6 Mistakes That Make You Lose Muscle, Not Fat

How to build your muscles and lose fat

When you want to drop pounds off the weighing scale, what you really want to do is shed fat. Fat is the stuff that gives us the dreaded muffin top and makes our thighs more jiggly than we’d like. Muscles, on the other hand, keep us looking more toned, improve our strength and speed up our metabolism. If you’re only focusing on losing weight, then you might end up losing both, muscle and fat. This is dangerous because the less muscle you have, the less stamina you have and the slower your metabolism is, which ultimately makes it harder to lose weight. So if you’re doing any of these six muscle-sabotaging mistakes, it’s time to revamp your fitness routine.

1. Your Calorie Deficit Is Too High

Don't let your calorie intake drop to below 1000

On the face of it, losing weight appears fairly straightforward; all you need to do is burn more calories than you consume. However, if you’re cutting calories indiscriminately, then you might wind up losing muscle. Your body uses glycogen from carbs as its main source of fuel. When you deprive it of carbs, it turns to muscle and fat instead. The fat burning part is great, but the muscle cannibalizing part? Not so much. Maintaining an ideal calorie deficit is especially important if you’re exercising because your body needs fuel even more.

An optimal calorie intake varies between people because it depends upon each person’s Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). However, no one’s calorie intake should drop down to below 1000. A good calorie deficit ranges between 500 to 1000 calories. Try to achieve at least half of this deficit through calories burnt during exercise.

2. You’re Not Paying Attention To Protein

 Eat at least 0.7 grams of protein for each pound of body weight

If you’re consuming calories in excess, then an important first step to lose weight is to cut down on them. But while you should consume fewer carbs and fats, you should definitely not skimp on your protein. Protein is essential for muscle building and muscle repairing. In fact, one study found that people who ate more protein actually lost more weight than those who weren’t getting enough of it. Protein is the building block for muscles. Without it, you simply won’t be able to develop muscle mass. Try to get around 0.7 grams of protein for each pound of your body weight. Use high-quality, complete protein sources like eggs, seafood, meat and dairy. If you’re vegan, you can buy pea protein powders which are an excellent source of protein.

3. You’re Doing Too Much Cardio

Don't do more than three moderate cardio sessions a week

Cardio is often the biggest-and sometimes the only- thing people who are trying to lose weight focus on. However, extensive cardio coupled with a severe calorie deficit is a recipe for muscle wasting. Cardio makes your body burn through its fuel stores. If you do it properly, it burns your excess fat. However, if you do too much of it, it can eat through your muscle mass as well. Working out is supposed to build your body’s stamina. If you notice that you can’t run for as long as you could when you first started, then it’s a clear sign that your body is cannibalizing muscle. Instead of sweating it out on the treadmill for hours, try to do some moderate cardio only three times a week and for two days a week, do high-intensity cardio routines for about 4 minutes.

4. You Aren’t Training With Weights

Lift weights to build muscle mass

Muscles don’t just build themselves. Unless they’re properly stimulated, they aren’t going to grow and develop. Far too many people who are struggling to lose weight ignore weights altogether. There’s a common misconception most people have that you should only lift weights if you’re trying to bulk up. This is especially true of many women who avoid weight lifting because they want to look slender. Weight lifting is incredibly important if you want to lose weight and keep it off. Try to include at least two muscle building sessions each week. Focus on full-body exercises like squats, push-ups and lunges.

5. You Go Hungry After A Workout

Eat at least 20 grams of protein after weight training

There’s so much talk about all the foods you shouldn’t eat when you want to lose weight, that most people forget that the foods you do eat are equally important. Every time you include weight training workouts, your muscles undergo micro tears which must repair themselves. If they can’t repair themselves, then you’ll lose it. To help your muscles recover after a workout, eat a high-protein snack right after. Drink a whey protein smoothie or a tub of Greek yogurt within half an hour of working out. Make sure you eat at least 20 grams of high-quality protein so you get the most out of each workout.

6. You’re Sleep Deprived

Sleep for around 7-8 hours a night

Contrary to the old adage, sleep is definitely not for the weak. If you’re not getting enough of sleep every night, then your stress hormone, cortisol, rises. Cortisol encourages your body to convert carbs into fat. Even worse, high cortisol levels lead to your body storing excess fat around your belly. Not getting enough sleep also means that your muscles won’t get a chance to fully rebuild themselves. And if you’re only getting about 5 hours of sleep each night, then chances are you’ll be too tired to exercise properly the next day. Try to get around 7-8 hours of sleep every night if you want to build muscle.