You set a goal to lose a few pounds and be a little healthier. You started off great and lost 6 pounds in the first 2 weeks, but now things have started to slow down despite what feels like consistent effort. What’s the point of all this if you don’t see any results?
When it comes to body composition changes, whether it’s losing fat or adding muscle, understanding what’s realistic can be the difference between achieving amazing results and giving up altogether.
How fast should you be losing weight, and what’s a normal rate of muscle gain?
What’s sustainable long term?
Here are the numbers and your game plan.
Say we have two people.
Cyndi, a 39-year-old female, who wants to lose the 30 pounds she’s gained since having her 2 kids and get back to the body she had in college.
Sean, a 31-year-old male, who’s always felt thin and wants to add 15 pounds of muscle to his frame.
Both are highly motivated to reach their goal and are ready to commit to the process. So how long should it take each of them to reach their goal? 6 months, a year, longer?
Unless Cyndi and Sean set their expectations accordingly, they will find themselves in the same situation as you, burnt out and ready to give up on those goals.
So, what are realistic rates of fat loss and muscle gain, and what factors are integral to your success?
Know your goal
Always start the body composition change process with a clear understanding of your goal and what success looks like for you. Get a clear picture of the results you want and how you’ll know when you’ve reached your goal.
Do you want to have visible abs? It might take losing 40 pounds instead of the 20 you think.
Do you want to be healthy, but not look like a body builder? What metrics will let you know you’re healthier?
Figuring out how you’ll know when “you’ve arrived” will help you determine the tradeoffs it will take to get there.
Understand what it takes
Life is all about tradeoffs. Before you start something, you need to know what you may have to give up getting there. Whether it’s time, giving up social events, hiring a coach, joining a gym, or planning your meals, to make a change in your body composition, some things are going to have to change in your life.
Your end goal and the length of time you want to take to get there will impact the tradeoffs you will need to make to be successful. Losing 20 pounds in 6 months, versus losing 20 pounds in a year will require a lot more discipline and consistency. The leaner you want to get the more things you will have to give up reaching that goal.
Ensure that you are willing to make the tradeoffs needed or adjust your goal accordingly. Use these graphics to get an idea of the tradeoffs required for different levels of body composition.
Realistic Rates of Change
The rate of fat loss is affected by how consistently you follow the guidelines provided.
Realistic rates of fat loss per week
Extreme: Requires about 90 to 100 percent consistency.
Reasonable: Requires about 70 to 85 percent consistency.
Comfortable: Requires about 50 to 65 percent consistency.
It’s also important to understand that weight loss is never linear. If you’ve ever jumped on a scale before, you know your weight can change dramatically day to day. What’s more important than the numbers themselves, is that you are trending in the direction you want.
The ability to gain muscle is dependent on age, biological sex, genetics, and consistency with food intake, along with resistance training experience, intensity, frequency, style, volume, and more.
Realistic rates of muscle gain per month
What Factors Play a Role
Weight loss is usually most dramatic when you first start.
If you were eating 3500 calories per day, and you drop to 2000 calories a day, you’ve created a deficit of 1500 calories. As you start to lose weight though, your metabolism starts to slow down (a smaller body requires less energy) and that 1500 calorie deficit begins to diminish.
Knowing that can alleviate a lot of heartbreak when fat loss slows down over time.
The same is true with muscle gain.
When you first start out lifting and eating you might see great results right away, even for a few years. But as you grow, more and more calories are required to maintain that progress, and you get nearer to your genetic muscular potential. Your height, bone structure, and genetics all influence how much muscle your body will carry without performance enhancing drugs.
Here are some other factors that are also important in determining the rate of fat loss or muscle gain.
What to do if (when) you stall
As I mentioned earlier, weight loss or weight gain is not generally linear. You will have times where you plateau and stop seeing the progress you want. That’s why it’s so important to know your metrics of success and to track them. If you stop seeing the results, make a few adjustments until your metrics begin to move in the right direction again.
Have you stopped losing fat within realistic parameters?
Decrease your total intake by about 250 calories a day, by cutting out about 25 to 50 grams of carbs and/or 7 to 15 grams of fat. That roughly looks like 1 to 2 cupped handfuls of carbs and/or 1 to 2 thumbs of fats from your daily intake.
Have you stopped gaining muscle within realistic parameters?
Increase your intake by about 250 calories a day, by adding 25 to 50 grams of carbs and/or 7 to 15 grams of fats. Again, that looks like 1 to 2 cupped handfuls of carbs and/or 1 to 2 thumbs of fats to your daily intake.
Are you losing too much lean mass when losing weight?
Increase your daily protein intake by about 25 grams. Or simply add 1 extra palm of protein to your daily intake.
Are you gaining too much fat when adding muscle?
Increase your daily protein intake by about 25 grams and decrease your daily carb intake by about 25 to 50 grams and/or fat intake by about 7 to 15 grams. That’s 1 extra palm of protein to your daily intake, and 1 to 2 cupped handfuls of carbs and/or 1 to 2 thumbs of fats from your daily intake.
Plateaus should be expected in any process but knowing how to overcome them will keep you on track instead of giving up on your goals.
Whether you want to lose fat or gain muscle, one of the most important factors to your success is setting realistic expectations. Continue to make adjustments along the way and enjoy your progress as it comes.
Want help becoming the healthiest, fittest, strongest version of you?
Most of us know that eating well, regular activity, and managing our sleep and stress levels are important for a healthy life. Still, we struggle to apply that information into our already busy lives. That's why the Active Wave coaching programs help you create a strategy to lose fat, get stronger, and improve your health, all in the context of your own life. We know that's the only way to keep those changes for good, no matter what situation you're in. If you'd like to chat about how you can start to change your life and reach your health and fitness goals, book a free, 10 minute call with one of our coaches today!