When on a weight loss journey, how can you ensure you are burning fat and not muscle? And why does it matter? Achieving sustainable weight loss goes beyond what you see on the scales and there is a significant relationship between muscle preservation and lasting fat loss. In this post, I want to discuss the importance of maintaining muscle mass, and how to ensure you burn fat not muscle.
LEARN MORE ABOUT MY WEIGHT LOSS JOURNEY! > How I Lost Over 80lbs: Tips For Starting A Weight Loss Journey
Table of Contents
- The Importance Of Retaining Muscle
- 1. Stay in a Small Calorie Deficit
- 2. Increase Protein Intake
- 3. Incorporate Resistance Training
- Burn Fat Not Muscle: Conclusion
The Importance Of Retaining Muscle
Maintaining muscle mass is important to not only long term weight loss success, but also your health in general. Muscles help to support skeletal structure, allowing you to move and stay active, protect internal organs and keep joints stable. This is especially important as you age. Research shows that after age 30, we naturally begin to lose up to 3% to 5% of our muscle mass per decade.
When talking specifically about weight loss, how much muscle you have directly impacts your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). TDEE is essentially the total number of calories your body needs in a day to function, and it’s made up of your basal metabolic rate (BMR), physical activity, and the thermic effect of food. Your BMR is the calories your body burns at rest, the energy it needs for basic functions, like breathing, circulating blood, maintaining body temperature, and all the behind-the-scenes tasks that keep you alive.
Muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat, meaning it demands a higher energy expenditure just to maintain itself. Basically, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body needs to sustain that muscle, even when you’re at rest. So the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
Retaining muscle mass is a key aspect of preventing metabolic adaptation during weight loss. Metabolic adaptation, where the body adjusts its energy expenditure in response to changes in calorie intake, can lead to a reduction in the number of calories burned at rest. But, by holding onto your muscle mass, along with other tactics, you can counteract this effect.
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1. Stay in a Small Calorie Deficit
If you aren’t eating enough food – your body, in its adaptive nature, might switch from burning primarily fat to tapping into muscle for energy. It’s a survival mechanism – a recognition that muscle tissue demands more energy to maintain. So when faced with insufficient calorie intake, your body may perceive this as a signal to prioritise essential functions and start breaking down muscle for energy, a more metabolically active tissue compared to fat.
Ideally, you should aim to reduce your daily calorie intake by a maximum of 20% or around 500 calories. This moderate reduction allows for gradual and sustainable weight loss while providing your body with the necessary fuel it needs to preserve muscle mass. By staying within this balanced deficit, you send a signal to your body that it can rely on stored fat for energy without jeopardizing vital muscle tissue.
Use an online calculator to work out your TDEE, which factors in your activity level, age, weight, and goals. And from there you can determine how many calories you need to eat to be in the deficit you want. For example, if your TDEE is 2300 calories a day, and wanted to reduce this by 20% – you would eat 1,820 calories a day. My eBook ‘Complete Weight Loss Guide‘, goes into more detail about TDEE and how to choose the right deficit based on your goals.
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2. Increase Protein Intake
Protein is essential for healthy muscle growth, as it’s made of amino acids, which are the building blocks needed to create muscle tissue. Eating enough protein can also help boost muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of creating new muscle tissue – even if you are in a deficit (with the right exercise – more on this below).
During a calorie-restricted diet, where the risk of muscle loss is heightened, it is essential to have an increased protein intake. By prioritising protein, you send a signal to your body: preserve the muscle, burn the fat. So, while your body taps into its fat stores for energy during a calorie deficit, it’s the protein that safeguards your muscle mass.
Recommended Protein Intake
As a general guideline for muscle preservation during fat loss, aim for a protein intake of around 1.6g to 2.2g of protein per kg of body weight (or 0.73g to 1g per lb of body weight). This range ensures that you’re providing your body with enough amino acids to support muscle maintenance and repair.
It’s also better to spread your protein intake equally throughout the day, as distributing it across your meals helps optimise muscle protein synthesis.
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3. Incorporate Resistance Training
To help your muscles stay strong and healthy, and to help preserve them, it is recommended to do strength-training exercises at least two to three times a week, ideally for at least 20 minutes per session. This frequency allows for consistent stimulation of muscle fibres, promoting ongoing muscle protein synthesis and adaptation.
Resistance training comes in many different forms, it’s not just weight lifting or body building. Yoga and Pilates are both a form of resistance training, as is swimming or body-weight moves like push-ups or pull-ups. It’s essentially the application of force or resistance against the muscles i.e. weights, body-weight, water. In fact, the more diversity you include in your resistance training will not only keeps things interesting but also ensures a well-rounded approach to muscle development. So find something you enjoy doing and can stay consistent with.
Aim to challenge your muscles progressively by increasing resistance, adjusting repetitions or time/distance.
Concurrent training is an great way to incorporate resistance training into your routine for fat loss. It involves combining resistance with cardio exercise in one program to maximize the benefits of both. This type of exercise can help burn more calories, help build muscle and improve your strength and endurance. Choose a resistance and a cardio exercise that fit with your goals and fitness level. Then, alternate between the two on different training days, or combine them into one circuit/session. This can make your workouts more efficient and help you reach your fat loss goals faster.
My eBook ‘Complete Weight Loss Guide‘ has an entire section on resistance training, including how to put together a weight training program for maximum progression. I also have a similar section in my FREE Reverse Diet eBook.
Rest and Recovery
Finally, don’t forget to incorporate rest and recovery into your routine, as it is essential for muscle growth and development. Leave at least 48 hours before you work the same muscle group, and make sure you are getting good quality sleep at night to help you recover!
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Burn Fat Not Muscle: Conclusion
Muscle is essential to our overall health and wellbeing, and even outside of weight loss goals we want to be doing everything we can to preserve it.
Muscle mass naturally decreases as we age, so it’s even more important if you are over 30 and trying to lose weight. But the benefits of muscle preservation are not limited to a specific age group or fitness level; they are universal and applicable to anyone seeking to improve their overall quality of life.
Having increased muscle not only increases the calories you burn each day, but reduces your risk of injury, supports your joints, gives your more energy and makes you stronger! Making everyday activities more manageable.
Have you found ‘Burn Fat Not Muscle: 3 Steps To Successful Fat Loss‘ helpful? Do you have your own tips for maintaining or building muscle? Let me know in the comments below!