7 Science-based Steps to Lose Body Fat (Belly Fat) Without Losing Muscle

Rethink pre-workout carbs and post-workout protein

Fortunately, the anabolic window (the time period after resistance training to which the body uses protein to build muscle) is actually much larger than previously believed, per one recent study. So as long as you’re getting in regular doses of protein, drinking a protein shake immediately after your workout probably isn’t necessary.

And while pre-workout carbs are linked to better, harder workout performances, research shows that even pre-workout protein can be beneficial. In one study, eating 18 grams of whey protein (with 2 grams of carbs and 1.5 of fat) 20 minutes before a heavy resistance training session increased energy expenditure up to 24 hours after exercising compared to eating 19 grams of pre-workout carbs (with 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of fat).

Prioritize recovery

Active recovery from exercise helps you get the most out of every workout, but the most important form of recovery that none us seem to get enough of is sleep, Milton says. She notes that the amount of sleep you get also impacts whether or not you lose muscle as you lose fat—largely by influencing hormone levels.

“Cortisol, an inflammatory hormone, increases in times of sleep deprivation or too little sleep,” she says. Cortisol in chronically too-high levels can both inhibit weight loss and promote muscle degradation. Meanwhile, human growth hormone—which aids in muscle synthesis—peaks at night during sleep, she says.

For example, in one University of Chicago-led study, when dieters got only 5.5 hours versus 8.5 hours of sleep per night, their rate of fat loss declined by 55 percent—even though they were following the same diet. And, according to research published in Diabetologia, as little as four days of sleep deprivation reduces the body’s insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk for fat storage, while reducing the body’s levels of growth hormone.

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