Muscle vs Fat During Weight Loss

Losing weight doesn’t mean that fat just melts off. It is a combination of fat and muscle loss. Even when we don’t diet, our muscles are continually shedding protein. That’s why we need to eat protein-rich foods on a daily basis. When we diet, our body recognizes an energy deficient and allocates less amino acids (from protein breakdown) to building muscle. The result is loss of muscle mass.

There are several things you can do to help mitigate muscle loss, or even gain a bit of muscle, even as you are losing fat:

  1. Spread your protein intake across the day. Instead of just one protein heavy meal, try to have 3-4 meals with 25-30 grams of protein consumed per eating event.
  2. Lift weights and do resistance training at least 3 times a week. Make sure to give your muscles 48 hours of rest between workouts.
  3. Lose weight at the right pace for your body.  This varies from person to person.

Some dieters worry about muscle loss and consume excessive amounts of protein. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of a very high protein diet on muscle gain at the same time as weight loss. It was conducted on young, healthy athletes. Forty males were divided into 2 groups and supervised for a month of extensive calorie restriction and exercise.

Both of the groups consumed 40 percent less calories than their calculated daily requirement to maintain. Both groups exercised intensively 6 days a week, including weight training and high-intensity interval training.

One group was fed a very high protein diet (236 grams, close to 1000 calories a day just from protein!). This is 2.4 grams per kilogram of body weight (a kg is 2.2 pounds). The control group consumed 118 grams of protein, or 1.2 grams per kg of body weight.

After 4 weeks, the high protein group lost 10.5 pounds of weight, and gained 2.5 pounds of muscle. The control group lost 8 pounds, and neither lost nor gained any muscle.

A higher protein diet during weight loss was effective in this particular study; however important points should be acknowledged:

1. The regimen asked of the male participants was extreme and cannot be sustained for an extended period of time.
2. To properly function, the human body needs just 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight. Protein was likely used as calories for energy rather than muscle building due to the restriction. Weight lifting and exercise was not isolated.
3. This was a very short study and it did not examine long term effects of high protein consumption.
4. The study was conducted on a very small sample of healthy young men. Results for bigger, more varied populations may be different.

Another way to spare muscle during quick weight loss is to follow Weighless MD’s 6 or 12 week program.  Our program utilizes daily and weekly injections along with a structured meal plan which forces the body to use fat stores for calories (not muscle).  This cannot be done with other low calorie weight loss programs.

We offer muscle, total body fat, visceral fat and fluid measurements so our clients know exactly what they lose.  If its all fat, then the client is less vulnerable to weight regain.

1. Phillips – A Brief Review of Higher Dietary Protein Diets in Weight Loss: A Focus on Athletes – Sports Medicine, 2014
2. Longland et al – Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial – American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan 2016