Promoting muscle strengthening exercise among adults with obesity during rapid weight loss

Muscle strengthening exercise during rapid weight loss – how to help people to do it


Total meal replacement diets are severely energy-restricted diets that replace all regular foods with nutritionally replete formula foods such as shakes and bars. When used under clinical supervision in people with obesity, they produce approximately twice as much weight loss and health benefits, in approximately twice as many people, as food-based, moderately energy-restricted diets, both in the short-term and longer-term (e.g., 3 years). However, they have been shown to cause greater loss of bone mineral density in some people, which may predispose to osteoporosis.

Loss of bone mineral density during weight loss in people with obesity can be attenuated by muscle strengthening exercise, but it is not clear if people will actually do this form of exercise in real-world interventions without supervised exercise. While on the one hand a severely energy-restricted diet might be expected to reduce physical activity due to reduced energy availability, recent research shows greater increases in physical activity among people undergoing a severely energy-restricted diet compared to those undergoing a moderately energy-restricted diet, predominantly due to greater weight loss. However, it is not known what effect a severe diet may have on muscle strengthening exercise, notably in the context of a program that explicitly promotes strength training.

This study will design and implement accessible and scalable muscle strengthening exercise training programs for individuals undergoing a total meal replacement diet for the treatment of obesity.

Project goal:

  • To identify effective strategies to promote muscle strengthening exercise during rapid weight loss among adults with obesity.

As part of this project the successful PhD applicant will:

  • Review the literature to determine what is known so far about promoting muscle strengthening exercise among people with obesity during weight loss.
  • Interview people with obesity to determine strategies that could encourage engagement in muscle strengthening exercise during weight loss.
  • Co-design (with people with obesity) exercise interventions, based on the above insights.
  • Implement the exercise interventions during an existing weight loss trial and measure engagement using mixed methods.

Suggested readings


Research team leader: Professor Amanda Salis (publishing as Sainsbury)

Having personally struggled with binge eating and excess weight (and having now lost 28 kilos and kept it off for over 20 years), I’m passionate about research that will help more people to lose excess weight and keep it off for life. My research focuses on the safe use of total meal replacement diets, as new research proves they are an important tool in ‘kickstarting’ healthier habits for people with obesity.


Funding and Collaborations


  • National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia
    Project Grant #1127737
    Title: Improving weight loss by intermittent use of very low energy diet: the TANGO Diet Trial (Temporary phases of Accelerated weight loss for Noticeably Greater Outcomes)
    2017-2022: $660,736




This PhD project will be undertaken as a sub-study of a larger study – the TANGO Diet (Randomized Controlled) Trial, funded by the NHMRC and led by Prof. Amanda Salis. The TANGO Diet Trial will involve recruitment of 288 adults with overweight or obesity and randomization to one of two weight loss programs involving a total meal replacement diet. One of the two diets will involve continuous use of a total meal replacement diet for 16 weeks. The other of the two diets will involve intermittent use of a total meal replacement diet (4 weeks on the diet; 2 weeks on a weight-maintenance diet; repeated 4 times).

In addition to participants in the TANGO Diet Trial for this PhD project, this project will draw on General UWA facilities, such as…

  • Rooms in which to interview clinical trial participants, either individually or in a small group of 4-6 people.
  •  Indoor or – weather permitting – outdoor areas in which to instruct participants on how to do muscle strengthening exercises. 
  •  Telecommunications access (e.g., Zoom video, telephone, email).
  •  Library access (e.g., to access research journals).


How to Apply 

Check criteria
  • To be accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy, an applicant must demonstrate they have sufficient background experience in independent supervised research to successfully complete, and provide evidence of English language proficiency
  • Requirements specific to this project:
    • An undergraduate degree in a health-related discipline (e.g., science, medicine, exercise physiology, nutrition & dietetics, nursing, pharmacy, physiotherapy, psychology, etc.)
    • Commitment to research into promoting health in adults via exercise/diet.
    • Ability to work productively both within a team environment as well as independently as required.
    • Excellent communication skills.
    • Excellent organisational skills.
    • Reliability and punctuality.
    • Desirable but not essential: qualifications as a healthcare provider, such as an exercise physiologist, dietitian, nurse, physiotherapist, psychologist, etc.
Submit enquiry to research team leader 
  • Contact the research team leader by submitting an Expression of Interest form via the button below
  • After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, contact [email protected] to proceed with your application


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.