Exercise Less When On a Diet

If you are on a calorie deficit (diet) to lose fat and keep the muscle, then you might be doing too much!  There are so many different ways people workout to lose fat, and there are so many people with so many different opinions about which is the right way to and fastest way to lose fat… how could you possibly know what to do?!  With all the hype about Crossfit, P90X, Intensity, etc., it’s no wonder that people are lost when they want to lose some extra pounds.  The title of this post may be a bit surprising, but I am going to explain exactly what I mean by it.  In my opinion, the best results come when people understand exactly what they are doing and why.  When someone has done his or her homework and really know what’s going on in their body during exercise and eating, they tend to be able to change specific parts of the workout, tailor it to themselves, and get the results that they want.  This article is designed to give you some basic knowledge so that you know how to workout on a diet.

First of all, if you are trying to lose fat while keeping as much muscle as possible, then you should already know that you are going to need to lift weights.  If you don’t care about losing the muscle, I’ll ask you to reconsider.  You see, muscle is a metabolically active tissue, which means that it uses calories just by being there.  If you have ever seen someone go on a crash diet, lose a lot of weight, but then gain it back (or more) just a short time after, then you have probably seen the effects of losing muscle.  Since muscle is metabolically active, as your muscle increases, your metabolism increases.  As your muscle decreases, your metabolism decreases.  So you don’t want to go on a diet, lose a bunch of weight, but then have a slower metabolism, right?  Lifting weights is the best way to ensure that you keep as much muscle as you can!

Now onto the title:  Why exercise less?  Well, in this case I am actually referring to lifting weights.  You see, most people lift at a pretty good frequency when trying to gain muscle.  They will normally lift around 3-5 days a week.  However, it seems that when most people try to lose weight, they step that up a notch!  I’ve seen people on a diet lift weights every single day!  This is not the best way to ensure that you keep that muscle because your body cannot handle that.

As you should know, you do not get stronger in the gym; you build your muscle afterwards when you rest.  Also, since you should be on a calorie deficit (which is the ONLY way to lose weight), your body will not be able to keep up and recover as fast as it normally can.  This will mean that you will need MORE DAYS to rest.  But wait!  Don’t a lot of people limit their rest further when they diet?  Yes… yes they do.  If you do not give yourself enough time to rest after lifting, then your body will not be able to recover quickly enough, resulting in smaller muscles.

I have found that a pretty good frequency to lift is 3 days a week, split routine.  So let’s say that you lift Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  A good split might be chest, triceps, and shoulders for Monday.  Back, biceps, and abs on Wednesday.  Legs, calves, and glutes on Friday.  Of course, you could change the split up to whatever you prefer.  Moreover, if you decide that you want to do cardio during your diet, I would do it on days far away from your leg day or on the same day.  This will ensure that your legs get enough rest and that you are not bombarding them too hard.  If you decide to do HIIT or sprint intervals, then you might need to take it easy on your leg day for lifting.

Finally, when lifting on a diet, you should decrease your reps, not increase them.  Since your muscles use up valuable energy just by being there, your body would gladly try to get rid of them first before losing fat.  So, in order to tell our body to keep those muscles, we have to show it that we still need them.  We accomplish this by lifting heavy, about 5-8 reps, so that our body knows it needs to keep its strength.  This type of lifting does not build muscle as fast as the typical 8-12 reps do, but it is very effective at keeping and maintaining muscle during a calorie deficit.  Further, this type of lifting in general requires more rest because of the heavy load on the nervous system.  This is yet another reason why I do not like to lift more than 3 days on a diet.

Make sure that you listen to your body, though.  If you are not sore, tired, exhausted, or fatigued at all, then you might be doing too little.  If you are constantly worn out, then you might be over-reaching or over-training.  Make sure that you do evaluate your current training to see if you need to step it up a notch, or bring it down a little.