How to Lose Fat without Losing Muscle
There’s no point spending time building muscle just to lose it all when you diet to lose the fat covering it.
Fortunately, there are a number of key strategies you can use to ensure that you maintain as much of your muscle mass as possible when eating and training in a calorie deficit.
Train Using Heavy Weights
This is a must!
Don’t make the mistake of jumping on the “light weights burn fat” bandwagon. All this does is fast track you down the path to fat and muscle loss, which will leave you looking small, feeling weak, and, quite frankly, being skinny fat.
Lifting heavy is the best way to preserve your muscle mass.
Research has shown that “strength training significantly reduced the loss of FFM [fat free mass, i.e. muscle] during dieting.” This was supported by another study, which concluded that “[an] intensive, high volume resistance training program resulted in preservation of LBW [lean body weight, i.e. muscle] and RMR [resting metabolic rate, i.e. calories burned at rest] during weight loss with a VLCD [very low-calorie diet].”
Note: I’m not advocating a very low-calorie diet! We already covered calories in Lessons 2 and 3.
In addition to the already very compelling evidence above, yet another study shows that “resistance exercise prevents the normal decline in fat-free mass and muscular power and augments body composition [and] maximal strength.”
What’s the best way to train using heavy weights?
Focus on Compound Movements
Compound movements are movements that work multiple muscle groups through multiple joint actions. Because you’re using multiple muscle groups, you can generate much more strength and power, which means you can lift more and have a greater capacity for growth.
Your focus should be on exercises like the following:
• bench presses—incline or flat
• shoulder presses—standing or seated
• deadlifts—conventional, Romanian, trap bar, sumo
• rows—bent over, pendley, single arm
• pull-ups or chin-ups
Lower Your Overall Training Volume and Frequency
When eating a calorie deficit, you’re feeding your body LESS energy than it needs every day, to create a negative energy balance and encourage weight loss, predominantly through the loss of fat.
This means that since your body won’t be able to repair itself or recover as fast, its capacity to bounce back from training sessions is diminished when you’re in a calorie deficit.
For this reason, you want to be careful with how often you train and how much training you do.
Considerations when lifting weights in a calorie deficit:
• Ensure you get adequate rest and recovery. This means having 24 hours of rest between weightlifting sessions, getting 7-plus hours of sleep nightly, and eating well within your calorie allowance.
• Reduce your training frequency to compensate for your reduced recovery capacity. Train 3 days a week to allow for enough recovery time between workouts and to allow you to continue training with intensity on the days you do work out.
• Avoid training to failure, as your body has a tougher time maintaining a high rate of protein synthesis. This means your ability to recover from the cellular damage caused by training to failure will be diminished and could even cause you to lose muscle mass while “cutting.”
Keep Protein Intake High
For the reasons touched on above, it is important to keep your protein intake at sufficient levels (1 g per lb or 2.2 g per kg of bodyweight) for the retention of muscle mass.
Protein is muscle sparing, as it encourages a positive balance of protein synthesis, which reduces the risk of your muscle mass being used as a fuel source.
A sufficient protein intake combined with the other strategies laid out here plays a big role in helping you minimize the loss of muscle mass when eating and training in a calorie deficit. It also helps keep you satiated when eating a calorie deficit.
Changing body aesthetics is more than just losing weight. You need to lose weight with a priority for it to be fat loss, while actively working to preserve your muscle mass.
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