- When I was a WWE star, I had a lot of muscle mass, but I wanted to lose it all when I transitioned.
- I had to stop resistance training and start my version of the keto diet.
- My biggest motivation was understanding my “why” — why I wanted to transform my body.
When I was a male WWE wrestler, I weighed 280 pounds, and my body fat was between 6% and 8%. Now, as a female fitness coach, I weigh 187 pounds, and my body fat is about 18%.
Sculpting my body to fit my mental self-image has been extremely difficult. Since there was no reliable guidance on how to lose muscle mass as a trans person, I needed to figure this out myself. Ultimately, I succeeded, but it was not an easy journey.
The challenge of shedding muscle
I learned that taking feminizing hormones does not make you lose muscle mass; estrogen does a phenomenal job of retaining it. So, while taking estrogen did lead to small changes — such as softening my skin and shifting the fat deposits under my eyes — it did not drastically decrease my muscle mass.
Early in my transition, I asked everyone I could — from trainers to competitive bodybuilding coaches — for advice on how to lose muscle mass. They all said the same thing: lift lighter weights and do more repetitions. They believed I still needed to activate the muscles to make them smaller.
I followed this advice, doing lightweight high-rep sessions and cardio. As a result, I lost fat and became lean, but I wasn’t losing significant muscle mass, which was incredibly frustrating.
I decided to take matters into my own hands and studied muscle atrophy.
To lose muscle, I had to stop resistance training
At the time, there were no studies on how transgender women could trigger muscle atrophy. The only research I could find was geared toward preventing muscle atrophy, so I had to consider the studies’ conclusions with an eye on my own goals.
According to the studies, patients on full bed rest lose significantly more muscle than those on partial bed rest. Even if patients only get up to use the restroom and shower, they maintain far more muscle mass than those on full bed rest.
While this research didn’t directly apply to my situation, it inspired me to stop doing resistance training and hope that removing tension would create muscle atrophy. To speed up the muscle reduction in my upper body, I stopped doing resistance training for my lower body. Even using a machine for hamstrings makes you tense your hands and arms as you grip the bar, so I stopped lifting weights and doing resistance training altogether. To keep my lower body in shape, I turned to bodyweight workouts, which worked well.
While this was a good start, my body truly started to transform when I discovered a way to force my body to use muscle as its energy source.
Then I had to start burning off muscle mass
I needed to deprive my body of all other fuel sources to burn muscle mass. The first place our bodies usually turn for fuel is glucose in the bloodstream, which comes from the carbohydrates and sugars we eat. If it doesn’t have any of this, it turns to the glycogen stored in the liver. If that energy is depleted, the body will create ketones, turning fat into energy. When every other fuel source is gone and specific conditions are met, the body will start turning muscle into glucose for fuel.
To deprive my body of glucose, I followed my version of a keto diet that mostly used proteins and healthy fats. The only carbohydrates I ate were those with high amounts of dietary fiber, such as cruciferous vegetables. I also put myself into a calorie deficit and began intermittent fasting. This meant my body ran entirely off of ketones, the chemicals produced when the body begins to break down its backup energy sources — fat and muscle.
To make my body burn muscle, I did cardio on the treadmill for a minimum of an hour daily. I would walk on an incline, holding my heart rate between 150 and 160 beats per minute. Some days, I would do this workout twice. This was difficult and required extreme determination, but it forced my body to convert muscle to glucose and use it as fuel.
Muscle mass started to peel away quickly once I started taking this approach. It was incredible to watch. When I started transitioning, I wore a size 14 to 16 in pants — now I’m a 10 or smaller. I used to wear size XXL or XXXL women’s tops; now, I wear larges and mediums.
I had to understand my deepest ‘why’
Losing muscle mass has been one of the most challenging parts of my transition. To embody the feminine shape I desired, I needed to let go of that part of myself.
The key to my success has been connecting with my deepest “why.” This is the deep emotion that was my source of motivation.
Whatever your goals are, the critical question isn’t how to achieve them — it’s why you want to achieve them. Understanding your own deepest “why” will get you across the finish line. It’s what helped me in my journey.
Gabbi Tuft is an online personal fitness and nutrition coach. She has coached over 1,500 clients to success over the past 13 years. She specializes in helping women break cyclical behavioral patterns for long-lasting, sustainable weight loss and physique changes. For more information, visit www.coachgabbi.com.