You workout to achieve a goal: to be healthier and fitter. How you achieve that goal might look different from the next person; some of us might need to lose weight and some of us might need to gain some weight. The word “weight” however, is a very vague term. Do you want to gain weight by gaining fat? Or do you want to lose weight by losing your lean muscle? Most likely the answer to those questions is a resounding NO.

Most of us would like to lose our excess fat and keep (or even increase) our lean muscle. Unfortunately, when a person is trying to lose weight, there is a combined loss of fat and muscle. Losing your hard-earned muscle can be very frustrating. There are many reasons why you might be losing muscle when you are trying to lose weight and most of them are related to what you are doing outside the box.

How to know if you are losing muscle and not fat?

There are a couple of ways to tell if your weight loss can be credited to fat loss or muscle loss. One of them is losing too much weight, too fast. Who would have thought that would be a bad thing right? But if you are trying to lose fat while keeping your muscle, rapid weight loss is not a good sign. Your body can only shed a certain amount of fat before it starts turning to muscle so there is a chance that some of your weight came from muscle.

Another way to tell is by measuring your performance in the box. If you are not able to lift the same weight as before, you are not PR’ing your lifts or you run out of steam during the WOD, then you might have lost muscle and that is affecting your performance. Obviously, those are subjective ways to know if you have lost muscle mass. If you want to know for sure, I recommend you get an InBody scan, with the results you will be able to tell exactly where the lost weight is coming from.

You’ve lost muscle mass, why?

Like I said before, if you are working out consistently and still seeing muscle loss, the reason might have to do with what you are doing outside of the box. For starters, you might be eating too few calories. Eating less calories than it takes to maintain your basal metabolism (i.e., the minimum energy your body needs at rest for things like breathing and keeping your organs going), will have your body burning both fat and muscle for fuel. Make sure that you are fueling your body to support not only your daily activities but also your workouts. That includes post-workout recovery so remember those protein shakes!

Which bring me to another reason you might be losing muscle: you are not eating enough protein. When we are trying to lose weight, we need to cut the calories we consume overall, but we need to increase our protein intake. Why? Because protein gives the building blocks that our muscles need to grow. If you’re not getting enough protein, you will lose even more muscle. So, while you should be in a calorie deficit to lose fat, you should be focusing on healthy whole foods, with a healthy amount of protein. Make sure that you are eating enough fish, lean meat, eggs, dairy and tofu.

Finally, you might be losing muscle because you are not getting enough sleep. If you’re not sleeping, your hormones won’t function properly. Most likely you will have high cortisol levels, which increases the chance that you’ll store carbs as fat. What’s more, because you’re tired you won’t be able to work out as hard. That means you won’t build as much muscle and over time may even lose the bit you’ve got. I’ve said it before and will say it again: get more sleep!

Remember that a good nutrition is the base to achieve all of your health and fitness goals. If you feel that you are not building the muscle mass you want or if you feel you are losing muscle mass, talk to one of the coaches at Celebration CrossFit. We will point you in the right direction to help you get back to your gains.

By coach Keren