When calories start to decrease, your energy when working out is expected to decrease as well. This doesn’t mean that you will necessarily lose muscle, but it simply means that your workouts may need adjusting as well. The biggest fear when going into a fat loss phase, especially with changes in performance, is that you will lose your hard earned muscle- so let’s dive in to how you can maintain muscle while in a fat loss phase.
Steps to Maintaining muscle & Losing Fat Simultaneously
Although the concept of maintaining muscle while in a calorie deficit may seem complicated, the steps can be simple if you are consistent. Here are simple tips that just need fine tuning to your own lifestyle and goals.
Optimal Protein Intake
Consuming a sufficient amount of protein each day is not only important for overall health, but for developing and maintaining lean muscle mass. The general recommendation is .73-1g of protein per lb of body weight, or goal body weight if overweight. If you consume no to little animal proteins, eating at least the minimum amount is ideal. The same goes for those that consume animal proteins, if eating at the higher end is hard to maintain try to lower it and see if it helps with remaining consistent and getting a balance of all macro-nutrients.
The importance lies in how it impacts your goals, training, and hunger. If you notice that recovery is slower, hunger is higher, and your muscle development isn’t improving- take a look at your protein intake. Overall, keeping a sufficient amount of protein no matter your calorie goal is important for muscle development and maintenance.
Training in a calorie surplus should be the same as in a calorie deficit. You show up focused, with a plan, and try to progress with your lifts. The only difference is that your energy and how much your lifting may be different. Factoring this in, you will still need to challenge yourself and lift with intention (and keep form as a top priority). An example of the changes while in a calorie deficit compared to a caloric surplus is let’s say your deadlift personal record was at 225lbs, and now in a caloric deficit you cannot budge past 200lbs. This is completely okay and normal as food=energy. It is important that even though you cannot lift as heavy in a calorie deficit (for the majority at least), you need to still challenge yourself and resistance train.
Keep Calories High (but in a deficit)
The most optimal fat loss phase begins at your maintenance calories (and you’ve been there for awhile to get your body at the healthiest state) with progressive, small, drops in calories. For example, my maintenance calories currently are around 2300-2400 calories. When going into a fat loss phase I usually begin at 2000-2100 calories and adjust based on results, consistency, and adherence.
To ensure that you maintain lean muscle mass while losing fat, you would want your calories to stay at the highest while still seeing results. The goal is to be able to eat the most to maintain and develop lean muscle mass. This comes from a moderate calorie deficit, consuming enough protein, and training with progressive overload. If your calories get too low where it starts to affect your performance, NEAT (daily movement outside of exercise), menstrual cycle, digestion, recovery, and muscle development- it may be time to increase calories to maintenance and stay there for at least 8 weeks before beginning another fat loss phase (if intended).
Combining it all
Overall, the key to maintaining and developing lean muscle mass in a fat loss phase is to consume a sufficient amount of protein, resistance train with progressive overload, and to keep calories at a moderate level (aka no crash dieting with low calories). I hope this articles helps you look into your methods and get you to your strongest, healthiest, physique.
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Health & Mindset Coach