Losing fat requires a caloric deficit. This simply means you need to eat less to force your body to make up the shortfall by burning fat. The rate at which you lose weight depends on two things – how big a deficit you create by eating less and how much exercise you do. However, most experts agree a weight loss of around 1-2 lb per week is about right.
Losing weight is a bit of a balancing act. Ideally, you want to lose fat while preserving fat-free mass – i.e. muscle. However, it doesn’t take much to tip you over the edge so you end up losing fat and muscle together - something we want to avoid!
Some muscle loss is expected during a fat loss diet but the trick is to keep this to an absolute minimum. If you lose a lot of muscle along with fat, your body fat percentage will not change much and as a result, you run the risk of just getting slimmer, BUT not leaner – what is often known as being “skinny-fat”. Skinny-fat people look slender from a distance but, when you get up close and personal, they are soft and weak. Not a good state of affairs!
MUSCLE IS GOOD
If you lose too much muscle, your metabolic rate will drop which can bring fat loss to a grinding halt. Muscle is biologically active and the more muscle you have, the greater your daily calorie needs will be.
Losing muscle can also impair physical performance – you’ll get weaker and won’t be able to train as hard so, again, fat loss can stall.
So, long story short, you don’t want to lose muscle!
There are several things you can do to make sure you preserve as much muscle as possible during a weight loss diet:
1) Lift weights – strength training will preserve muscle mass because your body operates on a “use it or lose it” system. Don’t switch to lighter weights and higher reps to “cut”; that won’t preserve muscle.
Instead, work with heavyweights that really challenge those fast-twitch type 2b muscle fibers – the ones that provide most of your muscle size. Sets of 6-12 reps are ideal. Strive to maintain your strength to preserve muscle mass.
2) Get adequate protein – shoot for around two grams per kg of body weight. Yes, you need to create a calorie deficit but you’ll lose fat faster if you lower your carb intake to produce your calorie deficit. Consuming adequate protein means your body has all the nutrients it needs to preserve muscle mass. Too little protein means increased muscle catabolism.
3) Consume BCAAs – branch chain amino acids are so-called because of their branched shape and structure and are the collective term for the three amino acids most prevalent in your muscles; leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Consuming BCAAs can help prevent muscle breakdown and even enhance fat burning. How? Let’s take a look!
BCAAS ARE VIRTUALLY CALORIE FREE
Despite almost being a source of protein, BCAAs are virtually calorie-free. You can consume BCAAs in place of some of your protein intake thus saving yourself calories. BCAAs provide your muscles with a lot of what they need for growth and repair. Take BCAAs between workouts in place of protein to contribute towards your caloric deficit.
BCAAS CAN BE USED FOR FUEL DURING FASTED EXERCISE
Fasted exercise is a great way to speed up the fat loss but lack of energy can rob your workouts of intensity and can lead to excessive catabolism; so while you do burn fat faster, you might also lose muscle. Consume 10 grams of BCAAs 15 minutes before fasted exercise to a) provide fuel for your workout and b) prevent unwanted catabolism.
Also, if you chose to follow an intermittent fasting diet and eat fewer meals throughout the day, snacking on BCAAs can prevent the muscle loss that often accompanies long periods without food.
BCAAS ENHANCE POST-EXERCISE RECOVERY
Exercise causes catabolism – the proper word for muscle breakdown. It’s only after rest and adequate food that your muscles repair and rebuild so you can exercise again. The slower your recovery, the less frequently or intensely you can exercise.
Consuming BCAAs immediately after exercise will speed up recovery so you can exercise sooner and for longer. You may experience less post-exercise muscle soreness too. Needless to say, if you are exercising for fat loss, you need to work out frequently so you can avoid reducing your food intake too severely.
BCAAS INCREASE YOUR METABOLISM
Like protein, BCAAs increase your metabolic rate. Your body uses energy to take in, transport, and utilize BCAAs. While the number of calories used is very small, any additional caloric expenditure is very welcome.
To get the most from BCAA use, take 5-10 grams at the following times:
15-minutes before exercise – especially fasted – to provide energy and prevent catabolism
During exercise to maintain energy levels and intensity
Immediately after exercise to kick start recovery and repair muscle
As a calorie-free snack that will preserve muscle mass between meals
Consume before bed to enhance recovery and boost fat loss