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 nearly as much as HIIT can.
  • And excessive amounts of steady state cardio (let’s say 60+ minutes of jogging and/or doing it every single day) is often quite problematic in terms of preserving 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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594 Comments

  1. Lance Price says

    Hello sir, i just read your article about cutting and it sounds fantastic, i cant wait to try it! There is one problem though sir. I am shipping off to the United States Marine Corps boot camp in a few months. I need to lose fat, but i also need to have endurance and performance muscles at the ready. 20 pullups, 100 crunches in two minutes, and an 18:00 3 mile run.

    Your article describes a calorie deficit will illicit an energy deficit as well? Being a prospective Marine, i need all the energy i can get, so that my performance will improve rather than stay the same or decrease. Therefore sir, i am in a rut.

    I need your help sir, and any helpful comments are welcome as well. Thank you for the article, and have a nice day!

    • Lance Price says

      The above mentioned exercises are the perfect scores for a Marine. Sorry i forgot to mention. As of right now i am nowhere near those goals, but i have passed the bare minimum. I just need to lose fat and up my performance before i ship.

      • SteelRain0341 says

        Don’t worry Devil pup, your drill instructors and combat instructors will push you beyond your self imposed capability whether you like it or not, I don’t have a perfect PFT yet, but in time I will get my 1800 3 mile. 20+ pull-ups and 100+ crunches are the easy part.

    • says

      A caloric deficit is certainly not the ideal state to be in for performance, with one major exception… when performance suffers as a result of being fat.

      So if a deficit is needed to get you leaner, and being leaner will improve your performance in and of itself, it’s likely worth it.

      • Jay says

        You say that eating clean vs dirty isn’t really important in this situation but I would like to add, or if you’d like to edit, that psychologically during a deficit your brain will crave fats, which will have you craving those dirty, dirty foods, so it’d be safer to stay away, or at least to be aware of it. I really loved this article by the way!

        • says

          I don’t agree with that point on any level (including a) that it even happens, b) that even if it did happen it couldn’t be canceled out by working sane amounts of those “craved” and “dirty” foods into your diet semi-regularly… like IIFYM would allow).

  2. nate says

    Sir, i wonder with your progamme that you wrote in this article, normally how long it will take to make the abs visible in stomach area

  3. Nash says

    What if you built all your muscle from only body weight calisthenic exercises, would you remain to do only calisthenics during your cut to maintain muscle mass?

      • Nash says

        Well it kind of makes no sense because to maintain your muscle mass while on a cut your goal is to maintain your strength but how is It possible to do that with calisthenics when there isn’t a heavy enough resistance to train for strength you would be training for endurance

        • says

          In your scenario the calisthenics were apparently heavy enough to cause muscle growth in the first place in which case it would be heavy enough to cause muscle maintenance in a deficit.

          Weighted pull-ups, weighted push-ups, weighted dips, etc… plenty of ways to take calisthenics beyond just body weight alone.

  4. Nash says

    What I’m basically trying to say is calisthenics are considered light weight to me since I have to do many repetitions to fatigue.

    • says

      My point is that if it was heavy enough to build the muscle in the first place, it will be heavy enough to maintain it.

      Now if you’re saying you used some heavier form of training to build the muscle, then you will need something equally heavy to maintain it.

  5. Fernando Sá says

    Hi. Great article. I was wondering if I can do a Functional Training Workout, or KickBoxing class once a week, while following this programme?

    thanks

  6. says

    Hi there, i’ve been on a caloric deficit for about 3 weeks now, it’s been going well, but I also do cardio as well. My caloric maintenance level is about 2500 (roughly), so I consume 2000 calories a day. However, I also workout 3 times a week – mainly weight training, but also cardio at the end of every session. I’ve actually been able to maintain and in some cases increase the weight of what I lift. I assume my deficits would be much higher on my workout days, It doesn’t seem to be having much effect on my muscle just yet, but how many calories would you recommend I consume on my workout days?

  7. Sean says

    I agree with every single thing you said. These are things I’ve learned through a ton of experimenting with my own body. everything you pointed out is exactly what I’ve seen to be most effective, and this is how I keep my body looking exactly how I want it.

  8. Adnan says

    Hi Jay,

    I just found your site and i’ve been going through the articles. Really great work I must say :), thanks. In this article you have mentioned about cardio being a catalyst for losing muscle, I just wanted to clear this out. I’m a big fan of cardio, in fact I love it. But I am on a fat loss regime since 4 weeks now. I’m eating everything (but as clean as possible + protein shakes & fish oil as a supplement). I know this will take me at least 12 weeks before I hit my 6 pack which is what im aiming for. Well, coming to the point, I do strength training everyday but not heavy weight, around 8 Kg dumb bells (all various exercises) + push ups ( around 70 in one workout session) and body weight squats (around 100 per session). But i want to keep up my daily cardio around 40 mins to 1 hr everyday.

    BTW i regularly take rest days whenever I feel my body needs rest, so its for e.g. I workout and run 3 days then 1 day full rest maybe 2 if I think my body needs it. then workout maybe 4 or 5 days then rest again.

    Now my question is that 1) Am I giving my body enough stimulus to maintain my muscles? 2) While I am giving this stimulus to will cardio still eat up on my muscles ?

    Thanks in Advance :)

    • says

      1. Well, I’d describe the weight training stimulus needed to maintain muscle as “heavy.” You described what you’re doing as “light.” I think that answers your question. ;)

      2. Read this one, especially the second half.

      • Adnan says

        Thanks for replying Jay :). Well, I dunno if I should call my training light, moderate would be more appropriate as I do push myself with even the 8Kg dumbbells so I would expect that my muscles mass should at least stay constant if not increase.

        For the cardio part, I’ll surely read up on it and get back if I have any questions :)

  9. Sharon says

    This article is great !! But I’m just wondering if you think I’d be a bad idea to do the whole 16/8 intermittent fasting thing while doing this calorie deficit/maintaining muscle thing?

  10. lueyluey says

    I am amazed at how much protein I have to have a day. I had no idea I needed to consume that much. I’m currently at 235lb trying to break 200. AS per your plan I am taking about 200g a day of powder whey protein. Any recommendations on a specific protein. This is getting expensive but I will pay for a good quality protein. Great article !

    • says

      Whatever your preferred sources are. Chicken, turkey, meat, fish, dairy, whey protein powder, etc. etc. etc. plus stuff like nuts which aren’t really considered a “protein source” but still contain a decent amount of protein.

  11. says

    I was at the gym the other day, and the trainer was trying to talk me into this $1200 workout package. I thought about it, and said I could probably find the same info on the web. After all, it’s really just knowledge, and then how I apply it. That being said, I couldn’t be happier that I found this website. I’ve been looking for something like this for years.

    I’ve been in the gym off and on for 10+ years, and my weight has been everywhere. I’m actually really strong (i.e. bench press 245lbs 2 sets 5x – I weigh 170lbs), but to me, my body doesn’t look like I think it should. I still have a little gut, and my muscles aren’t as big as I think they should be for me to be able to hit this type of weight. I believe this article hit the nail on the head on several points. What I usually do is work out about 6x/week and I’ll do weights one day and then run on the treadmill for about 30 mins the next day and do light weights on the running days. I’m pretty much the prime example of what not to do based on this article. I still want to lose fat (the gut), but make my muscles bigger. The dude at the gym said he could help me for the whopping $1200. I will do my own program w/ what’s recommended on this webite for the next 6-12 weeks, and I’ll let you know how it goes. I plan to cycle on and off for both fat loss, and muscle gain about every 3-4 weeks.

    My question, although you may have already answered it, is how many times should I run a week, if at all? If I don’t run, it feels like I can’t lose fat, and maybe it’s just psychological. To me, it seems like running is the only way I can lose this belly. How can I incorporate running into my workout routine? Meaning, how many times a week can I/should I run, frequency, etc.? Thanks again for this website.

  12. Ryan says

    Is it still possible to lose fat if you’re in a calorie deficit at 2000 calories but eating about 300g of carbs per day?

    • says

      A deficit is what causes fat loss, so as long as one exists (ideally along with a sufficient protein intake and intelligent weight training to minimize muscle loss), you’ll lose fat regardless of how many carbs you eat.

      • Ryan says

        Ok so you can basically eat as many carbs as you want as long as you’re getting sufficient protein and fats and it’s possible to get to 11 % fat to 5% body fat as long as you’re just in a calorie deficit? Correct me if I’m wrong

        • says

          You’re wrong. You can never eat “as many carbs as you want.” There is a total calorie intake you require for losing fat. Once protein and fat are set, you can only eat as many carbs as you can without exceeding that total calorie intake goal.

          • Ryan says

            Yeah that’s what I meant eat as many carbs as you want when hitting sufficient protein and fats while staying In a calorie deficit I was just wondering if eating too many carbs In a calorie deficit will not make you be able to reach 5% body fat when you’re at 11%

            • says

              As long as protein and fat are set to optimal levels, and your total calorie intake puts you into a deficit, you’re then in a scenario where there is no such thing as “eating too many carbs.”

  13. Max says

    Thanks for the awesome article! I just wanted to ask, since you advise against cardio, do you think the Insanity workout will be any good? I heard that a big chunk of it was cardio, and I was planning on starting it next month when I have more free time.

    I’m a former athlete but I’ve stopped working out for around a year, and as such I have gained weight. I’m pretty sure whatever muscle I’ve built up through the years are gone, so I don’t think there’s any more muscle left for me to lose short of muscle atrophy…

    Anyway, I used to swim and play soccer, so there was a lot of cardio involved, and I thought of doing Insanity to get back in shape. I’m not really working out to build muscle and get back to competing or anything, I really just want to get back in shape (I know this involves muscle training, just wanted to point out that I’m not aiming to gain muscle and I’m happy with whatever muscle I get from the workouts I’ll do). Even when I was still playing and competing, I had a very stocky build. I had a lot of muscle, but I also had fat that I couldn’t get rid of. When I stopped training… I know it’s not scientifically possible but I felt like my muscle melted into fat.

    TL;DR will Insanity do anything for me?

    • says

      For the purpose of burning calories to assist with creating a deficit and causing fat loss (and improving endurance, overall fitness level, etc.), Insanity should be fine. For building muscle or gaining strength? Far from ideal.

  14. Philip says

    Sorry for the beginner question.

    I’m inclined to buy your book and give it a try, I just have one question, something that still bothers me a bit and isn’t totally clear.

    Are workout routines like push/pull/legs and your very own upper/lower body 4 day split only to be used when bulking? Could one use those while cutting?

    Thank you for your time and patience!

    • says

      Pretty much any routine that works for building muscle/strength while bulking can be used to (at the very least) maintain muscle/strength while cutting.

      Although, as mentioned in this article, some slight changes may need to be made (i.e. slightly less volume) to compensate for the reduced recovery that comes from being in a deficit.

      • Philip says

        Thank you so much for your answer man, you are really a nice person, I was kinda afraid to ask you for advice because I didn’t want to bother you with stupid beginner questions, I usually get yelled at when I do so in some other internet forums and websites…

        But it was worth it! Thanks again!

  15. Gaz says

    Query –

    I’m 215lbs, losing body fat gradually. I currently weight train 3 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, one day off – arms, legs, shoulders, day off, chest, back, day off.
    I do pretty much all my workouts as 5 sets of 5 or 6 reps as heavy as I can possibly manage for the last three sets.

    I’m running at a calorie intake of about 1600-1700 a day, with 220g-240g protein a day, clean food, all made by myself from scratch and having a protein shake after training and with every meal.

    I’ve noticed an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in fat loss, but the muscle gain is just going to be newb gains, I imagine. I know at some point I’ll have to change program, but I’m okay with this one for the time being.

    My question centres around that I like to do a small amount of cardio every few days, because I don’t want to be blowing out of my ass when I climb a set of stairs, like I used to.

    Usually I start with a 6 mins jog @ 10kph to warm up, followed by light leg stretches, then 1 min @ 16kph and 1 min @ 6.5kph, rinse and repeat the intervals for about 11/12 mins, followed by developmental leg stretches.

    If I do this directly after my weight session (discounting legs, obviously),will it harm my recovery with regards to strength? I eat an extra 300-400 calories on those days to compensate for the cardio.

    Thanks in advance.

  16. Josh says

    Hello, very nice read!I got out of the Marines in 2009 @ 6’2, 214lbs, 34 inch waist. I have been in and out of the gym but couldnt really get into a routine. I would always eat out almost everyday. I went to almost 275 lbs. For the last month I have been eating generally healty and cut out junk food completly. I am now motivated to get back down to 214 with research from online and going to the gym/diet.

    So, my question to you is, I currently dont have a routine to go off of. what would you recomend I do in the gym as well as diet? Thank you for the time sir.

    Josh

  17. Cara says

    Hi,

    You said that you basically need to keep your muscles working as much as they usually do? On a regular day I usually don’t exercise. Does this mean I should just cut down on calories?

    Thanks for all the info

    • says

      To maintain the muscle you have (or in your case as someone who doesn’t currently workout, build new muscle) you should ideally still do some form of intelligent weight training. You don’t have to, but I’d still recommend it.

      Regardless though, to lose fat, you just need to consume slightly fewer calories than you currently do.

  18. Jordan says

    One last thing. I’m 17, 5’11 and about 140 pounds give or take a pound or two. I think I’m probably about 13% body fat as I can only see my abs when I tense. What would you advise if I want to get bigger and I want to have abs that show? Also, what do you have to do to count grams of food with things like butter? Do you have to weight it?

  19. Michael says

    Jay,

    I’m not fat/obese, I probably should be more focused on building muscle, than losing fat, but since it’s a longer process build muscle as opposed to lose body fat , i decided i wanted to go ahead and try to lose a couple more inches off my waist, and try to get to my ideal waist of 28″. I’m probably now between 30- 32. I’m a beginner, do you think that it will be ok, and i shouldn’t have to worry about losing any lbm(lean body mass) as long as i lift, and eat alot of protein and keep the deficit conservative since i’m lean trying to get a little more leaner.

  20. Eric says

    I can’t tell you how great it is for someone to finally explain all this in the simplest most direct way possible. I’m sick of typing my problems into Google and getting results that have nothing to do with them. I’ve lost nearly 70 pounds since January but my body fat percentage is still way too high, and it’s so confusing trying to get lean when you get 100 different answers from 100 different people about cutting. I’ll definitely keep following your articles. Thanks for what you’re doing man.

  21. sherylc says

    Greetings.

    I loved the article. Thanks. There are a lot of things which make sense to me now.

    I am almost 55 year old female. I’m about 5’3″ and have always had an athletic build. However, due to poor eating, stress and lack of meaningful exercise, I went up to about 151 pounds. With diet and an exercise routine this summer, I went down to about 135/136 pounds. My husband has asked me to stop losing weight and “tone” up. But, after reading your article, we have surmised that due the process of “homeostasis”, I have lost most of my muscle. uuugggghhh!!! It’s the weight I’ve lost, it’s the muscle!!! I UNDERSTAND. I want to get to 130 pounds, but, now I know how to do it without losing more muscle.

    My exercise routine consists of 3-4 days of yoga weekly (about 1 hour per class), zumba and other crazy cardio, walking/jogging, and I just began swimming. Based on your article, I really have been overdoing the cardio. I haven’t that much fat left to lose, but I need to build that muscle again.

    I am going to keep to my regular yoga practice and swimming, as these activities are their own weight training (intermediate and advanced yoga and basic swimming laps -beginner) and walking my dog for 35-40 minutes every other day.

    I eat oatmeal, grains, egg whites, fish, almonds, wheat germ, all types of fruits and veggies, brown rice, beans, lemon water, almond milk, Greek yogurt, etc., trying to get all the protein I can. But I’m obviously burning all the muscle I build with the 5-6 days of exercise (lots-o-cardio). (I will begin TODAY, to up my daily protein!

    It is harder to maintain muscle at my age, but I have always been an exerciser and want to do what I can to look good and be healthy.

    Do you have any other advice you can give me? I’d be sooo grateful.

    Your fan,

    Sheryl C.

    • sherylc says

      I meant to say “it’s NOT the weight I’ve lost…it’s the muscle. GOT SOOO EXCITED TO LEARN NEW THINGS TODAY! :-)

    • says

      Glad to hear it Sheryl! As for advice, there are really only 3 main points worth making.

      First, heavy strength training is key. Yoga and swimming, while potentially useful tools that can certainly be done, do not fit that description. Second, eat enough protein. Third, some cardio is perfectly fine. But TONS and TONS of cardio? That should be avoided.

      • sherylc says

        Thanks!!! I appreciate it!

        Would 1 to 1 (1 gram of protein for 1 pound of weight) still be appropriate for me since I’ve been successful at losing the weight? Or, would a different ratio be appropriate.

        And, for the record, most of the muscle I’ve lost is in my buttocks and thighs…what’s the best “heavy weight training” I can do for those areas? I see soooo many suggestions online and in books, but, you seem to be so honest with your advice, I’d tend to strongly consider your suggestions!

        Thanks again! I’m considering getting your book, btw!

        Signed,

        “Sinking quickly”….I lose weight very quickly, YEAH, but lose the muscle just as fast. BOOOOO!

  22. djcs says

    “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.”

    Since I usually really enjoy your articles, this here really irritates me, because you’re not the type that goes on hyperbolic rants and throws overgeneralized bulls–t statements like that around. Provided a proper protein intake, 30-60 minutes of steady state cardio will have little effect on muscle maintenance if any, let alone being a “muscle killer”.

    Also, regarding #5, this basically means you can have a caloric deficit as high as you want as long as it doesn’t impact your workouts negatively. As someone who didn’t notice any changes in intensity/power or had to decrease reps/frequency during his last cut, despite being at deficits as high as 700-1100cal per day, a larger deficit seems much more appealing than the typically prescribed 20%. This is especially important when you take into account that the longer you cut, the longer you will have to endure the side-effects of being at a deficit (hormone levels, sanity) and diet breaks/refeeds, while useful, still are slowing down overall progress. I’d much rather cut 1000cal for 4 weeks and be done with it than cut 500 for 8 weeks with a 2 week diet break inbetween.

    • says

      You are correct on the first point. I haven’t read this one again in a while, so I’m not entirely sure what I was intending to say in that sentence. But I can promise you that it wasn’t what I actually said because there is virtually no circumstance where I’d consider 30 minutes of LISS to be “excessive.” I’m thinking the “30” might have just been written by mistake and I was originally looking to just say “60+.” Either way, I have updated that sentence. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      As for #5, I agree and disagree. There are certainly pros and cons to different sized deficits, but for the general population looking to maintain muscle and performance during fat loss, a more moderate deficit is the better recommendation in my opinion. Also keep in mind that for an 8 week diet, there is no need whatsoever for a 2 week break in the middle.

      • djcs says

        Thank you for responding and even going as far as rephrasing that part. Much better this way.

        I guess I’m just going by experience, but I have a much more difficult time cutting on 20-25% for 8 weeks than cuting on 40-50% for 2 weeks and I certainly had to do refeeds after 3 or 4 weeks simply because I felt drained and weak after that time and my workouts started to worsen which oddly, doesn’t happen on a steeper deficit, at least not for the first 2 weeks.

        • says

          This is something that varies from one person to the next. I find strength/performance sucks with larger deficits (which is the precursor to muscle loss), and 50% would kill me. Mood/sleep also tends to go to shit. Plus… hunger.

          A 20% deficit on the other hand still gets the job done just fine and is barely even noticeable. Well worth the extra few weeks in my opinion.

  23. Vanina says

    I’m 38 years old, female, I do HIIT 3-5 times a week (always with some weight in my routine for like 15 to 20 minutes), I eat healthy and watch my calorie intake. 5’3″, 121-122 lbs. not sure about my BF, maybe around 22%.

    My calorie intake right now is around 1600/1650 calories, trying to have all the protein I should been having.

    I would like to lose body fat but I don’t know if whatever it is that I’m doing it’s the way to achieve my desire results.

    Should I stop doing HIIT and just do some heavy weight lifting? Heavy meaning how many pounds (just to have an idea)? Should I do something else?

    Will read as many of your articles as I can, promise! Love this one but it’s a lot of info that I need to process and digest.

    • says

      If your goal is to lose more fat while maintaining muscle, keep your deficit small, protein high and weight training smart and heavy. The definition of ‘heavy’ in this context is simply using a weight that keeps you within the 5-15 rep range, most often within 5-10. So if you’re lifting a weight where you do 8 reps but felt like you could have probably done 5 more (or even more), that weight is too light. You want to use a weight that limits you to 5-10 reps in most cases.

      And you don’t have to stop doing cardio. It just needs to be kept to a sane amount. Details here.

  24. AndyB says

    I have to say what a good website mate. Cutting through all the conflicting info out there. I’m thinking about starting you beginner workout straight away and picking up some weights today (the ones at my small apartment block gym are pathetic) However I am wondering if I am picking the wrong time to do this. I have been aiming (and succeeding) in losing weight with cardio/diet and some undisciplined weights. I am probably 5 kg from where I would like to be. However I really want to make the most of the fabled noob gains and am worried I will waste them if I start now while still in a deficit with not too much to lose (you mentioned best results are for a fatter person). On the flipside I don’t want to see my muscle dwindle away along with my remaining fat and be unsatisfied with the results.

  25. Scott says

    If you were to take a week off of training, still dieting, would your metabolic rate drop due to the fact that your activity level dropped just for that one week break from training?

      • Scott says

        Ah, sorry, i worded that horribly. What I meant to ask was: is cardio part of your metabolic rate (I mean of course it is), but it if I took cardio out of my training sessions, just did weight training, would my body just go from moderately active down to lightly active? Therefore, making my metabolic rate drop?

        Baring in mind, I go to the gym 3 times a week, mainly weight training, then cardio at the end.

        • says

          I dunno dude, it sounds like you’re still asking the same thing. If you do X amount of activity via cardio and you remove that activity… then clearly you are now less active and burning less calories.

          • Scott says

            Basically, is cardio part of TDEE? Or is cardio something separate which you can add onto the amount of calories you burned at the end of the day?
            By the way, if I haven’t said it already, great article! I trust you a lot, I have made a mass amount of progress thanks to you and Im really grateful! :), I have lost 14lbs thanks to you, so cheers for that mate!

  26. Kenneth says

    OMG! This article is the holy grail! It’s the answer I have been looking for! It’s the missing puzzle! I’ve done calorie deficit diets before only to lose everything and look sick! The culprit was that I was NOT maintaining strength! Thank you SO MUCH! :)

  27. Richard says

    Hi there. What an awesome article. Thank you.

    I have already lost 20 kg’s by following the Paleo diet. I am really worried about losing muscle mass though. I have upped my protein to compensate from a dietary point of view. My question is; would 2 full body workouts a week be enough to assist in muscle retention. Obviously I understand the need to train heavy. I have about another 20 kg’s to lose by the way.

  28. Rick Ramirez says

    How about hill sprints or sprints on a track along with the strength training that’s being done 3 to 4 days a week to burn fat but maintain muscle mass?

  29. jonas says

    hey i have been thinking about trying the calorie cycling method, i was just wondering how big of a deficit would be ideal on off days and should i just eat at maintenance on training days ?

    my goal is to go from 15% bodyfat to 10% before i start a lean bulk

    awesome article btw!

  30. Jennifer says

    Between January and July I lost about 35 pounds and went from a size 16 to 12. In July I started lifting, which I truly enjoy. Between July and today I’ve lost about 10 pounds and went from a size 12 to an 8. So I understand how important weight lifting is in order to change your body shape. I still have more fat to get rid of but I don’t want to lose any muscle or strength.

    I meet with a trainer and what she proposed was a bit different from what I had read and was doing until I read this blog. Pretty much everything I read here aligns with what she suggested I do to reach my goals. The first thing she said I needed to do was to eat more calories and cut down my cardio. Who doesn’t want to hear that? So naturally I thought she was wrong. Once I calculated how many calories I should be eating using the resources here, I discovered she was right. Then I read that I don’t need to be doing any cardio… that just sounds crazy but I love it and I understand why in order to maintain my muscle mass and strength. So in the end I thank you for giving me faith in my trainer and I look forward to seeing how I can change my body.

  31. James says

    Hello,
    First I’d like to say that I think you made some really good points in this article. It was a great read.
    I’m currently bulking, so my workout routine is as follows:
    Monday – chest, tris, shoulders
    Tuesday – back, bis (abs & shoulders get incorporated)
    Wednesday – rest
    Thursday – chest, tris, shoulders
    Friday – back bis (abs & shoulders)
    Saturday – rest with a lot of protein
    Sunday – very intense leg workout
    I know this isn’t the right article for the question I have, but I hope you can share some insight. Anyway, here’s the problem: I have been doing this routine for a few months now (after plateauing on my last one) and I have seen some significant increases in size and even more so in strength. The only problem is, I’m not gaining any weight. At first I thought this was because I was losing fat and gaining muscle, but I no longer believe this is the case. Even though I can’t tell for sure, since I don’t take my body fat %, I don’t think I’ve lost any fat because I was just as cut & defined before as I am now.
    Can you please try to explain why I can visibly see size gains but I’m not gaining any weight? Thanks in advance.

  32. James says

    First up: great site, with great articles.

    Second: I’m baffled! As beginner coming to lifting from an endurance sport (mountain bike racing) back ground I started training hard to gain some natural body armour in June, 2-3 full body workouts a week, with deadlifts, split squats, shoulder press, upright rows, and bent over rows, and lat pull downs all in my program. Going heavy with either 6-8 or 8-10 reps depending on the lift.

    My strength has gone through the roof which I’m really happy with, but today I had a weigh in/ caliper/ measurement session and the results were disappointing to say the least. I’ve lost 2kgs but have gained “significant levels of fat” according to the calipers, my measurements are largely unchanged. Due to overuse, crash injuries and choice I’ve literally cut out all cardio, so no cycling whatsoever (was doing 150-200 miles per week from jan to may) and I’ve been eating more, especially after a training session.

    I wouldn’t class myself as an ecto, I’m 5’9″ and 76kgs but have weighed a lot more (been fat) in the past.

    So what am I doing wrong? Or is my body just a genetic sponge for fat? And how have I got way stronger while loosing the lean mass? Help!

    • says

      I’d first wonder if your body fat measurement just wasn’t accurate. I’d put more stock into pictures/mirror/tape measure than typical methods of body fat estimation, honestly.

      How does your progress look in that regard?

  33. Nesma says

    Hello,
    I’m a total beginner to weight training here … I only used to do cardio before … but I’d like to lose about 10 lbs. .. then also build muscle … right now I’m in a caloric deficit state …
    Q1: When I calculated my ideal caloric intake and took 20% off to be in a deficit I ended up eating a whole lot more than I used to eat without being on a diet … is that normal ?
    Q2: I just started your beginner weight training program and I used two 6 lbs dumbbells while before during cardio I only would use 2 lbs dumbbells … Should I go back to the 2 lbs or do I continue with the 6 lbs and stick to it ?
    Thanks for the great article.
    Ps: I’m female, 21 yrs old.

    • says

      1. Depends on how much you were eating before (not how much you may THINK you were eating… most people greatly underestimate their intake).
      2. You should use whatever amount of weight is truly challenging for you on each exercise, and increase that weight as often as you can.

  34. Nesma says

    Hello,
    I want to lose weight then gain muscle … I calculated my calorie intake according to your program and I’m in a calorie deficit state “supposedly” … I followed it … But I’ve gained about 2 kgs in 6 days … and I want to lose weight not gain more … is that normal ?!

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