How to Retain Muscle When Cutting Weight

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Whether you’re weight cutting for competition or simply as a means of weight maintenance for health purposes, it’s just as necessary to retain lean muscle during the process.

While some believe that it’s not possible to retain muscle, or even build muscle, during a phase of weight loss, the opposite happens to be true. What follows will be a discussion about the best ways to do so!

Tips to Retain Muscle During a Weight Cut

Contrary to popular belief, it’s more than possible to retain, if not build muscle during a weight cutting phase. While there are several ways to retain muscle during a weight cut, what follows will be a discussion surrounding four main tips and strategies.

Below are four tips to increase muscle retention when cutting weight:

  • Increase Protein Intake
  • Don’t Avoid Cardio
  • Continue to Lift Weights
  • Prioritize Rest & Recovery

Increase Protein Intake

In order to retain lean muscle, or even build lean muscle, during a weight cut, protein intake needs to be of the utmost priority. If your goal is to simply retain muscle, aim for 1.0-1.2 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight. For those seeking to gain muscle, increasing intake to 2.0-2.4 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight.

While it may seem counterintuitive to increase food intake (protein, in this case) during a weight cut, it’s important to understand the necessity of protein as the building block of life. Not only does it allow our bodies to function but it’s imperative for survival.

In addition to its health benefits, protein is also known to be somewhat of an appetite suppressant; an ideal tool when trying to cut weight. In short, sufficient protein intake isn’t only recommended, it’s necessary.

Don’t Avoid Cardio

While some understand cardio to be a tool for caloric expenditure, others see it as a detriment to muscle retention. In other words, some have a false notion that cardio deteriorates muscles. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Not only should cardio be used as a tool for caloric expenditure during a weight cut but it should also be used as a means of muscle stimulation and activation. In fact, new research suggests that exercise (both cardio and resistance training) in combination with caloric restriction aids in the prevention of muscle loss due to caloric restriction.

Even for those that continue to presume that cardio is ineffective at muscle preservation during a caloric deficit phase, it should be, at the very least, understood to be a great recovery mechanism after a resistance training workout.

As you’ll soon learn, recovery is just as important for muscle retention than muscle-building activities themselves.

Continue to Lift Weights

Because it’s universally known that muscle weighs more than fat, people assume that resistance training should be avoided during a weight cut. Again, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

While you certainly want to shy away from high-intensity bouts of weight training due to the lack of available energy when in a caloric deficit, you should still continue to lift weights in order to retain strength and lean muscle. In fact, strength training has been shown through research to be just as effective at burning calories as it is at building muscle.

while we could go into detail regarding the science behind this, it largely comes down to an increase in metabolism, thus making it easier to burn calories and shed fat.

Providing that you’re consuming enough protein, resistance training is an extremely effective way to retain or even build muscle during a weight cut.

Prioritize Rest & Recovery

Although exercise is essential for maintaining muscle and shedding fat, it’s just as essential to allow for optimal rest and recovery in between each session. While recovery comprises a multifaceted approach inclusive of diet, recovery techniques, and hydration, it truly comes down to adequate rest.

Just as muscles need activation to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, so does it need rest to trigger muscle repair. With that said, ensure that you’re getting restful sleep each night, execute proper recovery techniques before and after each workout, and make sure you’re diet is comprised of high-quality whole foods abundant in protein.

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