If you’ve been hitting the gym and building up muscle but still have a way to go in shifting pockets of fat in stubborn areas — such as around your midsection — you may wonder if it’s possible to lose weight and slim down while keeping your muscle mass. Is it possible to shred without your body eating into your muscle tissues and destroying all that hard work you’ve put in?
After all, when your goal may be to look as toned or beefed-up as possible, you certainly won’t want an outcome where you look like an emaciated marathon runner with practically no muscle definition at all. Being skinny works for long-distance runners because it means they’re carrying less weight and are therefore more efficient — and they’re less likely to suffer injuries because they’re putting too much pressure on their bodies with additional weight. But while that’s great for them, it’s not the look many fitness and health-minded people are after.
So what can you do to slash your body fat and keep your hard-earned muscle? Consider the following:
Fasted cardio essentially means doing a short workout not long after you get up and before you eat anything. During the night, your glycogen and other stores — including your levels of insulin and blood sugar — will have been depleted. So once you get going with no new fuel in your body, your body turns to fat stores as the only readily available energy source. It’s important not to overdo it with fasted cardio, however, as too much can result in muscle loss, through catabolic metabolism where compounds such as proteins break down. Aim for 20 minutes to half an hour or 40 minutes maximum. Anything over that risks ruining your muscle mass — and that’s enough cardio anyway.
To preserve your muscle mass as you diet to cut your body fat and yet continue to work out, it’s essential to give it what it needs, and lots of it — protein. Protein is the essential element required for muscle repair and growth. That doesn’t mean you have to spend all day in the kitchen, cooking up all kinds of high-protein feasts. Instead, you can use handy protein powder that’s now widely available and make protein shakes you can bring with you anywhere. Plus, you can top-up your protein intake by carrying a few protein bars as well.
Many of us who are trying to get rid of stubborn body fat look suspiciously at carbs — to have them or not and which are the good and bad ones? Not all are bad, and your body needs carbs as a source of energy. In general, avoid any refined carbs, such as white bread, and stick with more natural ones, like wholegrain and wholewheat pasta and bread. It’s best to have carbs as early in the day as possible, as well as before and after workouts so you burn them up and they won’t be as likely to turn into sugars and be stored as fat when you’re sitting around watching TV late into the night.
Then there’s the old enemy of fats. Should you cut them out entirely while you’re shredding and trying to keep your muscle mass? No. Good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) like you’ll find in avocados and nuts are vital to keeping your body working properly, while bad ones (saturated and trans fats, such as butter and fried foods) will do you no good at all and only reverse the gains you’re trying to achieve.
Keep up this wholesome and healthy approach for a month at least and see if the fat comes off while your muscles remain in peak condition and maybe even get bigger.