GLP-1 medications can cause significant weight loss. That may sound like a good thing, but there are risks to losing a lot of weight quickly. Rapid weight loss can mean losing not just fat, but also muscle mass. Muscles are important. Muscles keep you strong and mobile so that you can do the things you love, and they also help your body burn calories. When you lose muscle, you’re diminishing one of your best tools for weight loss.
But there are things you can do while on GLP-1s to keep your muscles strong.
Focus on protein
Your body uses protein to build muscle. Eating enough of this important nutrient while taking GLP-1s can help you maintain and even increase your muscle mass.
Your first step is to know which foods give you protein. Then you can make sure you choose protein-rich foods at every meal and snack.
Here’s a guide to common protein sources and how much protein they give you per serving.
How to get more protein in your diet
It doesn’t take a whole lot to increase the amount of protein you’re eating. By focusing on a few high-quality proteins and choosing whole grains, you can make sure you’re eating enough protein.
If you’re already adding more protein into your diet, you may already be on the right track. If you need more tips, here are a couple of ways to think about “enough” protein:
You can get a rough estimate of your protein needs by following this calculation: 1 g/kg of body weight. This translates into about 9 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight. So, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should aim for 81 grams of protein each day.
You can break up your daily protein intake by meal. After calculating your protein needs, divide that number by the number of meals you eat each day. If you have 3 meals a day and you need 75 grams of protein each day, that would be about 25 grams of protein for each meal.
You can use these tools as guidelines. But know that protein needs vary. Your best bet for a personalized protein target is to work with your PCP or a dietitian.
Both strength training and cardio activities are important for maintaining and building muscle mass.
Strength training, also called resistance training or muscle-strengthening activity, puts a healthy strain on your muscles. It is particularly important for maintaining strength while trying to lose weight. Resistance can come from weights, resistance bands or your own body weight. It’s important to work all of your muscles at least twice a week.
Examples of strength training include:
- Weights or weight machines
- Shoveling or heavy yard work
- Resistance bands
- Push-ups, squats or sit-ups
- Climbing stairs or hills
Cardio, or aerobic, exercise is any kind of exercise that gets your heart beating faster than usual. It burns calories, keeps your heart strong, and also helps keep your muscles strong. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping activities per week.
Examples of aerobic exercise include:
- Brisk walking
- Aerobics classes (including water aerobics)
- Jumping jacks
- High-intensity interval training
Stay in touch with your healthcare team.
Eating enough protein and getting the right kinds of exercise can go a long way to preventing muscle loss as you lose weight. But it’s important to be in touch with your healthcare team along the way. They can help monitor your weight loss, and make sure you’re losing weight safely.
You can also think about protein as a percentage of your daily calories. In a high-protein diet, 25%-35% of calories come from protein. So, if you’re eating 1,600 calories a day, 400-560 calories should come from protein. Since 1 gram of protein is 4 calories, that translates to 100-140 grams of protein each day.