Am I Losing Fat or Muscle

What Causes Fat loss?

Weight loss, generally speaking, happens when there are more calories being burned than there are calories being taken in. So in terms of losing fat, the best method is to maintain a healthy diet with appropriate caloric intake in combination with an exercise regimen that will effectively burn calories. The key is to keep in mind that 1 to 2 pounds a week is the most weight loss a person should undergo in a week. Losing any more weight than that at one time is unhealthy because some of it will be muscle loss and will likely be gained back just as quickly as it was lost.


What Causes Muscle Loss?

The cause of muscle loss can be boiled down to either lack of muscle use, inappropriate muscle use, or inappropriate fueling. Simply put if you don’t use it you lose it, so the best way to maintain or gain muscle is to continue or increase muscle contractions (via exercise). If you don’t engage in physical activity you become weaker and your muscles lose definition, tone, and size. In extreme cases, such as prolonged inactivity from being bedridden, if your muscles aren’t used they may undergo atrophy. Atrophy is literally the withering away of muscle tissue! In terms of using your muscles “inappropriately” there is such a thing as “too much cardio.” It honestly takes a lot to get to that point, but point is that excessive amounts of cardiovascular training burn fat and can even get to where your body begins tearing down muscle to compensate for the lost energy that it needs. In that same respect, if you don’t fuel your body with the necessary levels of nutrients and calories, your body will begin to break down your muscle during physical activity in order to fuel itself.


The Relationship Between Muscle Loss, Fat Loss, and Everything In Between

In an ideal world, an individual trying to gain 6 pounds of pure 100% muscle or lose 6 pounds of pure 100% fat would be able to do it. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that things just don’t work that way. There are varying percentages on the amount of fat and the amount of muscle you lose or gain with every pound. This depends on the individual, their genetic make-up and how they eat and exercise. Just to simplify a bit, if a person gains 3 pounds, two of those pounds might be muscle while one pound is fat. On the flip side, if a person loses 3 pounds it could be 1.5 pounds muscle and 1.5 pounds fat lost.

Let’s also keep in mind that there is a thing called water weight. So day to day a person’s weight might fluctuate depending on how hydrated they are. So when looking at the scale it is important to remember that numbers can be a bit deceiving. If someone measures themselves at the beginning of the week and the end of the week and has somehow lost 4 pounds without changing diet or activity habits, that person might simply be dehydrated! Revisiting the topic at hand, be aware that a lot of components go into losing “weight.” When measuring weight you have to take into consideration that you are constantly fluctuating in terms of hydration. The fact is that weight loss or gain won’t be purely fat or muscle, but a mix of the two. To make sure you are losing “the right weight” (fat), it is important that you provide your body with the right amount of nutrients. While protein is often emphasized in discussions about physical activity it is important that you take in the proper amount of all macronutrients. That’s a topic for another article!


How to Tell What You Are Losing

To know if you are losing water, muscle, or fat bodily awareness can provide substantial assistance. For example. If you notice that you can’t lift as much as you previously could while you have been losing weight, it is likely that you lost muscle. If you measure your weight once at the beginning and once at the end of the week and noticed that you have lost three or four pounds, but did not change your diet or physical activity, it is likely that you may have lost water weight. One of the best ways to know if you are losing what you want is to get your body fat checked. You don’t need to spend $100 on getting an appointment with a BodPod; skinfold measurements with calipers are a great option. Just make sure you are employing the use of someone who is trained in taking these measurements! We offer this service and it takes about 15 minutes. Contact us to set this up! If you want to work on losing the “right kind of weight” and having more reliable ways of detecting fat loss, sign up for a FREE No Obligation Consultation so we can help you get there!

Have you tried losing weight but nothing is working? Would you describe yourself as a “professional dieter?” If so, you may have metabolic damage. Check out our blog post on this topic now!


Dominique Francis

Exercise Science Intern for Elite Nutrition and Performance


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