4 Ways to Prevent Losing Muscle During Weight Loss

Christian Coulson
Updated: June 14, 2020
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What did the winner of the muscle loss competition get?

A: A-trophy!

As you lose weight, those pounds come mainly from fat and muscle.

However, if you want to keep a fast metabolism, stay strong to prevent injuries, and be able to perform daily tasks and active hobbies when you get older, you must focus on preserving as much muscle mass as possible.

In this article, I’ll go over 4 ways to prevent losing muscle during weight loss.

1. Eat the Right Amount of Protein for You

Protein is an essential nutrient needed for building and maintaining muscle mass. However, many people fall short of their daily requirements.

Maintaining muscle is important for keeping a fast metabolism.

The recommended daily protein intake during weight loss is between 0.7 – 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. (1, 2)

The more body fat has and the heavier you are, the lower on the range you should be.

For example, if you weight 200 pounds, you could eat between 140 to 240 grams of protein.

Higher protein intake will also keep you more satiated as you lose weight, which will help you reduce cravings and overeating.

Some high protein food sources include whole eggs, egg whites, low-fat cheese, chicken breast, ground turkey, tilapia, tuna, salmon, steak, some legumes.

If you’re having trouble reaching your daily protein goals, you can add some whey protein.

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2. Don’t Lose Weight Too Fast Unless You’re Overweight

The recommended rate of weight loss for someone looking to maintain as much muscle as possible is 0.5-1.0% of body weight per week. (3)

This rate will also prevent you from losing too much strength.

For example, if you weight 200 lb and want to prevent losing muscle during weight loss, you should aim to lose from 1-2 pounds per week (0.5% x 200 lb = 1, 1% x 200 lb = 2).

If it’s your first time losing weight and you also just started some sort of resistance training, you might be building some muscle while losing weight, which may throw off the numbers on the scale a little bit.

This is a common reason why you might be losing inches, but not weight.

In this case, I would recommend taking weekly photos of yourself and tape measurements in addition to weighing yourself.

This way you can compare measurements and photos and see if you’re making progress even if the scale isn’t moving.

Keep in mind that the opposite is also true.

You could be losing weight without losing inches, you can read more about it here.

The Exception

If you’re overweight or obese, it is completely safe to lose up to 2.5% of your bodyweight per week (even a little more if you’d like).

For example, if you’re overweight at 200 pounds, you could safely lose about 5 pounds per week.

Overweight and obese individuals tend to have enough body fat stored that muscle loss won’t be much of an issue.

Quickly getting the fat off of your body will lower your risk hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis.

3. Add Weight Training

While adequate protein is important for muscle support, muscle itself won’t build without weight training.

That’s why, if your priority is to maintain lean body mass and not have flappy arms, you must add some weight training.

After weight training, your body repairs the damaged muscle fibers through a process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new ones.

These newly repaired fibers increase in thickness. Without this process of “breaking” and “rebuilding,” muscle growth or maintenance doesn’t happen.

Women are often concerned about weight lifting making them bulky, however, that’s very unlikely to happen.

You can explore more in my article about why women should lift weights and why it won’t make them bulky.

4. Reduce Your Cardio

While cardio is a great tool to burn fat, you should be careful not to overdo it.

Many people are in such a rush to lose fat that they add a lot of cardio without realizing that they are also losing a lot of muscle.

Maintaining muscle mass while losing weight is an art of balancing weight training, cardio, and diet.

Going overboard with any of these can surely be detrimental to your goals.

So aim for fewer cardio sessions or switch some of your regular cardio for some HIIT cardio. HIIT cardio stimulates muscle fibers in the same way weight training does.

If you’d like to explore more, you can check out my article about the difference between HIIT, MISS, and LISS.

I hope you loved this article on 4 ways to prevent losing muscle mass during weight loss!

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