Fat Loss or Muscle Loss
When you’re following a weight-loss plan, few things are more encouraging than seeing the number on the scale go down. Unfortunately, many people who see weight-loss success wind up losing muscle along with fat.
Scitec Nutrition Athlete Emi Roberti - It is very important to understand the difference to make sure the weight stays off post-diet, and to ensure better health and energy levels in the long term.
So, how do you know if you’re losing fat or muscle?
Here are a few suggestions:
YOU’RE ONLY DOING CARDIO
One of the best ways to know whether you’re losing fat or muscle is to examine your exercise routine. If you’re doing a lot of cardio, but you’re not adding strength training, there’s a good chance any weight you lose will be around 50% muscle and 50% fat (though you’ll lose some water weight as well, to begin with).
Assuming you’d like to keep your muscle, make sure to lift weights a minimum of two days per week, and hit all the large muscle groups (e.g. glutes, quads, hamstrings, back and chest). When you use those muscles, you generate greater recruitment of muscle fibres, and you get a better bang for your buck in terms of energy cost. In simplistic terms words, prioritizing larger muscle groups over smaller ones (like the biceps and triceps) results in more calories burned, both during and after your workout.
YOUR ENERGY LEVELS ARE LOW
I would not use energy as a true measure for this, because diet, sleep and stress can play a large factor in this.
USE PROGRESS PICTURES
One easy, albeit subjective (unless you have a coach ), way to tell if you’re losing fat or muscle is to take progress photos regularly and a pattern should start to appear. It’s important you use the same lighting poses and time of day. I always recommend first thing in the morning before consuming food, this way if you had anything that causes bloating it will not affect the picture. According to dieting, you may look flat, but this is ok if you are using a coach to advise on contest prep.
YOU USE A BIOELECTRICAL IMPEDANCE SCALE
This method sounds fancy, but it’s pretty straightforward. In fact, many standard bathroom scales already have them built-in, and you can order a bioelectrical impedance scale online. Essentially, you step on the bioelectrical impedance scale just like you would a regular scale, and the device measures your body composition through electrical impulses. Muscles are highly conductive compared to fat. Therefore, if the scale registers faster electrical impulses, you likely have a higher amount of lean muscle mass. You can check in from time to time to see how your body composition changes and ensure you’re not losing muscle mass.
YOU USE BODY FAT CALLIPERS
For an objective, low-cost measurement, try a body fat calliper (also known as a skinfold calliper). This is a classic, old-school tool that measures the thickness of your subcutaneous fat (i.e. the fat beneath your skin) in different areas of your body. Typically, women are measured in the triceps, hips and either the thigh or the abdomen, while men are measured in the chest, abdomen and thigh, though this can vary. Then, the various measurements are plugged into an equation that offers an estimated breakdown of your body fat and lean muscle percentage.
A drawback to body fat callipers is they’re tricky to use on yourself, so you may need a fitness professional to help you. Thankfully, many gyms have body fat callipers available, and you may be able to set up a quick skinfold test with one of the trainers. Keep in mind the accuracy of your measurements depends largely on how much experience the trainer has in performing skinfold tests.
If you go the body fat calliper route, try to get measured on the same day at the same time, roughly every 30 days. The results will likely look better post-workout, but they won’t necessarily be accurate.