A serious problem for athletes who need to lose body fat is that they lose a lot of muscle, which compromises athletic performance. It also lowers metabolic rate, setting them up for fat regain in the future. Here are a few proven training and dietary methods that will allow you to avoid this.
A recent study presented attempted to identify the ideal dose of energy restriction so as not to compromise strength and power output in athletes. The study had elite athletes reduce their energy intake by either 500 or 1,000 calories a day in order to lose 5 percent of their body weight.
Results showed that although it took athletes three weeks longer to lose the weight with the 500-calorie deficit diet(the slow reduction group), the greater daily energy intake allowed them to gain 2.1 percent muscle mass at the same time. Yes, it really is possible to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously!
The group on the 1,000-calorie deficit diet (the fast reduction group) lost 5 percent of body weight in 5 weeks and dropped an insignificant 0.2 kg of muscle. Both groups did a heavy weight-training program in conjunction with regular sport training.
Performance tests showed that the group on the 500-calorie deficit diet did much better on strength and power tests than the fast reduction group. The slow reduction group jumped 7 percent higher in a countermovement jump test, increased squat 1 RM by 12 percent, and lifted an average of 11.4 percent more on upper body strength and power tests. The fast reduction group did not improve jump height and only increased squat 1RM by 8 percent and upper body performance by 5 percent.
The take away is that if you choose to lose fat by reducing energy intake, you should continue with heavy strength training and aim for a body fat loss of about 0.7 percent per week.
Avoid using endurance exercise to increase the energy deficit because this will lead to a catabolic state and muscle degradation.
Finally, favor a high-protein intake to preserve lean muscle mass when losing body fat. Greater energy reduction will lead to poorer performance and may cause muscle loss. Researchers point to a “threshold” protein dose of at least 1.6 g/kg/bw to avoid muscle loss.