Why Building Muscle Matters after Bariatric Surgery

Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN

Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, and owner of Level Up Bariatrics, LLC, a bariatric lifestyle coaching program that provides pre and post-op support for weight loss surgery patients. Learn more on Instagram (@level_up_bariatrics).

You’ve undergone the surgery, gotten past your post-op diet phases, and now have the energy to increase your movement! It's time to focus on the next steps of your journey. One aspect that often gets overlooked is building and using muscle after WLS (and eating enough to build, protect, and sustain muscle). It’s important to understand how essential muscle is for weight loss and maintenance and how paying attention to your macros can make all the difference. Let’s take a look!

1) Muscle speeds up your metabolism. Building muscle after weight loss surgery can help speed up your metabolism, which is essential for weight loss and maintenance. Simply put, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest. It’s like your muscles are doing work for you! A faster metabolism means it’s easier to lose weight and keep it off in the long run.

2) Muscle helps with weight loss plateaus. After WLS, you’ll likely experience a plateau in your weight loss journey at some point. Plateaus look different for every individual. A plateau is when your weight loss slows down or stalls entirely for a short period, like 1-2 weeks, or for even more extended periods. One way to push past plateaus is to build and use muscle. Muscle burns more calories than fat, which can help jump-start your weight loss again.

3) Proper macros can help you build muscle. Macros, or macronutrients, refer to the three main components of food: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. It’s essential to understand how these macros affect your weight loss journey. For building and using muscle, eating enough protein to support muscle growth is crucial. Generally, weight loss surgery patients should aim for 60-80 grams of protein daily while ensuring they get enough carbohydrates and healthy fats. However, you’ll need to individualize your needs and will likely need more than the standard recommendation of the bare minimum protein needs. Protein builds muscle, so if increasing your muscle is what you’re aiming for, kick those goals up a notch. Many WLS patients aim for at least 100g of protein daily, while others may strive for much more. As you can see, it’s very dependent on individual goals. Be sure to check with your bariatric dietitian about your specific needs.

But it’s also not all about protein! When it comes to increasing activity and building muscle, you want to consume adequate calories, which many people struggle with post-op. Ensuring you are getting sufficient protein is great, but don’t forget about carbs and fats, which help to provide variety to your diet and add quality calories. You must ensure you are eating a good amount of quality and complex carbohydrates to fuel the body and to replete glucose in the muscles for future use. And don’t forget about those healthy fats! Keep fats plant-based, as they provide the quality nutrition you need daily.

4) Building muscle can improve mobility and quality of life. After WLS, you’ll likely experience improved mobility and quality of life. But building and using muscle can take this to the next level. Strong muscles can help with posture, reduce back pain, and make everyday activities easier. Plus, regular strength training can boost energy levels and mood overall. Feeling stronger can motivate you to do more daily and provide motivation and confidence.

5) Muscle maintains weight loss. Finally, building and using muscle is essential for maintaining weight loss after WLS. When you lose weight, you lose both fat and muscle. But if you don’t work to keep your muscle mass, your body will start burning fewer calories at rest, making it easier to gain weight back. Prioritizing strength training and proper macros, especially while you are losing weight at a rapid pace within the first six months (when patients tend to lose a lot of muscle if not being used), can help you maintain your weight loss and enjoy all the benefits that come with a healthier, happier life.

Building and using muscle after WLS is an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to weight loss and maintenance. Paying attention to your macros, especially protein, can support muscle growth and improve overall quality of life. So, whether you’re just starting on your journey or are a long-time WLS patient, make sure you’re incorporating strength training and proper nutrition into your routine. Your body will thank you!

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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