A workout phrase that is familiar in bodybuilding circles is that of cutting and bulking: When you are cutting, you are losing weight; when you are bulking you are gaining it. Anyone can apply the idea of this cycle to their workout routine -- you need not be a bodybuilder. The reason the idea of separating cutting and bulking exists has to do with the belief that weight loss or weight gain take both fat and muscle in one direction: Either you are gaining fat and muscle or losing both. But to cut without losing too much strength is still a possibility.
When you lose weight, you typically are losing it through the loss of fat or the loss of muscle mass. This weight loss is accomplished through breaking down the body’s energy stores into usable energy. When you exercise, your body is using stored energy in the form of muscle mass in addition to fat, thereby causing a loss of weight but also a loss of strength. This process is called catabolism. To lose weight without losing strength, the goal is to focus on fat loss while minimizing catabolism.
Cardio exercises are the most effective at removing fat stores. After approximately 30 minutes of anaerobic activity, your body begins to eat up its fat stores, which leads to overall fat loss throughout the body. But the longer you persist in your cardio exercise, the more catabolism affects your muscles. The key to losing fat while minimizing strength loss is to perform cardio just enough to spur fat burning without breaking into the catabolic zone, which occurs roughly after one hour of aerobic activity. Keep your cardio workouts at around 45 minutes.
Strength training builds muscle mass. Adding one or two strength-training sessions to your workout routine will allow you to regain lost muscle due to cardio activities. The addition of lean muscle will also recruit more calories, helping your body avoid undesirable fat storage. Leave one day for rest between strength-training days.
Diet, as in what you eat and when you eat, can help you lose weight and sustain muscle. After a cardio session, immediately eat simple carbohydrates, as doing so will stop the catabolic process that cardio exercise instigates. Add to these simple carbohydrates some lean protein so that your body can restore lost muscle mass. A suitable post-cardio meal is low-fat cheese and crackers or a turkey sandwich. After a strength-training session, prepare a similar meal, but with more protein. During a strength-training session, your muscles are breaking down and will need post-workout repair via protein consumption. A suitable post-strength-training meal is chicken breast and potatoes or a fish fillet with rice. For consistent weight loss, cut 500 calories from your current diet, replacing unhealthy foods with carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats.
- Medical News Today: What Is Metabolism?
- Sports Nutrition: Energy Metabolism and Exercise; Ira Wolinsky and Judy Driskell
Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.