About Jacques Courseault, M.D.

Jacques CourseaultJacques graduated from Tulane Medical School and has seven years of experience as a personal trainer.

He is currently pursuing his residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Louisiana State University.

Exercise Right!
with Jacques Courseault, M.D.

The First Step to Success: Committing to More than Yourself
How to Begin an Exercise Regimen
Walk Your Way to Better Health
How to Begin a Walking Program
Eating and Exercise: What to eat and when to eat it
Weight, Lean Body Mass and Exercise
Strong Muscles Fight Disease
How to Exercise with Disabled or Weak Legs
How to Conserve Muscle Mass During Weight Loss
How to Build Muscle Mass
How to Build Muscular Endurance
Exercise Ideas: Play Video Games!
Exercise Improves Eating Habits


How to Conserve Muscle Mass During Weight Loss

two people seen from the neck down using dumbbells to work their biceps

Conserving muscle mass, or lean body mass (LBM), is essential to maintaining a healthy body composition during periods of weight loss. Muscle supports your joints, helps you to perform daily activities, keeps you looking toned and boosts your resting metabolism, or the energy you expend at rest. Dr. Cedric Bryant, the Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise, states that an extra pound of muscle can result in an extra pound of weight loss over a year. Given that the average person gains three to five pounds of muscle over three to four months, conserving muscle mass can result in modest weight loss over the long term. Follow these general guidelines to add muscle and lose weight.

Eat the Right Foods

Eating the right foods is important to maintaining your LBM during weight loss. Protein, the building block of muscle, also contains about half of the energy content of fat. During exercise, your body may use both fat and protein from your muscles as a source of energy. This can result in a significant loss of LBM over time.

Researchers from the Departments of Food Science and Human Nutrition looked at 87 studies to determine how much protein and carbohydrates you should intake per day to maintain LBM during weight loss (Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 83: 260-74). The Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein is 0.8 gram/ kg of body weight (about 0.4 grams/pound) and about 55 percent of your daily energy intake should be in the form of carbohydrates. The problem with this recommendation is that it may not apply to those that are attempting to lose weight.

After reviewing previous studies, these researchers concluded that increasing your protein intake to 1.05 grams/kg (0.5 grams/pound) is associated with better LBM retention. Interestingly, they found that low-carbohydrate diets increased the loss of LBM during weight loss. Therefore, take your weight in pounds and divide by two to get your personal recommended daily allowance of protein. Additionally, consume 55 percent of your daily calories in complex carbohydrates, which should include fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.

Resistance Train to Maintain LBM

Resistance (weight) training increases LBM because your body adapts to strength training by developing more muscle mass. In 2008, researchers at the Department of Human Studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham studied the effects of resistance training on body composition in 100 women who lost ~12kg (25 pounds). They found that women who lifted weights during weight loss maintained LBM better than those who walked, jogged on a treadmill or did nothing. This is beneficial because these women were able to maintain or increase the number of calories they burned at rest due to the maintenance of LBM. A resistance training workout should contain eight to 10 upper and lower body exercises. Perform eight to twelve repetitions for two to three sets, two to three times per week.

What This Means for You

Maintaining Lean Body Mass has clearly been shown to prolong your life, provides joint support and helps you burn calories at rest to maintain your hard earned weight loss. Eat the correct portions of protein and carbohydrates and regularly resistance train to maintain a healthy body composition when losing weight.