Losing weight can be great for many of us trying to get healthier, but who wants to lose muscle mass after all the hard work put in to gain it? Getting the balance right between losing fat and building muscle can be challenging. When you create a calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories than what you burn every day), your body tends to burn a certain amount of fat before it turns to burning muscle.
Here are some of our tips to getting a good balance on your weight loss journey:
Eat Healthy Fats
Dietary fat is really useful for gaining muscle as it can help you boost your energy intake and provide extra fuel for those tougher workouts. They also help promote the production of hormones in our bodies, including testosterone which can help increase muscle mass.1
Before you grab the chocolate hazelnut spread or add more butter to your toast in the morning, these aren’t the healthiest fats in the world, so maybe opt for some Omega-3’s instead.
Omega-3 fatty acids are fats found in some fish, olive oil, and nuts. They have many purposes including improved heart health and muscle gain.2 It has been found that supplementing Omega-3 fatty acid for six weeks resulted in a 0.5kg gain in muscle and 0.5kg reduction in fat mass.3
Rich food sources of Omega-3 include:
- Chia seeds
- Canola oil
Follow a high-protein diet
Muscles require protein for their growth and repair. Think fish, lean meat, eggs, tofu, beans and pulses, and low-fat dairy. A lot of low-calorie diets result in a low intake of protein which can result in poor growth and loss of muscle mass.
Increasing your protein intake can be helpful to minimise the loss of lean body mass or muscle. Out of a group of young, healthy, elite athletes, those given a high-protein diet lost more weight whilst still maintaining muscle in comparison to those with a normal amount of protein in their diets.4
Good sources of protein include:
- Greek yoghurt and other dairy products
- Chicken breast
- Turkey breast
- Cottage cheese
Don’t make your calorie deficit too extreme
Extremely restricting your calorie intake for weight loss may not be as beneficial as you think. The drastic weight-loss you experience is more likely to be due to losing water and muscle rather than fat.
It’s clear that very low-calorie diets lead to a large initial drop in total weight loss, especially lean body mass (muscle).6 This is why very low-calorie diets generally aren’t sustainable in the long run, so have a bit of patience with your weight loss.
Start off by taking off anywhere between 200-300 calories from what you’re estimated for maintenance daily and gradually adjust according to how fast you’re losing weight.
Get a dose of vitamin D
Vitamin D is responsible for the absorption of various minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphate and other biological effects important in our body. More specifically for building muscles, this is one important vitamin you want to be sure you’re getting plenty of.
A lack of vitamin D has been associated with lowered muscle repair and increased loss of lean body mass.7 There’s still more research required to investigate further the efficacy of vitamin D supplementation as a powerful stimulator for muscle growth, but the results look promising.
Vitamin D can be found in foods including:
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods e.g. soya milk and cereals
If you’re living in the UK, chances are you’re not getting nearly enough sunlight (it rains far too much here for that). As the sun is our main source of vitamin D, you may want to take a supplement to boost your intake. Some of us need more than others, so check with your doctor for the best advice.
Do strength training
The best way to burn calories, as well as build muscle, is to add a good strength training programme into your routine.
You want to focus on working your whole body at least two times a week. Aim for exercises that work for more than one muscle group at a time. For example, squats, bench presses, deadlifts, overhead presses and barbell rows are great. This will make it easier for you to lift heavier, get stronger, or maintain muscle as you lose weight.
Try to aim for two to three gym sessions with a variety of compound exercises like squats and deadlifts. Don’t forget to have at least one rest a day a week to give enough time for your body to recover and prevent any possible injuries.
To lose weight and build muscle, you need to focus on having a calorie deficit whilst still providing enough nutrition to help promote muscle gains. Think about the levels of protein, fats, and vitamin D in your diet and combine this with a good strength training programme with a few rest days incorporated in there too. This will ensure you maintain as much muscle as possible as you continue on your fat loss journey.
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
- Griggs, R., Kingston, W., Jozefowicz, R., Herr, B., Forbes, G., & Halliday, D. (1989). Effect of testosterone on muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis. Journal Of Applied Physiology, 66(1), 498-503. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1918.104.22.1688
- Molfino, A., Gioia, G., Fanelli, F., & Muscaritoli, M. (2014). The Role for Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids Supplementation in Older Adults. Nutrients, 6(10), 4058-4072. doi: 10.3390/nu6104058
- Noreen, E., Sass, M., Crowe, M., Pabon, V., Brandauer, J., & Averill, L. (2010). Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, 7(1). doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-31
- METTLER, S., MITCHELL, N., & TIPTON, K. (2010). Increased Protein Intake Reduces Lean Body Mass Loss during Weight Loss in Athletes. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 42(2), 326-337. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e3181b2ef8e
- Kerksick, C., Rasmussen, C., Lancaster, S., Magu, B., Smith, P., & Melton, C. et al. (2006). The Effects of Protein and Amino Acid Supplementation on Performance and Training Adaptations During Ten Weeks of Resistance Training. The Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 20(3), 643. doi: 10.1519/r-17695.1
- Willoughby, D., Hewlings, S., & Kalman, D. (2018). Body Composition Changes in Weight Loss: Strategies and Supplementation for Maintaining Lean Body Mass, a Brief Review. Nutrients, 10(12), 1876. doi: 10.3390/nu10121876
- Dzik, K., & Kaczor, J. (2019). Mechanisms of vitamin D on skeletal muscle function: oxidative stress, energy metabolism and anabolic state. European Journal Of Applied Physiology, 119(4), 825-839. doi: 10.1007/s00421-019-04104-x