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How to Lose Weight While Maintaining Muscle Mass

How to Lose Weight While Maintaining Muscle Mass

Being overweight doesn't just affect your self-esteem; it affects your health. Research shows people who are overweight are more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, diabetes, gallstones, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and even cancer than healthy-weight adults. When dieting and exercising to shed those excess pounds, however, you should consider how it will affect your muscle mass.


If you aren't careful, you may lose both body fat and muscle mass during your weight loss journey. Losing weight requires equal parts dieting and exercising, both of which lower the number of glycogen reserves in your body. As a result, your body may break down both fat along with muscle tissue to use for energy. You can't prevent your body from using stored fat or muscle tissue for energy, but there are ways to retain muscle mass when losing weight.

Increase Your Protein Intake

Adding more protein to your diet can help you retain muscle mass by providing your body with muscle-building amino acids. Muscle tissue itself consists of linked amino acids. When you diet and exercise, your body will use some of these amino acids for energy after depleting its glycogen reserves. A high-protein diet ensures your body has a sufficient amount of amino acids to replace those used for energy in your muscle tissue.


Exercising will also expose your muscle tissue to physical stress, causing some of the linked amino acids to break down. If you don't consume enough protein, the lack of amino acids will hinder your body's ability to rebuild damaged muscle tissue.


To retain muscle mass, consume plenty of protein-rich foods. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 0.5 to 1 gram of protein daily per pound of body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds, for example, you should aim for 100 to 200 grams of protein daily. Protein is found in all meats, though another plentiful source of this muscle-promoting nutrient is nuts. Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and cashews are all loaded in protein.

Avoid Drastically Cutting Carbs

Cutting carbs can help you lose weight, but you shouldn't eliminate or drastically reduce your intake of carbs. Statistics show carbs account for 50 percent to 60 percent of the average American's daily caloric intake, meaning carbs are the main source of energy for most adults.


When consumed, carbs are converted into glycogen by the liver. If your body needs energy, it will first attempt to use the glycogen reserves. Failure to consume enough carbs means your body must look elsewhere for energy, such as the amino acids in your muscle tissue.


All carbs can supply your body with energy and, therefore, help you retain muscle mass when losing weight, but some are better than others. Carbs can be classified as either simple or complex, depending on the length of their molecular chain. Simple carbs have a short chain of molecules, whereas complex carbs have a long chain of molecules. Because of their longer length, complex carbs are absorbed and processed more slowly when consumed, so they don't cause sudden and extreme blood sugar spikes like simple carbs. Instead, complex carbs provide sustainable energy while allowing you to consume fewer total calories than simple carbs.

Perform Less Aerobic Exercise

Avoid performing too much aerobic exercise when trying to lose weight. Also known as cardio, aerobic exercise is any form of sustainable, moderate-intensity exercise that's performed over a long period. Running, jogging, swimming, and cycling are all forms of aerobic exercise. While highly effective for losing weight, though, too much the aerobic exercise could result in decreased muscle mass.


Because it's performed over a long period, such as 30 minutes to 2 hours, aerobic exercise requires more energy than other forms of exercise. As a result, it will burn more fat and muscle tissue from your body. Furthermore, aerobic exercises cause your body to produce more cortisol, which in turn encourages your body to use muscle tissue for energy rather than fat.


You can include aerobic exercise in your workout regimen, but don't overdo it. Sixty to 120 minutes of aerobic exercise, when combined with the regular resistance training exercise, should suffice for most adults looking to lose weights.

Perform More Resistance Training Exercise

In addition to less aerobic exercise, you should perform more resistance training exercise. Also known as strength training, resistance training exercise is any form of exercise that exposes your muscles to a weighted force. Push-ups, for example, are a form of resistance training exercise that exposes your muscles to the weight of your own body, whereas a barbell chest press is a resistance training exercise that exposes your muscles to the weight of a plated barbell.


Resistance training exercise is more effective at building muscle mass than aerobic exercise because it forces your muscles to contrast under an external force. The presence of a weighted force makes resistance training exercise more difficult to perform, but the end result is bigger gains. While exposed to a weighted force, your muscle tissue will sustain damage. It's not significant or permanent damage, but it's still enough to trigger a repair process in which your body builds new muscle tissue using amino acids.

Take Breaks to Recover From Resistance Training Exercise

Don't forget to take breaks between your resistance training exercise sessions. A common mistake people make when trying to lose weight and build muscle is lifting weights or performing other forms of resistance training exercise every day. While it may sound beneficial, performing resistance training exercise for multiple consecutive days may cause you to lose muscle mass rather than gain it.


If you don't take breaks from resistant training exercise, your body won't have the opportunity to repair the physically stressed muscle tissue. To encourage the development of new muscle tissue, take a 24 to 48-hour break after each resistance training session.


The possibility of losing some of your muscle mass shouldn't discourage you from losing weight. While many people experience decreased muscle mass as a side effect of weight loss, you can retain your muscle mass by following these tips.

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