Don’t You Lose a Lot of Muscle on the hCG Diet Protocol?
No and Yes.
Keep in mind the discussion below is a lot of theory, along with some concrete proof of my own on fat loss vs lean muscle loss amounts.
So in short, my belief is that
- once you are at a normal amount of lean mass FOR YOUR HEIGHT AND BODY FRAME SIZE, you will lose very little lean mass on the hCG Diet – IF you are using the real hormone with hCG Injections. I cannot say the same for homeopathic drops.
- HOWEVER, if you are significantly overweight you likely have a higher amount of lean body mass than someone else of your height and frame size who is at a more standard weight. In this case, until you get to a normal amount of lean body mass for your height/frame size, you will likely lose more muscle – because you actually don’t need it.
So now let me explain in more detail these 2 conclusions:
One commonly misunderstood thing is that if you are significantly overweight, your body actually has extra muscle for your height in order to accommodate that extra fat, so you can still walk around and do stuff. Just like your body responds to lifting weights at the gym by building muscle, when you walk around 16 hours a day with 30 extra pounds of fat, your body will also gain muscle to make this possible. It’s like you’re carrying around a barbell or some kettlebells all day when you’re overweight- so of course you gain some muscle too right?
When you gain weight, you gain a mixture of BOTH fat and muscle, not just fat – in the higher pound ranges at least. If you only gain 2 lbs, that could probably be pure fat, but if you gain 30-50 lbs on your frame, you can bet your body likely gained some muscle to carry that extra burden.
However, a person of a healthy/standard weight for a certain height does not have as much muscle- it’s simply not needed. I have a book (now out of print – The Fit or Fat Woman by Lea Bishop) written by a woman who tested over 20,000 people body fat through a hydrostatic tank – she compiled the results in this chart and it shows the average spread of how much lean body mass (remember, not total bodyweight, but lean body mass). She stated in her book “In making the chart, we did not include those people with abnormally high or low body fat. It represents the range of lean (body mass) in relatively fit people.”
Based on this realization, the fact is, some muscle loss IS normal and I’d go so far as to say, required, in order to get a healthy weight for your height if you are significantly overweight.
There is a range of muscle that a person of a certain height will have that’s average as you can see from the above chart. Your body will shed some muscle up to a certain point regardless and let’s use me as an example to show why this has to be the case- seriously – you could literally be skinny but dead if your body didn’t lose some muscle in some cases on a diet.
ME for example: Case Study hCGChica
I’m 5’1″. Women of my height on this chart, 5’1”, that were as she stated relatively fit (not with high or low bodyfat percents, but healthy/average), had a lean body mass range of between 73-89 lbs. When I did my initial hydrostatic bodyfat test just prior to doing my first round of hCG when I estimate I was about 50 lbs overweight, I had nearly 112 lbs of lean mass. Here’s a quick clip of that day when I had the testing done, and a screenshot of my test results:
112 lbs – 89 lbs = 23 lbs more lean mass than the average healthy woman my height.
112 lbs – 73 lbs = 39 lbs more lean mass than the average healthy woman my height.
As you can see, this is 23 lbs more “muscle” than the average fit woman with the MOST average muscle for my height, and 39 more lbs (almost 40 lbs!!) than the fit woman on the low end of lean mass! This is not because I was lifting weights. I never lifted more than like 10 lb dumbbells back in my early twenties, except 1 time in like 1996 when I was trying to be all cute and impress my then possible-boyfriend, now husband by doing some bench press in his garage with him spotting me (awww how cute….memories)- and back then I was like 105 lbs total, not 172 lbs like when this bodyfat test was taken. By the time I was 172 lbs here, I was only managing an occasional hike with my 12 lb son in a little backpack on my back. Nothing that would cause an increase in 40 extra pounds of muscle. But I digress.
The point is, the reason I had so much more muscle than the average lady my height is due to the need for it because of having extra fat, not because I was so athletic. So initially, my first round of hCG, YES I did lose a larger percentage of muscle – I believe it was about 10 lbs or so of lean body mass I lost that first round. This was actually required in order to get a healthy weight for my height and build.
What Would Have Happened If I’d Lost No Muscle
I’d be dead. Let me show you why.
To highlight this, because we often mistakenly hear that any muscle loss on a diet is always a bad thing, let’s say I didn’t lose any muscle at all in my weight loss journey.
So I still have my 112 lbs of lean mass after I finish all my rounds of hCG, lose all the weight I need, and I’m at my final weight I want to maintain at. I actually finished my final round of hCG at about 117 lbs.
So let’s say I still have the 112 lbs of lean mass. I also need to have some fat on my body. We would all be dead without it. If you take a look at a bodyweight chart, you’ll see that a woman of my height considered a “normal” weight is between 100-127 lbs.
Let’s take the middle of that- say 115 lbs, which is a very common weight for women my height, so I’m not choosing anything extreme here – in fact I was 102-105 lbs total for much of my late teens – marriage put an end to that ;)-.
Okay so if I have 112 lbs of “muscle” – lean body mass (LBM) still after all my weight loss, and get down to a total scale weight of 115 lbs, this mean I only have 3 lbs of fat on my body, making my bodyfat percentage just over 2%. (3 lbs / 115 lbs = .02 or 2%)
At 2% bodyfat as a woman, I’d be dead. The MINIMUM amount of essential bodyfat for women is listed as 10-13%. Essential means it’s required for your body to function. By the way, while we’re here looking at this chart, shall we just take a moment to notice what a huge difference there is in the essential fat listing for men and women? I mean, 2-5% for men? Vs women 10-13% Wow. But what this is telling us ladies is that we are DESIGNED by God to HAVE some fat! So embrace it on some level okay?
If you take a look at BuiltLean’s bodyfat percent chart an average bodyfat percent for a woman is actually 25-31%.
So being the 50 lbs overweight I was, and given how much of the extra weight was muscle, I HAD to lose several pounds of muscle if I wanted to reach a final weight and clothing size that would be considered healthy for my size, while still having enough fat to be alive. I think my lean body mass bottomed out at 91 lbs after my 3rd round – which is still 2 lbs more than the highest average lean body mass of the ladies the gal tested, and 18 lbs more than the lowest average.
So all this to say that:
when you have more weight to lose, I argue that muscle loss is actually a completely normal and required part of the process.
So don’t let other fitness people scare you when they say you’re on a starvation diet and you’re only going to lose a bunch of muscle. Yes, at first, you may lose several pounds of muscle- but as we’ve seen, this is a normal part of the process of getting down to a weight and clothing size you are heading for.
How About Once You Are Not As Overweight?
At this point, I argue that hCG does preserve your lean body mass – what’s interesting is that in my bodyfat testing, I never lost that much muscle in any of my future hCG rounds. One round I only lost like 1 lb of lean mass. I regained it quickly. I feel like once you are in the normal range of lean body mass for your height, the hCG hormone does do the work of preserving that existing lean mass and favors fat loss. It seems likely to me that without such a hormone, you may indeed lose a greater quantity of muscle on such a low calorie diet.
So like if you’ll notice during my final round of hCG, I did my body fat test before the round, did the 500 calorie diet for 6 weeks with hCG injections, took an additional 2 weeks of P3 to stabilize, get my glycogen stores back etc, so that 8 weeks after my prior test, I took the next one, and you can see that my effective lean body mass loss after that round stood at only 1 lb. That’s it! 1 lb. And I’d like to again point out just how much higher my lean body mass is overall than an average woman my height – by this time though it was no longer due to being overweight, but rather from lifting with heavy weights at crossfit! Woot woot.
Is the Muscle You Lost Even Really “Muscle” as we think of it?
I also discovered that a lot of Lean Body Mass is actually just glycogen stores/water. Meaning, the “muscle” that’s being read on bodyfat testing, is essentially anything that isn’t fat. So your bones, your organs, your muscle, and the volume of water and fluids in your body all count as “muscle” – on the hCG diet, you can get glycogen depleted depending on how do it – like for me, I removed both the grissini/breadstick as well as the fruits, so it made the diet incredibly low carb – so I lost a lot of water weight (which is part of what glycogen stores) – so as a result, if you compare 2 hydrostatic bodyfat tests I took only a few weeks apart- one November 5, and one November 29th, you will notice that I somehow “gained” 3.53 lbs of muscle – in 3 weeks, with like 8 workouts. From 97.48 lbs lean mass to 101.01 lbs. This cannot possibly be “muscle” in the true sense of how we are thinking of it – I believe this is actually a lot of stored fluids/glycogen stores in the muscle that comes back after the diet.
But what is also important to realize about this then is that if you take a body fat test during Phase 2 on the hCG Diet, or immediately after before you’ve had a chance to regain these fluids, it will LOOK as if you lost extra muscle on the diet – when in reality, it’s just fluids. That’s why sometimes on the bodyfat scales you sometimes use (which I don’t recommend using- see my post on this here) it will seem like you’re losing muscle- but it’s the loss of water and fluids that it’s reading back to you.
You Can Still Train to Build MORE Muscle Later As Well
I certainly could have stayed at 91 lbs of lean body mass, with 27% bodyfat at a total weight of, but as I continued my fitness journey, I found myself motivated to do more. 27% bodyfat is okay, but it’s not anything to brag about and prior to gaining so much weight and my chronic illness of hashimotos and possibly lyme disease, I had always been a very very athletic person. So I began crossfitting between my rounds after round 3 and lifting heavy weights, and I cycled several months of this, with a round of hCG for 2 more hCG rounds. Through this process, I ended up with
So you can certainly build more muscle if you choose to through heavy weight lifting, but this will not happen just naturally taking a daily walk with the dog. At some point, as you reach that average range of lean body mass for your height, you will lose less muscle and have a much greater percentage of your weight loss be fat from what I’ve seen of my own hydrostatic bodyfat testing and some of those I’ve interviewed on my blog on the hCG diet.
At my highest with Crossfit training, I got to 105 lbs of lean mass post hCG diet.
Training / Exercise During hCG to Help Muscle Retention?
I did absolutely NO exercise on hCG, and outside of that one round where we discussed that I’d be dead unless I lost that muscle, I still lost very little lean body mass.
However, for some, a small amount of resistance training during hCG may improve your muscle retention on the protocol- the reason this makes sense to me is that in doing this you are sending periodic signals to your body that ‘hey, I still need this’……’yep, still need this muscle’…..’yep, still. Don’t go anywhere…..’. But again, going overboard while such a low calorie and lower protein diet could have the opposite effect and cause greater muscle loss. This protocol is really more like a cleanse and the focus is on weight loss. After the diet is more the time to focus on building muscle. It’s much harder for the body to focus on 2 very different things at once to me.
Which is why I discuss my concerns about many ladies really overdoing it with exercise on hCG here.
Well I hope this helps! I really believe the hCG protocol, when using the real hCG hormone, not homeopathic, works and favors fat loss, while preserving lean muscle and potentially protecting your metabolism during a time of very low calorie eating. I wouldn’t do this diet without the hormone that’s for sure!
I totally dig keeping and getting muscle. It’s what allows you eat more as a lady without gaining weight!
Here is one of my more recent bodyfat tests and results- this was 5 years post hCG diet:
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