Many times when wanting to get more lean, we say we want to lose weight.
However, we do not really want to lose just any weight, but fat mass.
To look toned, you need to not only have relatively low body fat but a sufficient amount of muscle.
There are several things you can do while dieting for fat loss to ensure you hold onto as much lean mass as possible (you are always likely to lose some amount of lean mass while in a weight loss phase the goal is to minimize that loss).
4 Key Aspects of Muscle Preservation While Dieting
1. Do not cut calories too low. Crash dieting is very unhealthy, unsustainable, and can easily lead to nutritional deficiencies. You should never eat below your Resting Metabolic Rate (roughly your lean mass multiplied by 11-12 (this is an estimate and in no way exact)). Though you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight, a severely restricted diet and/or extremely low calorie diet will cause nutritional deficiencies and lead you anywhere but where you want to be (lean, healthy, and strong).
2. Aim to lose no more than 2 lbs of body weight or 1% of your current body weight per week. If you are 175 lbs, you should be aiming to lose no more than 1.75 lbs a week. If you lose weight quicker than this 1-2 lb recommendation (arguably not as relevant in the first week or if extremely overweight, where you may notice much higher losses) than you will start to lose more lean mass than desired.
3. Perform resistance exercise [at least] 2-3 times a week. If you do not give your muscles a reason to “stay” when in an energy deficit, your body will use them for energy (by breaking down the proteins and converting them to usable energy). Many who wish to lose weight make the mistake of going on very low calorie diets and performing excessive cardio. They end up losing just as much, if not more, lean body mass as they do fat mass while messing up their metabolism. Performing resistance exercise while in a caloric deficit will allow you to preserve as much lean mass as possible while losing the unwanted fat. Your program does not need to be complicated. Find and/or develop a program that a) is safe for you to perform b) is sustainable for you c) is focused on compound movements and d) continually increases the training stimulus (progressive overload).
These are general guidelines to look for in a resistance training program. Each and every individual is different and will have different goals and therefore different exercise selections, intensity levels, rest intervals, sets, repetitions, etc. Those are factors that you will have to decide on. The key is finding something that sufficiently works your muscles so you can preserve as much lean mass as possible while dieting for weight loss.
4. Ensure proper protein intake. When in an energy deficit you want to make sure you are getting plenty of protein (plenty is obviously a relative term and the exact amount will vary depending on activity level, age, weight, etc). You need to be giving your muscles the building blocks they need to repair. Muscles are broken down in the gym and repaired and grown through proper diet and sleep. When lowering calories, make sure to keep protein the same (if already taking in an adequate amount, ~25% of total calories or 1g per lb of body weight) and instead lower your carbohydrate or fat intake. Protein is going to be one of your best friends when dieting for weight loss, keep that in mind at each meal.
If you follow these 4 pieces of advice when in an energy deficit you will be setting yourself up for a more toned body/keeping your fat mass to lean mass loss ratio favorable.
I hope you find these four tips helpful, for more information check out some of my other posts, either on Facebook or on my website, www.cruzonlinefitnesscoaching.com.