Losing Weight and Fat While Maintaining Muscle: Hard, But Doable

by Amy Hendel, P.A. Health Writer

Is it possible to reduce your weight and specifically lose fat, while maintaining or even building your muscle mass? New research suggests it is possible but definitely challenging. Also as suggested, losing weight and fat while maintaining or building muscle mass requires a very specific diet and exercise formula.

The study

Researchers signed up 40 young men. These subjects trained hard for one month and cut their normal dietary calories by 40 percent. The researchers confirmed that the young men were not in good shape at the start of the month-long study, but that was precisely what was needed. The goal of the study was to see how quickly the program could get the men in shape while retaining muscle, improving strength and also their fitness levels.

The men were separated into two groups. Both groups received instructions to eat a diet with a set number of calories, but one group ate more protein than the other group. Both groups performed the same rigorous exercise regimen.

Study results

The group that consumed more protein gained on average about two and a half pounds of muscle mass, despite the very low calorie diet. The lower protein group did not have any change in their muscle mass. They neither gained nor lost muscle mass.

The higher protein group also had additional fat loss, compared to the lower protein group. On average men in the higher protein group lost ten and a half pounds, while the lower protein group lost eight pounds.

All the participants, who followed the six-day-a-week demanding exercise regimen, got stronger and fitter, and all of them were in significantly “better shape” at the end of the fourth week, compared to when they started the month long program.** Interpreting the study’s findings**

Despite the low calorie diet, weight training helps to retain muscles and if you consume protein, even grow those muscles, despite a low calorie diet. Though the subjects were all young men, the researchers believe that a similar experiment involving young women, would have achieved similar results. The researchers concede that the program was quite rigorous and challenging and not a quick fix. The diets were closely controlled, the exercise was very challenging and supervised (so no one could slack off), and overall the subjects were really under tight supervision.

It does prove that a no gimmicks, focused diet and exercise effort can yield significant results.

Consider HIIT intermingled with traditional exercise + diet

If you are overweight or have been diagnosed with obesity you can take the lessons learned from this study and:

(a) Focus on your lowering the daily calorie levels of your diet since weight loss predominantly happens when you cut calories. Consuming lean proteins (emphasize plant-based and fish options) and eating specific servings of portion-controlled whole grain carbohydrates while targeting a specific number of calories daily is crucial to weight loss and weight maintenance. You may need the help of a health professional to determine how many calories you need daily in order to lose about two pounds weekly (considered the safe higher limit of weight loss weekly).

(b) Commit to a workout program that includes weight training at least twice weekly. Other days can include traditional aerobic exercise or shorter bouts of HIIT. The benefits of HIIT are significant weight loss and significantly improved cardiac strength and performance. HIIT has also been shown to improve insulin levels, reducing the risk of prediabetes and diabetes. I recommend HIIT two times a week since it does require mental toughness as you “fight” through the high intensity interval levels. Also make sure that your rest minutes in between those intense intervals are truly rest periods, meaning very low level exercise as you recover and prepare for the next high intensity interval. have some days of more forgiving aerobic exercise, aiming for an intermediate level of challenge.

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition


Amy Hendel, P.A.
Meet Our Writer
Amy Hendel, P.A.

Known as "The HealthGal", Amy Hendel P.A. is a medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, health coach and brand ambassador. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, find her on Twitter @Healthgal1103 and on Facebook @TheHealthGal. Check “Daily Health News” at healthgal.com. Her personal mantra? “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”