Retain maximal muscle when dieting: 3 most important points

Maintaining muscle during fat loss is most important, because muscle mass correlates with metabolism. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolic rate will be.
Plus, you worked so hard to get it, now you’ll have to ensure to keep it. Dieting or eating in a caloric deficit can be somewhat stressful on the body, and when not taking the necessary steps to keep the muscle, will result in losing some or a lot thereof.

Here are 3 most important factors to consider when wanting to maintain your hard earned muscle.


Eat enough protein

We all know that eating protein is very important to maintain muscle mass. Muscle is made of protein and it requires protein in order to maintain itself via constant renewal.
So how much protein will be enough for you as an individual is the question…

Let’s first use a simple example… take two guys who weigh the exact same (say 90kg)… But the one guy has about 30% body fat and the other guy only has 10% body fat… Do both of them need to consume the exact same amount of protein?

The best would be to determine your fat-free mass and then eat protein according to that number. 1g/lbs of fat-free mass (FFM) would be enough for most people to maintain maximal muscle while dieting.

So for example, a 5′ 10″ person with 10% BF at a weight of 80kg would have to eat 160g of protein daily while being sedentary, whereas a guy of 6′ 3″ at 10% body fat with a weight of 90kg would have to eat 180g of protein daily while being sedentary.

As your activity level increases, so does your requirements for carbs and not necessarily for protein.

Specific protein requirements will differ from person to person and you might have to play around ’till you find your optimal levels. If your health is not optimal, and you suspect that your kidney is not working like it should, stick to ∼120g of protein a day, and avoid hard digestible red meat to minimize negative effects. Luckily studies show that eating more protein than your daily requirement is very safe long-term and even eating a surplus of 400 calories of protein daily, does not lead to an increase in fat.

For more details on protein for fat loss, read this article here.


Lift weights

Keeping muscle is metabolically expensive, so you need to give your body reason to keep it. Lifting heavy weights will give your body that reason to keep it. Training a muscle group once a week is enough to make it grow, and training it every second week is enough to maintain its strength and size. So you can still get away with training only once every two weeks. A cool way to do this is by doing a split program, where you train, for example, chest, shoulders and triceps one week, and then legs, back and biceps the other week. This way you train once a week and each muscle every second week.

Having a hectic schedule is already stressful enough, so the gym or training at home shouldn’t be another unnecessary stressor.

Train each muscle group between 6-12 reps, 4-6 sets and rest 2-5 minutes, depending on your recovery capacity.

You can obviously train a muscle group more than just once every two weeks, as it all depends on your schedule, stress levels, other activity levels, etc. I personally train 4 days a week, but I listen to my body and slow down when I need to. Training a muscle group 3 times a week is a great place to start. If you want to maximize muscle and strength gains, my Ultimate Strength, Size and Skill Program is for you.


Lower cortisol

Cortisol is the hormone that will munch away your gains, give you stubborn fat and a poofy, water retention look. Yes, cortisol is needed to stimulate fat burning, but too much of it will eat your muscles, as fat can’t be used fast enough. Dieting harder and exercising more is really not the answer when you’re struggling to lose weight. It will just make the problem worse. Skinny fat anyone?

Here are 5 things which I find most important to do to keep cortisol low:

  1. Keep your blood sugar stabilized. Eat regularly, and consider using a supplement such as chromium, niacinamide, glycine, etc., to help keep your blood sugar stable. Lowering cortisol will also stabilize blood sugar, so it’s a positive loop.
  2. Get enough sleep. Sleep is very important for your body to recover and be able to maintain muscle. Sleep deprivation will increase cortisol.
  3. Lower inflammation. Cortisol increases to lower inflammation, but when you don’t deal with the origin of the inflammation, cortisol will stay high. The biggest factor most people overlook is gut irritation. Foods that ferment and rot will irritate the gut and significantly increase inflammation and then catabolic hormones.
    So, keep the gut clean with activated charcoal, grated carrot with coconut oil and vinegar, and perhaps digestive enzymes to make sure the food is properly digested and will not rot in the colon. Also, consider using a laxative every now and then to help stimulate the bowl so that feces don’t get the chance to stay too long in the colon and cause problems.
  4. Don’t train too hard. Being in a caloric deficit is stressful, and adding extra training on top of that is more stressful. Here are 7 tips for a low cortisol workout.
  5. Relaxation. Stressing over things will hamper your recovery and will eat up the nutrients needed for growth. Let go of the things you cannot change and focus on the now. Listen to some relaxing music while practicing Buteyko breathing or meditation. Get a massage, watch some comedy or take a walk in nature and just switch off from all the stress.
  6. More on lowering cortisol here.


Bonus: Uncoupling

Making use of uncouplers will speed up fat loss by increasing energy expenditure through thermogenesis, without putting extra stress on the body. Plus, uncoupling is very beneficial for the body. More on uncoupling here.

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