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Unfortunately, a lot of the time, when people lose weight, they wind up with a lot less muscle than they started out with. Some even find their body fat percentages increasing.
Why? Because when you consume fewer calories than you burn every day – a prerequisite for losing weight – you tell your body to put your muscle health on the back burner. "Lower calorie diets decrease the intracellular signaling necessary for your body to synthesize new muscle proteins," explains Atlanta-based board-certified sports dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist Marie Spano. She also notes that, when dieting, muscle tissue may be less sensitive to the protein you eat. As a result, muscle is less likely to use any amino acids (from protein) floating through your bloodstream to strengthen your muscles.
Unfortunately, muscles cells naturally shed proteins every day, ready for your body to replace them with new healthy ones. So, when the new ones don't show up, you lose muscle – sometimes drastically.
Since muscle is the single greatest determiner of your metabolic rate – how many calories you burn each and every day – this muscle loss largely explains why so many people struggle to keep weight off once they lose it. Their metabolism drops. For instance, that's why research found that people who had lost weight on The Biggest Loser had to eat as many as 800 fewer calories a day to maintain their weight loss compared to people of similar weights. Their metabolisms had slowed that much.
On the flip side, though, building muscle while you lose weight does the exact opposite – stoking your metabolism and making it easier to hit your fat-loss goals and maintain them. Plus, muscle increases your strength, reduces the risk of injury and can improve your overall health.
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