If you’re losing weight when going by the scale or how you may look in your clothes, you can assume you’re losing weight. However, whether it’s fat or muscle loss matters—and it’s actually pretty easy to lose muscle instead of fat when you’re on a new kind of diet or fitness program.
Of course, you may not realize you are though. And unless you do and can make the necessary changes to simultaneously target and blast fat and to increase muscle mass and strength, you might put yourself at risk for more long-term damages to your health and physical capabilities.
Having greater muscle mass not only allows to gain a more toned, defined physique but also it lowers risk of osteoporosis later in life and can keep your body more agile and fit as you age. And lastly, more muscle actually helps keep your metabolism higher when at rest, so you’ll burn more calories naturally throughout the day, which is beneficial for sustainable progress and weight management.
And a tip—muscle weighs more than fat, so going up on the scale as you get more invested in strength training doesn’t necessarily mean you’re “larger” than before, but rather your muscles are stronger. (In fact, you could look “smaller” or fitter with the increase on the scale!)
What’s the difference? Here are a few signs that indicate you may be losing muscle as opposed to fat.
You Feel Weaker During Workouts and in the Day
If you begin to feel sluggish during your workouts and throughout the day, you could be losing muscle instead of fat, since you’re likely also not getting enough nutrients (like protein in particular) in your diet to maintain muscle density.
If you had increases in muscle mass, your performance during workouts would likely improve as well. So, if you begin to find it challenging to maintain the same endurance and stamina as you had before, add in more nutrient rich foods that promote greater gains, such as high-protein beans and soy.
And snack more often, especially within an hour after a workout. Even if it’s just on a protein bar post-workout or in between appointments and on the go, it’s enough to get that fuel back into your body to protect your muscles and boost energy levels.
You’ve Scaled Back Your Calorie Intake Too Much
If you have cut back on total calories too drastically where you’re not getting enough in total—especially if you’re also including more fitness days in the week—then you are likely losing more muscle than fat as you watch the scale go down. If you are not providing your body’s muscle cells with protein, electrolytes like magnesium and potassium, good fats, calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals, they will become too depleted to repair and rejuvenate. And this means your time spent lifting weights doesn’t matter as much, since your body isn’t able to really reap those hard earned rewards.
Keep a food diary to track what you eat each day (counting calories until you get the swing of things) or speak to a dietitian if you think you could be cutting back on calories too much. They will be able to give you a good guide to how to diet properly without becoming nutritionally deficient if you’re looking to drop some pounds.
The Pounds are Flying Off
Another indicator could be if you’ve lost too much weight in a period of time, as rapid weight loss is often linked to more fat loss, as muscle weighs more than fat.
So, if you’re dropping weight too fast for what would be considered healthy or appropriate for your body’s structure and the time frame, then you should consider checking your diet and exercise plan to see where you may have gone wrong.
If you’re not weight training and are doing excess cardio, you could be burning off muscle from both overtraining on the cardio end and the lack of weight bearing activity to build stronger, leaner muscles and bone density levels. Likewise, if you’re under-fueling, you are also not giving your muscles nutrients it needs to repair damaged tissue post-workout.