When you set out to lose weight through fat loss, the last thing you want to do is lessen your muscle mass. There are several signs of muscle loss to be on the lookout for so that you may take action as quickly as possible to reverse any adverse effects. While rapid weight loss may seem like a good thing, it is a clear indicator that you are losing muscle mass with fat. Fat loss is the goal, not muscle mass loss. There are ways to lose fat and build lean muscle simultaneously, but it takes time and dedication. Here we focus on the signs that indicate you are losing muscle and how you know when you are losing muscle instead of fat. We will also cover how to lose fat while gaining muscle mass and the signs of losing fat, not muscle. Read on for our explanation of how to tell if you are losing muscle.
What Are The Signs You Are Losing Muscle?
You may have noticed some differences about yourself recently which could indicate you have lost muscle. While some are more obvious than others, any of these can point to the need to change your weight loss strategy.
When the numbers on the scale reduce rapidly, you may feel excited because you are closer to reaching your goal. However, this can be an indicator that you are losing muscle in addition to fat. The faster the numbers go down, the more likely you are losing muscle mass.
If your regular workouts are becoming a trial and you can no longer perform the same number of sets or repetitions without struggling, you’ve most likely lost some of your muscle mass. You may also experience feelings of weakness throughout your workout. At the same time your workouts may not improve beyond the level at which you are currently set. You should be able to progress into doing more repetitions as time goes on, not stay stuck at the same number you started with.
General feelings of tiredness and sluggishness are also signs you are losing muscle mass. You may feel no desire to get out of bed or do everyday activities.
Additionally, despite losing weight, your body fat percentage will generally remain the same when you lose muscle mass. Losing muscle will not allow you to add definition to your shape, leaving you looking unfit (5).
How Do You Know If You Are Losing Muscle Instead Of Fat?
Any combination of diet and exercise will result in weight loss. When you create a deficit of calories, your body must turn to its own stores for energy, which is where weight loss comes into play. Fat is the primary source of stored energy that your body will use. However, it will also begin to use your muscles at a certain point.
You must take measurements to determine how much muscle versus fat you are losing. Fat calipers are one of the standard tools to use, which will give you measurements of fat in various places around your body.
A bioelectrical impedance test will reveal your body’s fat content. This will give you an idea of how much fat you have one day versus another, indicating how much fat you lose. The most accurate scan for tracking muscle mass is a DEXA scan, but this can be expensive.
Your weight loss should be proportional to the measured amount of fat lost. You should not base your fat or muscle mass loss on appearances alone. Measurements are the only clear-cut way to define how much you lose at any given time. When you see signs you are losing muscle, not fat, try one of these measurement tools to verify what is genuinely happening.
Why Am I Losing Muscle Mass And Weight?
When you create a calorie deficit, an important step is to add exercise as part of the plan. Not only will this burn more calories, but it will also help build muscle. Not doing this can result in losing both muscle mass and weight.
Not consuming enough protein can also harm muscle production. Including the right amount of protein in your diet will boost muscle growth and fat loss, resulting in weight loss without losing muscle mass.
When you reduce your caloric intake, you cannot reduce it so much that it impacts your muscle mass. Decreasing it too much can negatively impact your muscles, causing them to decrease in mass because there is insufficient energy to go around (10).
How To Lose Fat And Gain Muscle?
When you start a workout and diet routine, you hope to see signs you are losing fat, not muscle. Part of the problem lies in what you need to do for each. You must create a caloric deficit to lose fat and a caloric surplus to build lean muscle.
One significant step you can take is to keep your caloric deficit small. The smaller the deficit, the less muscle that will break down. You will still lose fat from the decrease in calories but have more potential to build lean muscle mass.
Additionally, you must ensure you are consuming enough healthy proteins. These are what boost your muscle-building abilities. Without enough protein in your diet, you risk losing muscle mass and not building it (2).
Once you have enough protein in your diet, add strength training at least three times a week to help build lean muscle. By using the principle of progressive overload, you will steadily increase the intensity of your workouts, resulting in more muscles being built. Again, this is heavily reliant on getting enough protein in your diet.
Getting enough rest is also key to balancing fat loss with muscle gains. If you do not get enough quality sleep, your body will not be able to perform the way it is supposed to, including building new lean muscle (7).
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Is It True That Muscle Turns To Fat If You Don’t Exercise?
If you have missed a few workouts you might wonder if you are losing muscle and gaining fat because the muscle is turning into fat. The good news is that this cannot physically happen. The two tissues are entirely different and not interchangeable.
When you do not work out as often as you usually do, your body loses its definition, leaving you feeling less toned. As this also creates less of a caloric deficit, you can create new fat cells, but your muscle cells are not turning into fat cells (6).
4 Signs You Are Losing Fat And Not Muscle
Now that you know what to look for to see if you are losing muscle instead of fat, let’s look at 4 signs you are losing fat and not muscle, which is the goal.
1. Your Appetite Has Decreased
Once you start losing fat, your appetite will decrease. Typically, this comes from changing the diet to having more protein, which leads to feeling full. The satisfaction signal may be stronger with plant proteins than with animal proteins (3).
2. Your Clothes Fit Differently
Fat and muscle fit differently within your body. The same amount of fat takes up more space than lean muscle. Once you begin to lose fat while maintaining or building new lean muscle, your clothes will fit more comfortably or even start to be loose (3).
3. Muscle Definition Becomes Apparent
While this one will take some time to become truly visible, muscle definition will show itself as a sign you are losing fat and not muscle. Maintaining your protein intake and keeping up with strength-training exercises will ensure that you continue losing fat while preserving muscle mass (3).
4. Your Body Measurements Have Changed
Using the body measurement tools we mentioned earlier, you can effectively measure your body composition to determine if you are losing fat and not muscle. This is the most effective method of calculating your fat-to-muscle ratio and whether you are losing one or both (3).
Read More: Wellness Planner: Weight Loss And Journaling
The Bottom Line
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, losing muscle along with fat during our weight-loss journeys is still possible. There are several signs you are losing muscle mass that you should watch for when losing weight. These include rapid weight loss, no change in your body fat percentage despite losing weight, workouts being increasingly tiring despite not changing intensity, and a general sense of sluggishness.
To continue to build muscle mass while losing fat, you should ensure you are consuming enough lean protein in your diet. Additionally, you need to get enough quality rest, keep your caloric deficit small, and add enough strength training to your workout routine to build new muscle. Completing all these things will help prevent muscle loss with fat loss.
You will also find signs that show you when you have lost fat, not muscle. These include your clothes fitting better, decreased appetite, more muscle definition, and improved body measurements. Watching for these signs while you are on your weight loss journey can help you to identify that you have not lost any muscle mass but are instead building it.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 4 signs that you may be losing weight, beyond the scale (2018, today.com)
- 9 Strategies for Gaining Muscle While Losing Weight (2022, health.usnews.com)
- 10 Encouraging Signs of Progress on Your Weight Loss Journey (2020, healthline.com)
- Balance Food and Activity (n.d., nhlbi.nih.gov)
- Common Symptoms & Causes of Muscle Loss [W/ Diet and Exercise Tips] (n.d., horizonclinics.org)
- Does Muscle Turn to Fat When You Skip Workouts? (n.d., piedmont.org)
- How to lose fat and gain muscle (2022, livescience.com)
- Protein and Exercise in eight Loss: Considerations for Athletes (2016, gssiweb.org)
- What Burns Fat Quickly and how Do I Know When My Body is in Fat Burning Mode? (2022, medicinenet.com)
- What’s the Difference Between Weight Loss and Fat Loss? (2021, healthline.com)