It is not easy to lose weight. Many people suffer from the diet changes and intense workout routines that most weight-loss programs include.
In general, people start dieting in order to lose fat and gain muscle. If done properly, following a diet can lead to you having your dream body – lean, strong, and healthy. It is important to note that achieving this is a long process and can take many months (or even years).
However, not everyone gets weight loss right. Some people, at some point in their weight loss journey, begin losing valuable muscle instead of fat. This is a bad situation to be in as our muscles are vital for our movement and function. This means that when we lose muscle, we lose strength and endurance along with it.
So how can you tell when this is happening? We have made a list of six signs that indicate how to know if you’re losing fat or muscle. Let’s take a look.
Why Do You Lose Muscle Instead Of Fat?
Here are the main reasons that you lose muscle rather than fat.
You Are Not Eating Enough Calories
If you reduce the number of calories that you eat per day drastically, it can lead to your body burning muscle instead of fat.
Our bodies need a specific number of calories to maintain what is known as our basal metabolism – this is the minimum energy required by our bodies for basic functions, such as breathing.
When we do not maintain our basal metabolism, our body enters starvation mode. It will start burning both fat and muscle in order to keep functioning.
You Are Not Fueling Your Body With Enough Protein
Your body also burns muscle when it is not getting enough protein. The nutrients found in protein-rich foods, such as eggs and nuts, offer all the amino acids that we need in order to maintain and build muscle. This is why you will often see bodybuilders drinking protein shakes before or after a workout.
You Are Not Working Your Muscles Enough
You should be lifting weights or using your muscles in your workouts. If you don’t use your muscles, your body won’t maintain them or build them. However, it is not essential to lift heavy weights multiple days a week. A good way to work your muscles without having to even go to the gym is by doing body-weight exercises. These include squats, lunges, push-ups, and tricep-dips.
You Are Not Fueling After A Workout
It is extremely important to fuel after a training session. Many people forget to do this, which can result in muscle loss. Food and calories are necessary for muscle repair. If you aren’t repairing your muscles, chances are you will lose them.
You Are Doing Too Much Cardio
Weight-lifting engages all the muscle fibers of the specific muscle group you are training. This means that, after some rest and proper fueling, your muscles will repair and increase in size over time.
Cardio does not build muscle. In fact, if you do too much cardio too often, you will probably begin to lose muscle.
For low-intensity cardio sessions, like walking, your body will burn stored fat to fuel itself. However, for a high-intensity or moderate-intensity workout, such as a quick jog or cycle, your body could burn muscle instead. This is more likely to happen if you are doing cardio while hungry.
You will be able to notice when your cardio training is taking a toll on your muscles. If, after a few weeks, you are not able to sustain the same intensity during your workout as you were in the past, you are probably burning muscle instead of fat.
However, cardio is very important for weight loss. You should be doing about three or four low-intensity cardio sessions, including an easy walk or swim, every week. Additionally, you should also make time for one or two high-intensity sessions, such as a speed-running session. Make sure that you have eaten enough before your workouts!
You Workouts Aren’t Getting Easier/Are Getting Harder
As mentioned, muscle is necessary for our function and movement – they are used to produce force and motion. More so, they are also used by our bodies to maintain our posture and for the movement of vital organs, such as the heart and digestive system.
When you lose muscle mass, you are also losing strength, endurance, and stamina. Your metabolism will also slow down as some muscles are used to burning fat.
All of these factors contribute to your body getting tired more quickly and easily during workouts. The more muscle you burn, the harder your training will get. This is why you will notice that your sessions don’t get any easier, even though you train frequently. In fact, your sessions will probably get harder.
You Constantly Feel Tired And Sluggish
If you are overtraining or undereating (or both), your body will not be able to perform at its best ability. You’ll be tired during your workouts and start doing less and less for each session. Eventually, you will not be working your muscles enough and they will have less chance to repair after each training session. This will lead to muscle loss.
When you engage in weight training, your muscles form tiny tears in them that repair themselves when you rest. However, if you don’t give your body enough time to heal, these tears will not repair and your muscles won’t grow. In fact, they might even waste away.
If you always feel tired, it might be a good idea to track your activities. For example, if you could normally run 5 km in one day, but you have recently only been able to complete 2 km, you should make a note of this and monitor it. If you don’t notice any changes after a few weeks, your body might be burning muscle.
You Are Maintaining The Same Body Fat Percentage
A good way to tell if you are losing muscle or fat is to have your body fat measured. Every month or so, make a note of your body fat. If you realize that you are losing weight, but your body fat percentage is staying the same, you are more than likely burning muscle.
How Much Body Fat Should You Have?
Body fat is part of our body composition, along with muscle and bone. It is the total amount of fat in the body compared to body weight. For example, if you have 20 pounds of fat in your body and you weigh 100 pounds, you have 20% body fat.
Fat is required by our bodies to function. We need a certain amount of fat in our body to absorb certain vitamins and to regulate heat. Women need a minimum of 10 to 13% body fat for healthy functioning. Men require just 2 to 5 %. However, if you are slightly more than those numbers, your fat is stored and used to protect organs and insulate your body.
Calculating Body Fat
There are four methods that you can use in order to measure your body fat percentage.
The Skinfold Method
A fitness professional or nutritionist will use calipers to pinch your skin at different parts of your body. They then use these measurements in an equation that is used to calculate body fat. This method can have some inaccuracies.
Medical methods are the most accurate way of calculating your body fat percentage. You can go for an underwater weighing or air displacement plethysmography. Although these are accurate methods, they are also very expensive.
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)
An electric signal is sent through your body and is used to estimate your body fat percentage. It does this based on how long the signal takes to pass through your skin and fat.
Online body fat calculator
If you want a fast and cheaper method of finding out your body fat percentage, you can also do an online test. LiveStrong has a body fat calculator that can produce a rough estimate. However, the results that you receive using this method will be the least accurate.
You Are Losing Weight Quickly
Most overweight people can lose weight much quicker than people at a reasonable weight. If you aren’t overweight and notice that the scale numbers are dropping rather rapidly, it could be a sign that you are burning muscle.
Normally, people lose between one and two pounds of fat per week. However, muscle weighs more than fat. This is why you will lose more pounds every week if you are burning muscle instead of fat.
Weight loss is a long and slow process. If you wish to do it right, you should be patient and consistent. If you are burning muscle and the scale shows it, alter your diet and workout routine. Although the scale numbers could be appealing, you are doing more damage to your body than good.
You Are Often Moody
The most common cause of muscle loss is not eating enough food to fuel our body. Our brain uses plenty of calories for basic functions and tasks. This is why not eating enough can have a negative impact on our minds and the way that we think.
If you aren’t eating enough, your mood will more than likely take a turn for the worst. More so, our brain controls our body, meaning that when our brain is foggy, our muscles will not be able to perform at their best either. In other words, our brain has to be in good condition for the rest of our body to be in good condition.
In addition to being cranky all the time, being hungry can cause migraines, lightheadedness, and even nausea. You will not feel up to training if you aren’t feeling well, meaning that your muscles will probably break down even more because of a lack of training.
Your Balance Is Off
As mentioned, your brain requires sufficient calories in order to function properly.
When you don’t eat enough, you may start to notice that your balance isn’t as great as it once was. This is because your brain doesn’t have enough fuel to communicate with your muscles and other body parts. When this happens, it can impact your balance.
You will feel dizzy all the time and sometimes even nauseous. The only way to fix this problem is to start eating sufficient calories.
The Main Causes of Muscle Loss
There are a few causes of muscle loss. The most common reason that people begin to burn muscle instead of fat is because they are not eating enough calories to maintain their basal metabolism. Another common cause is not fueling their muscles with enough protein.
People who don’t work their muscles enough often notice a decrease in muscle mass. In order to increase or maintain our muscles, it is very important to fuel after a workout, which many forget to do. Engaging in too much cardio can lead to our muscles becoming neglected and, in turn, breaking down. Lastly, not getting enough sleep can result in muscle loss.
There are many signs that indicate that you are losing muscle mass instead of fat. If you are losing more weight than you expected or you are losing weight very fast, it could mean that your body is burning into the wrong fuel reserves. You can determine your body fat percentage using the skinfold method, medical methods, a Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis, or with an online tool.
Tiredness and moodiness are often also symptoms of muscle-loss. Your workouts will not become easier even though you are training frequently. In fact, your training sessions may even become harder. When your body is burning muscle, your balance may be slightly off.
If you realize that you are burning muscle instead of fat, it is imperative that you take the necessary steps in order to make a change. Losing muscle could have serious health repercussions on your body when you get older.