Losing weight is hard, and doing it while maintaining muscle involves a bit of a balancing act, so how can you make sure you’re staying on track? Below you’ll find three key measurements that will help you stay on track with your weight loss and muscle retention goals.
Tracking your food
One of the first things you should be doing is tracking what you eat. Tracking the food you consume in a day will allow you to hold yourself accountable and stay on track with your weight loss goal.
Not only will you stay on track, but tracking your food will also allow you to better understand what you eat, learn which foods provide you with the energy your body needs, and ultimately develop a better relationship with food.
The nutrition side of losing weight requires you to consume less food than your body expends. This is your calorie deficit. Along with increasing daily activity through working out, calculating a caloric deficit is one of the first things I do with clients who want to lose weight.
Now, you don't want to be in an extreme deficit as this can cause you to lose muscle mass. The golden zone of weight loss is currently based on a 2009 position stand, which states that you want to be in a deficit between 500 to 1000 calories to achieve weight loss of 1-2 lbs per week (1). You can calculate your unique calorie deficit by watching this video of mine!
Tracking your scale weight
You’ll also want to keep an eye on your body weight. To do this, you’ll need to start using that bathroom scale of yours!
Measuring and tracking your scale weight once per week is a great way to give you an idea of your progress. However, it’s important to note that scale variations can occur. This is because of variables like water retention, bowel movements and even the time of day.
You’ll want to focus on your weight trend overall rather than week by week, as this can provide a more accurate representation of weight loss or gain. For example, one of my clients, Kyle, saw this during his weight loss journey. You can see that there were some spikes in weight, but overall, we saw a trending reduction in body weight.
To get an accurate scale weight, weigh yourself as soon as you wake up and after you’ve gone to the washroom.
Tracking your workouts
The third measurement you should track is your strength in the gym. As seen in a different 2009 position stand, we know that strength training combined with aerobic and diet interventions has an additive effect on weight loss and prevention of weight regain (2). So with this in mind, you’ll want to track the weights used in your workouts to ensure you're not losing muscle mass.
Now, because we’re focused on weight loss, don’t expect to see large increases in the weight used as that is not the primary focus of a weight loss plan. Instead, plan to see incremental weight increases over time.
A 2017 systematic review recommends that if you’re looking to increase muscle mass through resistance training, you should gradually increase your training volume over time and monitor progress closely to ensure you don’t experience a plateau (3).
Importance of tracking
Tracking weight loss progress is an essential part of any fitness journey. In addition to the studies we’ve already looked at, a study from Jeffery and colleagues also emphasizes the importance of monitoring weight loss progress for successful weight loss and maintenance in a randomized trial with 120 overweight adults.
Participants were put into either a control group or one of three intervention groups: food provision, monetary incentives, and both food provision and monetary incentives. After 16 weeks, the study found that all three intervention groups achieved significantly greater weight loss than the control group (4).
More specifically, the food provision and monetary incentives group lost an average of 19.6lbs, which was the greatest weight loss of all the groups, compared to 11.2 lbs for the monetary incentives group, 10.6 lbs for the food provision group, and 7.1 lbs for the control group (4).
Researchers also found that the food provision and monetary incentives group had a greater attendance rate at a weekly group check-in session than the other groups. Overall, this study highlights the significance of tracking fitness progress as it’s one of many important elements to improve weight loss outcomes.
Tracking what you eat, what you weigh and your progress in the gym may seem like a tedious undertaking, but taking the time to do this will keep your weight loss progress on track and allow you to have a higher weight loss success rate.
Get lean for summer
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Seagle, H. M., Strain, G. W., Makris, A., & Reeves, R. S. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: weight management. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(2), 330-346.
Donnelly, J. E., Blair, S. N., Jakicic, J. M., Manore, M. M., Rankin, J. W., & Smith, B. K. (2009). American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 41(2), 459-471.
Schoenfeld, Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 35(11), 1073–1082. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197
Jeffery, R. W., Wing, R. R., Thorson, C., Burton, L. R., Raether, C., Harvey, J., & Mullen, M. (1993). Strengthening behavioral interventions for weight loss: a randomized trial of food provision and monetary incentives. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 61(6), 1038.