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Can Strength Training Help Healthy Weight Loss and Aging?

Losing weight can be hard work and in order to lose weight as healthily as possible, maintaining your muscle and strength is key.

black overweight woman walking with dumbbells and listening to music outside -

When you embark on a weight loss journey, it’s almost guaranteed that you will be saying goodbye to some muscle mass and strength, and for women in their forties and beyond, it can be a bit of a recipe for disaster, especially when looking further in to the future. You can help reduce the issue by losing weight slowly, eating enough (definitely no crash diets), keeping an eye on your protein intake, and making sure you're working your muscles. The goal with any weight loss plan is to lose fat and maintain as much muscle as possible.

How fast should you lose weight?

It's generally agreed that losing weight at a rate of one to two pounds (0.5-1Kg) a week is the best plan for healthy weight loss, i.e. reducing fat and keeping muscle. Dropping weight a lot faster puts you at risk of losing more than just the fat’ll likely end up losing muscle and bone mass too, which can result in a slower metabolism and a possible increased risk of osteoporosis for women later on, especially once those menopause years have hit!

weighing scales for weight loss -

How many calories should you eat to keep your muscles?

Most women can successfully lose weight on a diet of between 1200 and 1500 calories during weight loss, depending on what your start weight is. If you do a lot of exercise, that may not be sufficient, so if you are planning an especially long run or playing a strenuous sport you’ll want to keep an eye on your calorie totals, and pay attention to how you are feeling and your energy levels. Generally when weight loss calorie targets are calculated (if using this...there are other good options), they take in to account your general level of daily activity, so this should help you to avoid under eating.

I personally like TDEE Calculator, however for my clients who wish to have a calorie goal (I don't necessarily recommend this), I work out a calorie range myself using specific calculations and following an initial consultation with my client to learn more about them and their life.

An assortment of various healthy food / salad items -

Also, it's really important to keep in mind that it isn’t just the number of calories you consume that counts when it comes to muscle maintenance, it’s quality too. This is key not just for your muscles, but for general overall health and health of your gut microbiome. Besides eating, it's really important to drink enough water and fluids to keep yourself hydrated and your body working well, especially when you are being active. Did you know that thirst can often be misinterpreted as hunger? Aim for at least 1.2 litres of water (or alternative hydrating fluid) per day, and more if exercising.

Why is protein important when losing weight?

First, protein helps to satisfy our hunger and takes longer to digest, so you end up feeling fuller for longer and are less likely to snack or go back to the kitchen for seconds.

Second, protein helps regulate the blood sugar spikes you may get from eating the necessary carbohydrates by slowing how fast your body absorbs their sugars. (That’s why it's often suggested you pair a protein with your carbs). You may find THIS study interesting if you're keen to read a bit more about the first and second points.

An assortment of different types of food containing protein to aid weight loss and strength exercise  -

Third, protein is essential to repairing your muscles after exercise. Strengthening exercises build lean muscle mass which increases your resting metabolic rate (or at least stops it reducing so much when losing weight) or the ability to burn calories whilst doing nothing...a huge win I think!

Fourth, it takes a bit more energy to digest protein (thermic effect) which means you burn more calories eating.

Fifth, protein helps ensure you burn fat, not muscle. Research shows that in order to effectively burn fat, your body needs a nudge from either protein or carbs. Eating protein will help preserve your lean muscle mass while your body uses up some of your fat stores.

If you want to lose fat and nourish your muscles, you MUST eat enough protein.

Balanced nutrition is essential to building muscle and burning your stored fat. For an idea of protein requirements for different activities, click below:

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For an idea of good sources of dietary protein, click below:

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What can I do to burn more fat?

Building more muscle can help here. The key to maximizing your fat burning ability is to increase your muscle mass. You do that by strength training and eating a balanced diet that is heavy on lean plant and animal proteins as well as fruits and vegetables. The more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate and the more calories you burn.

The recommended daily intake of protein for women is approximately 45g and 55.5g for men as a minimum. For a more specific requirement for you, aim to consume around 0.75g per KG of bodyweight; so 45g protein a day would be sufficient for someone weighing 60KG (0.75 x 60), but an adult weighing 70KG would need at least 52.5g per day (0.75 x 70), and so on. This is also something I can work out for my clients who are actively working on losing weight and want to make sure they are still getting enough protein.

A kettlebell, water, trainers and a towel ready for exercise on a stone wall with flowers outside  -

So how do you nourish your muscles?

Nutrition is a key starting point, both before and after exercise. A lot of people work out first thing in the morning. It’s often just more convenient to get up and get it done before you get on with the rest of your day, especially if you have kids or grandkids around, or an early work start time. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, that means working out on an empty stomach, which can be unhelpful when it comes to keeping muscles in tip top condition, so really make sure you're eating to nourish your body afterwards.

When you work out, your body gets its energy from the carbohydrates you eat. The carbohydrates get converted to glucose and the glucose you don’t use immediately is converted into glycogen and stored in your liver and muscles. If you don’t fuel your body, it has to break down the muscles to get to the stored glycogen for energy. To rebuild those muscles, your body needs more fuel. This is why it is so important that you do not suddenly drastically reduce how much you are eating, as your body won't be getting enough fuel. This can lead to feeling tired, and really isn't great for your overall health and wellbeing.

Click below for some ideas about what you could eat before your workout, and some ideas about what you could eat after your workout. Remember these are just ideas, you need to work out what will suit you and take in to account any dietary preferences, intolerances or allergies. Also, depending on what type of exercise you are doing, this may not be something you have to worry about too much. Just ensure you get adequate protein in your diet based on the recommended daily allowance, and preferably from healthier sources of protein as much as possible.

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Heart cushion with saying "If you can dream it you can do it" - Functional Imagery Training (FIT) can really help with weight loss and exercise / strength training goals -

How do I get motivated to exercise?

This is the age-old question and something that we all struggle with from time to time. Check out my 'Uncovering Hidden Sources of Motivation: Tips for Finding Unexpected Exercise Inspiration' to help you get going. While exercise doesn't have a huge impact on weight loss itself, it has a huge effect on your health. Just start from where you're at and gradually build up.

Final Thoughts

The key to keeping your body focussed on losing fat is to nourish your muscles at every meal and before and after every workout, however big or small it may be. Whenever someone sets out to lose weight, the goal is to burn fat. No one wants to lose muscle and bone, particularly us women!

Look out for yourself and your health by setting reasonable weight loss goals. Don’t try to lose ten pounds (4 Kg) in two weeks! Eat enough calories and protein to make sure your body is targeting fat, not muscle, and incorporate some strength training. Any weight-bearing exercise that helps you build or maintain muscle counts.

Those well nourished muscles will help you keep you burning fat and living the happy healthy life you desire!

Smiling happy overweight white woman in a Speedo swimsuit sat on a sun lounger -

Please note: This article is intended to be for educational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice or replace professional assessment or personalised advice.

I do not hold responsibility for the information on any links to external websites within this article and information within these links/websites may change at any time or no longer be accessible. Any website pages/links added are also for education purposes only.


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