Weight loss and fat loss are not the same. Unfortunately, some men end up losing muscle mass when they embark on a new weight loss journey. It doesn’t matter what type of diet you choose – be it low-fat, low-carb, or intermittent fasting. To lose weight, you need a caloric deficit, but it’s important to take some steps to maintain your muscle mass and lose primarily body fat. If you have a lot of weight to lose, maintaining your body fat will be easier than if you only have a few pounds of fat to lose, so keep that in mind.
Eat Enough Calories
Having a caloric deficit is imperative if you want to lose weight, which means you should be burning more calories than you’re taking in. However, if you eat too few calories, you will lose lean muscle mass instead of just body fat. Therefore, you should aim to cut your calories by only 20%. That means, you need to figure out how many calories you burn on an average day, then eat 80% of those. For example, if you usually burn 2,500 calories per day, you should aim to eat about 2000 calories for weight loss. Any fewer, and you will harm your metabolism and end up losing some of that hard-earned muscle tissue.
You will need to figure out how many calories you burn in a day. This is called your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), and it is made up of your RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate), NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermoneogenesis), how many calories you burn during exercise, and your TEF (Thermic Effect of Food). Don’t worry, you don’t have to calculate this all on your own. There are several excellent calorie calculators online. Wearing a fitness tracker will also help you to figure this number out.
Once you figure out your total maintenance calories, you will want to track how many calories you are taking in by using a calorie tracking app. There are several available for free or purchase, and some even allow you to scan food labels for convenience.
Don’t Skimp on Protein
Protein is the foundation of your muscles, so you definitely have to track this macronutrient. If you eat too little protein, you will lose muscle mass. Aim to consume 1g of protein per pound of your goal weight. For example, if your desired weight is 185 pounds, you should be eating 185 grams of protein per day. That may sound like a tall order, especially if you’re also trying to maintain a caloric deficit. Here are some excellent sources of lean protein to sneak into meals and snacks:
- White-fleshed fish (i.e., cod, flounder, halibut, and orange roughy) – These types of fish are usually quite low in fat and calories, but high in protein.
- Plain Greek yogurt – One cup usually contains between 18 and 20 grams of protein, depending on the type you get.
- Legumes – Beans, peas, and lentils are satisfying sources of dietary protein, with tons of other macronutrients packed in.
- Boneless, skinless chicken breast – The bodybuilder’s best friend, this source of protein has always been on the menu for those looking to maintain protein but watch their calories.
- Protein powder – There are so many to choose from, so look for the most bang for your buck. Also, be sure to find one that agrees with your digestive system.
- Pork tenderloin – This cut of meat has a whopping 26 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce serving, and it’s quite low in fat.
- Buffalo – Buffalo meat, also known as bison, is an outstanding alternative to beef when looking to eat high protein without all the calories. Some restaurants even serve buffalo burgers on their menu.
- Powdered peanut butter – While nuts and seeds pack a high protein punch, they can rack up the calories rather quickly. That’s why the powdered version of peanut butter is a great alternative.
Keep Doing Heavy Weights
Your secondary goal to losing weight should be to maintain or even build lean muscle mass. To do this, you must engage in an effective strength training routine. Do heavy weightlifting 2-4 times per week. You may need to cut back on your total training volume because of the caloric deficit, but you shouldn’t be losing any amount of strength. In fact, if you start to notice that you can’t lift as much as you used to, this is a clear sign that you are losing muscle mass.
Do the Right Kind and Right Amount of Cardio
Cardio is highly debated in the world of weightlifting and bodybuilding. How much and what kind should you do? Well, the consensus seems to be, thankfully, that you don’t have to do that much. In fact, you shouldn’t do more than about 20 minutes twice a week of any kind of intense cardio, like HIIT (high-intensity interval training) because it will cause you to lose too much muscle mass. Yes, cardio is a great way to burn calories and lose weight, but if you do too much, a lot of that weight will be muscle mass, not just body fat. It’s better to take a brisk walk for 30-60 minutes per day and leave the intense stuff for just a couple of times a week if you decide to do it at all.
The Bottom Line
Maintaining muscle mass and losing body fat is entirely achievable if you do it the right way. Be sure to track your fat loss, not your weight loss. This means that the bathroom scale is not the best way to measure how much fat you’re losing since muscle weighs considerably more than fat. So, look in the mirror and use how well your clothes fit as general guides to tracking your progress. Most body fat calculators, unless they are in large research centers or labs, are highly inaccurate. If you eat in a moderate caloric deficit, consume plenty of protein, limit your cardio, and engage in a strong weightlifting program, you will be able to reach your weight loss goals without sacrificing your muscle mass.