So, you’re dropping sizes, the needle on the weighing scale is shifting towards the left, you’re fitting into all those old, skinny jeans, and rocking the bodycon dresses too. Life is happy again and all’s well in your weight-loss paradise. Or is it?
There is room for second thoughts here simply because there are no free lunches in life folks–and unfortunately, this much sought-after weight loss comes with its set of drawbacks.
In most cases, the decrease in weight is due to fat loss (hurray!) and muscle loss (nayyy!) BOTH. Now, fat loss is like your crush, whose attention you crave–but muscle loss is like that unwanted third-wheel, who simply refuses to leave you alone with your crush. Let’s break that down:
First, fat loss
Let’s start by revising this important chapter from school-level science: your body burns the food you eat and uses the energy produced to perform different functions. When during your weight-loss journey, you decide to not eat enough food in a bid to cut down your calorie intake, your body doesn’t get sufficient energy.
What next? Well your body attacks fats—or energy reserves—to meet its energy requirements and hence, you lose the much-detested fat reserves. We say detested because an excess of fat in the body can be quite problematic, not just because it impacts the way you look, but in terms of your looks, but also your health.
However, your body may not always comply.
Enter: Muscle loss
Dr. Vikram Sharma, consultant, sports medicine, Fortis Escorts Hospital, Jaipur defines this as the loss in the volume of the muscles that support your posture and other bodily requirements on a daily basis. This loss occurs when the body starts breaking down muscle instead of fat to meet its energy requirements.
FYI, this isn’t good news because the muscles prone to this attack aren’t just the ones that help you move. Muscle loss also puts your heart and other vital organs are at risk.
But why do we lose muscle?
“Not using certain muscles enough, a sedentary lifestyle, and improper nutrition are some of the leading causes of muscle loss,” says Dr Sharma.
In fact, your exercise, combined with that calorie deficit can make you lose muscle instead of fat. “Exercise burns calories that are generated by the body by burning the stored fat, carbohydrates, and protein from muscles. But if your diet includes lesser proteins, more muscle loss will occur,” points out Kamal Mujtaba, fitness coach at Cult Fitness Centre.
“Excess of exercise can also contribute to muscle loss,” he adds. This is because the body mistakes the excess workout for stress and enters the survival mode, and your brain signals the body to conserve fat for energy and starts breaking down muscle instead.
So, how can you tell whether you’re losing fat or muscle?
Obviously, you can’t peep inside your body to figure out what’s going on. But your body has its own ways to tell you. Here are a few tell-tale signs that indicate that you’re losing muscle instead of fat:
1. You’re losing more weight than expected
Ideally you should lose 500 grams to one kilo in a week. However, if you’re losing more weight than that, then it could be a sign of muscle loss. That’s because water weight and fat loss alone can’t possibly contribute to a sudden five-kilo drop in a week.
2. You’re cranky
Your muscular system is linked to the nervous system—just like all other systems in the body. So a hit on the muscular system is likely to show up as crankiness, mood swings, and difficulty in concentrating.
3. Your workouts are also getting affected
Working out can lead to muscular tears. On top of that, if your muscles are being used for energy, you’ll obviously not be able to perform to the best of your capabilities at the gym.
4. Your workouts leave you feeling weak and sluggish
Exercising releases endorphins in the body, which in turn makes you happy. So, if you leave the gym feeling sluggish and weak in addition to feeling tired all day, muscle loss could be the reason.
5. You’ve hit a weight loss plateau
If you’re working out regularly and are maintaining a calorie deficit, but still not losing weight, it means you’ve hit a weight-loss plateau. Muscle loss could be one of the reasons behind this. Muscles are metabolically faster compared to fat ,i.e., when they are engaged, they burn more calories to perform various functions. So, their breakdown also means that you burn less calories and usher you into a weight loss plateau.
6. Fortunately, you can prevent muscle loss
“Being physically active, following a healthy lifestyle, and taking a balanced diet with adequate amounts of protein, calcium, and essential vitamins, are some of the ways to prevent muscle loss,” says Mujtaba.
Additionally, Dr Sharma suggests not going overboard with your workouts and getting adequate rest and sleep in order to give muscles and tissues enough time to repair themselves.