How to Gain Muscle while Losing Weight

How to Gain Muscle while Losing Weight

Losing weight can be great. But not if that kilos comes from muscle loss.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time, when people lose weight, they wind up with a lot less muscle than they started out with. Some even find their body fat percentages increasing.

Why? Because when you consume fewer calories than you burn every day – a prerequisite for losing weight – you tell your body to put your muscle health on the back burner. Study shows that lower calorie diets decrease the intracellular signaling necessary for your body to synthesize new muscle proteins. When dieting, muscle tissue may be less sensitive to the protein you eat. As a result, muscle is less likely to use any amino acids (from protein) floating through your bloodstream to strengthen your muscles.

Unfortunately, muscles cells naturally shed proteins every day, ready for your body to replace them with new healthy ones. So when the new ones don’t show up, you lose muscle – sometimes drastically.

Since muscle is the single greatest determiner of your metabolic rate – how many calories you burn each and every day – this muscle loss largely explains why so many people struggle to keep weight off once they lose it. Their metabolism drops. For instance, that’s why research found that people who had lost weight on The Biggest Loser had to eat as many as 800 fewer calories a day to maintain their weight loss compared to people of similar weights. Their metabolisms had slowed that much.

On the flip side, though, building muscle while you lose weight does the exact opposite – stoking your metabolism and making it easier to hit your fat-loss goals and maintain them. Plus, muscle increases your strength, reduces the risk of injury and can improve your overall health.

So, how can you build muscle while still losing fat – when biology is working completely against you? By following these six expert-approved strategies.

1. Eat More Protein at Every Meal

To gain muscle while losing fat, a review published in Sports Medicine recommends consuming between 2.3 to 3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of your bodyweight (1.09 to 1.41 grams of protein per pound of your bodyweight). “In addition, this protein intake should be spaced out evenly throughout the day. As a general rule, aim to include at least 25 to 30 grams of protein in every meal – and even slightly more if you are vegetarian or vegan.

2. Lose Weight Slowly

While it can be tempting to try to lose as much weight as quickly as possibly, drastic drops in weight tend to be the result of losing not just fat, but also muscle, For instance, in one Obesity study, when people followed an extremely low-calorie diet, 18 percent of their weight lost was from muscle. When people stuck to a more moderate approach, that percentage dropped to 7.7.

Your goal? Lose no more than 0.5kg to 1.0kg per week. While every person will need to cut calories and/or increase their activity levels slightly differently to lose weight at this rate, reducing caloric intake by 500 calories per day is a good place to start.

3. Strength Train at Least Three Times Per Week

“A lot of people who try to lose weight ramp up their cardiovascular activity. This can be beneficial but not if it replaces weight training. We need to include at least two days of weight training a week to maintain existing muscle mass and three or more times a week to build muscle. Focus on fitting in these workouts first and then you can start to think about adding the right cardio workouts to your routine.

4. Keep Your Cardio Workouts Short and Sweet

When it comes to getting the most fat loss and muscle gain out of your cardiovascular workouts, it’s best to focus on high-intensity interval exercises such as repeated sprints on the treadmill, elliptical or bike. These workouts will burn fat while building muscle, whereas low- to moderate-intensity steady-state cardio burns both muscle and fat.

5. Give Your Muscles a Break

“Most people think more is better. When it comes to building muscle this is not necessarily true. Muscles need rest to grow. How much time? Although the exact time will differ slightly from person to person and workout to workout (which is why you need to listen to your body!), one Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise meta-analysis determined that for optimal strength development, it’s best to rest a given muscle group for one to two days before working it again through strength training. So, if you perform an intense lower-body strength routine on Monday, wait until at least Wednesday to target your lower body again. You can always perform upper-body lifts on Tuesday. Then, every week, schedule at least one to two days of full rest from structured exercise.

5. Be Patient

This might be the hardest tip of all, but it’s important to keep in mind, especially as you progress through your “burn fat and build muscle” plan. That’s because, while you may notice yourself making great gains to start with, they will naturally slow over time. It becomes progressively more difficult to increase muscle while losing fat as you become more trained and get leaner.

It’s just how the human body works: The more excess fat we have to lose, the easier it is to lose 5 kgs of fat. The more muscle we need to gain, the easier it is to gain 5 kgs of muscle. As you get closer to your goal, expect to see more subtle changes in your fat and muscle levels, and don’t get discouraged.

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