How to Build Muscle After Weight Loss Surgery

Bariatric surgery is intended to help patients lose weight. However, not all weight loss is good for you. Patients who do not follow dietary and exercise recommendations after weight loss surgery may lose muscle tissue, which will decrease strength and can undermine long-term overall weight loss. In fact, your overall health goals following a bariatric procedure should include both losing fat and building muscle. Clinical studies show that you can avoid the loss in muscle mass and strength that can occur after bariatric surgery using a simple approach that combines following dietary guidelines and implementing certain exercises (Oppert et al. 2018).

Start with a Protein-Rich Diet

Your surgeon will provide detailed instructions on your post-operative diet and will recommend food choices that will help you to meet your weight loss goals. In general, starting each meal with protein will help you to feel full longer and may reduce your food cravings throughout the day. Your bariatric procedure will reduce the amount of food that you can consume at any time, so it is important that what you eat is high-quality and nutrient-dense. Additionally, your body needs protein to avoid break-down of muscle tissue that can sometimes occur with a restricted intake of food. And, if you’d like to build muscle after your surgery, it is even more critical that you consume plenty of protein.  Studies show that the regular use of additional protein supplements (such as protein shakes or powders) can help bariatric patients maintain muscle mass and also improves overall long-term weight loss (Lopes Gomes et al. 2017).

Muscle-Building Activities and Exercises

There are many lifestyle factors that contribute to overall success in weight loss following bariatric surgery. Among the most critical of these factors, after dietary considerations, is your regular physical activity and exercise routine.  One recent scientific study indicates that patients who rehabilitate after surgery for a couple of months using a 2-times per week session that includes endurance training and muscle strengthening are most likely to have long-term weight loss; unsurprisingly, the patients who participated in the exercise sessions also indicated that they had a better quality of life than those who did not (Morana et al. 2018).

Exercise Tips for Building Muscle

Exercises that are most likely to lead to muscle preservation and muscle building after bariatric surgery are “strength training” movements using either weights or resistance (body weight, machines, or bands). Here are some tips to keep in mind as you incorporate these activities into your routine:

  • Start slow, using lighter weights to build strength. If you get into the gym and overdo it, you are more likely to experience discomfort (or injury!) and less likely to keep going. Starting slow and working up to more repetitions and higher weights is the best approach for long-term habit formation and overall success.
  • Get instruction. Most gyms will offer a free orientation to weight-training equipment. If this is not available to you, it is worth hiring a trainer or asking a friend who has more experience to show you how to use your exercise equipment. Also, many excellent instructional videos are available online, including several that show you how to do strength training without equipment. Learn how to exercise properly to minimize your risk of injury and maximize your efforts.
  • Compound exercises are great for getting started. When you begin your muscle-building exercises, you should initially focus on exercises that work your entire body, called compound exercises. Movements such as squats can work many muscles at once, making them simple and effective exercises to help you build muscle.
  • Increase weight as you get stronger. After you build some strength, you should increase the amount of weight that you are using in your exercises. Doing fewer repetitions with larger weights once you know the proper form and have built some strength will help you to build muscle.
  • Don’t forget to stretch. Stretching before and after strength training can help you to avoid injury, reduce soreness, and improve your flexibility and range of motion.
  • Don’t overdo the cardio. Cardiovascular exercise is important for your health, but try to do it on days that you are not strength training. This allows your body to focus its energy and resources on doing strength training exercises and building muscle.

For more information on the benefits of weight loss surgery and how to maximize your weight loss and health after surgery, contact us at 773.327.6800 today.


Lopes Gomes, D., Moehlecke, M., Lopes da Silva F.B., Dutra, E.S., D’Agord Schaan, B. Baiocchi de Carvalho, K.M. (2017). Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Body Fat and Weight Loss in Women Long After Bariatric Surgery: a Randomized Controlled Trial. Obesity Surgery. 27(2): 424-31.

Morana, C., Collingon, M., and D. Nocca. (2018). The effectiveness of a Functional Rehabilitation Program After Bariatric Surgery: a Pilot Study. Obesity Surgery. 28(8): 2321-6.

Oppert, J.M., Bellicha, A., Roda, C., Bouillot, J.L., Torciva, A., Clement, K., Poitou, C., and Ciangura, C. (2018). Resistance Training and Protein Supplementation Increase Strength After Bariatric Surgery: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Obesity. 26(11): 1709-20.