So, you’ve lost weight, now what? What should your next move be in your fitness journey?
After you’ve lost weight, the next step is to build muscle again.
These are my 8 tips for building muscle after weight loss:
Start strength training
Focus on compound movements
Do High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Include rest days
Increase your caloric intake
Eat sufficient protein
Get your beauty sleep
To get you started on building muscle after weight loss, let’s discuss each of these tips in more detail so you have a step-by-step action plan.
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How to Build Muscle After Weight Loss
Here, we’ve divided our tips across 3 important categories:fitness, diet, and lifestyle.
While it is necessary to train to build muscle, a lot of the magic happens outside of the gym as well so make sure that you are mindful of other areas of your life to optimize results.
First, we are going to start with the foundation of building muscle—fitness. This is a pivotal component in gaining muscle and strength as without it, there would be nothing to stimulate this growth.
1. STRENGTH TRAINING
If you haven’t already, now is the time to incorporate strength training into your routine.
This means a workout that has resistance acting against you or picking up dumbbells or kettlebells and loading that barbell.
If you’re at the gym, you can use the machines or even just using your bodyweight is beneficial as well (yes, bodyweight exercises can build muscle).
Strength training helps to break down the muscle fibers in the body. Once this happens, it will then repair at a bigger scale than it was before. That is assuming you have a proper diet, which we’ll cover later in this article.
To make sure that your strength training is actually effective in building muscle, you need to also make sure that you’re focusing on progressive overload.
Progressive overload means that you’re constantly forcing your body to adapt to more stress and tension than it was exposed to previously. In other words, it means lifting heavier weights so that you can continue to gain more muscle mass and strength.
There are a few different ways to make sure that you’re overloading your muscles:
Lifting heavier weights – This means that you’re loading the barbell with more weight than you did the week before, or picking up the heavier dumbbell or kettlebell. It could even mean moving from bodyweight exercises to ones using resistance bands.
Increasing reps – Challenging yourself to do more reps at a certain weight than what you were doing before is another way to overload your muscles. You’re pushing them to do more than they could previously.
Increasing volume – This is adding additional sets to your training. So instead of doing a certain number of squats for a set of 3, you’ll be doing the same number of squats but for a set of 4 and then the next week, it could be 5 sets. Increase the volume of your training to make sure that you’re doing more.
Decrease rest times between sets – Shorten the amount of time you spend resting in between sets while still doing the same number of reps or lifting the same weight. This requires your body to do the same work in less time.
When it comes to progressive overload though, make sure that you’re still able to lift with good form. Don’t overload your muscles, whether that is by adding more weight or sets, unless you can do it without compromising on technique.
P.S. If you need some ideas for strength training, then check out FitBod’s app which can generate a training plan just for you.
2. FOCUS ON COMPOUND MOVEMENTS
There are different types of strength training that you can do and while each of them has a place in fitness, there are some that definitely give you more bang for buck.
For example, compound movements.
These are movements that utilise more than one muscle group so you’re recruiting the muscle fibres in multiple areas simultaneously as opposed to isolation exercises that only work one at a time.
Compound movements are the big three lifts – squats, bench press and deadlifts – and there are others such as the overhead press, pull ups and the hip thrust. Focus on getting some compound movements in as the main focus of your strength training and then you can do isolation exercises at the end as accessory lifts.
3. DO HIIT
If you want to do cardio, which is great for your cardiovascular system, then try to focus on high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
This means that you’re working out at a shorter amount of time but at a much higher intensity. HIIT might be a better form of cardio than low-intensity steady state cardio (LISS), where you’ll be working out for longer periods of time but at a lower intensity, because it’s better at preserving the muscle you already have.
If you want to minimize the risk of muscle catabolism, then choose your cardio wisely.
Related Article: How To Workout Twice a Day For Weight Loss (Ultimate Guide)
4. INCLUDE REST DAYS
Less is more, and this also rings true regarding exercising.
While it’s important to lift weights, it’s just as important to give yourself rest days so your muscles can repair and grow.
As we mentioned, strength training breaks down the muscle tissues which stimulates the next process of recovering and then rebuilding but this can’t happen if you’re not letting your body rest.
Rest days are important because it’s the time where your muscles can actually complete the process of recovering so that your muscles can rebuild, which is what you want. It’s a good rule of thumb to not train the same muscle group 48 hours after you’ve already focused on them, to give them that recovery time.
That means if you’ve just had an upper body day, then the next day should be a leg day so you’re not using the same muscles. However, it’s also a good idea to incorporate full rest days into your routine at least 1-2 times a week. This doesn’t mean that you have to be completely sedentary though. You can do some active recovery which means foam rolling, stretching or going for a walk. Don’t do anything too strenuous otherwise that defeats the purpose of a rest day.
What you do in the kitchen is just as important in building muscle after weight loss as it is in your training. Your diet can really make a significant difference in how fast you can build muscle and minimize the amount of fat that comes with it.
5. INCREASE YOUR CALORIE INTAKE
You need to eat to build muscle as it’s what provides it for fuel to grow.
It can be a bit scary to increase your caloric intake, especially after weight loss, but it is necessary to do so. How much you actually increase your intake though, depends on your goals. If you want to minimize the amount of fat that you will put on while building muscle, then you can implement a smaller caloric surplus*. However, bear in mind that doing so will mean that it’ll take longer to get to your goal.
If you don’t mind a higher rate of fat growth alongside your muscle growth, then a higher caloric surplus may be an option for you.
*A calorie surplus means that you’re eating more calories than what your body burns. We break down exactly how many calories you should eat, including the breakdown of protein, carbs, and fats in this article.
6. EAT SUFFICIENT PROTEIN
In your calorie intake, you need to definitely ensure that you’re eating enough protein to further fuel your growth.
Protein is the building block of muscle growth and repair, so it’s important that you’re consuming enough. There are many debates about how much protein you actually need to consume but a good rule of thumb is to consume around 10-25 percent of your caloric intake from protein. You can also eat more protein than the recommended amount but just remember that once you hit your target protein requirement, the extra amount won’t accelerate the rate in which you will build muscle any faster.
There are other factors that contribute to how you’re able to gain muscle after losing weight that are also important to be mindful of.
7. GET YOUR BEAUTY SLEEP
Sleeping is such an important variable in being healthy and building muscle, yet it’s often overlooked.
Without getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night, you can make it difficult for yourself to keep to a consistent routine and feel good.
Ever tried training after a bad night’s sleep? It’s definitely not as effective as it would have been had you actually slept for a good amount of time.
Not to mention, you’ll have less energy throughout the day and will probably be moody. So make sure you get your beauty sleep just to feel all round better.
Related Article: Why Do Powerlifters Get Sleep Apnea?
8. BE CONSISTENT
Every single one of the tips that we’ve talked about is so important but in the end, it all comes down to consistency.
You’ll see the best results if you’re able to create a routine that you can stick to and be consistent in managing your training and diet as well as your sleep.
If it all seems too overwhelming for you, then start small such as training 2 times per week and slowly build from there once you’ve established a habit of working out those 2 times. Starting small and then building from there consistently will get you to your goal faster than trying to do everything all at once, every single day, then falling off the wagon completely.
This means finding a routine that works for you. There are so many debates about whether training in the morning or evening is better or if eating 3 or 6 meals a day is more beneficial and so forth. In the end, knowing what works best for you and what you’re more likely to stick to, is what will help you find your groove and that routine. So don’t try to wake up early in the morning to work out if you find that night time is when you tend to have more time and discipline to do it. Eat 3 bigger meals a day if that keeps you satiated throughout the day rather than 6 smaller ones. This may require trial and error at first, but as you get to know how you work best, it’ll start to become a habit that you don’t have to think about as much and then it’ll become a regular routine for you. Remember, consistency is key.
How long will it take to build muscle?
Unfortunately, building muscle doesn’t happen overnight. It does take time. You’ll need to be patient to see the results that you’re looking for, but don’t worry, if you’re following these tips and putting in the effort, then you will eventually see them.
On average, if you’re new to lifting or are a beginner, then you’ll be more likely to see results faster than those who are well experienced or are seasoned athletes. This is referred to as “beginner gains” as your body is rapidly adapting to the new stimuli you’re giving it. Beginner gains tend to last for about a year but you’ll see most of the results within the first 6 months or so. You can gain around 2-3 pounds of muscle a month.
However, if you classify yourself as an intermediate or advanced lifter, don’t fret. You’ll still see muscle growth though it will take longer and won’t be as dramatic. For an intermediate lifter, you’re looking at gaining 1-2 pounds of muscle in a month and for a seasoned one, it’s approximately half a pound.
Related Article: How Much Muscle Can You Gain In A Month? Here’s The Truth
Do I need to have a protein shake to build muscle?
It’s not an uncommon image to see someone finishing a lifting session and then heading straight to their shaker bottle to chug down a protein shake. A protein shake is not necessary to build muscle. What a protein shake does do, though, is give your body protein. However, if you’re eating enough protein from food sources, then you may not need a shake. They’re good for those who need a little extra help getting protein throughout the day in an easy and convenient way.
Building muscle after weight loss is quite simple. By making sure that you’re eating in a caloric surplus with lots of protein, and you’re training and sleeping well, you can get started on your goal to build muscle. However, bear in mind that this doesn’t happen overnight so you will need to be patient and trust the process. But just think, by starting today with the 8 great tips we shared with you, you’ll already be that one day closer to achieving the muscle that you want.
About The Author
As a health and fitness writer, Emily combines her two passions—powerlifting and writing. With a creative writing degree under her belt, she spends her mornings lifting weights, her nights putting pen to paper, and eating too many snacks in between.