Weight Loss Support - fat loss vs. muscle loss

View Full Version : fat loss vs. muscle loss

Cally Callahan
06-29-2010, 10:08 AM
Sorry mods if this should be in a different forum, feel free to move it if you feel necessary.

My riding coach (who is also kind of a fitness mentor for me) commented last night that she thinks I am losing a bit of muscle definition in my legs. She thinks I am losing muscle weight rather than fat weight in this last stage of my weight loss.

My exercise for the week usually consists of 4-5 days per week of riding/barn stuff, 3-4 days per week run 3 miles, and 2 days a week of strength training. My coach is thinking that I should be laying off the cardio work and focusing more on strength training at this stage, but I believe that running has done wonders for my leg strength and stamina.

She also commented that I need to have a post-workout protein snack to recharge my muscles and ensure fat loss. Does anyone know any more about this strategy? I do carry alot of fat in my lower half (definitely pear shaped) and although I have been losing weight my lower half body measurements have not changed too much in the last while.

It would be nice to be able to change my eating plan to target fat loss and minimize muscle loss but I'm not sure where to start or how to do that?

06-29-2010, 10:23 AM
I think this is a good start to learning how to maintain muscle mass. Someone posted the other day regarding post-wkout drinks or food somewhere in this same forum...but I don't think its as simple as just drinking something after a workout to maintain your muscle, our bodies are so complex. Maybe you just need to evaluate your workouts and eating and measure your body fat and then in 30 days measure again since you aren't sure if you've actually lost muscle or fat yet.


06-29-2010, 11:24 AM
What a confusing topic! As koceank29 said, someone raised a similar topic, so I started looking more in to it. Lo and behold, the info out there is confusing and contradictory. The only thing I really learned was that your body will convert to burning muscle if protein isn't available. So the concept of getting protein in after a workout seems to make sense. But I would seriously welcome more evidence in the matter.

Personally, I think recommending you give up cardio is silly. There is proof showing that it is much, much easier to maintain your weight if you remain physically active. And it's much easier to remain physically active if you, well, remain physically active. I certainly wouldn't give it up, not if it works for you and you enjoy it.

Cally Callahan
06-29-2010, 11:35 AM
My coach did not mean cut out cardio entirely, she mentioned tapering off to not more than 40 min at a time (which I do not exceed now) and really spending some time with weights and strength exercises. Switch the focus from burning calories to building strength.

I am just confused because I would like to lose a bit more fat, and I have to watch my calories to do that. But limiting calories seems to cause muscle loss as well. Just for info my calories range from 1100 to 1500 a day.

Lori Bell
06-29-2010, 11:40 AM
Oh poohy. If you are running, and walking and getting enough (protein)calories what your coach is seeing is a majority of fat loss. There should be a little muscle loss too however, your body doesn't NEED the huge muscles you used to have because you are not carrying around 60 extra pounds 24/7.

I would look like a freak of nature if I still had the giant calf muscles I once had when I was lifting 190 extra pounds.

06-29-2010, 11:43 AM
I lost 60 lbs of fat doing marathon training running up to 4 hours at one time.

I gained 2 lbs of muscle during this time. Mostly in my legs I am guessing.

Protein after strength training is good, but remember your body can only absorb so much protein at one time.

06-29-2010, 12:05 PM
The lighter you get, the harder it is maintain your muscle if you're eating at a deficit. If I were in your position, I would increase the intensity of my strength training (making sure to lift heavy, increase weight, include new compound lifts, etc.), get plenty of protein, eat a high-carb, high-protein snack within an hour after each strength training session, and do some high intensity interval sprints in lieu of steady jogging/running for a while.

If health and fitness are your goal muscle is the last thing you want to lose!

Best of luck ;)

06-29-2010, 12:10 PM
Oh, Lori Bell, as always, you make me smile! And you do bring up good points about muscles that I hadn't considered.

Sorry, Cally Callahan, for misunderstanding. Though I'm still confused. Why taper off the cardio? Even if you are burning some muscle right now, that has to eventually stop and even reverse. I mean, there are plenty of athletic people who run more than an hour a day, every day. If extreme cardio = muscle loss, wouldn't these people be severely unhealthy? No, if you're giving your body the nutrition it needs to keep up, you should be fine. So maybe nutrition is more the issue than the routine.

I guess I'm just confused that a person so obviously healthy and in good shape would be told that cardio is in some way setting you back or being a problem. I've seen a lot of reasons given to cut back on cardio, but not because of fear of losing muscle mass. In fact, it almost seems completely backwards.

Some people are die-hard strength trainers. They may have a hard time understanding why you'd want to focus on anything else. To them, cardio should be second to strength training. Maybe your coach is like this? Also, I just realized she is a riding coach, not a fitness trainer per say. Maybe check with a fitness trainer?

I apologize if I'm showing my ignorance here. As I admitted, the whole muscle/cardio/fat/protein thing is still somewhat a mystery to me.

06-29-2010, 12:23 PM
Immediately after STRENGTH training, while I'm still at the gym, my trainer has me eat a fast-acting carb (banana) and a high protein drink. He says this combination is key to building and repairing stressed muscles. Here is a link (http://www.webefit.com/articles_100_199/article_104_afterworkout.html) explaining this.

Also -- for those who do hours of low-intensity cardio, just think about the body size and shape of long-distance runners. They are very lean and have very little muscle mass. Also a link (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/chronic-cardio-2/) to Mark's Daily Apple discussion on chronic cardio.

06-29-2010, 12:28 PM
Immediately after STRENGTH training, while I'm still at the gym, my trainer has me eat a fast-acting carb (banana) and a high protein drink. He says this combination is key to building and repairing stressed muscles. Here is a link (http://www.webefit.com/articles_100_199/article_104_afterworkout.html) explaining this.

I do Greek yogurt with berries or honey. I live for my post-lifting recovery snack :)

06-29-2010, 12:30 PM

What worked for me when I was at my lower weight and final stages was I started calculating my bodyfat percentage. I had a BF scale (but like you, I'm pearshaped and those scales aren't the most accurate). Although not 100% accurate, it does show a trend. I used digital calipers that I purchased and I'd track my BF percentage weekly that way.

Yes, there is going to be some muscle loss, but if you are still struggling with the ba-donkey-donk and getting that to be less jiggly, then you need to keep up the cardio along with the weight training.

I also participated in the "post workout recovery drink" thread others have mentioned. I've never been a competitive athlete or in competitively training, and I never did find any real concrete benefit to a recovery drink in my case. Even when I was concentrating on weights (and cardio) in an effort to lose body fat.

That is what worked for me, and is what I plan to do when I get closer to goal again this time. YMMV.

Cally Callahan
06-29-2010, 12:45 PM
Yes thanks chnkymonkey, that was also something she mentioned. That at this stage it is more important to track body fat than weight. And I completely understand that and smacked myself on the forehead for not realizing it sooner.

I think I will stay on my same food/exercise plan and track my body fat once a week for a few weeks, then when I have an idea of whats going on I can start tweaking.

Truthfully, I really think my coach is getting worried about how much weight I have dropped, so our talks tend to be very focused on how I can work on becoming an athlete (rather than just a skinny lady). She is very encouraging about how I need to focus on strength and building muscle for my riding (and I must say it has been an incredible change so far), as well as eating healthy and staying nourished with whole/real foods. She would not try and sabotage me, rather I am lucky to have her as a sounding board.

Petite Powerhouse
06-30-2010, 12:52 PM
My coach did not mean cut out cardio entirely, she mentioned tapering off to not more than 40 min at a time (which I do not exceed now) and really spending some time with weights and strength exercises. Switch the focus from burning calories to building strength.

It is true that running long distances can break down muscle. Your body strives to make you the perfect running machine, and to do this it wants you to be light. Muscle is heavy, denser than fat, so to streamline itself the body eliminates some muscle. This is why marathon runners typically have a higher body-fat percentage than other athletes. (Note: I said higher than other athletes, not other people.) It is also why I don't just run, but also engage in muscle-building cardio. I also lift heavy and hard.

If you lift heavy to counter the possible effects, you should be fine. You could also do more sprinting and less running. Then again, if you are happy with things as they are, let them be. You are active, and runners' bodies are certainly fit. It's all about what look you are going for, and how well your body fits into your lifestyle. If you have trouble controlling your horse because you really are losing muscle in your legs, then that is one thing. But if your body is helping you meet your goals, then good for you. You're fine.

06-30-2010, 02:36 PM
this is not true.... the reason marathoners and endurance athletes have *lower* muscle mass is because the muscle gets catabolized for fuel...this is what happens to distance runners, ESPECIALLY whho are eating in a calorice deficit. Distance runners typicaly have low body fat levels as well, because body fat is "dead weight" so to speak. Muscle is active, and helps the runner. It is the body fat you want to reduce, not the muscle mass.... however it is tru that even muscle has weight :) and it is in the runners best interest to be as light as possible. When you are a runner, AND in a caloric deficit, it definitely behooves you to put a special emphasis on pre/post workout nutrition, to mitigate the effects of the muscle catabolizing....

Petite Powerhouse
06-30-2010, 06:04 PM
^ That is actually what I was saying, though not well:


Long-distance runners, while fit, do tend to more body fat than, say, sprinters, for this reason. They are, as I say, fit, very lean. They just have a different look to their bodies.

YMMV, of course. There are all sorts of opinions on long-distance running and muscle loss. And I personally do not follow the training advice given at the above link.