What is the Connection Between Weight Loss and Muscle Loss?

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  • Written By: Michael Smathers
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 23 January 2020
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Weight loss and muscle loss can be the result of extreme dieting, malnutrition or disease. Muscle loss eventually occurs when the body has to burn muscle tissue to provide vital energy in the absence of fat. Fat is the main source of energy for the body under healthy conditions, but muscle mass contains more energy than the same amount of fat tissue. The conversion of muscle tissue to energy is called catabolysis.

Extreme dieting or starving can cause muscle loss. Each person's body has a set calorie requirement to fulfill base metabolic needs for survival and carry out non-vital functions. All foods and liquids put into the body contain calories, which provide immediate energy or are stored as fat. Weight loss occurs when the energy input is less than the energy expenditure. An energy input/output equilibrium, a high-protein diet and an exercise regimen are necessary to prevent muscle loss.


Weight loss and muscle loss can begin taking place several days into a period of fasting. After short-term reserves of carbohydrates are depleted, the body taps into the fat reserves and uses them for fuel. The exact time until muscle loss begins varies depending on the person's existing fat reserves, but it generally takes place in two or three days. Starvation mode, in which metabolic rates drop and the body begins consuming muscle, occurs when the body receives less than half its recommended calorie intake. Generally, a daily intake of 1,200 calories or fewer triggers starvation mode.

A person's preexisting body composition can affect weight loss and muscle loss. People who have a higher percentage of fat lose fat more easily, and people who have a low body fat percentage lose lean mass more easily, such as cardiac muscle tissue. Obese people tend to have a higher overall amount of lean body mass, such as bones, muscles and cardiac tissue, to aid in moving and supplying the body with enough blood.

Excessive exercise, or over-training, causes weight loss and muscle loss. For example, aerobic exercise causes existing muscle proteins to be broken down and used for energy during exercise. Cardiovascular exercise in particular causes weight loss; it places a large stress on the heart and skeletal muscles of the body, increasing metabolism to keep up with the energy demands. Training excessively takes away from the time the body uses to rebuild and replace torn or catabolized muscle tissue, eventually leading to muscular atrophy. Eating a balanced diet and exercising in moderation prevents unhealthy weight loss.


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Post 2

There are some standard old sayings you hear when a group of guys get together and start lifting weights. Since @Feryll says he played football he can probably back me up on this, and maybe add a few more.

One of the first things you hear in a weight room is "No pain, no gain." This is not necessarily true, but usually there is a little pain involved when you are lifting and really pushing yourself. The second one I want to mention is, "Turn that fat into muscle."

When I was a kid, I honestly believed that guys with the extra fat had an advantage over me because they already had the extra weight. They just had

to convert the fat to muscle. I, on the other hand, was a tall drink of water had to make the muscle from nothing.

Well, in case anyone out there doesn't know this by now, you can't turn fat to muscle. There is no shortcut. You have to lose the fat and then build the muscle, so get on a weight loss program to lose the weight and then buff up.

Post 1

After reading this article I now have a grasp of something my high school football coach would tell us. All of us football players had to work out in the weight room regularly, and coach would always tell us to have a big meal within 30 minutes of our workout or else we would be wasting the time we had just put in with the weights.

We were trying to gain muscle so if we didn't load up on the calories after the workout our bodies would start burning muscle. I didn't understand this at the time, but now it makes sense.

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