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What Is Sarcopenia and How Can I Prevent It on GLP-1s?

by | Feb 5, 2024 | Last updated Feb 6, 2024

Muscle mass and sarcopenia

Embarking on a weight-loss journey is a positive step towards a healthier and happier you. (Yay, you’re doing it!) But as you work towards your goals, it’s important to think about not just fat loss but also the preservation of muscle mass. And if you are considering or already using GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic (semaglutide), you need to know about sarcopenia – the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. Let’s delve into what sarcopenia is, why it matters on your weight-loss journey, and how you can prevent it while using GLP-1s.

Understanding Sarcopenia

Sarcopenia, often referred to as “muscle aging,” is characterized by the progressive loss of muscle mass, strength, and function as we age. (Sounds unpleasant, right?) This natural process can actually be accelerated by a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition. Certain medications, like weight-loss drugs, may also contribute to sarcopenia. Why? Well, they are appetite-suppressants that can put your body in “energy-saving mode,” potentially leading to some muscle trimming as your body conserves energy to support vital organ function.

The Role of GLP-1 Agonists in Weight Loss

GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic are medications that were originally developed to manage blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes. But, as we all know, they have gained a lot of attention recently for their additional benefit of aiding in weight loss. These medications work by mimicking the action of the GLP-1 hormone, which plays a role in appetite control. And while they can effectively help you shed excess pounds, it’s important to be mindful of their potential impact on muscle mass.

Why Sarcopenia Matters on Your Weight-Loss Journey

Preserving muscle mass is not just about achieving a toned physique; it plays a crucial role in overall health and well-being. Here’s why sarcopenia matters, especially during weight loss:

  • Metabolism boost: Muscles are metabolically-active tissues that burn calories even at rest. Losing muscle mass may slow down your metabolism, making it harder to maintain weight loss.
  • Physical function: Muscles are essential for daily activities and maintaining mobility. Sarcopenia can lead to weakness, balance issues, and a decline in overall physical function.
  • Insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control: Muscles play a crucial role in glucose metabolism. Preserving muscle mass can help prevent or improve insulin resistance. That’s the first metabolic step along a continuum towards the development of various metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and in women, polycystic ovarian syndrome. For people with diabetes, this also means that adequate muscle mass is also essential to better blood sugar control.

Preventing Sarcopenia while on a GLP-1

Here are some practical tips to prevent sarcopenia while taking GLP-1s:

  1. Optimize protein intake: Ensure you’re getting an adequate amount of protein in your diet. Muscles crave protein for growth and repair. Incorporate protein-rich foods such as lean meats, dairy, legumes, and nuts into your daily meals to ensure you meet your body’s protein needs.
  2. Incorporate strength training: Regularly engage in strength training exercises to build and maintain muscle mass. This can include bodyweight exercises, resistance training, or weightlifting. Aim for 2-3 weekly strength training sessions each week targeting major muscle groups like the legs, chest, back, and arms. Remember to maintain proper form and gradual progression during your workouts so you don’t injure yourself.
  3. Rest and recover: Listen to your body! Adequate sleep (7-8 hours per night) helps your muscles repair and rebuild. Stress can wear you out, so use Noom’s mindfulness offerings to keep you even-keeled. Don’t forget rest days – your body needs time to restore after those strength-training sessions.
  4. Maintain balanced nutrition: Follow a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients. Don’t focus solely on calorie restriction; prioritize nutrient-dense foods to support overall health.
  5. Stay active: Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. This can be as simple as walking, biking, or participating in fitness classes. Dance around your living room if the mood strikes! Regular movement is vital to preserving muscle mass.
  6. Stay hydrated: Stay well-hydrated, as water is essential for bodily functions, including muscle function. Dehydration can contribute to muscle cramps and fatigue.
  7. Consult with your clinician: Keep open communication with your prescribing physician. Discuss any concerns or changes in your health and ensure that your weight-loss plan aligns with your overall well-being.
  8. Monitor progress: Regularly assess your progress, not just in terms of weight loss but also how you feel physically. If you notice signs of muscle loss, such as weakness or decreased strength, address them promptly.

Embarking on a weight-loss journey – especially while using GLP-1s – can be a transformative experience. By understanding and actively preventing sarcopenia, you’re taking a proactive step towards achieving weight loss and overall health and vitality.

Remember, your Noom journey is not just about the destination; it’s about the lifelong habits you cultivate along the way. Stay active, nourish your body, and prioritize muscle health for a balanced and sustainable weight-loss experience.

Note: GLP-1s, like Ozempic, are not FDA approved for weight loss.

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Linda Anegawa, MD is Noom’s Chief Medical Officer where she brings decades of experience in academic primary care, bariatrics, advisory board service, and leadership in digital health. She is certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons, and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.