Muscle loss, unfortunately, is a pretty common process that can be brought on by many factors, including age and inactivity. In fact, even a short break in your exercise regimen, caused for instance by an injury, can result in significant muscle loss. Many beginners who are just starting down the weight loss path inadvertently lose more muscle than fat. Maintaining muscle mass is definitely something you have to work at. Luckily, there are some reliable ways to achieve it.

Up your protein intake

Protein is the building block of muscles – it’s as simple as that. No matter what you do – if your protein intake is not sufficient, you just won’t be able to either build or maintain your muscle mass. The thing is, your body needs to use protein for fuel. If there isn’t enough in your diet, it will turn to the protein in your muscles. That way, you will retain body fat and lose muscle mass instead. If you’re on a diet, bear in mind that your protein needs grow the more you cut calories. The same thing happens when you’re on a very intense workout regimen. Your muscle to fat body ratio also influences the math – the less fat stores you have, the more protein your body will need to retain its muscles. Some great sources of protein are lean meat, eggs, dairy, seafood, soy, nuts and seeds. When it comes to protein powder, research shows that it’s much more effective when it’s taken before than after your workout. Liquid meals, such as a protein shake, are absorbed much quicker than solid foods. Drinking a protein powder shake half an hour before your workout will likely boost your amino acid uptake, leading to better muscle building.

Focus on the big muscles

If you’ve noticed you’re starting to lose muscle mass, there’s no better way to get back in the saddle than to focus on the big muscles. Taking up or intensifying your workout regime will boost your protein synthesis. However, you will see the best and fastest results if you focus on your chest and thighs, for instance. Be careful with the amount, frequency and intensity of your workouts if you are operating on a calorie deficit. In other words – don’t overdo it if you’re on a strict weight loss diet. That can actually do more harm than good. Working yourself too hard without fueling your body sufficiently can lead to a loss of strength and muscle.

Don’t skip carbs

When people want to get (or stay) fit, their knee-jerk reaction is often to cut out carbs completely. While, of course, you shouldn’t be stuffing your face with candy and processed sugars, carbs – in moderation – do have their own role in muscle building. Carbs are our primary source of energy. Research shows that eating carbs on your rest days can significantly help rebuild lost muscle mass. Of course, the carbs you eat should be healthy – like fruit, wholegrain cereals and bread, and starchy vegetables. A small sweet treat, like a banana or some ice cream can also provide the necessary insulin to prevent breaking down of proteins.

Avoid protein breakdown

Although it sounds scary, protein breakdown is not, in fact, all bad. It is a natural process in your body which helps you retain functional proteins in your body and get rid of the damaged ones. The mechanism also releases the much-needed amino acids, which are then reused elsewhere in the body. But it’s important to strike a balance with protein breakdown. One of the best ways to do this is through a proper diet, rich in proteins, but also containing an ideal amount of carbohydrates. Eating a combination of the two, for instance, fruit and yogurt, or a boiled egg with wholegrain bread can be very beneficial. This is particularly important in the evening. A small snack an hour before bed will keep your body just fueled enough to prevent or reduce protein breakdown during sleep.

Once you’ve decided to lose weight or get fit, one of your most important missions should be to improve your muscle to fat ratio. Losing muscle is not an irreversible process. It just takes a bit of knowledge and effort to avoid or rectify it.

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