This is a seriously obsessed topic in internet lately, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while now. So how to minimize muscle loss while cutting? In this article I’m gonna discuss the various causes that might cause you to lose muscle while losing fat.
First things first, Losing fat and Losing weight are not the same, there’s a considerable difference between them. For more information please read this article, Weight loss vs Fat loss.
Secondly, I have told you a million times that to lose fat/weight one must be in a calorie deficit, which is nothing but eating less than what you are supposed to. If you haven’t calculated your deficit calories yet, please use this calculator, Deficit Calculator.
Now that you have calculated your deficit calories, you need to know what really happens when you are in a calorie deficit. When you create a calorie deficit, you are restricting your body some amount of energy it requires to function optimally. So your body is forced to find some other alternative energy source to fulfill that lack of energy. Ideally, this source would be your stored body fat but for some reasons it can also be your lean muscle mass.
Sure, everyone wants their body to just burn body fat and not muscle, but trust me, your body doesn’t really care about what you want. It just knows that in order for it to survive and function under the current conditions, it will need to find some other alternative energy source from somewhere. And that can mean fat, muscle or a combination of both.
So you must signal your body to spare all the muscle mass and concentrate on burning only fat. but how?
Now there are two primary ways in which one should be able to control this,
Adequate Protein Intake:
The most fundamental aspect and important Dietary Requirement in preserving muscle mass is taking enough protein. If you want to lose fat and not muscle, you need to give enough protein to your body. Period.
Losing fat without suffering much muscle loss is all about eating enough protein every day. Countless studies have been made till date to prove this very fact. Even in the absence of a proper Strength Training routine, more of what you lose will be body fat rather than muscles just as a result of an increased protein intake.
So the first step in any fat loss diet is always getting the adequate amount of protein for the day. so what is “adequate?”
According to an article in bayesianbodybuliding.com and I quote,
There is normally no advantage to consuming more than 0.82g/lb (1.8g/kg) of protein per day to preserve or build muscle once you’re past the novice level as a natural trainee.
So aiming for 1g/lb (2.2g/kg) should be more than enough for anyone with this goal in mind.
> Pre & Post-workout:
Pre & Post-workout nutrition is plays a very crucial role in minimizing muscle loss especially if you are following Intermittent Fasting.
>> Pre-wokrout Nutrtion:
An ideal pre-workout meal should contain protein in the form of whey and a few carbs in the form of starch source – potatoes or whole grain bread, for example to fuel your workout.
Now you might ask why protein? shouldn’t I take protein in the post workout meal?
Yes, you should, but that doesn’t mean protein is not required in a pre-workout meal. In fact there are numerous studies that shows that consuming protein pre-workout increases fat loss. Here’s a link to the Study which makes a strong argument for pre-workout protein to facilitate body fat loss.
How much Protein and Carbs?
Consume 30g whey protein and aim for 0.6 – 0.8 g carb/kg of body weight.
The pre-workout meal should be consumed 1.5 – 2.5 hrs before training session.
>> Post-wokrout Nutrtion:
There’s not much to say about this meal, this is evidently the single most important meal after workout in minimizing muscle loss. You can consume anything here but make sure you are getting at least 25g protein in the form of whey to help aid your muscles in recovery. You could also consume some fast digesting carbs along with it to speed up the recovery process and to replenish your muscle glycogen levels.
> Large Calorie Deficit:
As you all know by now, in order to lose fat you need to be in a calorie deficit(i’ll die if I repeat this one more time). And that means eating below your maintenance calories(TDEE) so you body can burn stored fat for compensating energy needs.
The ideal amount of deficit to be in will be 20% below your Maintenance Calories, you could even stretch this to a 25% and still be on the safer side provided you do moderate to intense Strength Training. But anything above 25% will surely result in muscle loss, mainly because of its effect on the performance in gym and recovery.
So the next time when you use the Deficit Calculator, do read the description while selecting the amount of deficit.
> Carb Cycling:
As the name suggests, it is nothing but cycling the amount of carbs you eat throughout the week, that is eating more carbs on certain days(training days) and less on other days(rest days).
Now In a typical fat loss diet you would be consuming about the same amount of carbs every day and be in a similar sized deficit each day of the week.
But with carb cycling, you would be in a larger deficit on certain days(rest days) and a smaller deficit or possibly even no deficit at all on the other days(training days). However, at the end of the week, the total amount of calories consumed would still be the same. It’s just the method of getting there is different.
The purpose of doing this is nothing but enabling your body to use the extra carbs to fuel your workouts, making you push some extra weights in the gym. As a result you will be maintaining muscle and strength while still losing fat.
Apart from maintaining muscle while losing fat, carb cycling is also great for diet adherence, appetite control and some psychological reasons.
This is the most important Training Requirement for anyone trying to preserve muscle mass while losing fat. Your body need to believe that it needs the muscles to do the training on a day to day basis and for that you should train your body progressively. While it may not be possible to increase the strength/Intensity(weight on bar) while cutting but it is definitely possible to maintain the current level of strength/intensity. Now this is the signal responsible for making your body to spare the lean muscle mass and burn fat instead. If that signal starts diminishing, your body will make sure that your lean muscles are also diminishing along with it.
So its absolutely essential to maintain the strength(weight on bar) during training.
For instance, Let’s say you currently bench press 60 kgs, your goal throughout the duration of your cutting(fat loss) phase is to keep bench pressing that same 60 kgs(or more if possible).
Also please do not over train your body as this will also cause muscle loss(while cutting). An ideal way to identify over training would be a loss in strength. So remember Loss of Strength will result in Loss of Muscle.
And please avoid doing cardio, as it does not signal your body to preserve muscle mass. but if you insist on doing cardio do it only when you feel lowering any more calories would be very difficult, I would rather burn them off.