People work out for a variety of reasons. The primary ones behind donning that sweatsuit and heading to the gym are usually to lose fat and to build strength and muscle. Sometimes, these two fitness goals can clash with each other. Things we do to lose fat may also cause us to lose muscle mass.

Losing muscle is bad because it lowers your strength and stamina, reducing your ability to perform. Worse, it may even cause your metabolism to slow, making it difficult for you to burn the very fat you want to lose and easier for you to put weight back on.

How do you lose fat, without losing vital muscle tissue? Read on as we tell you how with these 6 tips.

1. Ditch fad diets

Fad diets are one of the things we do that can cause us to unintentionally lose muscle mass. Fad diets appear to work in the short term because they severely restrict calories. What really happens though, is your body loses water, not fat.

To compensate for the loss in calories, the body begins to siphon nutrients from your muscles, causing them to break down. If you want to go on a diet to lose weight, it may be best to consult with a nutritionist. Together, the two of you can come up with a healthier, more balanced diet that restricts calories, but doesn’t deprive your body of nutrition.

2. Consume more protein

Protein is the building block of your muscle tissue. It stands to reason that if you want to maintain and build muscle, you should consume more of it. Protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs and some legumes.

Having proteins is important because they contain amino acids. Amino acids, like Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAA, are important in the building and retention of muscle tissue as well as recovery from workouts. You can get your stores from a BCAA supplement, or directly from your food if you want to increase your levels of this amino acid. Which form you choose to consume them and the proportions will be dependent on what you deem works best for you. It’s also best to consume a protein shake right after your workout to assist with muscle repair and building.

3. Combine sensible diet with resistance training

Losing weight without losing muscle is a delicate balancing act. Include resistance training in your exercise regime. Resistance training involves the contraction of the skeletal muscles and it has been shown to improve muscle protein synthesis, or the rate at which muscles grow. More muscle mass means your metabolism will be higher, which will in turn help you to burn more fat.

Diet is important here too. To lose weight, you have to restrict calories. The balancing act occurs when you have to consume less calories than you are burning, but not starve your body of nutrients.

As stated above, you also have to up your protein intake. Experts recommend 1.2 grams of protein daily if you’re attempting to maintain muscle mass and between 2 and 2.4 grams for every kilogram of bodyweight if you want to build more. Also, don’t skimp on your carbs. Low carb diets force the body to use your muscles’ energy stores.

4. Rest and recover

Give your body time to recover between workouts. When you exercise your muscles, you cause little tears in them. Repairing these small injuries is how your body actually builds muscle.

Now imagine not resting adequately between exercise days. This fitness expert thinks that not getting enough rest is the biggest challenge for those trying to lose weight and build muscle. You actually short circuit this process and run the risk for long-term injury.

You need to get enough sleep as well. Attempting high-intensity workouts without getting the kind of rejuvenation sleep provides causes your body to start over-producing cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that encourages the body to store fat. It also reduces muscle growth. We can’t emphasize this enough, less muscle means lower metabolism, which means less fat is being burnt. You’ll find it more difficult to lose weight.

5. Know the signs of muscle loss

It can be helpful to know what muscle loss looks and feels like so that you can prevent it. If you begin to experience any of these it’s time to take some reparative steps:

  • Too rapid weight loss
  • Not being able to make it through your usual workout because you are too tired
  • Your workout tends to focus mainly on cardio without strength or resistance training
  • Your body fat percentage remains the same, even if you’re losing weight
  • You’re hovering at the same weight lifting range without progress

6. Take preventative measures as you age

Muscle loss is unavoidable as you age. Age-related muscle loss is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia degrades muscle quality by affecting the muscle build-up and tear-down cycle. You should know that severe sarcopenia tends to shorten your life. There are some steps you can take to lessen its effects on your body as you get older.

  1. Get regular exercise. Resistance training with light weights, aerobic exercise and walking are best for people over the age of 55. Exercise has been shown to even reverse muscle loss in some instances.
  2. Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in Vitamin D, Creatine and Omega 3 fatty acids
  3. Reduce inflammation. This is done largely through diet
  4. Reduce stress as far as possible
  5. Regularly consume proteins

Maintaining and building muscle mass therefore isn’t as simple as deciding to start an exercise routine. Some thought has to go into this. If you want to lose weight as you build muscle, you have to be doubly careful, since a diet that is too severe can cause muscle loss and your metabolism to drop. But not restricting your calories adequately enough can frustrate your weight loss goals.

We’ve shown you how to go about striking the delicate balance between managing your diet and incorporating enough of the right kinds of exercise so you can effectively prevent muscle loss.