Your weight loss can be a result of loss of fat, muscles or water from the body. The loss of each of these means different things for your body. Loss of fat is good. Loss of muscles is bad. Loss of water is only temporary and possibly bad if it is in extreme and results in dehydration. The ratio of how much of what you lose will depend on your diet and exercise plans.
Weight loss from loss of water
Your body’s immediate energy source is glycogen which is stored in the liver and also the muscles of your body. Each glycogen is bonded to 4 parts of water. Your glycogen reserves are immediately available to the body and are its first port of call for energy. But when you use up glycogen, the excess water left behind is also released from the body. This is the ‘water-loss’ that people experience when they go on extreme or low carb diets.
The thing with this kind of weight loss is that once your glycogen stores are replenished, this ‘water-weight’ will come back. It is the reason why many who go on a short diet lose weight and the moment they start eating ‘normally’ they quickly gain back the ‘lost’ weight.
Any diet low in carbs (Atkins and similar) will result in this kind of weight loss.
As your glycogen reserves start getting depleted, the body shifts gears and starts to use up more of the energy stored in fat and also muscles by breaking them down.
Weight loss from loss of muscle
If you create a drastic calorie deficit in your diet or if you supplement your diet with long duration cardio, then along with your glycogen, you will lose more muscles than fat. This is an interesting point, why would you lose more muscles than fat?
In resting state, muscles requires three times more energy compared to fat (1 pound of muscle requires 6kcal per day while 1 pound of fat requires only 2 kcal; Ref1). In conditions of semi-starvation and long duration cardio, when the body has to prioritise which one of the the two to sacrifice, the choice for it is simple – the muscles. The fat gets more importance and becomes more dear to the body.
The loss of muscle can be devastating if your goal is to have a ‘toned’ and defined look. If you lose muscle you lose the fibres that give a nice shape to your body. A pound of muscle packs in tight compared to a pound of fat (see image). Losing a pound of fat will result in more inch loss than losing a pound of muscle.
Also, muscles loss is not just a blow to how good you would look but losing muscles also means your metabolism slows down. We already know that a pound of muscle goes through 6 calories in a day. If you were to lose 10 pounds of muscles, your metabolism would fall by 60 calories per day.
Things to keep in mind when trying to lose weight
1. An extremely low calorie diet or low carb diet results in water loss which is temporary and which will be replenished once you resume your normal diet. These diets will seem successful in the beginning as the water loss can be upto 5-10 pounds depending on the individual, but the moment your glycogen stores are replenished, this water-weight will come back.
2. Your body composition goal should be to gain muscle and lose fat which would result in a higher metabolism and also a leaner, compact shape.
3. We have also established that of all the weight that you can lose, loss of fat from the body is long term (than mere water loss). Finally, you should try to prevent as much muscle loss as you can.
4. In order to reduce fat from the body, weight loss has to be slow and spread over weeks (we know that fat cells just shrink when you lose weight but never go anywhere, read more about the behaviour of your fat cells).
What exercises you need to do to reduce muscle loss and maximise fat loss? (Coming soon!)
What to eat in your diet to maintain muscle mass and lose fat? (Coming soon!)
Ref1: Elia M. Organ and tissue contribution to metabolic rate. Raven Press; New York: 1992. pp. 61–80
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