While strength training has *so* many benefits that go beyond changing your body composition, lifting weights is a key habit to get into if you want to lose weight. After all, you can burn up to 1.4 percent of body fat just by lifting, research has shown. But there’s really no guide to exactly how to do this—or even how long it will take to see weight loss results from strength training.
Weight loss depends on a number of factors, such as what you eat, how much and how intensely you train, and how long your workouts are. In general, if you stick to your current diet, “you should see a change in your weight in about two weeks,” says Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and CEO of Promix Nutrition.
TBH, weight loss related to lifting can be difficult to measure because muscle weighs more than fat and you’re (hopefully) building muscle while losing weight through your routine. “Your weight can stay the same, but you can still lose body fat,” notes Matheny.
To accurately gauge your progress, consider how your jeans fit against the number on the scale, she says. Also, consider investing in a scale that measures your body fat percentage so you can watch that number drop instead of your total weight.
Meet the experts: Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, is the co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and CEO of Promix Nutrition. Jessica Cording, RD, is a nutritionist and author The Little Book of Game Changes.
“If you’ve been trying to lose for a month and don’t feel like you’re making any progress, it’s a great time to reevaluate your routine,” says Jessica Cording, RD, author of The Little Book of Game Changes.
Feeling a little stuck in your attempts to lose weight with strength training? Experts say one (or more) of these factors may be at play, and here’s what you can do to get the needle moving again.
1. You paid zero attention to your nutrition.
It’s easy to lump your weight loss efforts into buckets—your exercise routine and what you eat—and focus on just one thing at a time, but it really needs to be a 360-degree approach. “If you’re not managing your nutrition, it can definitely override what you’re doing fitness-wise,” Matheny says.
Let’s just say that if you end up consuming more calories than you burn, you still won’t lose weight—and may even gain weight. So make sure you pay attention to your total calorie intake when you’re doing strength training for weight loss.
2. You eat little protein.
This is huge, considering that protein helps build muscle. “The amino acids in protein are what your body uses to prepare and build muscle,” explains Cording. Eat at least the recommended daily amount 50 to 60 grams of protein per day (if not much more!) can help you stay content and lay the building blocks that will build up for you. And this macronutrient helps you feel fuller for longer and minimizes the likelihood of overeating.
Of course, everyone is different. This handy USDA calculator helps you figure out your protein needs based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
3. You snack too much.
Mindless snacking can definitely work against any weight loss efforts, says Cording. There are two reasons for this: One is that you may be consuming more calories than you realize; another is that snacking can prevent you from eating balanced meals. Plan your meals – and snacks – ahead of time to get the right balance of nutrients.
4. You’re not exercising hard enough.
This can be hard to measure, but tracking how you feel after a workout will usually tell you if your routine needs tweaking, Matheny says. “With 99 percent of strength training, you should feel cardiovascularly challenged,” says Matheny. “If you don’t feel tired afterwards, you’re probably not training hard enough.”
If that’s the case for you, try adding five to 10 reps to each exercise or start lifting heavier weights until your workouts feel more challenging, Matheny says. And if you work out at the gym, ask your trainer for tips.
5. Your carb intake is off.
Carbs get a bad rap, but they’re also important when you’re strength training. “Some people will fight and say, ‘I barely eat any carbs,’ but your body uses carbs when you exercise,” says Cording. Carbohydrates “may be useful for energy and endurance and also play a role in recovery.” If you don’t have enough carbohydrates in your diet, you won’t be able to exercise as hard as you need to in order to lose weight.
The exact amount of carbs you need varies—if you’re also doing cardio, you’ll need more than someone who just lifts weights, notes Cording. In general, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. If you’re not sure if you’re getting enough, working with a registered dietitian can be really helpful.
6. You don’t get balanced meals.
“Strength training has a way of making you feel very hungry,” says Cording. And if you don’t think about how to get in a balanced meal, you can end up eating tons of empty calories that aren’t rich in nutrients.
“Ideally, you want every meal to contain protein, healthy fats, and fiber,” says Cording. For breakfast, that might mean having avocado toast on a slice of whole-wheat bread, topped with tomato and scrambled eggs, she says.
7. You drink too much.
Alcohol can be a sneaky source of empty calories that work against your weight loss efforts, Matheny says. And if you tend to drink more than one drink at a time, those calories can really add up. What’s more, alcohol can increase cortisol levels and even hinder your reaction time or ability to exercise as intensely, so you may not get as much meaningful strength training as you think if you drink regularly.
The best way to cut calories from alcohol is to stop drinking, says Matheny (you know the one!). But if it’s not something you’re okay with, try changing your drinking habits. Consider sticking to just one drink once or twice a week, or switch to low-calorie drinks like vodka and soda and avoid sugary cocktails like margaritas and piña coladas.
8. You don’t allow yourself enough time to recover.
It seems strange that you need to rest to lose weight, but there is actually something to it. “When you exercise, you don’t get stronger,” Matheny says. “You get stronger as your body recovers. If you don’t give your body enough time or proper nutrition, you simply won’t see improvement.
Another thing to consider, according to Matheny: If you’re constantly trying to go really hard without rest, it’s going to be difficult for you to put in enough effort. Still, he says, “24 hours of rest is usually good for most people. Just try not to work the same muscle group on consecutive days.” It’s a good idea to focus on your legs one day and make it an arm day the next.
If you have tried these gadgets and you are still if you’re getting nowhere, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional, such as a trainer at a local gym. They should be able to help you figure out what’s going on and get you on the right path to success.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamor and more. He has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach and hopes to one day own a tea pig and a taco truck.
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