2

votes

Is there a reason my body burns muscle mass below a certain weight, even with plenty of body fat left to burn?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created October 18, 2012 at 7:16 PM

I've lost a whole lot of weight in the last year - and thanks to skin caliper/measuring tape body fat analyses over time, I was able to observe fat mass loss vs. lean mass gains during the process.

I'm now around 185 lb. Every time in the last two nutrition challenges that my body weight has dipped below this weight, I've started to lose muscle mass much faster than I'd lose fat...or I even lose lean mass and gain fat mass! Caliper/tape measure test have me at 27-29% body fat, so it's not as if I'm super lean and muscle is all that is left to burn. In the last two weeks, for example, I've been eating very cleanly, and working out steadily (with a few rest days). I stepped on the scale to see the number 1.5 lb. down. Yet, after hearing from the gal who assessed my body fat, according to the measurements, I lost 4.5 lb. lean mass and GAINED 3 lb. fat mass.

I eat meals that combine all macronutrients. My day's food intake looks like this:

  • 16 oz. give or take of animal protein, or some eggs and 10-12 oz. of animal protein - the protein is usually evenly divided between breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Lots of nonstarchy veggies, mostly cooked in coconut oil
  • 2-3 servings of fruit
  • 1-2 fist-sized servings of starchy carbs
  • A handful of nuts at most in a day
  • My biggest indulgence is approx 5 g of sugar worth of high quality dark chocolate, once in a day, but I don't have this every day
  • No dairy

I'm an active Crossfitter who usually gets in 4-5 workouts in a week. 29 year old female. In between the last two nutrition challenges my doctor put me on bioidentical hormone replacement in a bid to combat what seems to be a pretty clear-cut case of pregnenolone steal, so I'm on a on/off recurring course progesterone cream, and a daily low dose of pregnenolone. I'm also still nursing my two year old. I get 7 hours of sleep most nights, and many days, I nap when my two year old naps (about an hour).

What could be the top culprits for my body going after muscle before fat under a certain body weight?

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on September 07, 2013
at 01:28 AM

I was "on" the 14 day course of progesterone when the first measurement was taken two weeks ago...then on the 14 day "off" for several days by the time the second measurements were taken. I agree, there is a whole lot of margin of error here, taking into account method, a whole circus of hormones. Since this has happened too in July (before progesterone therapy even entered the picture), I'm just trying to make sure that I'm not making any obvious mistakes on the nutrition end of things lest I get another 10 lb. down (vs. 1.5) and discover it was >10 lb. of the wrong stuff I'd lost.

24df4e0d0e7ce98963d4641fae1a60e5

on October 25, 2012
at 01:49 PM

Sounds great! I truly believe those body composition changes are fluid balance or measurement artifacts. Of course if it makes you appear fattier, that's another issue, but your body doesn't turn muscle into fat.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 21, 2012
at 11:53 PM

Followup, just got my blood work back today. My progesterone and pregnenolone levels were beautifully improved, my LDL went down to 98. Doc gave the OK for me to get off the hormones; we'll retest in 6 months to make sure my body's still doing everything swell on its own. So, now that hormones are out of the picture, I'm really curious to see whether there's any noteworthy changes in future body fat assessments.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 20, 2012
at 02:31 AM

Ideally, I'd like to stay strong, but lose somewhere around another 20 lb. of fat. That may be too much; I'm openminded about calibrating my goals, but I know that now I still am probably carrying too much fat.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 20, 2012
at 02:27 AM

I had a comprehensive blood panel - hormones, cholesterol, the works. In almost every measurable way I was within desired aka "healthy" parameters - except for high cortisol, elevated LDL, and low levels of progesterone and pregnenolone. The hormone therapy is the doctor's bid to jump start the progesterone/pregnenolone machinery and usage of LDL - because the cortisol-dominating aspect has been chronic, for almost a year. Her explicitly stated plan is to not have me on these hormones forever, just long enough to see if it gets things going naturally in terms of my LDL/hormone pathways.

24df4e0d0e7ce98963d4641fae1a60e5

on October 19, 2012
at 06:51 PM

PS not saying you're lying or anything here, I'm saying the measurements are. Perhaps you are retaining water or something?

24df4e0d0e7ce98963d4641fae1a60e5

on October 19, 2012
at 06:50 PM

Hey fg, What tests did you have before deciding on hormone therapy? I'm not judging, just saying if it were me, especially breastfeeding, I'd likely wait it out on that front unless it's something incapacitating. I still don't believe the composition thing -- lose 1.5 lbs net, lose 4.5 lbs lean gain 3 lbs fat? Every study I've ever seen that has lasted at least a month doesn't show this. The only opposite numbers I've ever seen in studies are where there are small gains in muscle accompanying fat loss. Tens of studies, where composition is measured by more sophisticated methods

Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 19, 2012
at 05:29 PM

Yeah, this could be test variability on the composition. I believe the scale though.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on October 19, 2012
at 03:41 PM

What's your goal?

C3bc92e6b5eba45dc55f43ac3c70cc25

on October 19, 2012
at 01:54 PM

Don't invest to much in % numbers from calipers. There is a typical 5% margin of error. Go by mirror, pics & strength /conditioning progress. Do you FEEL that you lost muscle?

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6 Answers

4
3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on October 18, 2012
at 07:40 PM

Top culprit would be the crossfit. When your at a certain leanness and a caloric deficit that level of activity is too much. Resistance training is vital for retaining lean mass when losing weight, but I would not recommend more than 2 focused sessions per week. You already have limited caloric resources to repair the damage with reduced calories....your frequency and intensity are too high to sustain past a certain leanness IMO.

Were it me I would also ditch the fruit (or at least half of it) with my reduced frequency of training. Spend the days you were CF'ing going on a hikes.

2
Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 18, 2012
at 09:42 PM

Eyeballing your daily diet, I'd guess you're eating 1200-1500 cal/day, on a burn of I'd guess 2000 cal/day. That's a heavy-duty weight loss regime, and it's working. Under a weight loss scenario, you can't control very well what your body is going to give it up. You can't spot reduce. Under a similar scenario to yours, going from 215 lbs to 165 lbs, I lost a lot of weight in my shoulders at the same time I was losing visceral fat in the abdomen and I couldn't control it. 5 years later I haven't gained any of the weight back, and my shoulders are still scrawny.

1
24df4e0d0e7ce98963d4641fae1a60e5

on October 19, 2012
at 12:37 PM

Red Flag! If in two weeks, any measurement says you somehow lost 4.5 lbs muscle and gained 3 lbs of fat, don't believe the measurement. Not possible, didn't happen. So you're probably worried for no reason. It is possible progesterone has shifted fatty acids to fat tissue where they are associated with a bit more water than in muscle, but that's pure speculation and unlikely to be significant, especially over the time frames we're talking.

You are breast feeding, so eat more carbs if you are at all concerned that you're breaking down muscle mass to fuel gluconeogenesis. I doubt it b/c it looks like you're eating sufficient carb + protein, but carbs are protein sparing.

Personally, if it were me, I'd cut back on the exercise and nix the hormones until I was done breast feeding.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on September 07, 2013
at 01:28 AM

I was "on" the 14 day course of progesterone when the first measurement was taken two weeks ago...then on the 14 day "off" for several days by the time the second measurements were taken. I agree, there is a whole lot of margin of error here, taking into account method, a whole circus of hormones. Since this has happened too in July (before progesterone therapy even entered the picture), I'm just trying to make sure that I'm not making any obvious mistakes on the nutrition end of things lest I get another 10 lb. down (vs. 1.5) and discover it was >10 lb. of the wrong stuff I'd lost.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 19, 2012
at 05:29 PM

Yeah, this could be test variability on the composition. I believe the scale though.

24df4e0d0e7ce98963d4641fae1a60e5

on October 19, 2012
at 06:50 PM

Hey fg, What tests did you have before deciding on hormone therapy? I'm not judging, just saying if it were me, especially breastfeeding, I'd likely wait it out on that front unless it's something incapacitating. I still don't believe the composition thing -- lose 1.5 lbs net, lose 4.5 lbs lean gain 3 lbs fat? Every study I've ever seen that has lasted at least a month doesn't show this. The only opposite numbers I've ever seen in studies are where there are small gains in muscle accompanying fat loss. Tens of studies, where composition is measured by more sophisticated methods

24df4e0d0e7ce98963d4641fae1a60e5

on October 19, 2012
at 06:51 PM

PS not saying you're lying or anything here, I'm saying the measurements are. Perhaps you are retaining water or something?

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 20, 2012
at 02:27 AM

I had a comprehensive blood panel - hormones, cholesterol, the works. In almost every measurable way I was within desired aka "healthy" parameters - except for high cortisol, elevated LDL, and low levels of progesterone and pregnenolone. The hormone therapy is the doctor's bid to jump start the progesterone/pregnenolone machinery and usage of LDL - because the cortisol-dominating aspect has been chronic, for almost a year. Her explicitly stated plan is to not have me on these hormones forever, just long enough to see if it gets things going naturally in terms of my LDL/hormone pathways.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on October 21, 2012
at 11:53 PM

Followup, just got my blood work back today. My progesterone and pregnenolone levels were beautifully improved, my LDL went down to 98. Doc gave the OK for me to get off the hormones; we'll retest in 6 months to make sure my body's still doing everything swell on its own. So, now that hormones are out of the picture, I'm really curious to see whether there's any noteworthy changes in future body fat assessments.

24df4e0d0e7ce98963d4641fae1a60e5

on October 25, 2012
at 01:49 PM

Sounds great! I truly believe those body composition changes are fluid balance or measurement artifacts. Of course if it makes you appear fattier, that's another issue, but your body doesn't turn muscle into fat.

0
99edf695acbefb52ee5919627104f852

on October 19, 2012
at 12:29 PM

Put everything you eat into Fitday and check your macros. You don't want to be in the middle of nowhere = your body doesn't prefer fat for energy + you don't eat enough carbs = you burn protein and muscle

If this is the case you have 2 solutions:

Up your carbs to meet your training needs but also lower fat, keep same calories

OR

Lower your carbs to keto levels (50g max) but up your fat, keep same calories. Afer doing this for at least 2 weeks, add one high carb low fat day (CKD approach)

0
3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on October 18, 2012
at 08:06 PM

There are a lot of things at play here. And it would be difficult to opine on just one, but the primary reason the body burns muscle over fat, as I understand it, is to prevent starvation.

The first two things that the body does in starvation is breakdown any stored glycogen for energy, AND kick start GNG to turn any consumption of protein into glucose.

What happens then is that the protein is not available to help build the muscle, and your muscle breaks down. For a starving person, this is actually a good thing! Muscle requires a lot of calories to maintain, fewer muscles, lower caloric need.

While it does not sound as if you are starving yourself, it is still possible your body is reacting poorly due to some nutritional void.

-2
C012d2a56b9d4223e41a535879271d42

on October 23, 2012
at 08:47 PM

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