Are You Losing Muscle or Fat?

Many people are trying to lose weight for the sake of their health. Part of being healthy is getting to, and maintaining, a healthy weight. By taking steps with diet and exercise, you can meet your goals. But, sometimes, looking at the scale doesn’t give you the whole story.

It’s unfortunately easy to lose weight in the form of muscle instead of fat. While you might feel good seeing the number go down on the bathroom scale, you aren’t helping your health. There are a lot of factors when it comes to weight loss. We now know that the old advice of “just eat less” isn’t healthy or anywhere near as helpful as doctors once thought. If you aren’t sleeping enough, eating enough protein, allowing yourself to rest after cardio exercise or are not working your muscles at all, you risk burning muscle instead of fat.

Too much cardio is the classic muscle loss enemy, but [it] gets a bad rap,” said dietician Dominic Gallo. “Doing too much cardio with inadequate recovery will certainly lead to muscle wasting. Resistance exercises and high-intensity cardio are fantastic for building muscle and cutting fat. I love multi-joint compound exercises, such as squats, deadlift, bench press, pull-ups and any high-intensity cardio.”

Exercise is excellent for building muscles; you just need to eat plenty of protein and limit yourself to three workouts a week. Daily exercise like walking and getting steps from errands is great for overall fitness. But it is possible to harm yourself with more intense exercise aimed at weight loss. There can be too much of a good thing! And, sleep helps balance the hormones in your body that help build muscle and burn fat.

Some signs help you spot if you are losing weight in the form of muscle instead of fat. If you’re losing weight very quickly, you’re most likely losing muscle as fat takes a longer time to burn. If you feel tired for no reason, or after doing easy things, that’s another good indicator. If you are in a bad mood, even when you aren’t tired or hungry, it can be a sign that your body is burning muscle. You can also see it visually. Using the “pinch method” or body fat calipers, you can measure your subcutaneous fat. In addition to these cues, there are signs when you exercise. You might notice that your workouts feel harder, and you aren’t getting any better at them.

If you see any of these signs, it’s time to rethink your weight loss plan and speak to your health care provider about setting new goals. Sometimes we set number goals without taking other factors into consideration. Reaching a healthy body weight isn’t just about what you see on the scale; it’s about your muscles and how you feel. If your daily life is harder, your mood is worse, or you’re tired, it’s time to change your approach.  

Banner image: Total Shape via Unsplash

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