By: Greg Pignataro
When most people say something like, “I want to lose weight,” what they really mean is, “I want to lose fat.” This is a key distinction, because simply decreasing the number on the scale won’t tell you whether the weight you’ve lost is muscle (bad), fat (good), or water/waste (temporary).
Why lose fat? Doing so can increase your levels of energy, decrease your risk of adverse events like heart attacks and hypertension, and increase your overall physical performance for activities of daily living and athletic endeavors.
Losing muscle, on the other hand, can decrease your levels of energy and make you feel weak and tired. So, it is a good idea to prioritize fat loss over muscle loss.
How do we go about doing this? According to Dr. Bill Campbell, Director of the Performance & Physique Enhancement Laboratory at the University of South Florida (also one of the foremost researchers in weight loss in athletes), there are three key principles that must be followed. At Grindset, we call these the...
Three Golden Rules of Fat Loss
1. Weight loss must be slow.
The ideal rate of weight loss is 0.5% of body weight per week. For example, this means a 200 pound person can only lose 1 pound per week. While this may not seem like much, weight loss at this pace ensures your body doesn’t perceive itself as starving. When food intake is restricted too much, your body sees this as a threat to its mortal wellbeing, and starts to hold on to the energy-rich, easy to maintain fat stores while shedding the energy-hogging, hard to maintain muscle. This is the opposite of what most people are trying to achieve.
To ensure that the vast majority of weight lost is fat, make sure that weight is lost slowly. Even losing a half pound of fat per week will lead to over 25 pounds of fat loss in a year. That much loss will make a noticeable positive difference in anyone’s appearance, energy levels, and physical capabilities.
Final note, sometimes you can experience fat loss despite weight gain, as with Instagram user yolaforthewin. She is 13 pounds heavier in the photo on the right, with the gain in weight coming from increasing her muscle mass. Clearly, she has also lost fat despite the number on the scale going up. Losing fat while gaining muscle in this manner is known as “body recomposition.”
2. You must continue (or start) to strength train.
Strength training provides a stimulus to your body to build muscle rather than break it down. When decreasing food intake while strength training, your body is less likely to shed muscle. However, the benefits of continuing to strength train will only be realized if you follow the third golden rule.
3. You must consume an adequate amount of protein.
The ideal amount of protein to consume when trying to lose fat is 0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. This is true whether or not you are trying to gain muscle. For context, that means a 200 pound person will need roughly 140 grams of protein per day. This is quite a bit more than most people are used to eating. However, when your body receives the strength training stimulus telling it to build muscle, it needs something from which to build this muscle. Protein is that building block. Further, your body breaks down protein more slowly than fat or carbohydrates, so increasing protein intake will help control your hunger, thus making it easier to lose fat.
If you follow these three rules, it is certainly possible to build muscle and lose fat during the same time period. While your body cannot undergo both of those unique metabolic processes at the exact same moment in time, it certainly can do both throughout the day. That can lead to impressive results like the ones in this article. This photo shows a man who lost only 4 pounds of fat while gaining only 3 pounds of muscle. Clearly, when the weight lost is pure fat, a little goes a long way, and a lot goes a loooooong way!
Jake Coyle, the Founder of GRINDSET FITNESS, is a certified National Academy of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer, a Corrective Exercise Specialist, a Precision Nutrition Nutritionist, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise & Wellness, minor in Nutrition from Arizona State University.