If I'm so strong why are my kicks so weak?
December 18, 2012 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Should I lose weight and muscle mass or just lose the fat?

I'm 5'5' 200lbs or (165cm and 90K) and want to lose about twenty pounds of fat. I also have a lot of muscle, more frankly, than I really need as a result of long term weight lifting and physical work. It's come in handy moving furniture, practicing jiu jitsu with very large opponents and the like. However, I don't think my heart really needs to carry around all that extra mass. And the height/weight chart suggests that I should weigh between 145-160 - which I just don't think would be possible without losing a considerable amount of muscle.

It's entirely possible that I am just plain wrong about the amount of fat I have but I don't think it's much higher than 20%.

I've just started playing old man soccer, so the weight is coming off quickly enough, and I reckon I'd be faster without the added mass to boot. Plus, I expect a significant muscle mass gain in my legs, and I can't see why this extra mass would be all that useful either.

Is there a healthy way to do this? Or is it stupid?

posted by mearls to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Muscle is awesome, your heart is a muscle, having developed muscles is a blessing.

Some of us are just messomorphs. It's who we are. I'm a chick of Russian heritage, and we're all strong like ox. I've got the ginormous thighs to prove it. My goal weight is 190 and I'm your height. I'd be a size 10 at that weight. Is your mind blown? My sister is 5'1" and weighs 165, she's a size 6. We're thick like that.

The height/weight charts are guidelines.

If you want, have a Body Fat Test. Gyms do them, personal trainers do them, google one for your area. This should give you an idea of how much of you is comprised of fat.

Now we all need some fat on our bods, so you don't want to lose it all.

You might be perfect the way you are.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:29 AM on December 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think that, as we age, slimming down helps with a lot of things. Getting around on old knees when you weigh more (whether that's fat or muscle or a big heavy backpack) is painful sometimes, so if your goal is slimming down, losing the fat is probably the first step.

If you want to slim down overall, then reducing your calories is going to do the trick anyway. It sounds like you're active, so I think if you're not lifting quite as heavily and not eating to gain, you'll be fine wherever you wind up.
posted by xingcat at 7:37 AM on December 18, 2012

This isn't really a choice you can consciously make. If you've decided to lose weight, then think about how you plan to go about it (diet? exercise? hopefully both) but don't think about whether you intend to lose fat or muscle because it's (mostly) pointless. You body will make that decision for itself and ignore whatever your brain has to say about the matter. In short, you're over-thinking this. Start with the goal of losing 20 pounds, don't worry about where those pounds come from, and then when you reach that goal re-evaluate whether you want to lose more or maintain 180.
posted by 0 at 7:39 AM on December 18, 2012

It's not like you have to decide now. Lose the fat, see how you look and what you want to do from there. No way would I try to lose muscle, personally.

And please don't fall into the "ideal weight" bullshit. If you have muscle and look slim, it's FINE. Good even. Take any good looking muscular dude and I guarantee you he is 15lb over his "ideal weight" range.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:40 AM on December 18, 2012

You body will make that decision for itself and ignore whatever your brain has to say about the matter.

This is not really true. If you lift weights, do some cardio and maintain a defecit, you will lose much more fat than muscle. If you just reduce calories, you will lose muscle along with fat. Your body keeps what it needs, and it decides what it needs by what you do with it.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:41 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agreed. "lift [moderate] weights, do some cardio and maintain a deficit" is the way to go. The body is still the decider.
posted by 0 at 7:45 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Losing muscle should never, ever be a goal. Ever.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:51 AM on December 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: A few things to keep in mind:

1. - Playing Soccer is not going to increase your muscle mass in your legs if you already have a decent amount of muscle there (which it sounds like you do). Your legs will likely develop differently, but activities with lots of running don't typically develop a lot of muscle (unless you don't have any to begin with), so don't count on gaining anything there.

2 - If you lose muscle mass, you'll have to eat a lot less. So, do you like food? If so, try to keep as much muscle as you can.

3 - Unless you are lifting weights regularly, you are going to slowly lose some muscle over time. The goal should be to keep as much as you can now, so that in 10-20 years, you don't wish that you had a little more. As you age it's going to naturally go away, as long as you aren't really pushing yourself hard at the Gym and watching your nutrition. If your primary exercise is cardio, than it's going to be pretty much impossible to keep all of your muscle, so don't try to speed up that process.

4 - Pretty much across the board, people with more muscle mass look better. There are exceptions when you talk about people who are competing in bodybuilding, but even then, it's mostly the steroid users who just look weird. Having a somewhat muscular body will get people to think better of you.

I'd say try to keep as much of that muscle mass as you can while you lose weight, and then take another look at your situation once you've lost some more weight. If you're starting to see your abs poking out, and you still feel too big, that would be the time to make that decision, but until you get there, you won't know just how thin/light you can get with the muscles you have now.
posted by markblasco at 8:05 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's extremely common for people to underestimate their body fat level. It's also unlikely that intentionally reducing muscle mass would improve your health or athletic performance. There's a ton of information on the health impacts of muscle mass and resistance training in this review article: Evidence for Resistance Training as a Treatment Therapy in Obesity.

As many of the studies in that review demonstrate, diet composition and exercise design can both influence the composition of weight loss. Keeping protein levels high and engaging in regular exercise, especially resistance training, has the effect of preserving lean mass during an energy deficit. Given that, this is a significant overstatement:

Losing 20 lbs of fat is probably going to entail losing 10 lbs of lean mass, give or take, so you are going to get down to at least 170 lbs if you want to lose 20 lbs of fat.

An overweight person beginning a restricted diet may see an intial loss of water and glycogen, which is technically lean mass, but that's not "real" weight loss, and some of it will return when they resume a maintenance diet. A 20 lb. fat loss does not necessitate a 10 lb. loss of muscle and bone. From the review article:
In a randomized control trial, 35 overweight men were randomized to either a control group, a diet-only group, a diet group that performed [endurance training], or a diet group that performed both [endurance training] and [resistance training]. After 12 weeks, the weight loss in the three intervention groups was similar and significant, of which 69%, 78%, and 97%, respectively, were accounted for by fat loss.

Another study randomly assigned 29 obese men to one of three 16-week treatments, which consisted of a hypocaloric diet alone or in combination with RT (at 80% of 1-RM) or AET [19]. Whereas reduction in weight (−12.4 kg) and total adipose tissue (−9.7 kg) were not significantly different between the three groups, LBM was only preserved after the exercise training (independent of the mode)
It probably makes the most sense to try and maintain as much lean mass as possible while dieting and re-evaluate your goals after you've lost 20 lbs. If you have a defined six-pack and separation in your quads and still think you need to reduce your bodyweight for your athletic goals, you can make that decision then.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:49 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

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