times when your carbs will be used and burned off, not stored.
You should stick to 20-30 grams of carbs in the other meals if you feel like you must eat them, based on your lifestyle and body.
Take Care of Your Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
As mentioned before, going on a caloric deficit could cause your training and your ability to recover to hit the ground, if you want to fix that mistake, you should watch what you eat before and after exercises closely.
Watching the timing of your pre and post workout meals and their composition will significantly affect your recovery, and as they say, the better the recovery, the better the next training. Your time at the gym will be much more efficient if you follow those bits of advice.
You may think those meals are overrated, but they actually can change every aspect of your training. They’re not just important in the case of gaining muscles, but also in the case of losing fats.
Wondering what you should eat during these meals? It’s not hard, just load up on proteins and carbs 2 hours before and after you go to the gym. Don’t try to complicate it more than that, because if you go to the gym regularly, you will hardly have any free time to prepare meals.
Now that you know what do nutrition-wise, it’s time for some exercises!
Need help choosing your optimum foods? Here are some articles to help you out:
- Best Weight Loss Friendly Foods: The Ultimate List (50+ Examples)
- The 15 Best Weight Loss Drinks You MUST Try!
- The Best Weight Loss Breakfast Choices (Recipes Included!)
Don’t Depend Mainly on Cardio!
When you start thinking about workouts, your mind automatically goes to Cardio, like it’s the magic solution to every weight problem, well guess what? It’s not!
Doing a lot of cardio may be harming your chances at keeping your lean muscles intact.
Wondering how? Well, the energy exerted by you on running or biking eventually steals from your reserves when you head over to hit weights. Added to that, your body needs enough proteins and calories to support your muscles, if you run or bike a lot, it’s going to be so hard to re-fill those calories and keep enough nutrients for the muscles.
Also cardio negatively affects your muscles because as we mentioned before, cardio affects recovery time and reduces calories, and you need enough calories to build muscles. Any exercise you are doing regularly will have to be adjusted to the needs of your body, in order to prevent muscle loss.
If you want to keep your cardio exercises without losing muscles, try sticking to only two or three days of cardio, and don’t train for more than an hour. It’s also okay if you want to ditch cardio all the way, as long as you’re weightlifting, cardio is optional.
Maintain Your Strength Levels
We have talked about the essential foods to eat when you’re trying to lose fats without losing muscles, now it’s time to talk about essential training requirements. To put simply, in order to maintain muscle mass, you have to maintain your strength levels.
When you gradually get stronger, your body is signaled to start building muscles, when you keep your strength levels relative, your body gets signaled this time to maintain the muscles you’ve built before. If the signal disappears, the muscles disappear with it.
Some people think maintaining muscles requires you to lift heavy weights, then shift to lighter weights, but they couldn’t be more wrong. This could obstruct your whole plan to keep your muscles. You have to lift heavy weight to build the muscles, then lift the very same heavyweights to maintain them.
If you shift to light weights while going on a caloric deficit, your body is going to think you don’t the muscles anymore since you don’t use them to the full extent, and it’s going to start burning it for energy instead of burning the fat. Obviously, never shift to light weights.
At first, it’s going to be much easier to gain strength, just as it’s easier to lose weight at the beginning of the diet, rather than the middle of it, but don’t lose hope. If you feel like you can’t gain strength anymore, just maintain what you have.
This is not as problematic as you think, as maintaining the same level of strength is the most important training requirement, especially if you’re weightlifting.
Same Exercises Over and Over!
Everyone has a favorite exercise that they like to do all the time, but your body actually needs you to vary those exercises in order to grow muscles.
Maintaining the same exercises over time affects your muscle fiber’s growth potential. You need to do different exercises so that your body gets working from all the angles.
If you don’t like changing your habits, try following one routine for seven to eight weeks, then shift to a new routine. If you’re rushed and you want perfect results, try new exercises every time you work out. For example, try shifting from front squats to back squats, or from a bench press to a dumbbell chest press.
You can also try to change the way you divide your days. If you go for tris and bis days, try going for whole upper body and whole lower body days.
Check our article 5 Exercises to Lose Belly Fat in 1 Week to get some awesome examples for weight loss efficient exercises.
Don’t Weight Train So Often
Going on a diet requires a caloric deficit, which overall causes a deficit in your energy, and while this may be optimal for losing any unneeded body fat, it doesn’t help with your training performance, recovery, or even tolerance that much.
In other words, your workout routine which is helping you gain muscles and strength will become a load on your body and it will affect its ability to recover from heavy workouts. This will lead to you losing the strength you worked so hard to gain, and by logical order, it will lead your body to lose its muscles after a period of time.
Like we’ve mentioned before, keeping your strength intact is essential for a successful training, which won’t happen if your body isn’t properly recovering.
How to Prevent This From Happening?
Simply, you need to adjust your weight training program to recompense for the effect on your recovery that comes in a pack with a caloric deficit. That means taking down the total number of sets, reps, and exercises you are doing, and reducing the frequency of your workout overall.
Try to keep up with a form of weight training at least 2 times a week, so your body will have a reason to keep your lean muscles. Like we mentioned before, if your body doesn’t find a use for your muscles, it’s going to start burning them away, and you don’t want that if you worked hard to gain them.
You need to do this especially if you’re doing a lot of cardio exercises per week. Doing a lot of cardio without enough weight training is just a recipe for a soft skeleton!
Your mentality is always important when you’re trying to achieve something related to your body, even the way you think can affect your plan to lose weight.
When you first start weightlifting, you can build up nearly 8 kilograms of muscles in a year or a little more, but sadly after that, your growth rate drops a bit.
Although you may have succeeded in gaining muscles, if the process slows down, your mind starts convincing you to stop, especially if you wanted fast results. But anything related to your body needs time and willpower, if you don’t provide it with enough of either, you don’t reach your goal.
Always remember, building muscles is a marathon, not a sprint.
Always Think About Recovery
The excitement that fills you up when you start working out may sometimes make you forget about your body needing time to recover from the heavy exercises.
Recovering after every exercise actually causes optimal results, and the easiest way to recover is to sleep enough hours at night. The amount of sleep you get at night affects whether or not you lose muscles when you’re trying to lose fats, mostly by affecting your hormone levels.
Cortisol, which is an inflammatory hormone, rises up when you’re going through sleep deprivation. You don’t want Cortisol to be high in your blood for a lot of reasons, it can stop your weight loss process and support muscle burning. You have to sleep well so your body can secrete human growth hormone (HG), which helps in muscle building.
Studies have shown that people who got only 5 hours of sleep at night, had a declined rate of losing fat by 50% while following the same diet as normal people who slept for 8 hours but didn’t have any decline in weight loss!
Another study showed that having three to four days of sleep deprivation causes the body to be less sensitive to insulin, which leads to fat storage and reducing the levels of growth hormone in the body.
Focus on High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
High-intensity interval training is an optimal way to get lean and build more muscle tissues. Adding two sessions of HIIT every week to your workout plan can raise the bars on your fat loss, and it can boost your metabolism, which aids in burning your body’s natural fats.
You can also try to boost the tempo and increase the intensity of your exercises, if you want fast results, rest for only 30-35 seconds after each set of training.
You may notice that long duration steady state cardio stops working after a while. If you want to solve that, do a short 30 minutes intervals 2 times a week. It works perfectly as a plateau buster!
As there are a lot of ways to lose weight and be fit, there are also a lot of ways to sabotage your plan to lose it.
Apparently, there are a lot of things to consider when you’re planning to lose weight. You need to watch your diet, exercise regularly, check if you’re losing muscles or not, and doing any of these things wrong can cause a sudden change in your plan.
Trying to get a fit body is like a Jenga game, pull the wrong piece of wood and your game is on the floor! Muscles are one of the most important pieces of wood in your game. They help you lose weight even when you’re resting. While gaining them might be so hard, they will make things easier for you later on.
We don’t want you to worry, although having a fit body requires a lot of energy, willpower, and patience, it will be worth it in the end. And, if you follow these pieces of advice closely, you will see even more optimal results, and always remember that you’re cutting fats, not muscles.