Juice Cleanses: The #1 Way To Lose Money And Muscle (But Not Fat!)

Juice Cleanses: The #1 Way To Lose Money And Muscle (But Not Fat!)

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Let’s get back to business, folks! This is the post I’ve been eagerly waiting to put up ever since I got it all thought out and organized in my google doc. Last Tuesday I filled you in on the number one factor in your body composition (aka how much fat you have on your body vs everything else). I mentioned that there are plenty of horrific diet trends on the market, but the one I really find the most offensive is the juice cleanse.

I think I feel that way because it takes such advantage of people’s trust in whole, natural, foods. Energy balance is the opposite of a juice cleanse. It’s old school, it’s a little boring, and it’s really, really effective. So, let’s dive right in!

Losing Fat vs Losing Weight

So, remember you have lots of things that contribute to your overall weight that have nothing to do with how much fat you have. Things like muscle, water, bones, bacteria, and more. Sure, you’ve got fat along with all that other stuff, you have to have it! Without body fat storage we wouldn’t be able to sleep through the night without facing near death from lack of energy to run all of the necessary processes.

When we “lose weight” we are most likely to lose EQUAL parts FAT and MUSCLE. That means if you lose 10lbs on the scale you’ve probably lost 5lbs of fat and 5 lbs of muscle. (I’m pouring one out for that lost muscle mass. Hard earned muscle, gone just like that.) If you lose equal parts of muscle and fat mass when you lose weight, you’re going to end up a slightly smaller version of what you were, and you’re going to have the same ratio of body fat to muscle mass. Regardless, some weight loss in that equation is fat loss, just not nearly as much as it appears on that shiny bathroom scale.

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Let’s talk about those Juice Cleanses...

So, the trendy new juice place on the block just opened and they’re offering a GREAT deal. You get 6 juices per day for 3 days, for the bargain price of $195. Here’s the nutritional breakdown:

Calories Per Day: 990

Carbs: 197g

Fat: 13g

Protein: 17g

Juices are usually from fruits and vegetables, sometimes also nuts, and have been stripped of their fiber. This means that they’re absorbed into your bloodstream rapidly, which results in an insulin spike. The insulin gets to work and starts to send that extra blood sugar into other tissues like your muscles or your liver. Your blood sugar goes up and you feel that “sugar rush” and it feels kind of good! But, because of the insulin spike, your body actually overreacts a bit. So your blood sugar drops back down, sometimes way too much, because your body accidentally let out too much insulin while it was overreacting to all that incoming sugar.

Had the fiber from the vegetables been in the juice, or had it been accompanied by some protein or fat, it wouldn’t have been absorbed so quickly and a lot of this rapid blood sugar spike could’ve been avoided. That isn’t directly related to energy balance, but it will mean that you’re likely pretty cranky and might be suffering from dizziness and headaches while your  blood sugar dips super low a few times per day. The blood sugar roller coaster is not a ride many of us enjoy. But I digress…

Back to the math equation...

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The generally accepted estimate of calories most of us need daily is 2,000 calories. At 990 calories per day you are going to be in severe negative energy balance. Your body is probably freaking out. Luckily, 3 days of this won’t create all those negative downstream effects we talked about last week. You’d have to do this over and over again to create those problems. Conveniently, they recommend you do a juice cleanse regularly as a “healthy habit”.

I’d also like to point out that the minimum recommended daily fat intake is between 30-40 grams per day. This cleanse has you at 13 grams per day. That means you’re going to be hungry with a capital H. Again, you’re not likely to see a lot of long term negative health effects if you’re under the recommended amount for only a few days. But this clearly isn’t a long term solution to energy balance OR optimal health.

Let’s take a look at our energy balance during a "cleanse"

So, for 3 days, instead of taking in 2000 calories daily, for a total of 6,000, you’ll be taking in 2,970 calories. That’s a difference of 3,030 calories. Since you NEED energy, and you aren’t taking it in through your food or drink, your body is going to pull those calories from your tissues. (Because remember, you can’t just pull energy from thin air, it has to come from somewhere.)

For the record, when we burn fat as a fuel source, for energy, it holds about 3500 calories per pound. If we’re burning muscle as a fuel source, it contains only about 600 calories per pound. And that makes a lot of sense, because fat was DESIGNED to be an energy storage system, so it holds energy more efficiently. Muscle tissue wasn’t meant to be used as energy storage. You made your body resort to that when you decided that a severely low caloric intake was the new diet plan.

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Protein, people.

We learned earlier that weight loss is usually 50% fat loss and 50% muscle loss. Although, I’m willing to bet that after a measly 17g of protein per day for 3 days, you have lost more than 50% from muscle mass. The general recommendation of protein intake for optimal muscle is 0.8 - 1.0 grams per pound of body weight, per day. For a 150 pound person, that’s a recommendation of somewhere between 120g -150g of protein each day. The minimum protein recommendation per day is 0.4g per pound of body weight. That same 150 pound person would NEED 60 grams of protein each day. Just a reminder: you get 17 grams a day out of this cleanse. That is a BIG difference.

Muscle is extremely dynamic and constantly remodeling, so whenever our circulating protein drops, our body will naturally pull protein from our muscles (the largest source of stored protein in our body). You could’ve offset this muscle loss, but because you were in such a calorie deficit and had no energy you skipped the gym. Sayonara, biceps, you just got eaten for lunch.

For this equation, we’ll give your body the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re at 50% fat loss and 50% muscle loss for this juice cleanse. But I'm warning you, that's highly unlikely.

What if it were all fat loss?

So, you’re in the middle of hell, I mean, this juice cleanse and you have a 3,030 calorie deficit. This is approximately 0.86 pounds if you lost it ALL from fat.

What if it were all muscle loss?

On the other hand, 3,030 calories coming from muscle would mean you’ve lost 5.05 pounds of muscle mass. 

** Just one more thing on this weight loss. Remember how water has no effect on your energy balance but it has a massive effect on your body weight? Well, when you lose muscle you also tend to lose more water, because muscle tissue usually holds a lot of water. So your overall weight loss will likely be artificially inflated by the additional water lost from the muscle loss you experienced.

The results are IN! 

Ok, after 3 hard days of low energy, massive blood sugar (and mood) swings, and strongly considering stealing that PB&J from your child’s lunch box on the way to school drop-off, you’ve lost some weight! Yippee! 50% of that was from fat, which is approximately 0.42 pounds of fat. 50% of that was from muscle, approximately 2.52 pounds of muscle.

Um, excuse me, what? 0.42 pounds of fat?! 

If you ask me, those are terrible results. Your metabolism WILL be slower because you have less muscle mass. You lost not even a half a pound of fat. You probably look exactly the same. And, because it was so sudden and your body thought it was starving to death, it will be conserving your energy stores as much as possible, which means it wants to store more fat so that it has backup fuel for the next time you decide to starve yourself.

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Why were you doing the juice cleanse?

Likely, the answer to that was you wanted to lose fat. Perhaps you wanted to gain more muscle definition through that fat loss. Many of us are under the impression that we need to “cleanse” our body to get it ready to be healthy, as if we are some kind of human etch a sketch and have to erase all the beer and burgers before we can eat turkey and roasted broccoli. That’s a whole different story for a whole different post, but suffice it to say your body has it’s own cleansing and detox systems and none of them depend on pulverized kale.

Safe to say, that juice cleanse didn’t get you any closer to your goals, and probably actually created a larger gap between you and the finish line. If you want to master your energy balance and create lasting changes you want to employ strategies that offer long term solutions for both your waistline AND your overall health. So many health, fitness, or “weight loss” programs out there focusing primarily on your body weight. Just remember this: losing fat is the SLOWEST way to lose pounds. If you are losing body weight at a rapid pace, you’re likely losing much more water weight and muscle mass than fat. Don’t let the number on the scale mislead you. Better yet, don’t use the scale at all.

Come up with a better plan

There are SO many smart ways you can make changes to how much fat and how much muscle you have! Our bodies are complex and intricate, and everybody responds a little differently to different situations, however, we are all human and we have a basic jumping off point for how our bodies work and maintain energy balance. Focusing on slower progress and subtle body weight fluctuations is less exciting and doesn’t fulfill our desire for instant gratification, but it’s the path to long lasting, real results that preserve and promote your overall health.

Want to learn some of my FAVORITE (and super effective) ways to manipulate your body fat without sacrificing your health and happiness? Join me for my FREE upcoming webinar on thursday october 26th at 7pm and learn the 4 effective strategies you should master now to keep you healthy for the holidays.


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About Ashley:

Ashley is a Pilates instructor and entrepreneur in NYC who specializes in biomechanics and exercise nutrition for women. She uses the science behind exercise physiology to empower her clients to lead healthy, happy lives. Her passion project is writing “The LEAN Life Newsletter” which goes out every Tuesday and focuses on Lifestyle, Exercise, Active recovery, and Nutrition and serves as the backbone for her L.E.A.N. Life online health and fitness programs. She aims to get this information into the hands of as many women as possible so they can feel stronger and more confident in their bodies. For more information head to AshleyBrownPilates.com or @AshleyBrownPilates on instagram, or click here to get on the L.E.A.N. Life List!