Preserving healthy muscle during weight loss

Edda Cava, Nai Chien Yeat, Bettina Mittendorfer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


Weight loss is the cornerstone of therapy for people with obesity because it can ameliorate or completely resolve the metabolic risk factors for diabetes, coronary artery disease, and obesity-associated cancers. The potential health benefits of diet-induced weight loss are thought to be compromised by the weight-loss-associated loss of lean body mass, which could increase the risk of sarcopenia (low muscle mass and impaired muscle function). The objective of this review is to provide an overview of what is known about weight-loss-induced muscle loss and its implications for overall physical function (e.g., ability to lift items, walk, and climb stairs). The currently available data in the literature show the following: 1) compared with persons with normal weight, those with obesity have more muscle mass but poor muscle quality; 2) diet-induced weight loss reduces muscle mass without adversely affecting muscle strength; 3) weight loss improves global physical function, most likely because of reduced fat mass; 4) high protein intake helps preserve lean body and muscle mass during weight loss but does not improve muscle strength and could have adverse effects on metabolic function; 5) both endurance- and resistance-type exercise help preserve muscle mass during weight loss, and resistance-type exercise also improves muscle strength. We therefore conclude that weight-loss therapy, including a hypocaloric diet with adequate (but not excessive) protein intake and increased physical activity (particularly resistance-type exercise), should be promoted to maintain muscle mass and improve muscle strength and physical function in persons with obesity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-519
Number of pages9
JournalAdvances in Nutrition
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • Dynapenia
  • Lifestyle therapy
  • Muscle quality
  • Sarcopenia
  • Weight loss


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