I'm a small-town Minnesota dietitian and triathlete.
I help endurance athletes reach their performance and body composition goals through a flexible eating style.
When someone tells me that they want to lose weight, what they really mean is, they want to lose body fat. They want to see that body fat percentage drop. However, in many cases when losing weight, a good portion of that weight is muscle loss. And the body fat percentage ends up increasing instead. Not good.
Let’s talk about why this happens.
In ideal situations, our muscle continuously repairs and rebuilds. It will shed old proteins and replace it with new, fresh protein that we supply through our diet.
However, when eating a lower-calorie diet, the body will decrease generating new muscle proteins. Plus, the muscle is less likely to use the protein that you’re supplying via your diet. And, this is where the muscle loss will begin happening, and it can be significant.
This also explains why it can be a struggle to keep the weight off. Because muscle is a huge contributor to our metabolic rate – aka: how many calories our body’s use every day. Muscle loss = metabolism decreases. Metabolism decreases = need to eat less calories in order maintain weight loss.
This can become a vicious cycle that ends up with you being fed up because you’re hardly eating anything, and you’re tired of hungry! This results in you going back to your old eating habits, and gaining the weight back.
Here’s the extra kick in the pants, the weight gain that does return, is likely to consist of mostly body fat. It’s not actually gaining back the muscle that was lost in the first place.
Is this sounding familiar? Has this been you?
So the question still stands, can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? Answer: Yes.
Like all hard things, it takes dedication and hard work. So let me break down a few things that need to be done to promote this body composition change:
The research has found those who eat at a calorie-deficit (less calories than what their body needs to maintain their weight), but consume more protein were able to lose body fat and gain some lean muscle.
However, you need to evenly distribute your protein intake throughout the day. For example, eating 30 grams protein at breakfast, 15 grams at mid-morning snack. Another 30 grams at lunch, and so on. Avoid taking in huge bolus amounts of protein at one time.
It will take a considerable amount of planning and consideration to consistently get protein throughout the day. This is where working with a dietitian can be beneficial to help you overcome this struggle.
2. Set your expectation to lose the weight slllloooooowly and steadily.
You need to be willing to put in the work for the long haul. It requires a lot of patience. This will take more time than you think.
The quick weight loss rarely ever sticks long term. When people lose the weight slowly, they are much more likely to see it stay off.
Aim for no more than 1 to 2 pounds a week. And, don’t be surprised if your weight fluctuates. Between water weight, stress/inflammation from tough workouts, bowel movements etc. you can fluctuate +/- 2 to 5 pounds.
3. Strength training.
In order to maintain and/or build muscle, there needs to be some resistance training included in your workout regimen.
I’m not a personal training or fitness coach, so I’m not able to tell you what specifically to do in your strength training workouts. All I can tell you is to include it at least 2-3x/week if you want to see the best results. It’s also very important to make sure that you give your muscles a break after a hard training session. Recovery is just as vital as the workouts themselves.
It’s not just a dream. It can be done. Is it easy? Hell no. It takes a lot of dedication and patience.
You don’t have to do it alone. As a dietitian nutrition coach, I can be right by your side helping you through the process. Ready to get started? Fill out the coaching application and let’s see if I’m the right fit for you.