How to Prevent Muscle Loss When Losing Weight

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When starting a weight-loss plan, most of us hope to lose body fat, specifically—not muscle mass. But when we lose weight, a large percentage of the total weight lost can be muscle. Is there any way to reduce that muscle loss?
How to Lose Weight (Body Fat)
To lose weight you need to create a caloric deficit by consuming fewer calories than you are burn each day. This is usually accomplished by: 1) eating less food (fewer calories), 2) burning more calories by exercising more, or 3) a combination of both.  In an ideal world, all of the weight we lose would be body fat, but in truth, losing weight means losing fat—and some muscle, fluids, etc.
How to Maintain Muscle Mass
Your muscles actually help hold some of your body fat in place. Therefore it is natural that you will lose some muscle when you lose body fat because that muscle tissue is longer needed. But you don’t want to lose large amounts of muscle, especially from your large muscle groups. To prevent the loss of muscle mass while on a weight-loss plan:
  • Do not cut calories drastically. Drastic and sudden drops in caloric intake will result in a higher percentage of muscle loss. (See notes for a general progression below.)
  • Eat to meet your protein needs. You don't need to go above and beyond (it won't provide additional benefit). To find out what your protein needs really are, click here
  • Perform muscle-building strength training exercises at least two times weekly. If you're not lifting weights, up to 30 percent of the weight you lose could be muscle tissue.
Best Practices for Maintaining Muscle during Weight Loss
Everyone begins a weight-loss plan with different eating habits, disease conditions, physical abilities, and needs. These factors will affect how quickly and easily you lose weight. The guidelines that follow are general suggestions. You may be able to progress faster, or you may have to go somewhat slower. Work with your health care provider and assess your needs as you chart the course for your specific, individualized weight-loss plan to lose body fat and build muscle.
  • Weeks 1-2: By the end of week 2 you should be eating within your new reduced calorie range most days of the week. (Join SparkPeople for a free weight-loss program and daily calorie goal.) Don't worry yet if all the other numbers (protein, etc.) aren't quite on target.
  • Week 3: Tweak your diet to meet your recommended protein, fat and carbohydrate ranges most days of the week while staying within your calorie range.
  • Weeks 4-8: By the end of week 8, you should be burning at least 2,000 calories each week through planned exercise.
  • By week 12: You should be incorporating at least 2 sessions of strength training each week for all of your major muscle groups. To maintain muscle mass, exercises should work your muscles to fatigue by the end of each set.
A combination of dietary changes, aerobic exercise and strength training—not just one or two of the three—is the most effective plan to follow to lose body fat, while preserving lean muscle tissue.

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PATRICIAANN46 12/8/2018
Thank You for a great article. Report
RO2BENT 11/20/2018
Science!!! Report
ROSSYFLOSSY 11/20/2018
Great information. Report
HOLLYM48 10/28/2018
Great article! Report
MIYAMO 10/28/2018
Great advice. Report
SHOAPIE 10/28/2018
Let’s do it. Report
1SUZIQ11 10/27/2018
Always worry that I'm losing muscle. I do lots of walking but ST I don't really care for. Report
RAPUNZEL53 10/27/2018
Thanks. Report
MSROZZIE 10/27/2018
I will put this need-to-now information into exercise routine. Report
SPINECCO 10/27/2018
Great information. Thanks. Report
JAZZEJR 10/27/2018
Good article, great discussion! Report
EMGERBER 10/27/2018
Good information and an item we need to pay attention to. Report
BABY_GIRL69 10/4/2018
Good information. Report
_CYNDY55_ 8/31/2018
Thanks great! Report
MOONDRAGON29 8/12/2018
Great article. After reading it, I learned a lot about how to prevent muscle fat. Report
OLDSKOOL556 4/13/2018
Thanks! for sharing Report
DJ4HEALTH 3/31/2018
Good advice Report
MUSTANGMOM6 2/18/2018
great article Report
Great information! Thank you! Report
Thanks for this. Report
thank you for this helpful article Report
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
- Mohandas Gandhi Report
Thanks! Report
Great article Report
good points Report
- calories in..+ calories out.. Report
Thanks for the helpful information! :) Report
Every true love song, by its very nature, is a duet.
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie Report
very useful Report
such important information. Our muscles are the furnace for our bodies, burning those calories! The more muscle, the better we burn our fuel. Report
Good to know! Report
Thank you. Report
Burning 2,000 calories from planned exercise seems a lot to me. I'm a pretty small build and, not vastly overweight. Taking into account my current physical abilities, I'd have to be exercising for about 8 to 10 hours per week to burn 2,000 calories. Report
Exercise is mostly so you lose fat instead of muscle, which happens if you just focus on calories. I like the general guidelines. Details are always individual. Report
Love this article! Report
2000 calories a week for me is 3 days of my weight lifting program and 7 days of walking only 2 miles a day. Totally doable. Report
These are great moves-- Report
Interesting. Wish I'd read this at the beginning, although it turns out that I followed a lot of this advice except the strength work. Report
Whoa, super leery of the one size fits none, everyone should burn 2,000 calories, each week working out philosophy! Holy that is a ton of calories! I wear a Charge HR, so I get a total calories burned based on my heart rate at the end of each workout. Heart pumping in the peak/cardio range can mean 400 calories for 50 minutes of work. That intensity, five days a week?! Not likely. I know that I burn waaaaay fewer calories than most thanks to my PCOS. However, the assumption that everyone needs to burn the same number is ridiculous. We don't eat the same number, so burning/expending the same is neither plausible or feasible. Otherwise, the suggestions given to maintain muscle mass are appreciated! ;) Report
a lot of comment about how 2000 Kcal a week is to much especially for newbies.... that is true. But the recommendation for that goal was at weeks 4-8. That accommodates the starting points for each person. I think or a petite person that would be more difficult. But it is guidelines. Just thinking Report
Burning 2000 cals a week through exercise? Surely that depends on gender and how overweight you are - or frankly, just how much you weigh? For example, my husband burns around 600 cals on a 5k run (according to Spark) while I burn 250. That goal seems a bit too general! I probably do hit it, but I'm pretty committed and active.

Ladydl, that's true, muscle fibres don't regenerate, but (outside the heart, sadly), cells divide and fuse onto the muscle and protein can be laid so muscles can grow. And they can also shrink.

When I was losing, I was worried about losing too much muscle- it's definitely good to feel stronger as you get fitter and slimmer, but strength training can include yoga or core work if you're a weakling, as I was when I started out. Report
My understanding of physiology is that you are born with a certain number of muscle fibers. You can increase the size(width) of the muscle or through inactivity the muscle will shrink in size, but you don't get more fibers and you don't lose any fibers.
?? Report
Thought this would be difficult but surprisingly after I starting wearing a 'fit bit' tracking steps and calories burned - it calculates it for me. Last week, I came it at about 10,200 calories burned when walking 2 to 5 thousand steps. Based on your weight calories burned moving is higher. Good luck moving more. Report
For those of us just starting out or with health issues, no way is burning 2000 calories a week through exercise feasible just a month or two into a program. Start gradually & build up or risk injury.
I'm new here,just getting started.But I like it so far. Report
2000 cals a week is so much .__.
I wonder if I can do it if I increase my workouts to 5 times a week? o.o Report
strength training burns calories long after you are done doing the workout and can be up to 24 hours later you are still burning calories. cardio burns calories while you are doing it and once you stop doing it the calorie burn stops. I do also know that how much protein you eat depends on your workout goals. I am a weight lifter so I have to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of what I weigh. Report
Burning 2000 calories each week isn't that hard really. A 150-200# woman will burn around 75-100 calories for each mile walked at a pace of 3 to 4 miles per hour. If you walk a mile morning and evening each day -take your 4 legged friend and he will love you for it, you will have burned around 1050-1400 calories each week by just walking. Pick up the pace and burn a bit more for the same distance, or take a longer walk on the weekends, add some strength training and you have your 2000 calories without killing yourself to get it.
I usually walk / run 3-5 miles each day broken up into 2 to 3 sessions each day and have no trouble getting in my 2000 calories burned per week. Report
Two key truths that women frequently overlook (that changed my life):

1. Sure, lifting weights burns less calories than going for a run (for example). But when your body has more muscle, you burn more calories watching movies, driving your car, and doing EVERYTHING else you do day to day.

2. A pound of muscle is smaller than a pound of fat, so the only way to get bigger by strength training is to GAIN weight. If you're not gaining weight, you are not bulking up. You're getting smaller - even, at the same weight - if you're adding muscle. So ladies, please stop believing the lies sold to you by magazine headlines in the grocery store check out. The women on the covers do NOT lift 5-10pound weights or do "wall pushups" (though that's a great place to start). Those ladies got those bodies by progressing to HEAVY weights. (And as for the ladies on those OTHER magazine covers...I won't get into the many years of extreme choices, "supplements", and single-focused effort it takes to achieve that look, but I promise you, nobody accidentally over-does it and starts looking like a man. Ever.) Report
2000 cals??? I thnk my plan has about 920. I usually exceed that, but nowhere near 2000! And strength training burns fewer calories... If I aimed for 2000, I should get discouraged, or overexercise, or both!
Apart from that, very realistic, helpful article.
Incidentally, by setting my goals low and then having success exceeding them, i reachd goal weight months ahead of plan! Report