Some of you are in the process of leaning down, either as a new year’s goal, to get ready for competition, or to simply look good for summer – whatever the reason, they’re all good.
As you make physical progress towards your goal, your own eyes may deceive you, causing you to justify a “cheat” or a binge. This is especially true if you’re just as concerned about maintaining or gaining muscle mass as you are about leaning down. One important thing to understand is that fat storage cannot occur without food.
With that said, here’s how your mind can play tricks on you:
1) Visible loss of muscle size
If you’re training the same way as before you started the leaning out process, it’s highly unlikely that you’re losing muscle mass. What’s really happening is that as you’re (necessarily) restricting calories and therefore carbohydrates to lose fat, your muscles aren’t as full of glycogen (carbohydrate storage). Remember every gram of carbohydrate holds 3 times its weight in water, so your muscles will take on a “flatter” appearance simply from not being as bloated. Some people mistake this for actual muscle loss, but the protein content is still there. This is also why you look better after a cheat meal – your muscles fill up with glycogen; but at the same time you’re putting a halt to your fat loss. By eating to keep your glycogen levels “topped off” all the time, you won’t be burning much fat.
It’s better to accept the temporary loss of size to achieve your greater goal. Once you’re done losing fat and go back to eating at maintenance, your muscles will hydrate to their fullest again, but this time you’ll be leaner so your muscles will actually appear bigger (remember it’s all about illusion). And you won’t gain fat as long as you don’t overeat.
Another thing about getting very lean is that it forces you to realize how much of your mass is actual muscle, which is always less than expected. Weak areas will show through as clear as day, so it’s a good time to evaluate what might need work.
2) You appear “flabbier” even though you’re losing inches
This happens because fat is not stored and released evenly throughout the body. Some areas will appear “cut” first, causing other areas to appear less cut in comparison. For example, you may have a clear “four pack” in the abdominal region while the bottom row remains smooth. This is to be expected, so just keep on your journey and every other area will cut up eventually – yes, even your “trouble” areas.
Also, the leaner you get the higher the standard you compare yourself with, so it’s easy to forget how much progress you’ve made. This is why taking before and after pictures is really valuable – you see yourself in the mirror every day so minute changes are imperceptible. With progress photos, you get an objective look.
“Good habits, once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits” – Robert Puller