To an extent, some muscle loss during bouts of dieting is inevitable as you are restricting the amount of calories you consume to less than you expend. Although this may be the case, there are some critical points to consider before plunging into a calories restricted diet:
Keep lifting ‘heavy’ weight
The body is an incredibly intelligent and efficient design that will lose anything that doesn’t serve a purpose. With this in mind, you must give the body reason to keep this extra muscle tissue and the best way to communicate this to the body is by continuing to lift heavy weight, relative to strength levels at the time.
Along with this, you should also look to reduce workout duration (and volume) as this kind of intense training over a prolonged period of time leaves the body susceptible to muscle wastage – particularly in a calorie restricted state. It becomes even more important to eliminate the poor quality training volume!
Don’t drop calories too quick
Gradually losing fat whilst preserving muscle is a calculated process, which requires gradual calorie reduction.
If you drop your calories too much too quick you’ll shock your body into creating energy from all available sources across the body including body fat and – undesirably – muscle (amino acid breakdown) to prevent this, look to reduce your calories by 100/150 per week, with most of these coming from carbohydrates.
Increase protein intake
If your protein intake is already at 2 grams per kg bodyweight, then it is more of a case of maintaining protein intake. However, if you are consuming less than that amount I would strongly recommend bumping this amount up. For the reason previously mentioned, the body has a tendency to break muscle down into amino acids: units that the body can use as energy to function. If you provide your body with sufficient and regular protein feedings via food and supplementation during this dieting period, then you give your body the extra amino necessary without breaking down muscle mass.
Consider using branched chain amino acids
Also known as BCAAs: three amino acids; valine, leucine and isoleucine. These three amino acids make up around 60% of the proteins within muscle tissue, therefore the importance in ensuring supply is high becomes clear to see, when you are restricting food intake. Further to this BCAAs can improve mental performance and increase protein synthesis, therefore leading to improved muscle recovery time.
Have ‘refeed’ meals
When you diet in a traditional sense especially for a point in time such as a bodybuilding show, this usually involves some kind of carbohydrate reduction in a bid to reduce to reduce water weight.
This is very effective, however it does lead to slightly ‘flatter’ muscle tone. This is because glycogen is stored within the muscles and this energy source typically comes from consuming carbohydrates – this is what gives the muscle their ‘fullness’. In order to keep glycogen stores high and the muscles looking full, it would be advisable to allocate one day per week where in which you reefed your body some extra carbohydrates.