- Resistance training
- Set your deficit
- Protein target split across 4 meals / 4 hours apart
- Measure progress, adjust deficit if needed
- Consistently sleep at least 7 hours a night
How To Minimise Muscle Loss During A Diet
The very simple answer is resistance training and protein at each meal. If you are not lean, don’t want to track food intake closely and your goal is to drop some body fat whilst minimising muscle loss, this is probably fine as a guide.
In nearly all cases of dieting and weight loss, the goal is actually to reduce body fat mass whilst maintaining as much muscle mass as possible. The loss of some muscle and strength during a diet is thought of as a reality of having a reduced amount of energy available for a sustained amount of time.
How to predict your rate of weight loss
A fairly consistent recommendation is to aim for a body weight reduction of about 0.5-1% per week during a diet, to try and minimise any potential muscle and strength loss. The larger the deficit being the predictor of more muscle loss.
First you need to have a good idea of your maintenance Calories. You could use an online calculator or track your food/drink intake and body weight for a couple of weeks. If your weight is fairly stable, you will have your average maintenance Calories.
It’s a bit of a “use it or lose it” story with muscle. Continuing a resistance training program whilst dieting is more important than nutrition when it comes to minimising reductions in muscle and strength.
If dieting, the amount of protein consumed should be higher than someone focussing on muscle gain or re-comp. This is due to the Calorie restriction during a diet meaning that less carbs are available for energy and some protein may be broken down and used in place.
Fats and carbs
After choosing the size of the deficit you are going to aim for and your protein intake target, whatever Calories you have left to budget will go to carbs and fats. You probably don’t want to go below 25% of total Calories from fat, then the rest would probably be best spent on carbs as fuel for training. Remembering that training is most important for muscle retention. However personal preference really can determine these ratios.
Sleep and recovery will be important, not only so you feel as good as possible whilst dieting and can train well. It could also play a role in how much weight loss in a diet is fat and how much is muscle. A study of overweight and sedentary adults had groups with a sleep opportunity of 5.5 hours or 8.5 hours per night. The short sleep time resulted in 60% more weight loss from fat free mass compared to the longer sleep group. In the short sleep group, 25% of weight loss was fat mass, whilst in the longer sleep group 56% of weight loss was fat mass. These groups were not resistance training, however the results would certainly encourage giving yourself the opportunity to sleep longer.
Have a resistance training program and stick to it.
Know or calculate predicted maintenance Calories.
Spread protein intake out across your meals, with probably at least 4 meals and close to 30 grams of protein per meal as minimum.
Monitor progress with a number of methods, scale weight, hip and waist measurements, progress photos. Also monitor training performance, mood, sleep and take all into account regularly.