How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle – Burn Fat, NOT Muscle

Not too long ago, I covered how to lose fat. The thing is, there’s a second important topic that always needs to be covered right along with it. And that is: how to lose fat WITHOUT losing muscle.

Wait… what?!?!?! Did I just imply that you can lose your pretty hard-earned lean muscle mass while only trying to lose your ugly body fat??? Yup, I sure did. It’s happened to me and countless others plenty of times, and it can definitely happen to you.

To understand why and how this is possible and (more importantly) how to prevent it from happening, you first need to understand an important fact…

Weight Loss vs Fat Loss: It’s NOT The Same Thing!

People often say they want to lose weight. This is sort of a dumb statement, because “weight” can be a few different things. For example… water, glycogen, muscle or fat. Hell, you can cut off a leg and you’ll lose “weight” just fine.

In reality however, what most of us want to lose is fat, NOT muscle.

Now, despite some of the crazy things you may have heard before about how to lose fat, the truth is that there is just one major requirement… a caloric deficit.

As I’ve explained 1000 times before (for example: Calories In vs Calories Out), a caloric deficit is what happens when you consume less calories than your body needs to burn for energy performing all of the tasks it needs to perform over the course of the day (move, breathe, pump blood, digest food, etc.).

When that caloric deficit is present, your body is forced to find some alternative source of energy on your body to burn instead. Ideally, this would ONLY be your ugly stored body fat. However, it can also be your pretty lean muscle tissue.

Sure, you might want your body to just burn body fat and not muscle, but your body doesn’t really give a crap about what you want. It just knows that in order for it to survive and function under the current conditions, it will need to pull stored energy from somewhere. And that can mean fat, muscle or a combination of both.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do everything you can to improve the fat:muscle loss ratio as much as possible and basically signal your body to maintain ALL of your muscle and ONLY burn body fat. But the question is… how? I thought you’d never ask.

Here now are what I’d consider to be the 8 best ways to lose fat WITHOUT losing muscle

1. Eat Enough Protein

A sufficient daily protein intake is the single most important dietary requirement for maintaining muscle. It’s not meal timing, or supplements, or the exact size of your caloric deficit, or the quality of the foods you eat (more on that nonsense later), or anything else diet related.

Nutritionally speaking, losing fat without losing muscle is all about eating enough protein every day. Numerous studies have proven this to be true. Even in the absence of a proper weight training routine, more of the weight you lose will be body fat rather than muscle mass just as a result of an increased protein intake.

So, the first step of any muscle-preserving diet is always getting your ideal amount of protein for the day. Just what is “ideal?” Well, the good old “1 gram of protein per pound of body weight” recommendation still remains a perfectly fine starting point for most people with this goal in mind. Additional details and specifics are covered here: How Much Protein Per Day

2. Maintain Strength/Intensity/Weight On The Bar

And now here is the single most important training requirement for anyone who wants to lose fat without losing muscle. Simply put, the primary training stimulus required for maintaining muscle is maintaining your current levels of strength.

You know how gradually getting stronger (aka the progressive overload principle) is what signals your body to begin the muscle building process? Well, on a fat loss diet, just maintaining your current levels of strength (aka intensity, aka the weight on the bar) is what now signals your body to maintain muscle.

If that signal goes away, your body’s need to keep your pretty muscle tissue around goes away right along with it.

That’s why the insanely stupid myth of lifting heavier weights to build muscle but then lifting lighter weights (for higher reps) when you want to lose fat, get lean and get toned is the absolute WORST thing you could possibly believe when you’re trying to avoid losing muscle. In reality, you lift heavy weight to build muscle, and then lift that same heavy weight if you want to actually maintain that muscle.

If you start purposely lifting lighter weights while in a caloric deficit, your body essentially thinks: “Hmmm, it looks like we only need to lift lighter weights now. I guess all of that muscle I built for the purpose of being able to lift heavy weight is no longer needed. Time to start burning it for energy instead of body fat!”

Not too good, huh? This means that your primary weight training goal is to, at the very least, NOT lose strength. This in turn will allow you to NOT lose muscle.

For example, if you currently bench press 200lbs, your goal throughout the duration of your fat loss phase is to end up bench pressing that same 200lbs (or more if possible) when you’re done and all of the fat has been lost. The same goes for every other exercise in your routine.

Sure, you can continue trying to get stronger and continue trying to make progressive overload happen while losing fat. It can and does happen (especially for beginners, who should still be progressing consistently even in a deficit).

But, if you’re past the beginner’s stage, don’t be surprised if it’s MUCH harder to do (if not borderline impossible in some cases) and the best you can do is just maintain strength rather than increase it.

This is fine of course, as just maintaining the amount of weight you currently lift on every exercise is the  key weight training requirement for losing fat WITHOUT losing muscle.

3. Reduce Weight Training Volume and/or Frequency

A caloric deficit is really an energy deficit, and while this is fantastic (and required) for losing any amount of body fat, it kinda sucks for all things training related (recovery, work capacity, volume tolerance, performance, etc.).

What that means is, the workout routine you were (or would be) using with great success to build muscle, increase strength or make whatever other positive improvements to your body under normal circumstances (where there is no deficit present) will often be TOO MUCH for your body to tolerate and optimally recover from in the energy deficient state it is currently in.

And do you know what this scenario will ALWAYS lead to? One in which you’re not recovering properly from your workouts? A loss of strength.

And do you know what a loss of strength will ALWAYS lead to, especially while in a caloric deficit? A loss of muscle.

Like I explained a minute ago (#2 on this list), the key training requirement for maintaining muscle is simply maintaining strength. The problem is, if you’re using a workout routine that you aren’t properly recovering from, the opposite of this is going to happen.

This is something that I and so many others have learned the hard way. The workout routine that seemed perfect before when those beneficial extra calories were present is now the reason your workouts are getting harder, you’re getting weaker, reps are decreasing, weight on the bar needs to be reduced, and your fat loss phase (aka the cutting phase) ends with you having lost way more muscle and strength than you should have.

Been there, done that.

Luckily, It Can Be Prevented

How do you avoid all of this? Simple. By adjusting your weight training program to compensate for the drop in recovery that always comes with being in a caloric deficit. That means reducing training volume (the total amount of sets, reps and/or exercises being done), reducing training frequency (the total amount of workouts being done per week and per muscle group), or a combination of both.

My brand new guide to The Best Workout Routines actually contains the full details of a routine I like to call The Fat Loss + Muscle Maintenance Solution, as it incorporates ALL of these adjustments for this very purpose.

It has become my go-to routine for maintaining muscle while I lose fat, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to do the same. You can download it all right here: The Best Workout Routines

I should also note that the possible exception to this are beginners, as they should ALREADY be using an intelligently designed lower volume beginner routine.

4. Get Pre & Post Workout Nutrition Right… Still

I once read an article on some diet/training website that tried to make the point that pre and post workout nutrition become LESS important when your goal is fat loss rather than muscle growth. I don’t remember the exact reasoning for this (if I did, I’d be making fun of it right now), but whatever it was… it couldn’t be more wrong.

As mentioned, recovery, work capacity, volume tolerance and overall training performance in general go to crap as a result of being in a caloric deficit. And if you haven’t heard, the entire concept of pre and post workout nutrition is practically built around improving these very aspects of training and recovery.

That makes the meals you eat before and after your workouts JUST as important (arguably even more MORE SO) when your goal is losing fat without losing muscle as opposed to just building that muscle in the first place.

As for what to eat during these meals, I cover the full details right here: The PRE & POST Workout Meal

5. Don’t Reduce Calories By TOO Much

As we hopefully all understand by now, in order to lose any amount of body fat, you need to create a caloric deficit (I figure if I repeat it enough times, it will sink in). And that means you’re going to need to reduce your calorie intake below maintenance level so stored body fat can be burned for energy instead.

The thing is, that deficit can be classified as small, moderate or large based on how far below maintenance you go and how much you reduce your daily calorie intake by. Now, while each degree of deficit has its own PROS and CONS (which I explain here: The Caloric Deficit), a moderate deficit of about 20% below maintenance level is what ends up being most ideal in most cases.

That’s why it’s what I most often recommend: How Many Calories Per Day To Lose Weight?

Why not a larger deficit? Why not reduce calories by even more and make fat loss happen even faster? Well, aside from being harder to actually sustain, the other major downside of a large caloric deficit is that it will have the largest negative impact on training and recovery.

And that means that reducing your calorie intake by TOO much will increase the potential for strength and muscle loss. For that reason, I’d recommend most people stick with no more than a moderate deficit. Those who are already quite lean and looking to get REALLY lean may do better with an even smaller deficit

6. Incorporate Calorie/Carb/Nutrient Cycling

I can never decide if I want to refer to it as cycling calories, carbs or nutrients (they sound different but it’s all the same thing), so give me a second while I “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” this.

[8 seconds later...]

Alright, calorie cycling it is.

And what it refers to is eating more calories on certain days (typically training days) and less calories on other days (typically rest days). This is done primarily by manipulating carbs and/or fat, as protein is something we want to be high every day… especially when our goal is to lose fat, NOT muscle.

Now, with a more simple and straight forward fat loss diet, you’d consume about the same amount of calories and nutrients every day and be in a similar sized deficit each day of the week.

But with calorie cycling, you’d be in a larger deficit on certain days, but then a smaller deficit (or possibly even NO deficit at all) on the other days. However, at the end of the week, the total amount of calories consumed would still be the same. It’s just the method of getting there (eating less on certain days, more on others) is different.

The theoretical purpose for doing this is to improve everything from recovery to calorie partitioning by providing our bodies with more calories/nutrients when it’s most likely to need and benefit from them (training days), and less calories/nutrients when it isn’t (rest days). This would then potentially allow us to, among other things, better maintain muscle and strength while we lose fat.

Does it actually work? Well, this is something I’ve been experimenting with a lot over the last few years, and I’ve become a HUGE fan of it.

Not just for maintaining muscle while losing fat (which I’ve found it works great for), but also for diet adherence, controlling your appetite, and keeping you happy and satisfied. And on the other side of the goal spectrum, I like it equally well for gaining muscle without gaining excess fat.

It’s definitely a subject you’ll be hearing a lot more about from me in the future.

7. Take Diet Breaks When Needed

Can we all be honest for a second? Regardless of how you go about making fat loss occur, the simple fact is that it kinda sucks either way. Your body doesn’t really like being in a caloric deficit, and as anyone who has ever tried to lose any amount of fat already knows, your mind sure as hell doesn’t like it either.

The truth is, there are a ton of physiological and psychological aspects of being in the energy deficient state required for fat loss to take place that just plain suck. From the aforementioned drop in recovery and performance to the changes in insulin, leptin, thyroid hormones and overall metabolic rate, the human body (and mind) just run a whole lot better with no deficit present.

And that brings us to the concept of the diet break.

The exact definition of what a diet break is will vary based on who you ask, but I think of it as a 1-2 week period where you come out of the deficit and back up to maintenance level for the purpose of briefly allowing all of the things that suck about fat loss to recover and go back normal for a little while.

There are dozens of potential benefits (some physical, some mental) that come from taking diet breaks like this, but the reason I’m mentioning it here are for its performance and recovery related benefits. Why? Because any improvement there will help with our goal of maintaining muscle and strength while we lose fat.

The specifics of when and how often a diet break should be taken would require its own article (consider it added to my to-do list), but the basic point is that while people with LESS fat left to lose will generally need/benefit from a diet break more than someone in the early stages of losing a lot of fat, the fact remains that it can be quite beneficial for many reasons… one of which is preserving muscle.

8. Avoid Excessive Amounts Of Cardio (Or Just Don’t Do ANY At All)

This all goes back to what I mentioned 100 times already about recovery being reduced as a result of calories being reduced. For this reason, ALL of the exercise you’re doing (not just weight training, cardio too) needs to be reduced or adjusted to some extent to compensate for this and help prevent muscle loss. (Once again, for more about adjusting weight training, see The Fat Loss + Muscle Maintenance Solution in The Best Workout Routines.)

Now, weight training obviously still needs to be kept around as it provides the primary signal that tells our bodies to maintain muscle and only burn body fat. But cardio? That’s completely optional.

And honestly, I feel there is no more overrated and over-given-a-shit-about aspect of fat loss or muscle growth than cardio. Obviously if your goal is endurance or performance related, my opinion would change. But strictly in terms of just improving the way your body looks? I hate cardio.

In fact, I rarely do any myself and my default recommendation for most people with body composition related goals is to do little or even NO cardio whatsoever. I’d much rather see people create their deficit via diet alone, use weight training to build/maintain muscle, and use cardio as a last resort tool for when you reach a point where lowering calories any further becomes too difficult and you’d rather burn those calories off instead.

Here’s why…

  • HIIT (or really any high intensity cardio) will cut into the recovery of both your nervous system AND muscle fibers almost in the same way an additional weight training workout would.
  • Typical steady state cardio (30 minutes of jogging, for example) will also cut into recovery, albeit not as much as HIIT can.
  • And excessive amounts of steady state cardio (like 30-60+ minutes of jogging and/or just doing it too frequently) is often viewed as the ultimate killer of muscle.

When you weigh these CONS against the PROS of cardio (it burns some calories… yay!), you begin to realize that it may not be worth doing for the purpose of losing fat… specifically for people whose primary goal is to lose that fat without losing muscle.

Don’t get me wrong here… both HIIT and steady state cardio are useful fat loss tools for sure and I’m definitely not against doing them. It’s just that, considering cardio is IN NO WAY required for losing fat and that doing it could potentially hurt your ability to maintain muscle (plus it’s boring as hell)… I don’t really see the point.

Obviously personal preferences and individual differences play an important role here too, but generally speaking… I rarely recommend cardio by default or do much of it myself. And when I do, my first choice is always 30-60 minutes of low intensity walking. Still burns a nice amount of calories and won’t cut into recovery. Win-win.

What About Eating Only Healthy & “Clean” Foods?

After looking over this list of what I’d consider to be the most important/effective ways to maintain muscle while losing fat, some people might be wondering if I forgot to mention one final tip.

The “tip” I’m referring to is to eat healthier, cleaner, natural foods instead of unhealthy, dirty, processed foods. Why? Because doing so will supposedly make a significant difference in terms of getting the “weight” you lose to be fat instead of muscle.

As nice as that theory sounds, the truth is that with all else being equal (total calorie and macronutrient intake, strength being maintained, etc.), clean vs dirty, healthy vs unhealthy, processed vs unprocessed really doesn’t matter at all in terms of calorie partitioning and whether the “weight” you lose ends up being fat (good) or muscle (bad).

Now obviously in terms of things like overall health, appetite control and diet adherence there are some big differences, which is why I’d always recommend getting most of your calories from higher quality foods rather than junky garbage. But the common thought that changes in body composition are directly influenced by a food being “clean” or “dirty” is total bullshit.

So no, while it’s still a great idea, it’s not an idea that will (in and of itself) improve your ability to maintain muscle while losing fat. Which means, it doesn’t belong on this list.

Goodbye Fat, Hello Muscle!

There you have it… the 8 best ways to ensure you lose fat without losing muscle in the process. The first 2 items (sufficient protein intake and maintaining strength) are BY FAR the most important. It just so happens that the majority of the other items on this list are proven to significantly help make those things (specifically strength maintenance) actually happen.

So, if you’ve ever lost any muscle or strength while trying to lose fat or are just concerned it might happen to you in the future… this is how you can prevent it.

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  1. Charlie IV says

    Just read over this amazing article and this is the exact information I needed as I am trying to lose about 15 pounds of fat without losing any muscle. Considering I lift a lot of weights I need to lean out just a bit. I just wanted to write this and say thank you for the useful information and from what I can tell you’ve helped a lot of people. I appreciate your time in writing these articles and I will find time to read the rest as I want to get into a healthier lifestyle before I go off to college. Wonderful article keep up the great work bro.

  2. Kate says

    Hi Jay! I started weight lifting 6 months ago (with a trainor) along with diet to lose fat (started at 150lbs for a 5’4 women. I lost 18 lbs so far). I was a complete beginner, and although I am in a caloric deficit, I am still making progress (progressive overload). Does that mean that I gained some muscle even in a deficit? I really wanna make sure that I am not losing muscle (I feel that it is pretty easy when I was a complete beginner but I wanna make sure I don’t lose any now)… Thanks for everything!!

    • says

      Strength gains in a deficit are always possible (much more so for beginners than anyone else, though) and a very good sign that you’re not losing muscle.

      However, as a beginner with fat to lose, it is certainly possible that you’ve built some muscle as well.

  3. Alex V. says

    This is a great article, with the first two points pretty much cutting through all the myths and BS one hears every day out there. The only thing about the third point is that if you are really overweight, or have too much fat like I had for example (mid 20s BF%), I believe you can still keep pushing with normal volume. It worked great for me, where I am losing fat all the time while still increasing the strength and muscle size at the same time.

    • says

      There is truth to this. An obese trainee (especially an untrained one) can certainly get away with a lot of stuff that people who are (for lack of a better term) less fat can’t.

  4. Courtney says

    Hi, I’m a total beginner who just started a very basic workout last week. I’m skinny, but squishy. I want to build muscle, but lose a small amount of body fat so that muscle can shine through. Is cardio not necessary at all in my situation? I had every intention of buying a treadmill until I read about the muscle loss. Also, my fitness app says I need roughly 1600 calories to maintain my weight ..Does that not include a deficit?

  5. PK says

    Liked the article, some pretty new information. But because of all the information on the web, I’m now thoroughly confused. I built up my muscle size and strength for the past 4 months, and now I’m trying to lose the body fat. I’m 5’11 and 199lbs. And no matter what i do I just can’t seem to get ride of the fat. The large amounts of protein I took for the past few months has resulted in my body looking massive, but not lean. I do hiit for 12-14 mins and jump rope for 15, along with weight training, If I reduce cardio (or stop it all together) and keep up my weight lifting, what else can I do? Should I continue taking the 200grams of protein or reduce that as well?

  6. Tuulu Swan says

    Great article, very informing, many thanks!
    I am a 55 year old female, 5′ 4″, trying to shed some of my 145.5 pounds without losing my precious muscles. I do not do vigorous exercise like weight lifting etc. My sports are 2 hours of pilates every week, 1-2 times of 30 minute swimming and 1-2 times of 30 minute brisk walk. Would you advise me to change my exercise program to introduce some weight lifting, or would keeping this program and changing my diet according to your suggestions suffice? Many thanks in advance…

  7. Tom says

    Great article! But I am confused about one thing….I hear what you’re saying about steady state cardio, but doen’t hiit have advantages in terms of A) being a good calorie burner (fat calories if done in a fasted state) and B) increasing HGH which encourages muscle growth? Or do you think that the fatigue it causes just is too much grief for what you get out of it?

    • says

      HIIT has advantages in that when compared against steady state cardio done for the same duration, HIIT will burn a bit more calories than steady state, thanks to EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption). This difference, while legit, is surprisingly less significant than people think. And “B” is nonsense.

  8. Loretta says

    Who ARE you? The God of Physiques? This website is my favourite thing, like, ever. I’m in the process of losing fat so that eventually (someday) I can bulk and then cut. The only thing that scares me about this list is the cardio issue. I’m a hip hop dancer. I can’t avoid lots of cardio, and it’s definitely not boring to me! At best I can get my sessions down to about 4 hours a week – pretty intensive. Is this going to kill my perfect plan to maintain muscle? I’m doing the protein thing, in a calorie deficit, lifting heavy – I just really can’t avoid the cardio. :(

    • says

      Ha, yeah… I think I will accept that as my new nickname.

      As for your question… kill it? Nah. But a lot of cardio may make things harder and less than ideal. As long as you do everything else right (especially keep protein sufficient, keep weight training strength levels the same/going up, and ensure you’re eating enough so that the cardio being done doesn’t put you into an excessively large deficit), you should still be okay.

      Also read this one if you haven’t already.

  9. Rob says

    This may be a little different perspective on the maintaing weight on the bar topic

    Lets say I can break up the losing fat into three different aspects and designing my routine around them:
    1) Maintain your strength, knowing that muscle size will suffer slightly and fat loss will be slower
    2) Maintain your muscle size, knowing that strength will suffer slightly and fat loss will be slower
    3) Burn fat as fast as possible, knowing that strength with suffer and muscle size will suffer
    4) Any combination of the above, knowing that the benefits of each will not be as strong, but the negatives will not be as strong too.

    First question: Can I assume the above is true. Are those actual things that can happen and can I adjust my workout around them.

    Secondly. This is how I would deal with each goal
    1) powerlifting and strength training. low reps. high sets
    2) bodybuilding and hypertrophy. mid reps. mid sets
    3) metabolic resistance training
    4)any combination of the above

    Personally, Thats how I view it. I’ve taken a liking to a hybrid of the assumptions 2-3. I would say that Mike O’Hearn’s power bodybuilding fits those and I have incorporated some of his workout into mine.

    The point is, are these correct assumptions

  10. Jason says

    Great article, seems to jive with a lot of other common sense stuff I have been reading as of late. Glad that the latest and greatest news means that I don’t HAVE to do cardio. I hate it, I’m pretty sure if the only exercise available was jogging, I would be a big fat tub of crap! I love lifting and I can totally handle caloric deficit, so I like what I’m reading here. Just a follow up question as your article relates to my overall goals – I know you say that food quality doesn’t matter – no big deal either way, but I was curious about your take on all the body recomp. “macro” percentages that are out there floating around…. If you HAD to tell someone how to best disperse their macros to maintain weight and lose fat, what would you recommend? Ballpark……. It seems that a lot of sites bounce between 30-40 for protein, 30-50 for carbs and 15-30 for fat. Right now, I am at 40p-30c-30f and have lost about a pound a week for the past nine weeks, which is roughly .5% of my body weight (I am at 190 and +/- 19% bf – according to my scale, which seems to be relatively accurate when comparing to online photos). I’m eating 2,650 calories, which I believe to be a deficit of only 300 calories – or right about ten percent (though, I am thinking that maybe my maintenance calories are a bit higher than the 3,000 +/- I had originally thought).

    Any insight would be awesome. I think I have the training part down, so I am really looking to fine tune my diet if you have any further suggestions – I think I am pretty much in line with what you have been saying, but just wanted to dig a bit deeper….. Also, any additional insight as to possible ways to even INCREASE lean mass while dumping fat slowly would be great. Let me know what you think.

    Overall, great article – I’m off to go read some more of your stuff! Time to subscribe!

    • says

      Unless you’re looking to lose like… a pound or two… I wouldn’t recommend even attempting to recomp. Trying to lose fat without losing weight is pretty much going to get 99% of the population nowhere. Fat weighs something… so weight has to be lost. And the fact that muscle growth will happen at a rate WAY slower than fat loss means it will never come close to balancing out equally unless you purposely attempted to lose fat 10 times slower than anyone ever should.

      Not to mention, this assumes anyone will actually be building muscle while losing fat in the first place. Most won’t. Full details here.

      • Jason says

        Thanks for the reply. I think after my post, I read just about every other article you wrote on this website – and found all the answers; guess I was too quick to jump the gun and blurt out retarded questions. Turns out, based on what I think I am eating and calorie intake, I am gearing myself towards fat loss anyways (like you suggested). So, I will just keep on burning it off as best I can (by monitoring calorie intake, not increasing cardio) and then worry about putting any lost muscle back on later (but trying to maintain as much as possible right now). As far as the “macros” I followed all your steps in other posts to get a good range, good information, great site!

  11. Rena says

    Hi, your articles are awesome! I am doing a 90 day challenge to lose body fat, I’m about 178 lbs, 42% fat, 5’2. Down from 194 two weeks ago. I’m afraid because EVERYBODY is telling me I have to do cardio and eat more, I eat to satisfaction but not fullness, and I practice yoga and strength training using my own body weight which is immense! I’d like to know if you think it’s ok to eat at a large deficit as long as I am not super hungry through the day and avoid cardio? I’d like to reduce at least 15% bf in the next 90 days and really hope it’s possible!!! Thanks so much!

    • says

      I think most people will do best sticking with a medium sized deficit (around 20% below maintenance) rather than a large deficit. The truly obese would be an exception where a larger deficit may sometimes be more ideal, at least initially.

  12. Josh says

    I really enjoyed this article. I have been intermittent fasting for about two months now. I’m 5″11 at 205 lbs. I’m about 16-18% body fat. I have been at a caloric deficit for the whole 2 months. My daily caloric needs is around 2800-3000 and I eat anywhere from 1800-2200 a day. My only problem is I’m not seeing any fat loss in my lower stomach and love handles. I train 4-5 days a week very intensely doing lots of squats dead lifts and presses. I do 4-6 sets of 10-12 reps. I spend around 1hour 30 minutes in the gym. My rest between sets is between 45 sec to 1 min. I just feel that I’m doing something wrong to not be losing any weight. I dont do any cardio because I’m too exhausted after my lifts. I am making strength gains fairly well but no fat loss. Am I missing something here?

  13. says

    I have always read that cardio is needed to burn fat. How are you going to burn fat by simply lifting? Not everyone can stay ripped or get ripped by lifting.. Not too many calories are burned this way. Anyway, this is my first year bulking. I am 18, 5’11, 162 lbs, a newbie, and I put on nearly 20lbs of mostly muscle since August. I have red stretch marks all over my arms and shoulders which I am quite proud of although they look a little scary. But again I did put on a little fat. In May i will start to cut, and my goal is to be at 10% body fat, and say I am about 13% body fat right now. Abs aren’t visible and fat surrounds my love handles and lower abdominal area. Simply lifting weights isn’t going to cut it to lose body fat. I might lose weight by cutting the calories, but the fat will stay and the last thing I would want is having loose skin.

    Therefore, I am thinking of staying at my caloric maintenance, adding IF, working out 3xs week with less volume to keep strength, and adding simple jump rope for fat loss 2-3xs a week… This way I feel like I will have enough calories in me to keep my strength and jump rope to burn the fat. What are your thoughts on this? I don’t want to lose my hard earned muscle!

    • says

      You apparently have been reading inaccurate sources of information. Cardio is not even remotely required for fat loss to occur. The only requirement is a caloric deficit. Whether you eat less calories or do cardio to burn more calories, the end result is exactly the same.

      Also, read this one.

  14. Arron says

    Hi, first of all I’d like to say I love your site. Cleared so much of the bulls**t up that other people/sites blurt out about literally everything to do with training and fat loss. Recently however I have been looking in to an intermittent diet system. I was just wondering if you had done an article on this yet? I’ve read a +10% BMR is suitable for training days and a -25% BMR for rest days if your goal is to lose fat while possibly even making small muscular gains. I’m 23, 5’10″ and 162lbs with a bodyfat % of somewhere close to 18% and I train 4 days per week, I’d like to stay around that weight whilst decreasing my bodyfat %. Are there any truth in these claims that this is possible or am I better off continuing trying to put on weight before eventually doing a ‘cut’ that will take me back to my current weight, but having a leaner body.


    • says

      The only way you’re going to stay the same weight while decreasing body fat is if you build muscle and lose fat at the same time and at the same rate, which has no chance of happening unless you purposely aim to lose fat 100 times slower than there is any need to. And that assumes that you’ll actually be able to do both at the same time in the first place (most won’t).

      Read this one and this one for more details.

    • says

      I don’t say cardio is pointless. I say that it is a completely optional, potentially useful tool for burning calories and thus causing fat loss that I also think is highly overrated and potentially problematic.

      • Danny says

        Alrighty! Thanks :) I think I’ll stay away from cardio then and I’ll follow your tips :D Thanks for all the help!!

  15. Mary says

    Hi Jay – I have a couple of friends who have lost a lot of weight following the advice of a nutritionist who claims to analyse their body composition through use of a machine – she has told both of them that they are muscular and don’t need to exercise as that would be just a way to gain weight not lose it, and that exercise just makes you hungry. So of course, they are in caloric deficit and are losing weight – but NO exercise? What sense does that make… she’s very popular over here in New Zealand….

  16. Daniel says

    Is it possible to gain muscle mass all while losing body fat? Or can you only maintain your current level of strength and lose fat.. Because I want to lose some fat, AND build muscle simultaneously. Can I do this through caloric deficiency? Or so I have to build muscle first?

  17. Andy says

    Hi Jay,

    I’m currently doing the outstanding arms workout and i’m about to start a fat loss phase, was just wondering, is it ok the carry on with the arms workout whilst in a low calorie fat loss phase or would i be overtraining the arms? Or would i be best to re-arrange the exercises and switch to your 3 day mass workout to avoid overtraining them?

    Thanks – Andy.

      • Andy says

        Ah yes..completely overlooked that one! Thanks.

        One more question, what are your thoughts on calorie cycling for fat loss. My current maintenance level is about 2400 calories, so if i did 3 days at 1600 calories and 1 day at 2600 calories, would there be any benefits to doing it this way, or is it a complete no-no. (i read about this in Tom Venuto’s book by the way – he says it can help with maintaining muscle better than a straight forward constant calorie deficit).

  18. Konstadinos says

    What if somebody wants to lose pure fat but does not do any anaerobic exercise (using weights)?Most of the ways to maintain muscle in your article has to do with workouts. I only do diet and some aerobic.Should I keep on the calorie deficit alone (consuming enough protein) or add on some muscle exercise in order to prevent muscle loss?

    I am 29, 174 77kg (170lbs) and my body fat is 29%. (22kg). I want to reach the 10% fat level, which means I have to lose more than 15kg (33lbs) of pure fat. What I do is following a healthy diet having decreased 500 calories daily plus 40minutes jogging 4 times per week. Should I do anaerobic instead of jogging to prevent muscle loss? Or combine them?
    P.S. The reason I don’t do anaerobic is I don’t want to gain (muscle) weight so I will be discouraged when I see the scale (any way I don’t know If I can gain muscle while on a diet).

    Thank you and sorry for my bad english :-)

    • says

      If you really want to avoid losing muscle, some form of strength training is pretty much a requirement. And trust me, muscle growth is so damn slow that it’s unlikely to affect what you’re seeing on the scale as you try to lose fat.

      And yes, you can still do cardio if you want. That’s fine.

  19. Abraham says

    I have to say that this website is one of the most simple and helpful. Thanks for sharing this knowledge.

  20. Lance J says

    So, on March 6 I was 206.8 lbs, 23.2% Fat. April 1 I am 195.6 lbs, 21.0% Fat. Results are that I lost 6.9 lbs fat but sacrificed 4.3 lbs of lean in the process. What a heart breaker. Your article is exactly what I searched for on the internet. Lose the fat, keep the lean. At 50 it isn’t as easy I suppose as someone in their 20s but the principles should be the same. Great information.

    • says

      Glad to hear it!

      Also I honestly doubt you lost as much actual muscle mass as you think. More likely your method of measuring body fat percentage wasn’t super accurate (or, that “lean” weight could have simply been water, not muscle tissue).

  21. Nenad says

    Great article, all facts are here, thank you.

    Just one thing that I find overlooked here. All this is addressed from “burning fat” point of view. Which is fine, but it bothers me that physical condition is left behind.

    Especially comments about cardio, HIIT (Which I think really improves fat burning). I know it is optional as far as losing fat, but what is the point of keeping muscles, low body fat, if you can’t breath after 20 minutes of any sport activity. I do not consider that healthy. And most of us want to lose fat, build muscles, work out, because it feels good and keeps us healthy in the first place. Not just because of looks, like it may seem from this article.

    • says

      On one hand, you do have a point. But on the other hand, you need to also keep in mind that typical “cardio” (like running on a treadmill, riding a bike, etc.) aren’t the only ways to train the cardiovascular system. Weight training provides quite a few benefits in that area as well, as does any form of non-cardio-specific activity, like playing a sport.

  22. claire says

    This has been a really useful article for me…
    I am 21 yr old female, 5′ 9” and naturally skinny. I tried forever in high school to “put on weight” by eating a ton, but obviously my body wasn’t going to put on much fat weight. I hated being called skinny but not much I could do about it. I always was “skinny fat”, with very thin extremities but always some fat on my stomach.– obviously though. I never exercised I just existed as a skinny-fat person who was always eating lol
    About 1 year ago I actually learned about building muscle and lifting and what not, and I began lifting and doing weight training. I can see a significant increase in muscles– my biceps went from non-existent to pretty decent! I went from 117 to 130, which is right around where I wanna be, although I care more about muscle appearance than what the scale says. So my concern is I’ve accumulated an annoying layer of chub on my stomach. My workouts include abs 1 or 2 days per week to build the muscles, but as I’m usually in a calorie surplus, protein-heavy w/ protein shakes post-workout, I now realize it’s not possible to lose this layer without going to what seems to be called a “cutting” phase or whatever… which doesn’t seem like it’s going to be great with trying to build muscle. I recently began incorporating running on he track for about 15 minutes into my workouts twice per week, alternating between jogging and sprinting and walking. I realize this is probably useless to lose the chub if I’m eating a surplus to build the muscles…

    So my question is this, is there any way to continue building my muscles while losing the layer of stomach chub? Or to get rid of the chub area, do I need to focus on what you cover in this article, which is eating a slight deficit, focusing on protein still, but limiting my workouts to only enough lifting to maintain current strength?
    I’m confused about what I should do. I don’t know if I should spend another few months with buliding and then do the actual cutting phase? Or if I should try to get rid of the chub first, because summer weather is already here in FL and I don’t like the chub? lol Idk

      • claire says

        I feel like I’m definitely in the category of regular people who should focus on one goal at a time. Since I’ve already built up a decent amount of muscle and think it’s a good level of muscle to maintain–at least until I can minimize the fat I’ve gained in places–I think I’ll try to lose some of the fat. And I realize this article is about how to lose fat without losing muscle, but realistically, what type of workout do you think I should do, given that I’m pretty much the standard ectomorph and putting on this little bit of muscle took a long time with hard lifting (lol) and I don’t wanna lose it all?
        Do you have any suggestions for good workout/lifting plans to follow that you know of?
        Right now I pretty much do Arms-shoulders-back 2x per week, legs/abs 2x per week, for about 45 minutes per time, lifting weights such that I can do between 5-8 reps, depending which, and I always am very sore the next day. What do I do to this “muscle building routine” to lessen it to a level of just maintaining without losing muscle? Should I just do like two exercises per muscle group such that I’m not really sore the next day, but that the muscles were used?

        Thanks so much!!

  23. says

    Dude you rock! Im inbetween beginner and intermediate, but I can just tell everything your dishing out on here is the truth.. I have a few questions about thermogenics/fatburners if you have the time to answer them.. that being said I was curious if I could get your email or something like that?

  24. Uxmal says

    I have a question. You write “In the case of people of are VERY overweight, your ideal protein intake will be overestimated if you use your current body weight due to the excessive amount of fat on your body. So, for true obese individuals, your target body weight should be used instead. For example, a 300lb man looking to get down to 200lbs would use 200lbs as their weight when calculating how much protein they should eat per day”. What’s your opinion on the same point of view in terms of maintenance calorie intake. It seems that all methodics go from the current body weight, but I don’t understand why. The only reason may be that your body uses more calories because you have to carry more weight. But you can also say no you move slower because the amount of muscles is the same. The fat does not use more calories I think. So to my opinion you your correction above for proteins also counts for the calorie measurement. Don’t you think so too? I think it’s a big mistake to calculate from the weight when your way overweight. It should always be the target body weight that makes the ideal maintenance calorie intake and take a 10 to 20% decrease of that. Enough sleep, rest and finding the reason why you gained to much fat is important too. Curious how you think about it. Sorry for my English, it’s not my native.

        • says

          Because a person with a maintenance level of 3500 calories would eat 2800 calories per day to lose weight by creating a deficit from their current weight.

          By creating a deficit from their goal weight, this same person would end up eating closer to 1800 calories per day. Will this work? Sure. But it will also be significantly harder to sustain, increase the potential for muscle loss, hunger, and various other things that suck about trying to lose fat.

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