How to Lose Fat without Sacrificing Muscle
Losing fat is often easier said than done. Fat is stubborn and tricky to lose, but many people have a different concern. In the process of losing fat, muscle mass may also decrease. Is it possible to lose fat without sacrificing muscle mass at the same time? Yes, it is, and in this post, we’re going to show you how to make it happen.
How to set up a calorie deficit diet
Regular workouts are crucial for fat loss and maintaining, or increasing, muscle mass. But, the power of proper nutrition should not be underestimated. Your eating habits have a major impact on the body goals you strive to achieve.
The principle of losing fat is simple and straightforward – you need to consume a lower amount of calories than you burn. Regular exercise helps burn a great deal of calories and reduces body fat percentage. But, working out isn't the only thing to focus on. It should go hand in hand with proper diet adjustments.
This is where things get tricky for most people. The goal here is not just to achieve a calorie deficit to lose fat, but you need to make wise choices to preserve muscle mass. Significant caloric restriction may not be the best course of action. To keep losing fat without jeopardising muscle mass, you need to avoid any type of restrictive eating plan.
By making simple diet choices, you can get into a caloric deficit without restrictive dieting that would only sacrifice your muscle. Your diet should consist of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and healthy fats.
Studies show higher consumption of protein allows for retaining more lean mass and losing more fat. Yet another reason protein intake is necessary for the caloric deficit is its potential to suppress your appetite. When people increase their protein intake, they start consuming fewer calories. This “method” is effective on a meal-to-meal basis, but it also allows for decreasing day-to-day calorie intake as long as your protein consumption is high.
A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found protein intake accounting for 30% of calories led to a significant reduction in calorie intake by 441 calories a day.
To sum up this section, you can create a caloric deficit diet by increasing protein intake and opting for healthy foods. At the same time, you need to avoid sugar-laden foods and trans fats. Following diet fads with severe calorie restriction isn’t recommended, especially if you want to preserve muscle.
How many calories to reduce?
As mentioned above, significant calorie restriction may not yield the results you want. Instead of preserving muscle mass, you could end up losing it. There is no magic number of calories you need to reduce each week or month because calorie needs are not the same for everyone.
This number depends on your age and levels of physical activity.
While a 20-year-old sedentary male may need 2600 calories a day, his counterparts with moderate and high activity levels may need 2800 and 3000 calories, respectively. On the other hand, a 20-year-old female may need 2000 calories a day if he’s sedentary, but 2200 and 2400 calories if her activity levels are moderate and high.
A man in the 26-35 age group may need 2400 calories a day if he’s sedentary, but 2600 and 3000 calories if his activity levels are moderate and high. A sedentary female from the same age group needs 1800 calories a day, but 2000 calories if she’s moderately active. An active woman from this age group would need 2400 calories per day.
You can learn more about the calorie needs of different age groups here.
You get into a calorie deficit by decreasing the number of calories consumed through the diet, exercise, or both.
To lose 1-2lbs (0.45-0.90kg) a week, you would need to reduce the number of calories you consumer by around 500 a day. So, if you are eating 2600 calories a day, you would need to lower that number to 1900-2000 on a daily basis.
Additionally, 2600 calories a day amounts to 18,200 a week. Decreasing calorie intake by 500 would be equal to consuming 15,200 calories every week. If a person decreases calorie consumption by 1000, they will end up eating 11,200 calories on a weekly basis.
Reminder – significant calorie restriction would go against your effort to preserve muscle mass while burning fat. Moreover, it is not recommended to get into a calorie deficit of 7000 calories per week.
This would be a simple calculation, but the human body is more complicated than that. Since every person is different and their calorie needs differ, you would need to get into greater detail. So, you may want to use an online calculator to calculate your calorie needs and determine how much to decrease. One such calculator is here.
Different ways to lose fat
While fat may be stubborn, it’s not impossible to lose. Use the suggestions below to lose fat in a healthy manner.
Diet is the cornerstone of the whole process, but it goes beyond foods to eat and avoid. Let’s talk about meal frequency first – you need to eat regularly and never go more than three hours without eating food. This doesn’t mean calorie intake will increase because you’re eating smaller portions. What this can do for you is speed up metabolism, stop highs and lows of blood glucose, and prevent cravings. At the same time, it can fuel your energy levels for the best results in the gym.
Instead of calorie counting, you may want to think about portions. The best way to modify your diet for fat loss is to reduce portion size instead of filling up the plate. Use a clenched fist or a palm of your hand as the indicator for the size of one portion.
Now that you know how often to eat and the sizes of the portions, let’s get into specifics. Your diet should include the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Protein (choose lean meats and lower-fat versions of products)
- Enough water
Each meal should include a portion of protein and carbs. At least two meals a day should contain vegetables.
While you can use protein drinks containing complex carbs as a meal replacement, keep in mind the body also needs fibre. Good sources of fibre are vegetables, wheat, rice, fruits, sweet potatoes, and oats.
Adhere to your diet for six days and use Sunday as a cheat day.
The importance of workouts extends beyond faster metabolism and greater energy expenditure. You see, if you lose weight without exercise, you are more likely to lose both fat and muscle. The latter you want to preserve.
Weight training is crucial here. While cardio is useful, it's more inclined toward fat loss, but it won't do much for your muscle mass. Resistance training speeds up metabolism and improves the way your body uses energy. Not only could it help lose fat, but it also shapes your body and supports your muscle mass.
When it comes to training, you don’t have to do it every day. To be effective, your routine should be brief and intense. Keep in mind you need to have a proper break between sets. Recovery days are also necessary. So you may want to exercise three to four days a week.
Get more sleep
Studies show persons who sleep five or fewer hours a night tend to gain more weight than people who get more sleep. Good night's rest does wonders for your energy levels but may also decrease appetite. All this is necessary for the quality of your workouts, weight maintenance, and choice of foods. When you're sleep-deprived and lack energy, you’re more inclined toward fast food, which is unhealthy.
Since you want to lose fat, alcohol is your enemy because it could increase it. In fact, alcohol could increase fat in the abdominal area, which is stubborn and difficult to lose. Cutting back on alcohol could help support your endeavour, but for the best health outcomes, you may want to avoid it entirely.
Stress triggers adrenal glands to produce a hormone called cortisol. High levels of stress hormone promote appetite and contribute to increased fat mass. Although stress isn’t something you can avoid, there’s a lot you can do to manage it. Exercise can be a great stress reliever, for example. You can also meditate or try deep breathing.
Modify your lifestyle
What most of us expect is that a single lifestyle change is enough to transform our bodies. In the ideal world, that would be the case, but in reality, we need to do more. You will achieve better results if you modify your lifestyle and make it overall healthier. A well-balanced diet should go hand in hand with exercise, no alcohol, drinking enough water, enough sleep, among other things.
Importance of stable hormone levels on weight loss
Hormones regulate all kinds of processes in the body. They also influence your weight and play a role in your endeavour to slim down. Hormones such as leptin, insulin, sex hormones, and human growth hormone influence metabolism, appetite, and distribution of body fat. People who are overweight or obese have hormonal imbalances that make it more difficult for them to slim down.
You see, leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells, and its function is to reduce appetite. Leptin acts on specific centres in the brain to decrease their urge to eat. In other words, this hormone suppresses appetite and promotes a feeling of fullness. However, leptin levels are higher in men and women who are overweight or obese. Despite having higher leptin concentration, overweight/obese persons aren’t as sensitive to it as their normal-weight counterparts. As a result, they don’t feel full after a meal. This leads to overeating and even greater weight gain. This can complicate the process of losing weight and fat.
Insulin, on the other hand, regulates carbohydrates and plays a role in fat metabolism. This hormone stimulates the uptake of glucose from the blood in muscles, fat, and the liver. Insulin signals are usually “lost” in persons with excess weight meaning the tissues are unable to control glucose levels. This paves the way to metabolic syndrome and types 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance can contribute to weight gain and make it tricky to slim down.
Moving on, sex hormones play a role in body fat distribution. Imbalances in these hormones can affect the way the body stores fat and contribute to weight gain. At the same time, growth hormone influences metabolism, and its levels are lower in overweight or obese individuals. That means metabolism becomes sluggish. Slow metabolism doesn’t allow us to burn enough calories to slim down. In fact, deficiencies in growth hormone are particularly associated with abdominal obesity. Low thyroid hormone levels, in the presence of hypothyroidism, also slow down metabolism and may contribute to excess weight.
What we’ve learned above is that hormonal imbalances make us more susceptible to weight gain. Vice versa can also happen. These imbalances affect our metabolism, body fat distribution, appetite, and other factors that lead to gaining a few pounds. The effects of these imbalances extend to your weight loss efforts i.e. it becomes more complicated to slim down. It's not uncommon for people to reduce calorie intake and exercise regularly but still realise they aren’t losing weight. The underlying cause of this problem is usually down to hormonal imbalances.
Setting realistic weight loss goals
The biggest reason behind failed attempts to lose weight is the wrong approach toward your goals. You see, goals keep your eyes on the prize. They navigate your journey and keep you on the right track. For that reason, they need to be realistic and specific. Saying you want to lose weight but maintain muscle is too vague.
For a long-term period, it’s practical to strive to lose 1-2lbs a week. Depending on your current weight, your initial goal should be to lose 5% of your total weight. So, if your weight is 180lbs (82kg), losing 5% would mean slimming down 9lbs (4kg).
Despite strong willpower and the desire to slim down, you need to start with smaller goals to achieve bigger results. For example, it may be more beneficial for your motivation to focus on process goals rather than outcome goals. An example of the latter is "I will lose 10lbs", and it can put pressure on you. Process goals such as "I'll walk every day for 30 minutes" create a sense of accomplishment that only encourages you to keep going.
Or you can combine the two and make a goal that defines how much weight you’re going to lose alongside the process. For instance, "I will lose 30 pounds by walking for 30 minutes, exercising regularly, and avoiding unhealthy foods from my diet".
Losing fat without sacrificing muscle mass is achievable, but you need to make wise choices. Try not to make your diet too restrictive. Focus on portion sizes and healthy foods accompanied by regular exercise, especially weight training.