Losing muscle mass. And maybe clowns.
Those are the biggest fears for most people.
For fitness-minded men who want to get lean, the fear of losing muscle mass is the single biggest “freak out” point on that list. For women, you can substitute “losing muscle mass” with “slowing down your metabolism” and you have the same level of fear. I’ve discussed metabolism in the past. In this article let’s tackle every man’s worst nightmare:
Clowns. Err, sorry. I mean losing muscle mass.
The Fear Factor
You want abs… but you’re afraid if you eat less you will lose muscle mass. Right? Maybe, you’ve even lost muscle in the past. I’ve fielded hundreds of emails from guys who claim that every time they try to diet down they’ve lost muscle. So clearly… losing muscle mass is a major phobia. Luckily there is a foolproof 3-part strategy you can use that all but guarantees you will NOT lose muscle the next time you decide to try and lose some fat.
Strategy #1: Hit The Gym 3x Per Week
If you want to maintain a tan, you have to maintain the stress that causes a tan. In other words, you need to be in the sun. In that same vein, if you want to maintain muscle mass you need to continue resistance training even while you’re dieting.
This is something most people already understand. But what most people don’t understand is how effective this strategy can be. Would you believe sticking with your resistance training can actually guarantee you don’t lose a single precious pound of muscle… even on a near-starvation diet?
Check out this study, published in the April 1999 Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Researchers took two groups of obese people and put them on 800 calorie-per-day liquid diets for 12 weeks. The first group did 4 hours a week of “cardio” exercise like walking, biking or jogging.
The 2nd group did absolutely zero cardio and instead did 3 hours of weight training per week. 12 weeks later, the results showed that participants in group one lost 27 pounds of fat and 10 pounds of muscle. But the resistance training group lost 32 pounds of fat and ZERO pounds of muscle.
Check that out again: On an 800 calorie-per-day liquid diet for 12 weeks, those who engaged in resistance training 3x per week lost ZERO pounds of muscle.(1)
Strategy #2: Protein At Every Meal
There are a large number of studies that show benefits to consuming a higher-than-normal amount of protein when trying to lose fat. One such study shows that test subjects who consume double the recommended daily allowance of protein preserved more muscle than those who consumed only the recommended daily allowance of protein daily. A third group consumed triple the R.D.A. of protein but saw no additional benefits beyond doubling the R.D.A. (2)
For comparison, the current recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. For a 180 pounds man this works out to about 64 grams of protein per day. Double that would be 128 grams of protein per day. Triple that would be 192 grams of protein per day.
For this reason, it only makes sense to try and get some protein at every meal when trying to lose weight.
Strategy #3: Get Your Mind Right
So you’re keeping up with your resistance training. You’re focusing on protein at meal times. The weight is coming off nicely. And yet, when you look in the mirror you can’t help but feel like maybe you’re losing muscle.
To that I say: Get Your Mind Right.
Listen – it’s normal to feel “skinny” or “light” when you’re losing fat. It’s normal to feel like your arms are shrinking faster than your gut. It’s normal to lose not only body fat but also lean mass (water + glycogen) as well.
But you’re not losing muscle. Your mind will play tricks on you. But you need to drill it into your skull. You’re not losing muscle. At some point you have to take it on faith. You continue with the resistance training. You eat some protein at each meal. And then you just TRUST THE PROCESS. Maybe you have a bad day in the gym. Maybe you look in the mirror one day and you swear you can see the muscle disappearing. Stay the course and trust the process.
Most of the fear about losing muscle mass while dieting is unfounded. As long as you are doing some form of resistance training and consuming a decent amount of protein, you are probably NOT losing muscle mass.
Your Next Move
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Matt Marshall is a fitness writer and researcher committed to uncovering the truth about health and fitness. He shatters myths and reveals the facts about getting fit at