Wegovy, also known as semaglutide, is a medication that has gained attention for its effectiveness in helping people manage their weight. It belongs to a class of drugs called GLP-1 receptor agonists and works by reducing appetite and increasing feelings of fullness. While Wegovy has shown promise in aiding weight loss, some concerns have arisen regarding its potential impact on muscle mass. In this podcast, we will talk about the connection between Wegovy and muscle mass loss, as well as strategies to help prevent this side effect.
Before delving into how Wegovy may affect muscle mass, it’s important to understand how this medication works. Wegovy mimics a hormone in your gut that controls hunger (GLP-1). When you eat, GLP-1 is released from the gut and tells your brain you are full. GLP-1 also slows down how fast food leaves your stomach, suppressing your appetite. GLP-1 tells your pancreas to release insulin after you eat. This lowers your blood sugar. You’ll then use the sugar from your food instead of storing this excess sugar as fat. All of these things together lead to weight loss.
The Connection Between Wegovy and Muscle Mass Loss
The potential link between Wegovy and muscle mass loss is a topic of ongoing research, and there is not yet a comprehensive understanding of the exact mechanisms involved. What we do know is that it’s possible to lose muscle mass whenever you experience rapid weight loss – as many do while taking Wegovy. Clinical studies have shown that people taking Wegovy can expect to lose an average of 15% of their total body weight in the first 68 weeks of treatment.
How does Wegovy cause muscle mass loss?
Whenever you lose weight, you lose varying amounts of fat and muscle. But if you lose weight rapidly, you tend to lose more lean muscle mass if you’re not being careful about your diet and physical activity. A good example of this is studies of people who have had bariatric surgery. Most people who have undergone bariatric surgery lose most of their lean body mass and skeletal muscle mass in the first three months after surgery.
What does the science say?
The results are mixed. Some studies have found that semaglutide leads to a decrease in muscle mass compared with placebo. Other studies have found that most of the weight loss was due to a loss of visceral fat and overall fat mass, while both skeletal and muscle mass and muscle strength were minimally affected. Still, other studies have shown that the proportion of lean body mass relative to total body mass increased. Plus, the more weight people lost was found to be associated with greater improvement in body composition (lean body mass: fat mass ratio).
It’s important to remember that everyone’s weight loss journey is different. People follow different diets and exercise routines and have individual differences that must be taken into consideration (e.g., baseline body weight and underlying health conditions). The key is to make sure you’re losing weight safely without losing muscle mass.
How to avoid muscle mass loss with Wegovy (semaglutide)?
If you’re considering taking Wegovy or are already using it as part of your weight loss journey, it’s important to take proactive steps to minimize the risk of muscle mass loss. Let’s discuss some strategies to help you maintain your muscle mass while on Wegovy:
Prioritize Protein Intake:
- Ensure you’re consuming an adequate amount of protein to support muscle maintenance and repair. Lean sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, and legumes can be excellent choices. And protein helps you feel full longer.
- Studies suggest eating at least 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal can help prevent muscle mass loss. But remember that your total daily protein intake will vary depending on your age, gender, activity level, and health goals. Consider consulting a registered dietitian or healthcare provider to determine your specific protein needs.
- Exercise is an important part of any weight loss journey, and it’s recommended for people using Wegovy. Not only can exercise lead to weight loss on its own, but it’s highly effective at preventing weight regain after weight loss. Incorporate resistance or strength training exercises into your fitness routine. These exercises help build and maintain muscle mass.
- Studies have shown that calorie restriction alone leads to weight loss and muscle mass loss, but adding in regular exercise may help preserve muscle mass.
- Remember that regular exercise can boost energy, promote restful sleep, and help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It can even help reduce chronic pain and stress, which may help improve your mood. Make sure to choose activities you enjoy to make it easier to stay active consistently.
- If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may feel stressed, which can lead to higher cortisol levels. Cortisol can accelerate muscle mass loss and decrease muscle strength.
- To relieve stress levels, try to engage in regular physical activity, stretch your body (this helps relieve tension), eat healthy food (try to avoid ultra-processed foods), and avoid unhealthy habits (e.g., alcohol, smoking, illicit drugs). You can also practice meditation, schedule mindfulness breaks throughout your day, reduce loud noise in your work or home environment, and schedule some “me time”.
Monitor for Side Effects:
- Be vigilant for any side effects of Wegovy that may affect your physical activity or muscle health. If you experience significant muscle weakness or other concerning symptoms, consult your healthcare provider.
Regular Check-ins with Healthcare Provider:
- Maintain open communication with your healthcare provider throughout your Wegovy treatment. They can monitor your progress, assess any potential side effects, and make adjustments as needed. This is especially important for adults aged 60 and above (more likely to experience muscle mass loss and strength).
By prioritizing protein intake, engaging in strength training, monitoring caloric intake, staying physically active, monitoring for side effects, and maintaining regular check-ins with your healthcare provider, you can take steps to minimize the risk of muscle mass loss. Ultimately, the key is to strike a balance between weight loss and muscle preservation to achieve your health and fitness goals safely and effectively.
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