Unfor­tu­nate­ly, weight loss does not always occur due to fat burn­ing — some­times mus­cle is lost in the process.

By los­ing weight, we usu­al­ly mean reduc­ing body weight due to the loss of adi­pose tis­sue. How­ev­er, weight loss can occur not only by reduc­ing the amount of fat in our body, but also by los­ing mus­cle and water. It can be dif­fi­cult to know whether you are los­ing weight from fat or mus­cle. In this arti­cle, we will dis­cuss how to dis­tin­guish one from the oth­er, as well as give tips on how to achieve weight loss while main­tain­ing mus­cle mass.

How to Know If You’re Losing Fat

A com­mon prac­tice is to track your weight loss progress using a scale. This is a pret­ty infor­ma­tive method, but most scales don’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate between fat loss and mus­cle loss. For this rea­son, track­ing just your weight isn’t the most reli­able way to deter­mine whether you’re los­ing fat or mus­cle, or how much.

In turn, peri­od­i­cal­ly mea­sur­ing your body fat per­cent­age can give a more accu­rate idea of ​​your body com­po­si­tion. You can find out how much fat is in your body using dif­fer­ent meth­ods: caliper­om­e­try (the sim­plest), bioim­ped­ance analy­sis and oth­ers.

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Focus on fat loss, not weight loss

Many weight loss pro­grams claim to help you lose weight quick­ly and eas­i­ly. How­ev­er, it is impor­tant to under­stand that much of the weight lost may include water and mus­cle. Los­ing mus­cle mass can be detri­men­tal because mus­cle is an impor­tant com­po­nent of over­all health. Main­tain­ing a healthy per­cent­age of mus­cle mass has a num­ber of health ben­e­fits.

Plus, the more mus­cle you have, the more calo­ries you burn in your dai­ly life and work­outs. This is the main rea­son why men gen­er­al­ly have high­er calo­rie needs than women. There­fore, los­ing weight from mus­cle can reduce the num­ber of calo­ries you burn in your dai­ly life, which encour­ages you to regain the weight you lost as fat.

(Read also: Why los­ing 15 kilo­grams in a month is a bad idea.)

How to burn fat and maintain muscle mass

There are sev­er­al effec­tive ways to lose weight from fat and main­tain mus­cle mass.

Eat enough pro­tein. Pro­tein is an essen­tial nutri­ent for many dif­fer­ent body func­tions. It is also impor­tant for main­tain­ing your mus­cles and grow­ing new mus­cles, espe­cial­ly when los­ing weight. Pro­tein needs vary depend­ing on your age, health, gen­der and lev­el of phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, but on aver­age it is rec­om­mend­ed to con­sume 1.6–1.8 grams of pro­tein per kilo­gram of body weight per day. High­er pro­tein intake (up to 2.0–2.2 g/kg/day) may have some ben­e­fits. Here you can learn more about how pro­tein helps you lose weight.

Prac­tice. Work­ing out is the most effec­tive way to stim­u­late fat loss, not mus­cle loss. Strength train­ing gives the body a pow­er­ful incen­tive to main­tain mus­cle even when eat­ing a calo­rie-restrict­ed diet. Exer­cise alone is already an effec­tive strat­e­gy for main­tain­ing mus­cle mass on any diet, but com­bin­ing it with increased pro­tein intake can help opti­mize your results. Here we wrote more about how exer­cise helps with weight loss.

Fol­low a mod­er­ate­ly low-calo­rie diet. To lose weight, you need to cre­ate a calo­rie deficit. You can cre­ate it by con­sum­ing few­er calo­ries or expend­ing more ener­gy. But it is advis­able to do both at the same time. How­ev­er, cut­ting calo­ries too much can lead to more mus­cle loss. Aim to main­tain a calo­rie deficit of 15 to 20 per­cent of your main­te­nance level—this is suf­fi­cient for sus­tain­able, effec­tive weight loss. We rec­om­mend choos­ing fruits, veg­eta­bles, berries, whole grains, and low-fat pro­tein prod­ucts as the basis of your diet. Find out also which diet is the most effec­tive for los­ing weight.

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