While weight loss tends to be a primary goal for most people starting a new fitness and nutrition plan, that doesn’t always mean FAT loss. In fact, you could actually be losing some of that hard-earned muscle — not fat — by not training or fueling your body properly within your new regimen.
But what if you're not trying to lose weight, and instead want to bulk up or get in excellent shape for an upcoming race? In this case, you really want to be focused on building and protecting lean muscle and shedding fat. This is how you'll avoid depleting muscular gains and hindering your progress.
Not sure if you’re wasting away that muscle? Here are a few habits you might be doing, possibly unintentionally, that can deteriorate muscle and retain those pesky pounds of fat on your body.
You’re Not Eating Enough Protein
We all need protein for muscle growth and repair. According to Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., and the author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, it's absolutely critical to provide your body with a quick intake of adequate protein to support muscle recovery after a workout.
"For most people, 20 grams within an hour of working out should do the trick, which might be the equivalent of 1/4 cup of protein powder, 3/4 cup of cottage cheese, 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt, or 3 ounces of chicken, turkey, fish, or beef, for example," Pincus said.
Keep it in that window and get those grams in ASAP.
Excess Sugar Is Your Enemy
"In order to build muscle, you need a good mix of calories, carbs, protein, and fat," Ilyse Schapiro, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. said. "Too much sugar can lead to a decrease in muscle protein synthesis."
You’re Not Eating Enough Calories
You heard that right. While you might be cutting calories with the intention of triggering weight loss, Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D.N., C.D.N., C.F.T. stressed the importance of not skimping too much.
"Your body prioritizes your organs first and will take the fuel it needs from your muscles to maintain your basic body functions," Shames said. "While you’ll also lose some fat, your body is also working to preserve its fat stores as a last resort, in case it needs to prevent starvation."
And if you don’t eat enough, your metabolism slows down, according to Schapiro.
“When you are not taking in enough calories, your body then uses stored protein from the muscles to maintain its basic functions,” Schapiro said.
Not good for those hard-earned muscles, Spartans!
Don't Forget to Refuel Following Training
Again – remember that recovery window.
"You need to refuel with protein within about 30 minutes of working out, as your body needs the protein after a workout to repair your muscles and provide energy," Schapiro said.
Can you get away with an hour? Technically yes, but do not push it past that!
"Skipping recovery fuel can lead to muscle tears and compromise your ability to build muscle," she said.
Are You Overtraining?
Your muscles really do need time to repair. There's no substitute for adequate time.
"That’s why it’s so important that you give it time to rest and recover," Schapiro said. "Without giving yourself this time, you put yourself at risk for injury and muscle loss."
Take a day or two off each week. (Or more, depending on your activity level, workout level, type of workout, etc. Listen to your body.) Either don’t do anything at all, or enjoy a low-impact form of activity, such as a leisurely bike ride or walk.
Too Much Cardio, Not Enough Lifting
While you may lose weight on the scale after a few weeks of jogging, you inevitably also lose muscle.
“Less calorie-burning muscle on your body equals a body with a slower metabolism that puts on fat more easily – not less,” Shames explained.
So does this mean you need to cut out all cardio? No way! Instead, make time for both – they are equally important. Get cardio in to burn those immediate calories, but train with weights to increase muscle strength and boost bone density. You won't just see it on the scale – you'll see it in your strength.