How to preserve as much muscle as possible while losing weight

When we lose weight, our body sheds both fat and muscle at different rates. It’s a great goal to lose weight and get to the body you want, so it’s important to maintain as much muscle as possible while you lose weight. Let’s go over some of the top ways you can retain your muscle and look great after you shed those extra pounds:

If you’re in a caloric deficit and doing cardiovascular exercise regularly, your body might shed excess fat and burn some muscle in areas you’re not utilizing very often. To understand how this process works, we must look into some of the biological processes. If the body is in a reduced caloric state, it will break down fat tissue, and proteins in the muscles to be used when synthesizing glucose which is used for energy.

Make sure you’re getting enough protein.

To prevent the breakdown of muscle proteins, keep your protein levels up. A really great article by Bayesian bodybuilding that I often refer to states that the benefits from protein consumption cap out around 0.75g/lb after citing several historical studies.

Have a protein snack before bed.

To prevent your body from breaking down muscle in its catabolic state overnight, this tip aligns with the previous: we want to keep that flow of protein going even overnight.

Eat frequently.

As mentioned above, we want to give our bodies a consistent stream of protein throughout the day. Include a portion of protein in every meal, and spread them throughout the day in 4 or 5 meals.

Weight train between 1-5 reps for big compound movements.

If we lift heavy weights, we’re sending signals to our body that we need our muscles. Working out regularly ensures that the body knows our muscle is there for a reason, and will be less likely to break down muscle first. Perform big compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and rows. Keep these exercises in the 1-5 rep range where strength building is done.

Keep your cardio sessions short and intense.

Ideally you want to be in an anaerobic state when exercising, and this means high-intensity interval training, and lifting weights as we touched on above. In this state, your body will be forced to burn fat over your glucose stores to produce energy. Also working out for shorter and more intense periods of time will allow for muscular development instead of break down when exercising for extended periods of time without consuming food (protein). This also means that you’ll spend less time in the day working out, which is always an added benefit.

A study done comparing aerobic and anaerobic training for weight loss concluded some astounding results to choose anaerobic training for accelerated weight loss and preservation of muscle loss.

The 16-week study had trained athletes perform either a sprint interval protocol or steady-state running four days a week. The sprint interval protocol varied each day, but an example of one of the workouts used was 10 intervals of 30-sec sprints with 90 seconds rest.

The sprint interval group lost 16 percent or 1 kg of visceral fat as well as 2 kg of total fat, compared to the endurance group that lost no belly fat, but did lose 1.4 kg of lean mass. The belly fat loss appears to be small, but be aware that subjects were lean, trained athletes to begin with and had less belly fat to lose than overweight subjects.

Keep your fat intake up, choose fat over carbs.

After determining that optimal amount of protein you need to be consuming, you’ll fill the rest of your calories with carbs and fat. Carbohydrates are NOT essential for survival, however fat is: providing energy, vitamin transport, and hormone production which is vital for maintaining muscle. Keep your fat up, and your carbs low. Try to keep your carb consumption earlier in the day, and surrounding your workouts.

Thanks for reading and I hope these tips help you to preserve as much muscle as possible on your weight loss journey!

Scott Wolowich from



Irving, B., Davis, C., et al. Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2008. 40(11), 1863-1872.

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