There is a common goal for both fat-reduction periods and weight loss - to lose fat body mass, ie, body fat. But how can we lose body fat without losing muscle mass?
What's the point of a fat-reduction programme?
Fat-reduction periods apply to body-building sports but also to endurance sports, such as the triathlon.
In body-building, it is generally used after a period of gain in muscle mass, the aim being to reduce any body fat accumulated without affecting the muscles that have been achieved during the weight-gain period. This period enables better muscle definition, making each muscle stand out more clearly.
For endurance sports, the fat-reduction program is used during pre-competition periods. The same principle applies, to reduce fat accumulated outside competition periods in order to avoid carrying too much weight when the competition period starts.
What does losing weight actually mean?
Any intention to lose weight makes the body go into a catabolic state (muscle destruction). That's why, in order to lose weight, there needs to be a negative calorie balance, i.e. the calorie intake from food is inferior to the amount of calories burnt by the body.
In order to function correctly, the body gets its energy from wherever it can, ie it will use carbohydrates (glycogen), fat (body fat), but also protein (muscles). The body will always get its energy from these 3 reserves.
The aim of efficient weight loss is therefore to lose body fat while minimising muscle loss. Some muscle loss, however, is almost inevitable.
How should we carry out a fat-reduction program?
By reducing the calorie intake in order to create a negative energy balance, while still maintaining a physical activity.
During a fat-reduction period, there needs to be a loss of 1 to 2kg per month; any more, and there is a high risk of regaining the weight once the fat-reduction period is finished.
A fat-reduction period should always be combined with a balanced diet, with a daily calorie intake reduced by around 20%. It is important not to reduce the calorie intake too much, otherwise it will lead to muscle loss.
It is better not to eliminate any of the food groups. This is because when deprived of certain essential elements, the body cannot function at 100%, leading to significant fatigue, which will be felt during training sessions.
How long should a fat-reduction period last?
The length of the fat-reduction period depends on why it was started. The period can continue until the body mass percentage is satisfactory. It is better to carry out a progressive, longer-lasting fat-reduction period, to ensure long-term efficiency. If the fat-reduction period is carried out too rapidly, it will probably lead to muscle loss, thus contradicting the aim of conserving a maximum of muscle while getting rid of a maximum of fat.
How can we measure body fat loss?
2 methods are used:
- measuring skinfold thickness: Measurements must always be carried out by the same person, using Harpenden® callipers. This measurement involves measuring skinfold thickness by pinching different parts of the body. Using this measurement, it is possible to estimate a body fat mass percentage.
- body fat scales (less precise): These directly measure the body fat percentage by sending an electrical current by 2 electrodes under the feet.