A Hidden Cause of Muscle Loss and Diet Failure – T Nation Content – COMMUNITY

Sleep, Fat Loss, and the Anxiety Connection

The exact same diet plan can lead to more fat loss or more muscle loss. It all depends on one overlooked factor.

Just eat less and move more, they say. They’re mostly right, but it’s more nuanced than that. For example, if you eat less and move more as instructed, but you lose a substantial amount of muscle along with the fat – leading to a limp metabolism and rebound fat gain – did your diet plan really “work?”

Usually, losing muscle while dieting is caused by dropping your calories way too low, not getting enough protein, and not weight training. You, of course, know that. But there’s something else that can mimic those same nasty effects: losing sleep.

The Sleep Study

Researchers took a group of overweight men and women, put them on the same low-calorie diet, and had them hit the sack in a sleep lab for two weeks.

There, half the participants were allowed to sleep up to 8.5 hours every night while the other half was only allowed to sleep up to 5.5 hours per night. The researchers measured their fat loss, fat-free body mass, changes in substrate utilization, energy expenditure, and 24-hour metabolic hormone concentrations.

Here’s What Happened

Both groups lost about the same amount of total scale weight. Both groups lost some fat and some muscle, probably due to the severe diet, which had them consuming almost 700 calories under maintenance per day. However…

  • The group that slept only 5.5 hours per night lost more muscle mass, lost less body fat, and reported more hunger.
  • The group that slept 8.5 hours per night lost a greater percentage of fat and retained more muscle without experiencing as much hunger.

The researchers concluded that sleep loss can compromise the effects of a reduced-calorie diet. They noted that sleep deprivation itself can have considerable catabolic effects that resemble malnutrition.

What This Means to You

The participants in this study would’ve obviously fared better if they had been lifting weights and eating enough protein. (Only 18% of their daily calories came from protein.) That’s partly why both groups lost muscle. Also, 700 calories below maintenance is pretty severe.

Still, the big takeaway here is that those getting inadequate sleep lost more muscle and less fat while in the SAME caloric deficit as those who got plenty of sleep. The message? That diet plan you’re using isn’t going to work as well if you’re not sleeping enough.

So How Do I Sleep Better?

If the usual sleep tips aren’t working, then think about what’s really keeping you awake. According to the American Psychological Association, stress and anxiety are two of the leading causes of sleep problems. So, maybe you just need to calm down. To chill out naturally, consider taking chelated magnesium and an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

Low magnesium levels contribute to insomnia and restless sleep, and magnesium has calming effects on the body and mind. Magnesium regulates neurotransmitters such as GABA – your brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA calms neural activity, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Magnesium also helps regulate muscle function and relaxation by blocking calcium ions from entering muscle cells. This helps prevent excessive muscle contraction (tension). It also helps regulate melatonin production.

Likewise, omega-3 fatty acids improve sleep quality by regulating neurotransmitters and reducing brain inflammation. A recent review of 19 clinical trials found that fish oil reduces anxiety if you use a hefty dose containing mostly DHA.

For magnesium, take 400 mg of the chelated form to ensure absorption. Elitepro Vital Minerals (on Amazon) contains that dosage.

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For fish oil, take three capsules of Flameout (on Amazon). This omega-3 supplement contains 2000 mg of DHA along with 400 mg of EPA. Remember, when it comes to stress and anxiety, DHA has the biggest impact on healthy neurotransmission.

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  1. Nedeltcheva AV et al. **Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity.**Ann Intern Med. 2010 Oct 5;153(7):435-41. PubMed.

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