Maintain, Don’t Gain: Exercises to help maintain current weight and muscle mass

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By Christopher Pregony, BS, CSCS

When you are reaching toward a goal, you always have that carrot pulling you forward. But what about when you reach that goal? You cannot always progress — there has to be a point where you maintain what you have achieved before you start your next challenge. Mentally, it helps to take a break from the pursuit of a goal as many of us can obsess over diet or exercise, which, in excess, can be unhealthy. Physically, it is important to back off from time to time to give our bodies time to heal and adapt.

Maintaining muscle

The body can only grow so much from progressive overload before injury can set in. Taking a break and engaging in more of a maintenance-style exercise routine can allow the body to stay fit and give it time to heal. When you are working to maintain muscle mass instead of gain, the workouts are less intense — just enough to stimulate the muscles, kick in some endorphins and keep from atrophy. If you are just coming off a regimen centered around gaining strength, back off on the weight, reps and sets. Instead of working at 90 or 100 percent of your max, you should back off to around 70 percent for three sets and do between eight and 10 reps.

Maintaining weight

As far as maintaining weight goes, it is a numbers game. Our bodies require a certain amount of calories to operate at a basic level. The basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the energy in calories that our bodies require to function at rest. Cellular processes, respiration, the thermal effect of food, along with other metabolic process must be considered when figuring out what it takes to maintain weight. Most people fall between 1,200–2,500 calories depending on their size and muscle content. More muscle means more metabolically active tissue, and therefore a higher caloric expenditure. Once you figure out this number, you can get an idea of how much to eat to maintain your weight.

There are a few apps out there such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It! that are great for tracking food intake. They are not perfect and they take time to get the hang of, but they give you a good idea as to the amount of calories you are consuming. Remember, on days you exercise, you add to your daily expenditure. For example, if you have a base rate of 2,000 calories and you burn about 500 calories during a workout, then your expenditure for that day will be 2,500 calories. You would have to eat an extra 500 calories to maintain your weight.

Even in a maintenance phase it is important to eat a balanced diet of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy fats. However, this is a good time to throw the occasional treat in! On days where you find yourself eating a little more, throw in 30 minutes of light cardio to offset some of the excess calories.