I wrote about my eating plan last Monday and had a good seven days: I lost a pound, which is all I want to lose per week until I’m down to 175-180 (from 193). More than a pound a week and I risk losing muscle mass instead of fat, and I don’t have a lot of muscle mass to spare.
The trick to losing fat without losing muscle (and it should be noted that I am in no way a professional trainer, nutritionist, researcher, or beefcake firefighter calendar model) is to lose the weight slow and steady, lift weights, and keep my protein intake high.
Slow loss – as discussed in the earlier post, I need a deficit of 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week. But my body is going to burn fat and muscle for energy if it doesn’t have the necessary calories. The way to hang onto my existing muscle (and, if I’m lucky, build a little strength even as I’m losing weight) is basically to tell my body I need that muscle by lifting weights.
When you lift weights, you create micro-damage to the muscle fibers; they rebuild themselves during sleep and rest, and they rebuild themselves stronger to prepare for future strain. It’s an amazing thing: your muscles not only fix themselves, they plan ahead. But in order to rebuild, they need an adequate supply of protein.
When I’m doing a strength program, I aim for .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That’s plenty. Serious body builders go for a full gram or more, but even those guys can’t grow more than a pound of lean muscle a week. It’s physiologically impossible. The body just has limits, and any extra gain will only be fat.
As with the food I’m eating, none of this is complicated science. My plan could be refined maximum gains if I needed to perform at the level of a pro athlete, but all I want to do is get in shape long-term without hating the process.
So I lose a pound a week, which is theoretically all fat, I keep my protein high — I eat a lot of chicken, turkey, Greek yogurt, eggs, and protein shakes to supplement — and I lift weights 45-60 minutes four times a week. It’s hard making serious strength gains when you’re losing weight. The goal is simply to maintain current strength and maybe get a little stronger. Once I’m leaner, I can add some calories to my diet and creep back up, gaining very little weight every week so it’s mostly muscle and not the fat I worked so hard to lose.
My workout regiment has only a touch of cardio, but I’m fairly active outside the gym, especially with Bones around, and my heart-rate actually stays high during weights because I don’t rest a lot between sets. I go to the gym Mon, Tue, Thu, and Fri at 6am. If I don’t go at 6am, I don’t have the discipline to go later in the day. I do two separate workouts to give the different muscle groups a chance to adequately recover, doing chest and back on Mon and Thu, and shoulders and arms on Tue and Fri. I’m not doing a lot of lower body work right now; I will in a month or two.
Workout A (Mon, Thu)
- Incline bench press, 4 sets of 8
- Assisted wide-grip pullups, 4 sets of 8
- Planks, 1 minute x 3
- Assisted dips, 3 sets of 10
- Rows, 3 sets of 10
- Hanging kneeups, maximum reps x 3
Workout B (Tue, Fri)
- Lateral shoulder raises, 3 sets of 10
- Bent over shoulder flyes, 3 sets of 10
- Dumbbell curls, 4 sets of 8
- Skull crushers, 4 sets of 8
- High-intensity interval running (30 second sprint, 90 second jog, for 15 minutes)