Losing weight is easy, simply eat less and move more. Burning fat while maintaining muscle is a little more complicated. If you’ve spent years or even months dedicated to putting on muscle mass, it would be a shame to lose it all in just a few weeks. Unfortunately, most dieters lose more lean body mass than they need to during a fat loss phase.
If you want to reach the level of conditioning displayed on the cover of your favourite fitness magazine, there are some mistakes that you must avoid. Failing to do so will result in muscle loss, decreased strength and no six pack. But, if you do avoid the mistakes I’ve outlined, you’ll end up solid and strong instead of soft and weak; all without having to starve yourself, do countless hours of cardio or eat a bland, unenjoyable diet.
MISTAKE #1 – MORE CARDIO, FEWER WEIGHTS
When we’re restricting calories, the last thing our body needs is more stress. This is where most people get it wrong. They assume that since their primary goal at the moment is fat loss, they should put the weights down and jump on the treadmill – big mistake! The more cardio you do, the more you stress your body – and although a moderate amount can be healthy, too much of it can land you in a state of chronic stress, inhibiting your body’s ability to recover.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at 21 studies where resistance training was combined with cardio. They found that too much endurance (cardio) training, too frequently, had negative effects on strength, hypertrophy, and power.
Main Point: Contrary to popular belief, if we want to maintain strength and muscle mass during a period of dieting, it would be beneficial to keep endurance training as short and infrequently as possible while still reaching your fat-loss goals.
MISTAKE #2 – TOO LITTLE PROTEIN
It’s no secret that we don’t need as much protein to build muscle as we once believed. The science is pretty clear that most people won’t need more than about 0.6g protein per 0.5kg of body weight to build muscle – less than half of the 1.5-2g per 0.5kg of body weight we once thought. However, a study conducted by AUT University concluded that energy-restricted athletes will need a bit more. The consensus is that somewhere around 1-1.4g per 0.5kg of fat-free mass is necessary to maintain muscle tissue when dieting.
It’s also worth mentioning that someone with 20% body fat who has been restricting calories for just 4 weeks may not need as much protein as an athlete who is 8% body fat and has been dieting twice as long.
Main Point: Try to get at least 1g per 0.5kg of body weight in protein, consistently, and consider increasing that amount a bit as you get further into your fat loss phase. E.g. If you weigh 70kg then aim for approximately 150g of protein.
MISTAKE #3 – LIGHT WEIGHT, HIGH REPS
If your personal trainer has ever told you that to burn fat you must lift light weights for high reps- fire him. Don’t get me wrong: high rep training has a time, place, and a purpose, no doubt. But decreasing intensity while in a caloric deficit is the fastest way to end up skinny and weak. The reason for this is simple: if we train with light weights (low intensity) for an extended period of time, we lose the strength and size adaptations we worked so hard for.
Main Point: We can and should reduce volume, but never intensity. The best way to maintain strength is to train as heavy as you did to develop it. The better we do at maintaining strength, the more muscle we can retain.