I hit a new low for bodyweight a couple days ago at 234. When I get to 231, I’ll be at the 20 pounds weight-loss mark (251 was the highest I got before the meet). Not bad work for about 9 weeks of dieting while still hitting PRs!
The biggest difference between this cut and ones in the past was that I had a definite, moderate plan.
Usually my successful cuts are a bit more extreme. The only diets I’ve really had much luck with in the past are PSMF-esque diets (not strict PSMF, but no carb and fat probably 60g a day or so) or cyclical keto diets. They strip the fat right off of me, but my energy levels are horrible, and I’m borderline homicidal until I get into ketosis (i.e. for a cyclica keto diet, if my refeed was Saturday, I’d been foggy and irritable until probably Tuesday. Low carb fog does not make Mondays any more fun). My workouts are a combination of decent days and horrible days (occasionally I’ll be strong, but I can never handle much volume), and I’ll lose some muscle. I don’t worry about the muscle loss much because of good ol’ myonuclear domain theory (more on that later).
More moderate cuts I’ve attempted haven’t worked because I didn’t have a definite plan. With cyclical keto or PSMF, you know exactly what you can or can’t eat every day. When I tried more gradual approaches, I never had a solid plan. It was basically just the idea that I’d eat a little less to get the weight loss started, and eat less from there as needed. I’d always fall off the horse somewhere and fail because I could never get myself to actually make a plan (with measuring my food and whatnot) and stick to it.
This time around is different because I have a definite approach. I’ve already blogged about it, so I won’t go into a ton of detail, but simply scheduling a refeed at every 1-2 pounds lost has been great for me. It lets me be as extreme as I need to be to lose that pound or two, while still allowing me to get in some good training because the refeeds happen regularly enough. Additionally, if I want to take my time between a 1-2 pound increment and use a more moderate approach, I can manage a pound or two of weight loss before falling off the horse.
Nothing revolutionary, but I just wanted to reiterate this approach because it’s working so well for me.
Now as to why I don’t worry about losing muscle while dieting…
For starters, I’m not a bodybuilder. At the end of my diet, I don’t need to be as big as possible. I just want to lose as much fat as possible. “But Greg,” I hear you crying, “you may work a year to gain 3-5 pounds of muscle. Isn’t it so horrible to throw it all away?” Nope, not really. Google “myonuclear domain theory” for a more in depth explanation, but here’s a brief synopsis of why losing some muscle while you’re dieting doesn’t really matter (unless you’re prepping for a bodybuilding show, of course).
Your muscles are composed of muscle fibers. Each fiber is a single cell. These cells have multiple nuclei (not just one like most cells of your body). Each myonucleus (nucleus of a muscle fiber) can only support a specific amount of sarcoplasm (the stuff inside a muscle fiber) via coding for the necessary proteins etc. To make a muscle bigger, satellite cells (cells floating around your muscle fibers) donate their nucleus to the muscle fiber. That extra nucleus can support a bit of extra sarcoplasm. Congratulations, your muscle just grew.
When you gain muscle mass, you are gaining myonuclei for your muscle fibers to support the extra sarcoplasm in each fiber. When you restrict calories and lose muscle, the amount of myonuclei basically remains constant (unless you’re essentially under famine conditions). You can catabolize fibers themselves if you literally starve yourself, but otherwise you don’t really lose myonuclei.
This makes sense, really. You DID work hard for that extra muscle mass. Your body doesn’t want to throw it away and have to work just as hard to get it back (i.e. what would have happened every winter until about 50 years ago).
Have you ever trained for a few years, taken time off, then got back in the gym and got most of your old gains (muscle and strength) back in a matter of months? No, it’s not because you worked THAT hard and you’re THAT smart. It’s because you still have the vast majority of the myonuclei you gained from when you were training previously.
Also, you know that guy who used to be on a ton of juice, then he came off, but he’s still huge? Yep, he still has most of the myonuclei that fused onto his muscle fibers when he was on the sauce.