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What You Can Do To Prevent Muscle Mass Loss While Dieting

After spending a good 4-8 months of the year working on building lean muscle tissue, the next step is starting a diet in order to strip off any of the additional body fat you might have gained along the way.  Since you should expect to gain some fat while building muscle (as this is a natural part of the process), the diet afterwards is also a requirement of the complete physique transformation unless you don’t mind being at higher body fat levels.

If done right, you should be able to get 1-2 pounds of muscle gained for every pound of body fat (unless you’re willing to gain very slowly, in which case you might get closer to a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio).   If you are sloppy with your diet during the muscle building cycle however, then there is a much higher chance that you’ll see closer to a 1:1 or even worse ratio of fat to muscle gain.

This is one big reason why while it’s important to be overeating when trying to build muscle, you don’t want to turn your world into an all-you-can eat buffet.  Doing so will cause too much fat gain, which at the end of the day must be then dieted off.
Since dieting is not something most people typically enjoy, the less dieting you have to do, the happier you’re going to be.  More importantly though, when dieting, you are actually at an increased risk for losing muscle mass tissue, which then essentially puts you back to where you started before the muscle building stage if you’re not careful.

In some cases, when an individual diets incorrectly, they can easily see half the muscle they just built be demolished by a less than smart diet.  Understanding all the things you can do then to help prevent the loss of your hard-earned muscle while on a diet will be vital. Here’s what you need to know.

Don’t Get Too Aggressive Off The Start
Yes, we know. You’ve gained fat and you want it off – pronto.  This is the mindset most people are in after finishing their bulking cycle because they are anxious to see the new muscle mass on their body.  Because of this, they dive headfirst onto a very strict diet, coupling that with three or four forty-five minute cardio sessions thrown in. Basically, they are now attacking their fat cells and attacking them hard. Unfortunately, despite their hard-working efforts, this is actually one of the worst things they could possibly do. Over the past few months your body has gotten used to an environment with a lower amount of cardio (if any at all depending on your muscle building approach), as well as a diet that provides more calories than the body actually needs each day (to encourage muscle growth).

Now, when you go to changing both of those factors dramatically at the same time, the body panics; in this panic, it attempts to best handle the situation at hand by dropping tissue that is the most metabolically active. That tissue is your lean muscle mass.  So, in this vigorous fight between your body and your training techniques, your muscles are the first to go. Not body fat – your muscles.  Therefore, if you want to save your muscles when dieting, start off by going to a maintenance calorie intake first, while adding in one or two cardio sessions.

This will let the body get used to being at homeostasis for a while (where it is actually most comfortable), and then after getting used to that, you can start dropping calories to get fat loss moving. Being too quick to jump on the intense fat loss program is just going to work against you, so it’s really important you slow yourself down and be a bit more patient.  The rewards at the end of the tunnel will definitely be well worth it.

Watch Your Protein Intake
The next thing you should be doing in order to minimize muscle mass loss is really paying attention to how much protein you’re consuming.  Protein is the one macronutrient that is going to play the biggest and most critical role in protecting your lean muscle mass, so shorting yourself on this would be a very big mistake.

One thing that many individuals fail to realize is that dieters actually have higher protein requirements than someone who is actively trying to build muscle.  Not making sense? Consider this. When you’re dieting, you are taking in less energy than the body needs to get through all of its daily functions including movement, tissue synthesis, bodily processes such as bone remodeling, digestion, fighting off invading organisms, and so on. In most cases, you’re taking in a lot less of the primary macronutrient the body uses for energy as well, carbohydrates.  When this happens, the body uses up all the glucose coming in from the carbs and then needs to start looking elsewhere for fuel.

Depending upon how much dietary fat you’re taking in, one place it will find fuel is by converting incoming protein calories to glucose in the body and using that as fuel. When this occurs though, then you’re left with fewer amino acids (protein) coming in to be used for the actual purposes they serve (including maintaining lean muscle mass), potentially causing you to lose muscle. By increasing your protein intake up over and above what you need then, you ensure that even if the body does turn to some incoming protein as fuel, you’re still going to have enough left over to support muscle mass maintenance.

Ideally if you should be taking in between 1.2 and 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body mass each day, the higher end of the scale reserved for those who are on very strict diets. One thing to keep in mind with this though is that carbohydrates do tend to spare protein (since the body will use the carbs for energy rather than the protein), so if you aren’t reducing your carbohydrates all that much in the diet, you won’t have to consume quite as much protein. An added benefit of eating more protein as well is the fact that the body will burn more calories simply digesting the protein, therefore a higher protein diet is actually going to increase your metabolic rate to a larger extent, making the diet that much more effective.

Weight Train, But Watch Volume
Finally, the third thing you can and need to be doing in order to prevent muscle mass loss while on a diet is weight training.  If there is one type of exercise that’s going to promote muscle maintenance the best, weight training would be it.  Essentially, when you weight train you are sending a signal to the body that it better keep up its strength because it’s going to need it in order to continue to lift these types of weights. If you weren’t weight training and applying that stimulus, the body wouldn’t see any major reason to keep that muscle mass tissue, and it would probably one of the first things to go (since it’s calorically expensive to keep).

Now, this said, it’s also important to keep in mind the fact that too much weight training is not a good thing. The key is doing enough, but not overloading the muscles so much that they aren’t able to recover and each time you go in afterwards to perform another session, you just continually break the muscle down further. Typically speaking, when on a strict diet, particularly one that’s lower in carbs, you can cut your workout volume in half, provided the intensity is maintained.  The big thing is maintaining that intensity.  If you don’t lift the same amount of weight on the bar each session, that’s when your body will start losing muscle.

If you had a choice between keeping the total reps higher or keeping the total weight constant, always go with the weight.  You would be far better off doing a set of 5 reps at 50 pounds than doing a set of 8 reps at 40 pounds (assuming you used to do a set of 8 reps at 50 pounds).   If you have to drop total reps down, do so. Just do your absolutely best not to lower the weight lifted. Additionally, while cutting back on total volume, be sure you focus on keeping the compound lifts in, while reducing the isolated ones. 

For example, rather than dropping a shoulder press from your workout, drop a bicep curl. Rather than dropping a squat set, drop a leg extension set. Doing the compound lifts will help to keep that volume lower while still working all of the major muscle groups in the body in a way that keeps the total weight on the bar higher. So, be sure you keep these points in mind if you’re starting up on a diet any time soon. You really must do whatever you can to reduce the chances you lose muscle mass because your muscle mass is the one thing that’s going to help keep your metabolism up higher, making fat loss much easier.

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