Muscle growth doesn’t come quickly to us natural lifters. That’s why we want to cherish every pound of muscle we build. The last thing we want to do is lose a significant amount of muscle during a fat loss phase.
If you approach your fat loss phase incorrectly, this can occur. In this post, I’ll supply you with all the information you need to lose fat without losing muscle during your fat loss phase. So you won’t come out of your fat loss phase skinny, but ripped!
How Fat Loss Affects Muscle Growth
When your body is in an energy deficit, it will have to tap into its energy reserves. The most obvious reserve to turn to is body fat. This is why your body gains fat when you overfeed it, so it can use it in times of scarcity.
Unfortunately, body fat isn’t the only thing that is used to balance out an energy deficit. Research shows that protein breakdown increases when you’re in a calorie deficit.
The human body builds (protein synthesis) and breaks down (protein breakdown) muscle proteins every day. If the amount of muscle proteins you’ve built exceeds the amount of muscle proteins you’ve broken down, you’ve built muscle.
In a calorie deficit, research shows that protein synthesis rates drop and protein breakdown rates increase. This negatively affects the amount of muscle you build and can potentially make you lose muscle if your approach is off.
There are 3 main factors that can minimize (or maximize if you do it incorrectly) the negative effect an energy deficit has on muscle growth.
We’ll discuss how you can use these factors to your advantage, one by one.
You’re probably thinking that I’m going to tell you to ”maintain a small deficit” or ”keep fat loss very slow”. I’m not, the slower you’re losing fat, the longer it takes to reach your fat loss goal. Why is this not beneficial for muscle growth, you ask?
Well, research shows that the longer you’re underfeeding your body, the more muscle you lose over time. That’s why you don’t want to drag out your fat loss phase.
That said, severe calorie restriction is also not the answer (unless you’re morbidly obese). Research by the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences shows that muscle and strength loss is significant when non-obese individuals eat way below their caloric requirements.
So how many calories should you eat to maximize muscle preservation while still losing fat rapidly?
The answer is found in a scientific review, which has reviewed almost all the scientific data on calorie restriction.
They found that losing 0.5-1% of total bodyweight per week in fat (1-2 lbs of fat per week for many), is most effective when wanting to improve body composition. This can be achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit of roughly 20-25%. Like in this study, in which athletes lost an average of 1.2 lbs per week by maintaining a deficit of 24%.
Most people take this the wrong way. Because a higher protein intake is beneficial, they stuff themselves with protein every 2-3 hours. Let me tell you something, you don’t need 300 grams of protein to achieve all the benefits!
The human body is the smartest machine available. It’s able to survive in extreme circumstances, due to its adaptive capabilities and efficiency.
It won’t hold on to muscle tissue that is not used for an extended period of time. It sees this as unnecessary extra weight, which costs energy to preserve. For the same reason, it won’t just build muscle.
You need to give your body a reason (stimulus) to preserve and eventually build muscle. You provide this stimulus simply by training your muscles. That’s why research by the Washington University shows that weight training increases muscle preservation in calorie restriced individuals.
To maximize muscle preservation and perhaps even build muscle during your fat loss phase (depending on how close you are to you are to your genetic limit), you need to train for progressive overload.
Muscle growth is an adaptation to resistance training. Research shows that increasing the tension you put on your muscles over time, has the biggest impact on how great this adaptation is. You increase tension on your muscles, by progressing in the gym.
As you just read in this blog post, you do not need to go to any extremes to preserve muscle during a fat loss phase. As long as you eat at an appropriate deficit, consume enough protein and train regularly, you will not lose muscle.
If you are interested in learning more about maximizing your muscular potential, check out my new eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth. This book translates the currently available scientific data about muscle growth in “Basic English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.