How to Prevent Muscle Loss When Dieting

Stop Muscle Catabolism Like This

Prevent Muscle Loss

How to Get Lean and Prevent Muscle Loss

When people lose fat, they often lose muscle too. Sometimes a lot. But this can be minimized or even prevented entirely. Here's what we know so far about how to prevent muscle loss when dieting:

  1. Use a moderate caloric deficit. Around 300 to 500 calories below maintenance usually prevents the muscle loss associated with more extreme deficits.
  2. Lift weights or do some type of resistance training while you're dieting. This makes your body think, "Hey, I need to use that muscle tissue. Better hang on to it."
  3. Consume plenty of protein. Getting close to a gram per pound of body weight works for most people needing to drop 10 or 20 pounds.

Now, a newer study has added one more thing to the muscle-retention handbook: get plenty of sleep. Inadequate sleep while dieting can cause a shocking amount of muscle loss. Here's why and what to do about it.

Researchers took 10 overweight people and put them all on the same two-week, reduced-calorie diet. They were divided into two groups:

  • Group 1 was allowed to sleep 8.5 hours a night.
  • Group 2 was allowed to sleep only 5.5 hours a night.

(Yeah sure, ten people is a small sample size, but let's give the researchers a break here. YOU try to recruit hundreds of people to go on a diet, go to bed in a university sleep laboratory, and have their sleep deprived.)

  • Group 1, who got a good night's sleep, lost about 3 pounds of fat and lost a bit over 3 pounds of muscle on average. That sucks, but it was worse for the other group.
  • Group 2, the sleep deprived group, lost about 1 pound of fat and lost more than 5 pounds of muscle! That's means they lost 55% less fat and 60% more muscle than the group that got adequate sleep.

Well, first, they didn't lift weights or eat enough protein, but the researchers were focused on other things.

They pointed to "a shift in relative substrate utilization toward oxidation of less fat." Basically, sleep deprived subjects couldn't put their dietary fat and carbs to work, they experienced an enhanced neuroendocrine adaptation to caloric restriction, and they burned less fat and more muscle.

You probably eat plenty of protein and lift weights. But how's your sleep? Although you're somewhat protected from muscle loss, insufficient sleep may still be causing you to lose too much muscle when you decide to get ripped.

In the study, both groups consumed the same number of calories, yet the sleep deprived group lost less fat and more muscle. We can assume the same thing would happen to active, protein-eating folks, just to a lesser extent.

So if you want your diet to work better, if you want to lose more fat while retaining muscle, get a full night's sleep. If you need help, look into a supplement that helps you relax before bed and get deeper sleep. Biotest Z-12™ is the top choice.


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  1. Nedeltcheva AV et al. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med. 2010 Oct 5;153(7):435-41.
Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram