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Four Ways to Maintain Muscle Weight Mass as You Lose Weight

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One of the most common problems that bariatric patients experience during their significant weight loss phase – usually about six months to a year after surgery – is that they also lose a substantial amount of muscle mass. While the weight is coming off, as are the inches around the waist, it can be concerning when you begin to experience back and joint pain. This is typical because your weight loss has reduced the critical muscular support your body needs to remove pressure from the skeletal system.

Muscle mass is also important because it helps you lose more weight. Muscle tissue burns calories even at rest, so building some muscle is a great way to maximize the results of your bariatric surgery.

We can’t forget the aesthetic benefits of muscle. Strength training usually leads to a more appealing body shape that often motivates patients to continue their exercise. Muscle can also help fill in excess skin that will undoubtedly occur after significant weight loss.

But How Do We Minimize Muscle Mass Loss During a Phase of Surgery Where Caloric Intake Is So Restricted?

  1. You must get enough protein. Your postoperative packet will give you a good idea of how much protein you should consume and how exactly to consume it. There are a multitude of high-protein shakes and foods that are specifically made for bariatric patients. These tend to be low in sugar and suitable for your postoperative life. However, your protein requirements may be higher if you are working out. Be sure to speak to your surgeon about appropriate protein intake.
  2. Working out is an integral part of the postoperative lifestyle. Initially, you may be very limited in how much weight you can lift or how much cardio you can do. This will improve as you lose weight and start building muscle. You must balance cardiovascular exercise with strength training no matter what exercises you pursue. You can do these at home or the gym, but most patients find they are more motivated when they go to a gym. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed when you first start. Just follow your training routine and make sure you’re consistent.
  3. Most importantly, find exercises you enjoy while recognizing that variety is the spice of life. Don’t always work out the same muscles, as you can potentially injure them from overuse. And it can get pretty dull, so you may stop going to the gym. Going to the gym with a friend, family member, or another bariatric patient may be worthwhile. Take a class together. Get social. Having a friend to whom you are accountable and on whom you can rely during the ups and downs can be the difference between good and great results.
  4. Losing weight slowly and steadily is also critically important to maintaining muscle mass. There is a tendency for some patients to go overboard both with their dieting and exercise regimens. Doing so has very few benefits and plenty of downsides. Not only is starving yourself and over-exercising unsustainable, but you will also, almost certainly, lose effectiveness in your exercise routine. You’ll be tired, your muscles will be worn out, and you won’t be able to build the strength necessary for aesthetic and health purposes. You will likely lose a significant amount of weight early in the process, but losing 1 to 2 pounds weekly is a great way to hit your goals over the medium term. Don’t be concerned if you gain a little weight in the beginning. This is very normal as your body builds muscle.

The best advice we can offer about maintaining muscle and getting the very best results after your bariatric procedure is to have patience. The results will not happen overnight, nor should they. Once you reach your goals, you want to maintain your new lower weight. The best way to do so is by being measured in both your diet and exercise program.

Secondly, we can’t stress enough that you should follow your surgeon’s post-op suggestions. Your surgical practice has likely performed hundreds, if not thousands, of these procedures, and they know where the pitfalls are. You may have special dietary and/or exercise needs, so it’s vital to speak to your doctor and develop a plan to address those.

Last but certainly not least, it’s crucial that you reach out to the support team around you to remind yourself that you are not alone in this journey. While it’s conceivable that you could reach your goal weight without help from those around you, why not enjoy some camaraderie and learn from the mistakes and victories that others have experienced before you? Whether it’s family, friends, your bariatric practice, or a support group buddy, someone should always be ready and willing to help you break through any barriers.

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