If you’ve been on a fitness regime and trying to lose weight for a while, you’ll already be aware that dropping the kilos means eating fewer kilojoules than you burn working out. But, all too often, the best-laid plans of weight loss backfire, and suddenly you discover your burning muscle mass rather than fat.
Shedding the kilos is always a combination of burning fat and muscle. Striking the right balance is always tricky because muscle burns more kilojoules than fat, slowing your metabolism and – in turn – making it even harder to shed extra weight.
That’s why your weight loss regime inevitably plateaus, and you suddenly feel like all your hard work has come to nought. But don't worry! Here are some clues to help you work out whether you're currently burning fat or muscle and steps on how to rectify the situation:
- Hit the weight room. Resistance training promotes muscle building when you’re on a low kilojoule diet. A 2015 Harvard study also found that those who weight trained lost twice as much tummy fat than those who only did cardio.
Try to fit in two high impact weight lifting workouts every week, including moves like squats, lunges and push-ups.
- Eat after you work out. You need to repair your muscles after a workout, or you'll lose them. Having a high-quality protein snack after you work out helps with your muscle recovery, making sure you'll keep it rather than fat.
Always have a protein shake or tub of Greek yoghurt within 30 minutes of working out.
- Don’t eat too little. Your body's primary goal is to keep you alive. When you starve yourself of the energy your body needs to do simple things like breathing and maintaining your organs in good health, you put it into starvation mode (essentially it burns fat and muscle for fuel). And that will work against your weight loss ambitions every time.
To maximise fat burning over muscle burning, only drop 2092-4184 calories from your average daily intake. Aim for half your weight reduction coming from exercise and half from food. Also, try to eat more protein – studies show you can lose up to 27 per cent more fat and boost your muscle mass by a factor of eight.
- Slow down the cardio workouts. Moderate and high-intensity cardio doesn't build muscle but burns it. You can tell this is happening if you suddenly can’t handle the same intensity workout as a few sessions ago.
- Sleep more. When you’re stressed your body creates more of the hormone cortisol, which signals to it that you need to store more carbs as fat. Sleep promotes proper hormonal functioning, lowering stress and cortisol levels. When you’re tired, studies show you make poorer food choices, like takeaways and high energy snacks. Also, chronically tired people can’t exercise as much or as efficiently, so you won’t build as much muscle.
Think of your sleep as sacrosanct – you need between seven and nine hours every night to function well.