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How to save muscle while dieting

Combining a calorie-restricted diet with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) could be a solution for reducing weight regain after weight loss.

“Eighty percent of people who lose weight by dieting gain all of it back in a four- to five-year period,” says University of Alabama researcher Eric Plaisance who was involved in a study that looked at the impact of high-intensity interval training. Plaisance and colleagues discovered that in the presence of a calorie-restricted diet, high-intensity exercise training preserved muscle mass and had a greater impact on the way the body uses glucose for energy. HIIT is when you perform near maximal exercise for a short period of time followed by two to four minutes of active recovery; for example, if someone is on a treadmill they may go from running to walking. A person can for example perform four to five cycles of near maximal exercise followed by active recovery.

“This study has important implications for how we guide people through weight loss and help them keep the weight off. Being able to maintain weight loss is important to reducing the risk of diabetes, helping to improve blood pressure, and many other diseases and ailments associated with obesity.”

According to Plaisance one of the major problems when you restrict your calories is the loss of muscle mass and the slowing down of your metabolism to accommodate the restriction of food.

Moderate-intensity exercise, such as a brisk walk on the treadmill, has been shown to reduce the lowering of a person’s metabolic rate while on a diet.

People who perform HIIT seem to produce the same amount of weight loss doing 20 minutes of exercise as those who perform 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. “High-intensity interval training takes about a third of the time as a continuous exercise training. If you are going to start a diet where you are restricting calories, these results could help prevent muscle mass and maintain energy expenditure,” says Plaisance.

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