Member Case Study: Is Losing Muscle Mass Safe?

author : AMSSM
comments : 0

Is it ever advisable to try to lose muscle mass? I've been struggling with a cycle of training to lose weight or rehabilitate some minor injury and only gaining muscle, which adds to my weight.

Member question from hjmii
When and how is it safe to lose muscle mass? I've been struggling for a while with a cycle of training to lose weight or rehabilitate some minor injury and only gaining muscle, which adds to my weight, slows me down in the long races, and increases my possibilities of injury.

 

Doing the math, I can only lose maybe another 15 lbs of fat weight and still be in a healthy fat % zone, but that would still leave me well over a weight that I consider safe to be pounding along a marathon distance run. The "ideal" weight for my height (also my old college weight) is another 35lbs of muscle less than that. I'm not aiming that low, but every bit helps. So is it ever advisable to try to lose muscle mass? If yes, is it possible to do this while training and not risk injury? If yes and yes, have any tips or resources on this subject?

Answer from Robert Nicol MD

Member AMSSM

Your question, “When and how is it safe to lose muscle mass,” is a good one, particularly for those who are trying to lose weight and rehabilitate from minor injuries.

A look at the function of fats and muscles might help you to better understand why losing muscle and keeping fat is the wrong approach. Fats are utilized as an energy source and as such are quite good. They do add to body weight and act as an excellent insulator from the cold. However fats do not actively partake in the mechanical process of body’s movements. For movement, we need muscles.

As you are continuing your training, you might note that you are wearing clothes with smaller waist sizes and that are less tight around the hips. This can be confusing if your clothes are looser and you weigh the same or even more. This is because muscle mass weighs more than fat and occupies less space for the same weight.

You did not mention what your Body Mass Index is in your question but noted that your can lose another 15 pounds (6.8 Kg) and still be in the ‘healthy fat % zone.' Given that bodies are different, some with more dense bones, some taller etc. a BMI of around 20 is quite acceptable. The limitation of this measure is that it doesn’t fully account for percent of fat versus muscle so that some very lean people may have a high BMI. In order to accurately ascertain your % body fat, you need to get to a dunk tank.

Tying it together, as you train you will begin to build muscle mass which does weigh more than fat but occupies less space. This is what you need for competing and for rehabilitation. As well, since muscles burn more calories (or Joules) than fat, you will more easily maintain a comfortable % body fat. So, if you want to get to your ideal weight, lose the fat and build muscle

Be sure to access good sports nutrition like Nancy Clark’s SPORTS NUTRITION GUIDEBOOK for some ideas on proper eating.

In a nutshell, do not lose muscle mass, lose fat, consider adding water running to save your joints and help train, and look for a good sports medicine doctor to assist you in your athletic endeavor.

Best of success,
Robert Nicol MD, MBA, CAQ/Fellow Sports Medicine

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date: October 8, 2007

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

FIND A SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR

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