How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle (Burn Fat, Not Muscle)

A while back, I covered how to lose fat. The thing is, if that’s your goal, there’s something else you also need to know.

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 during the weight loss process, and it can certainly happen to you.

To understand why it happens, how it’s possible, and how to prevent it from happening, you first need to understand an important fact…

Weight Loss vs Fat Loss: It’s Not The Same

People often say they want to lose weight. This thing is, “weight” can be a few different things. For example:

  • Fat.
  • Muscle.
  • Water.
  • Glycogen.
  • Poop.
  • Stomach content (i.e. food waiting to be digested).

So, if all you care about is losing weight, you could potentially sit in a sauna and sweat a lot, or get food poisoning and poop your brains out. Hell, you could cut off a leg and you’ll lose “weight” just fine. (Disclaimer: please don’t actually do that.)

But if you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you don’t want to lose any of this other stuff. Rather, what you specifically want to do here is lose fat, NOT muscle.

How Fat Loss Happens

Fat loss has just one major requirement: a caloric deficit.

A caloric deficit is the state you’re in when you consume fewer calories than your body burns performing all of the tasks it needs to perform to keep you alive and functioning.

When this happens, it forces your body to find an alternative source of energy to burn for fuel instead, and that will primarily end up being your stored body fat.

How Muscle Loss Happens

In a perfect world, the ONLY thing your body would burn while in a caloric deficit is your stored body fat.

However, it turns out there’s a second energy source available: your muscle tissue.

And while you may want your body to only burn fat and not burn any muscle whatsoever, the reality is that your body doesn’t really give a crap about what you want.

All it cares about is keeping you alive (fun fact: your body can’t tell if you’re in a caloric deficit because you’re trying to lose some fat, or because you’re in danger of starving to death), and in order to make that happen, it will need to pull stored energy from somewhere.

And that can mean fat, muscle, or a combination of both.

How To Prevent It

What you need to do here is adjust your diet and workout in ways that will make your body less likely to burn muscle, and more likely to burn body fat.

How do you do this, you ask?

Here are the 8 best ways to lose fat without losing muscle:

  1. Eat A Sufficient Amount Of Protein
  2. Maintain Or Increase Strength Levels
  3. Don’t Reduce Calories By Too Much
  4. Reduce Weight Training Volume And/Or Frequency
  5. Get Pre And Post Workout Nutrition Right
  6. Incorporate Refeeds Or Calorie Cycling
  7. Take Diet Breaks When Needed
  8. Avoid Excessive Amounts Of Cardio (Or Don’t Do Any At All)

Let’s take a look at each right now…

1. Eat A Sufficient Amount Of Protein

When it comes to maintaining muscle, your total daily protein intake is the single most important dietary factor of them all.

It’s not specific food choices, or when you eat, or how often you eat, or carbs, or supplements, or even the exact size of your caloric deficit (more on that later).

Nutritionally speaking, the biggest key to losing fat without losing muscle is eating a sufficient amount of protein each day. This is supported by numerous studies on a wide range of people (sources here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

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 a higher protein intake.

So, the first step to any muscle-preserving diet will be eating an ideal amount of protein every day. How much is that exactly? Well, based on the available research…

For most people, something in the range of 0.8 – 1.3g of protein per pound of your current body weight is the sweet spot for preserving muscle during fat loss.

(Note: those who are very overweight should use their goal body weight instead of their current body weight when doing this calculation.)

Additional details here: How Much Protein Do I Need A Day

2. Maintain Or Increase Strength Levels

Would you be surprised if I told you that using a well-designed weight training program is crucial for maintaining muscle while losing fat?

No? I didn’t think so.

What may surprise you, though, is that it’s more than just “using a workout program” or “doing strength training” that provides the muscle-retaining benefits we want.

You see, the primary training stimulus for building muscle is progressive tension overload (source), which essentially means gradually get stronger over time.

For example, if you lift the same weights for the same number of reps for the next 20 years, your body will have no reason to build additional muscle. However, if you gradually lift more weight, or lift the same weight for more reps, your body would then have a reason to build more muscle.

And this same concept applies for maintaining muscle as well. Your goal is to give your body a reason to keep the muscle mass it currently has.

How do you do that?

Aim to (at least) maintain your current strength levels throughout the duration of the weight loss process, or, if possible, increase them. Doing so provides a “muscle maintenance” signal that tells your body it needs to keep the muscle it has (or build more of it).

Think of it like this. When your body is looking for an alternative fuel source to burn for energy, and it can choose body fat or muscle mass for that purpose, it will be less likely to choose muscle (and more likely to choose fat) if it sees there’s a reason for keeping that muscle around.

Without that signal, the potential for burning muscle increases.

Silly Myths About Weight Training

That’s why the silly myth of “lifting heavier weights” to build muscle and then “lifting lighter weights” to lose fat, get lean, and get “toned” is one of the worst things you can believe when you’re trying to avoid muscle loss.

In reality, you lift heavy weight to build muscle, and then lift that same heavy weight if you want to actually maintain that muscle.

Purposely reducing the intensity by lifting lighter weights while in a caloric deficit essentially makes your body think: “Hmmm, it looks like we only need to lift lighter weights now. I guess all of the muscle that was built for the purpose of lifting heavier weights is no longer needed. That must mean it’s safe to start burning it for energy instead of body fat.”

You want to avoid that scenario.

This is why your primary weight training goal is to, at the very least, NOT lose strength. This will, in turn, allow you to NOT lose muscle.

How To Do It

Let’s pretend you currently lift 100lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps on some exercise. Your goal throughout the duration of the fat loss process is to end up lifting as close to that same 100lbs for 3 sets of 8 reps as you can… or more if possible.

The same goes for every other exercise in your workout routine.

And the reason I say “or more if possible” is because it’s a lot harder – though certainly not impossible – to gain strength (and muscle) while in a caloric deficit than it is when you’re at maintenance or in a caloric surplus.

This isn’t the case for beginners, as someone in the earlier stages of intelligent progressive weight training will be able to progress extremely well regardless of whether they are in a deficit.

But for intermediate and advanced trainees, don’t be surprised if it’s a lot harder to do, or if progression happens a lot slower, or if you find the best you can do on certain exercises is just maintain strength rather than increase it.

This is fine, of course, as that is the main part of the weight training stimulus you need to avoid losing muscle.

3. Don’t Reduce Calories By Too Much

As I explained earlier, a caloric deficit needs to be present in order for you to lose any amount of body fat, and that means you’re going to need to reduce your calorie intake by some degree.

The thing is, that degree of deficit can be all kinds of different sizes ranging from unnecessarily small to excessively large.

And while each deficit size has pros and cons, and some may better suit certain people in certain situations more so than others, there is a moderate range in the middle that tends to be ideal for most…

The ideal caloric deficit for most people is between 15-25% below their maintenance level, with an even 20% often being a perfect starting point.

So, for example, if your maintenance level happened to be 2500 calories and you wanted to create a 20% deficit, you’d aim to eat about 2000 calories per day.

I explain this in detail, along with how to calculate your maintenance level, right here: How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day

Why Not Use A Larger Deficit?

This is the point when you may be wondering why a larger deficit isn’t being used. After all, wouldn’t reducing your calories by more than this make weight loss happen even faster?

Yup, it certainly would.

But remember, this isn’t just about “weight loss.” Our goal is more specific than that. We want to lose fat… and do it without losing muscle.

And for that purpose, large deficits, low calorie diets, and “fast” weight loss are going to be bad ideas for most people.

In fact, this sort of thing is a bad idea for many reasons, as it can worsen:

And specifically for losing fat without losing muscle?

  • Larger deficits will have a more significant negative impact on the hormones that affect muscle retention and calorie partitioning (e.g. decreased testosterone, increased cortisol, etc.).
  • Larger deficits will also have a more significant negative impact on weight training performance and recovery, which can lead to strength loss, which will increase the risk of muscle loss.

For all of these reasons and more, a moderate deficit will be best for most people.

4. 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’s not exactly ideal for maximizing weight training performance and recovery.

This is something we just talked about a second ago in terms of larger deficits having a larger negative impact in this regard.

However, even with just a moderate deficit in place, there is likely to still be some drop-off in performance/recovery compared to when you’re at maintenance or in a surplus.

Why does this matter, you ask?

Because the workout routine you were (or would be) using with great success for a goal like building muscle under non-deficit conditions now has the potential to be too much for your body to handle in the energy-deficient state it is currently in.

And that kind of scenario? That’s what causes strength to be lost. And when strength is lost in a deficit, muscle loss is what typically follows.

So, if you’re using a workout routine that involves more volume (sets, reps, and exercises) and/or frequency (workouts per week) than you can presently handle, you may notice things getting harder for you, or see that you’re getting weaker, or that reps are decreasing, or that progress is regressing, or that weight on the bar needs to be reduced, and eventually… that muscle is being lost.

How To Prevent It

How do you avoid all of this?

Adjust your weight training program to compensate for the drop in performance and recovery that comes with being in a caloric deficit.

In most cases, that would mean reducing training volume (e.g. doing slightly fewer sets), reducing training frequency (e.g. using a 3-day workout routine instead of a 5-day workout routine), or a combination of both.

Of course, the exact adjustments you should make (and whether any adjustments truly need to be made at this stage) depends on the specific workout routine you’re using and your own individual recovery capabilities.

But if you need any help figuring this out, my Superior Fat Loss program lays out exactly how to turn any effective workout routine for building muscle into one that is ideal for maintaining it while losing fat.

I also include a workout routine I call The Fat Loss + Muscle Maintenance Solution, which is the workout that I’ve already adjusted for this purpose and most often recommend to those looking to maintain muscle during fat loss. You can learn more about it right here: Superior Fat Loss

(Also note that one possible exception to the above advice would be beginners, as they should already be using a fairly lower volume beginner routine and therefore wouldn’t need to make any further adjustments.)

5. Get Pre And Post Workout Nutrition Right

Your pre and post workout meals, aka the meals you eat before and after your workout, are not quite as super important or hugely significant as most people make them out to be.

They are just one of many factors of your diet that are secondary to your total calorie and macronutrient intake (i.e. protein, fat, and carbs), which is always what matters most – by far – when comes to losing fat, building or maintaining muscle, and so on. (source).

Having said that, your pre and post workout meals still matter.

No, they aren’t capable of making or breaking your success, but they are capable of providing benefits that can improve your performance during a workout, and enhance recovery related training adaptations after a workout.

And since we know that 1) performance and recovery are reduced to some extent while we’re in a deficit, and 2) this can increase the risk of muscle loss… it’s pretty safe to say that these are benefits we want to get.

So, what do you need to do to get them?

Consume a nice amount of protein and carbs within 1-2 hours before and after your workouts. (Sources here and here.)

Simple as that. Additional details here: What To Eat Before And After A Workout

6. Incorporate Refeeds Or Calorie Cycling

As I’ve explained throughout this article, the simple act of being in a prolonged caloric deficit causes a variety of changes to occur that increase the risk of muscle loss.

From hormonal adaptations, to increased lethargy and fatigue, to a reduction in performance and recovery… it all just makes losing muscle more likely to happen.

Fortunately for us, there are methods we can use to help minimize these effects or potentially even reverse them.

These methods include:

  1. Refeeds
  2. Calorie Cycling
  3. Diet Breaks

We’ll cover diet breaks in a second, but for right now…

Refeeds and calorie cycling allow us to temporarily pause our deficit by strategically eating more calories (specifically from carbs) for the purpose of getting back up to our maintenance level or into a surplus.

In addition to being useful from the standpoint of making your diet more sustainable, these methods will also serve to replenish muscle glycogen stores (which helps with strength and performance) and have positive effects on various physiological and psychological factors that are negatively affected during a deficit.

How To Do It

  • Refeeds
    Refeeds can be done a few different ways, but in most cases, it’s a 24 hour period of being out of your deficit and eating somewhere between your maintenance level and 500 calories above it (with the increase in calories coming primarily via carbs). I’ve found one refeed day per week to be a good frequency for those with an average amount of fat to lose, and once every other week being good for those with an above-average amount to lose.
  • Calorie Cycling
    Calorie cycling is essentially multiple refeed days (i.e. 2-3) over the span of a week, often arranged so that you’re consuming more calories on your workout days, and fewer calories on your rest days, with the specific daily amounts adjusted as needed to still have the intended total weekly net deficit in place in the end.

So, with a typical weight loss diet, you’d be consuming about the same amount of calories and macronutrients every day, and be in a consistent caloric deficit day after day after day.

Refeeds and calorie cycling change this by inserting non-deficit days to help lessen the negative effects a prolonged deficit can have, and make us more likely to retain muscle while losing fat (source).

I’ve personally found each approach to be quite beneficial, which is why they are a big part of my Superior Fat Loss program. Feel free to check it out for additional details and my specific recommendations.

7. Take Diet Breaks When Needed

Now take what we just discussed about refeeds and calorie cycling, but imagine their positive benefits being more significant.

In fact, imagine that instead of lessening the negative effects of a prolonged deficit, we could actually reverse those effects to some degree.

That, my friends, is the full diet break.

A diet break is typically a 1-2 week period where you come out of the deficit and back up to your maintenance level for the purpose of briefly allowing many of the things that suck about fat loss (i.e. various hormonal and metabolic adaptations) to recover a bit and go back to normal (or at least, closer to normal).

This is obviously beneficial for many reasons, one of which is preventing muscle loss.

How To Do It

To take a diet break, increase your calorie intake (primarily via additional carbs) so that you are at your maintenance level every day for a period of 1-2 weeks.

Diet break frequency should be dependent on personal needs/preferences, and how much fat you have to lose. Generally speaking, though, once every 6-16 weeks tends to be ideal for most (perhaps every 6-12 weeks if you have less to lose, and every 10-16 weeks if you have more to lose).

Just like with refeeds and calorie cycling, diet breaks are also a big part of my Superior Fat Loss program, so feel free to check it out for additional details and my specific recommendations.

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

Cardio is additional exercise… and additional exercise requires additional recovery.

While this has the potential to be problematic at any time and under any condition, we know the potential is higher when we’re in the energy-deficient (and recovery-impaired) state we need to be in for fat loss to occur. Which we are.

Which means, the more exercise we do, the more risk we pose to our ability to adequately recover, both in terms of the body parts being used the most (typically the legs with most forms of cardio), as well as the central nervous system (CNS)… which affects everything.

And if recovery begins to suffer, strength and performance will suffer. And when strength and performance suffer, so will your ability to build or maintain muscle while losing fat.

Now, exactly how much of an impact cardio has in this regard is hard to say, as it depends on the exact frequency, duration and intensity of the activity being done.

For example…

  • 3 cardio sessions per week will have less of an impact than 5-7 sessions.
  • 30 minutes of cardio will have less of an impact than 60-120 minutes.
  • A low intensity activity – like brisk walking – would have little to no impact compared to a more moderate intensity activity… such as jogging.
  • And neither would have nearly as much of an impact as something with a high intensity – like HIIT (high intensity interval training… such as sprinting) – which can almost be like adding an extra weight training workout in terms of the stress it places on your body and how recovery-intensive it is.

With all of the above in mind, here’s what I recommend.

Here’s What I Recommend

Weight training is a requirement for building/maintaining muscle. We need that.

But cardio? It’s completely unnecessary for those goals, and purely optional for fat loss in general.

This fact, combined with the potential downsides that come with cardio activity (e.g. it cuts into recovery, it’s an inefficient way to create a deficit, it burns fewer calories than most people assume, it’s a common cause of overuse injuries, most people find it boring, etc. etc. etc.), is why my default recommendation is simply this:

Do the least amount of cardio needed.

What does this mean exactly? It’s pretty simple:

  • If you have no real need or preference for doing cardio, you can feel free to do none whatsoever.
  • But if you do, or you find that you didn’t at first but that eventually changed at some point during the weight loss process, you can certainly feel free to do some cardio. Just be sure to avoid doing any more than you truly need to be doing.

Additional details here: How Much Cardio Should I Do To Lose Weight

As for me, my preference is to have people create their deficit via diet alone, use weight training to build/maintain muscle while they lose fat, and save cardio as a secondary tool to consider using if a point is reached when lowering calories any further becomes too difficult and they’d rather burn those calories off instead.

And my preference for the cardio activity itself? 30-60 minutes of walking. It still burns a decent amount of calories, and it won’t have any meaningful impact on recovery.

Win-win.

Goodbye Fat, Hello Muscle!

There you have it… the 8 best things you can do to ensure you lose fat without losing muscle in the process.

While the first two items (sufficient protein intake and maintaining/increasing strength) are the most important, most scientifically-supported, and most beneficial in this regard, I’ve found that implementing all of the recommendations in this article is what produces the best results.

And if you need any help with any of this, I’d highly recommend checking out my Superior Fat Loss program. It’s designed from top-to-bottom for the specific purpose of preventing muscle loss.

What’s Next?

If you liked this article, you’ll also like:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers and diet professionals at every level.

132 thoughts on “How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle (Burn Fat, Not Muscle)”

132 Comments

  1. Great advice! I have been walking for 30 minutes, 6 days a week, to help with the fat loss but have been finding myself with constant knee pains that I never had before. Once I calculated how much I am losing (c. 150-200 cals per walk), rounding up to the nearest hundred (very generous), I am actually only dropping 1 extra pound of fat every 3 weeks. All that work that can be undone by a bite-sized snickers bar in seconds!

    I plan on doing it as Active Recovery twice a week now for a longer session (45 minutes) followed by 2-3 days of recovery. I like to do my walks on non-weight days as it keeps my daily routine consistent across the week. It also gives me a reason to use the expensive treadmill I wasted money on a year ago! Luckily, I learned how to mount my laptop on the treadmill so I can watch videos, listen to music, and surf the web as I walk. This helps with the boredom quite a bit.

    • You bring up a couple of really good points. First, the amount of calories burned during cardio is almost universally overestimated. And like you said, those lackluster amount of calories being burned can be quickly and easily replaced by a surprisingly small amount of food. It just seems so much easier (and time friendly) to just not eat that food in the first place.

      Plus, you also have the “reward” thought process that comes from cardio that makes things even worse. The “I did some cardio today… I guess I can afford to eat this junk food.” So a person actually burns 200 cals during cardio, thinks they burned 700, and then they eat 1000 extra cals later on thinking they can as a result of that cardio.

      And point #2, active recovery. While HIIT and steady state can have a negative effect on recovery… some low intensity walking on off days can actually have a positive effect.

      I really need to write some cardio articles already. Maybe I can just start linking people to comments?

  2. Great article. I very much like the part about the BS of clean vs dirty eating. It has been such a staple of the fitness world for decades, it’s nice to see people debunking it. In the end the danger to fat loss/gain of so called “dirty foods” is the ease in which a person can over consume calories due to the caloric density of such foods.

    Regarding the cardio section. During a muscle gain phase I do little to no cardio for obvious reasons. But, and this may just be personal, I find I struggle with fat loss without it during when I’m looking to shed body fat. Some of this is purely mental. I find it easier to stick to my nutrition plan and calorie deficit knowing how much I hate HIIT cardio to blow that hard work by over eating or cheating.

    Again, only personal observation, but I have found upping my protein to 1.3-1.5g/lb per day and adjusting fats/carbs to compensate for overall calories I find I can maintain muscle and not negatively impact my recovery times while adding a 2-3 20-25min HIIT sessions per week. I usually work these in after my weight sessions to allow for 4 full rest days per week.

    I look forward to you discussing the calorie cycling.

    • Yup, you’re exactly right on clean vs dirty. Directly, it’s all the same in terms of body composition. “Dirty foods” don’t become body fat any easier or faster than “clean foods” do. People are just more likely to consume an excess of calories from them. Just like eating at night doesn’t make you fat any differently than eating in the morning does. It’s just that night time is when people tend to eat more than they should.

      And what you’re describing about cardio during fat loss is a perfect example of what I mentioned about individual differences/preferences playing a role in how a person should go about losing fat. Some people, like you said, just need or do better with some cardio being done for whatever reason.

      In those cases, they should do some.

      But if they also want to maintain muscle, they just need to remember that “some” is the key word there.

  3. Excellent article!

    I hate cardio myself and I never do it except for sprinting and rope jumping once in a while, which I really love.

    But I think there are two principal reasons why people do cardio. One is fat loss and the other one is better cardiovascular health in general. While cardio is less than mediocre at fat loss, what about its effect on strengthening the heart and improving the blood flow? Is it overrated in that regards, too?

    Thank you for answering, your input will be greatly appreciated!

    • Actually, I’d say there are 3 main reasons for doing cardio. Fat loss and cardiovascular health like you said, and training for goals/sports with an endurance element to them.

      Now in the latter case, some form of cardio oriented training isn’t just beneficial, it’s required.

      For fat loss, your description (“less than mediocre”) is one I totally agree with. This is why I’m careful to start all of my anti-cardio statements with something like “speaking strictly in terms body composition or fat loss…”

      But as for its effects on cardiovascular health (or any related adaptations), it’s not really overrated in that regard (the benefits are definitely there), but what might be overrated/overstated is the NEED for cardio to provide those benefits.

      There was a good Alan Aragon quote on some website recently where he was talking about how he also hates cardio and recommends the least amount necessary:

      “Resistance training has plenty of cardio-respiratory & cardiovascular effects on its own, as long as you’re not training like a pure powerlifter with long rest periods between all sets.”

      Meaning, weight training is providing cardiovascular benefits of its own which are similar to that of cardio. The exact differences and degree of difference is hard to say, but the point is that if you’re following some sort of intelligently designed weight training program and doing NO cardio, you’re still getting some of those same benefits from weight training alone.

      • Thanks for your clear and detailed reply! I guess that was the answer I expected…

        I had the vague feeling that this was the case, especially some time ago when I was doing the simplefit routine. It’s based solely on bodyweight exercises, but as you said the rest intervals are short. So your heart rate goes up really quick and it stays up while you train, blurring the line between strength training and cardio.

        Cardio looked redundant, plus as you mentioned it cut into my recovery ability. So I stopped doing it and never looked back, but still had doubts about my decision.

        Hardly anyone ever mentions the cardiovascular / cardio respiratory benefits of resistance training. They focus mostly on lean muscle and strength gains, leaving the impression that you still need cardio for a balanced routine.

        It’s good to know that unless you’re into endurance training, you can ditch cardio.

        • Exactly, and it really depends on goals. Do you care more about the benefits of cardio for fat loss/cardiovascular adaptations, or do you care more about limiting/avoiding cardio so it doesn’t interfere with your primary goal at the time?

          But the idea that you literally need to be on a treadmill for there to be cardiovascular effects of the exercise you’re doing is silly. And on a semi-related note, I think the idea of turning weight training INTO cardio also sucks for most of the people primarily interesting in fat loss/muscle growth/looking good.

          But that’s a topic for another day. 😉

          • And I look forward to it!

            Resistance training that feels more like intense cardio — it certainly rings a loud bell with me. I did it, it felt wrong, so I changed my approach. But I would definitely like to understand more…

            I think quite a few popular programs out there boil down to the same thing, and I’m sure your article will help many people realize that there are better alternatives.

            Highly anticipating your article!

  4. Great acticle, all what you said is true. I also lost a lot of muscle before knowing that the cardio actually was the case of strength and muscle loss. Lowering the weight and doing more reps,adding cardio to your workout routine, doing cardio first thing in the morning(this was the worst thing I ever did) are all things that make me lose more muscle than bodyfat, I actually seen a lot more progress by staying with my actual routine with heavy weight and no cardio at all and got the best shape of my life. thanks for confirming what I thought :p

    • Sounds almost exactly like my own horrible experience with losing muscle, then realizing what I was doing wrong, doing the opposite instead, and then getting the best results I’ve ever gotten.

      At least there’s a happy ending.

      • yup, but there is something I always wonder is I always see better results in the first 2weeks, after i’m losing fat much more slowly. Is there a method that prevent to hit a plateau? like carbs cycling, having a day with higher calories or doing a maintnance week and then start beeing in calorie deficit again? what you think would be the best to do?

        • Carb cycling has its benefits, but directly preventing plateaus isn’t really one of them unless of course it helps with diet adherence to the point where it allows you to consistently keep the deficit in place better than a more typical non-carb-cycled diet.

          This will take a full article to fully explain, though. I’ll definitely get to it at some point.

  5. Hi,

    Thanks for this article.

    I’m trying to gain muscle (Bench press 215 at lbs) but want to reduce fat. I”ve gained muscle but i’m having a hard time losing the fat. This article was great to read.

    So I should eat well (high caloric (carb) foods like pasta? ) before and after exercise, but reduce my overall calorie instance for the rest of the time? As a result i’ll get the energy to exercise and recover (build muscle) but also reduce calorie enough my body goes after fat when i’m not exercising.

    Supplements I take NO Explode for energy before work out, ON Creatine and ON Protein (get recommended protein amount per day). I’m thinking of cutting all meat from my diet, but if i have to eat, what kind of meat is good? What foods to get other nutrients (other than protein) that i really need for my body?

    I thought running was bad for me as well. Have seen better results wo running. I run sometimes though to feel “lean” but once a week.

    THANKS!!!!

    • Well, there’s one tiny difference between this article and what you’re asking. This article is about MAINTAINING muscle while losing fat… you’re asking about BUILDING muscle while losing fat.

      That’s actually a different and slightly more complicated topic/goal, and it would definitely take a full article (or more) to explain. But stay tuned… it’s on my to-do list.

      And regarding any diet or food related questions you have, there’s a really good chance I’ve answered them here and here.

  6. Another great straight forward explanation. Thanks a lot! But I do have a question.
    I’m currently in the losing fat phase, not much though, less than 10 pounds. I know I have to lose the fat in order to see those pretty muscles so I also do weight training since I want to gain muscle as well as lose these excess pounds simultaneously (so to speak.) But here’s the thing: MY ENDURANCE IS SHOT.

    Seriously, I can’t jog for 30 seconds without losing my breath. So I do need to do some cardio as well. Would it be okay to incorporate 20 minutes of jogging in intervals (jog for one minute, rest for 90 seconds, repeat for 20 minutes) on the treadmill into my workouts? I need cardio for endurance reasons but can cut it out if it’ll do damage. I don’t want to lose any muscle.

    • You have the right idea in terms of building up your cardio endurance. Jog for as long as you can, take a walking break when needed, then get back to jogging. Each time you do cardio, make it your goal to extend the time spent jogging by just a little bit more than you previously did. Do this consistently, and you’ll soon be able to jog the entire time without taking any walking breaks.

      Now as for whether you should be doing any cardio in the first place depends on your goals and preferences. If you want/need to be doing it for whatever reason, then feel free… just don’t overdo it and let it interfere with your ability to (at least) maintain muscle. But if you don’t need/want to do it, then my default recommendation for fat loss/muscle maintenance is no cardio or possibly just some light walking on off days.

  7. I heard that jogging for atleast 15-20minutes after working out was good to lose fat. So theres a possibility im losing muscles too. Shoot.

    • The only thing truly “good for losing fat” is a caloric deficit. Whether you burn 200 calories during cardio after weight training or just eat 200 less calories that day, it’s the same thing for fat loss. But for muscle maintenance and recovery, that’s where the differences start to pop up.

  8. Finally! An article that makes sense with most things I have researched.

    Mother of god, it’s so hard to understand some of the materials in the internet. When I go have a read about it to have some of my questions answered, most fonts will say disagree completely among each other, sometimes say the opposite of each other, say that “the others are myth, this one is the right one”, and also claim that a bunch of studies backed them up.

    But, everything you said actually fits in the logic of most things I have summed up so far, which fortunately makes me believe that I’m finally reading something right, not just another bunch of bull***.

    Hey, just one question so far,
    I have the idea, which I’m beginning to think might be wrong, that I should workout 5-6 days a week. Since I have divided my routine in A-B-C groups, I workout 6 days a week. Also according to what you explained here, I’m avoiding all sorts of cardio, so I’m just weight lifting.
    Now, for what I’ve been reading, this is probably unnecessary and counterproductive. Would, in my case for instance, be better to alternate 3 weight lifiting days with 4 rest days? like, (A – rest – B – rest – C – rest – rest) ?
    I also read that, when in a muscle growth only routine, it’s better to do cardio on the supposed rest days. Is that also right?

    By the way, sorry If I’m asking something you already wrote about, I’m actually with a bunch of tabs openend here to read more of your articles.

    I’m trying really hard to do this shit right as best as possible, putting a lot of effort in it. Thanks for all the help.

    • Ha, I hear ya on the annoying, conflicting and overall horse shit advice out there. Happy to provide the opposite.

      Regarding your questions, I definitely wouldn’t recommend weight training 6 days per week when trying to lose fat. Hell, I wouldn’t recommend that when trying to build muscle. 3 weight training days/4 rest days is definitely the better idea.

      And regarding cardio, there’s a few acceptable times to do it, and it would really take a full article to cover them all and explain why (I’ll get to it one of these days). But generally speaking, your off days from weight training would be one of the better choices.

  9. I almost fell for the #8 trap again this year of keeping my calories about 20-25% below maintenance and then adding 30 mins of ‘walking’ EVERY day after my weight workouts. After doing it yesterday and realizing that I only burned c. 150 calories for 30 minutes of walking, I quickly dropped it. I am now am stuck with slightly-tired legs on Lower day and a more overall tired body since I went back to 3 sets of exercises instead of 2 (but I also added some carb/protein calories to Pre & Post WO shakes).

    150-200 calories per session still amounts to 1lb of fat loss in about 17-23 days. This is less than half of my fat loss from just cutting calories below maintenance (c. 500) and it takes twice as long to get there.

    Be smart, not stubborn; more is not better!

  10. Hey, I was just wondering if you had any advice about muscle building while taking martial arts classes ( which is basically a load of cardio ).

    Thanks. :]

    • Well, it’s mostly a matter of A) ensuring this additional activity doesn’t cancel out the caloric surplus required for muscle growth, and B) not overdoing it in terms of overall training.

      Whether that means you may need to cut back a little with weight training or martial arts (or a little of both) depends mostly on how you’re recovering and which type of training is more important to you.

      • Thanks a lot. I think it’s pretty cool you actually reply to people. ( You must be real 😮 lol )

        I’m really enjoying your site. There is an endless supply of information on here I love it.

        One quick question regarding your e-book, have you ever thought about making a hard copy ? I’m one of those people who love to hold a real book you know.

        • Glad to hear it, and yup… I’m definitely real. 😉

          Regarding the book, a bunch of people have actually asked me about putting out a hard cover version. I don’t have any plans to do anything like that right now, but it may be something I look into more down the road.

  11. Hi,
    I am so glad that i stumbled on your website. There is a lot of good info here.

    Question: I am trying to loose fat and maintain/build muscle. I am 30lbs. overweight and in the past I have been able to lose the weight but not the fat. My question is that I enjoy
    yoga and I am training for a 5k race. How do I incorporate both activities into my schedule without loosing hard earned muscle from my weight training?

    • Follow the recommendations in this article, especially eating enough protein and (at the very least) maintaining your strength levels. Beyond that, if you have another goal that pretty much requires doing a significant amount of endurance work, you can’t really reduce it. Doing so may help your muscle maintenance goal, but it may hurt your endurance goal. You kinda just need to decide what’s more important right now and then just do everything else as best as possible to compensate.

      • I have one more question; how precise do I need to be with my calorie intake? Do I need to measure and weigh food or can I use the “palm” method meaning for meat, eat the size of the palm of my hand? Again, thank you so much for this website.

        • Whatever method will best ensure you’re accurately and consistently reaching your ideal totals for the day, that’s the one to use. Some people might be able to just eyeball their serving sizes and make estimates that are REALLY close while others (probably most people) will screw it up.

          By default, I think most people should at least start off weighing and measuring just to get the hang of it. A food scale is as cheap and simple as can be and only takes an extra few seconds to use. For a lot of people it can be the difference between overestimating and failing as a result, or getting everything just right and succeeding.

  12. I have finally found the answer. Thank you! I joined a gym 5 months ago and have been working out 3 times per week for 20 mins with weights (lots of reps no resting in between) and 40 mins of cardio (jogging). My trainer re-checked my progress and told me that I lost 10 pounds. (lost 3 pounds of muscle, 3 pounds of water and 4 pounds of fat). He told me to go on a low carb diet, eat more protein and workout less. I want to lose 20 pounds of fat and not lose anymore muscle. I started a lower starchy carb diet and took a break from the gym for a week. I thought workout hard and lose fat fast but apparently I have been doing it all wrong. I am going to use your tips and read as much as possible on your website. Thanks for writing this article!

    • Sort of. For example, you could lose 1 pound of fat but gain 1 pound of something else (water, glycogen, muscle, etc.) during the same period of time, thus allowing your weight to be maintained while fat is lost.

      However, this is more of a short term of thing, as the rate of fat loss should almost always exceed the rate of any sort of gain of anything else in the long term. Meaning, if you’re trying to lose fat but are maintaining your weight for 4+ consecutive weeks, it’s mostly just a sign that you’re failing to actually lose fat.

  13. I found your site and just kept reading. I need to lose fat ,and about 10 years ago I did all of this and lost over 60 pounds and was very fit. I am older now, and hitting close to 50 years old. I clean for a living and am tired. I am on night shift. I really want to get back in shape, and feel good, but I know I do not have the time like I use to. I do not want to be married to excersizing I just need to lose fat and get my strentgh back. I believe you have inspired me to do that. Jullin and other fitness teacher annoy me. Sometimes they do not realize age does make a difference. When I was her age I looked great too. I am not out to be number 1. I just need to improve my health and want to live longer. I am probaly 30 lbs over wieght,and mostly in the trunk area. That is definely fat and I am going to win this battle. With the help of coming to you for answers. Thank-you you have helped me to do what I need to do to boast me back and get my life back on track.

  14. I stumbled upon this site while looking for answers on optimum caloric deficit. I must thank you for explaining the concepts in extremely simple and understandable language, and yet covering all the nuts and bolts of this science. I have considerable bulk to lose, and was not making much of a headway due to all kinds of (mis)information and not knowing where to look for real guidance. A lot of explanations given by you ring true — am looking forward to implementing your techniques wisely and with comfort that ‘I know what I am doing’. Thank you for this effort — and thank you many times over for keeping this wealth of information free. 🙂

  15. I have been weight training three times a week for 9 months and love it! But before that I was a cardio jukie and I still am. I lost fat when I first started weight training and eating properly (lost 10lbs of fat and gained 5.5 lbs of muscle). This level felt great for me as I was not overweight but wanted to lose some fat and gain some muscle and the outcome was perfect. But I have gained the fat back because I felt too good and figured I could ‘cheat’ way too often. Now I am paying the price. I want to lose the fat again but maintain the muscle that I gained and have kept. But when I gain fat(as I have recenlty done)I panic and turn to increased cardio in addition to my strenght routine. I just do not have faith that I can (or even should) limit carido and still reach goals. But so much working out (cardio and weights)I know is just too much and I get too sore and tired (I am a 48 year old female). What would you suggest for someone who is scared to give up cardio altogether? I alternate my cardio with running, spinning class, elliptical, swimming. I feel like at my age there needs to some cardio as weight maintennec is difficult for women as they get to this age/stage of their life. And I do like cardio workouts too. Also I tend to panic when I gain fat and go lower with calories trying to lose. My loss stage calories should be 1300-1400. But I feel if I eat that each day then there is no ‘bank’ for a free meal or two. I read your cheat meal info. I feel like if I eat all my calories for each day and still have 2 free meals then the deficit is ruined for the week or at least compromised. And I psychologically need 2 free meals although I will admit I also need to learn how to control them a bit better. Another topic!!

    • So basically you want to do cardio, enjoy doing cardio and feel you have an actual need for doing cardio. Well, in that case, do cardio!

      As for how much, it’s tough to be specific. Really, as much as is needed to satisfy your reasons for doing it, but not so much that you exceed that and hinder muscle maintenance by too much.

  16. Hi, thanks for such an informative website! My question is, when calculating protein requirements for the day, do the measurements you give refer to the weight of pure protein in a meat for example or just the weight of the meat itself? For example as a 130 lb women do I eat around 150 grams of meat a day or 150 of protein found in perhaps closer to 750 grams of meat per day, please? Thanks in anticipation of your reply.

    • I’m referring to the amount of protein, not the weight of a high protein food. So in your example, I’m referring to 150 grams of protein (not 150g of meat).

  17. Awesome information! Before today I knew nothing about bulking and cutting… One of the things I really wanted more info on was how to lose fat while keeping muscle and this article summed it up very well. I’m really starting to build muscle now but definitely want to cut fat down to at least see my abs…which I haven’t seen in years because of heavy beer drinking. I kept hearing people say cardio is hugely needed for fat loss (to see abs) but it comes at a price of losing muscle, that’s why it can be seen mainly on skinny people. But now that I know that’s BS I will “bulk and then cut” the right way while keeping muscle.

    • Glad to hear it dude. And a quick note on what you said about cardio… it’s not hugely needed for getting lean and seeing your abs. Honestly, it’s not even slightly needed. It’s a useful tool if you want to use it for that purpose, but it’s not even remotely required for making it happen.

  18. So if I should reduce weight training and avoid cardio what is it that I should be doing to burn fat?

  19. I would like to do progressive overload to build muscle while losing fat. I believe you said that was in your plans to write an article about. Have you gotten to that one yet? Great site!

  20. Hey Jay, I have been doing your beginner workout plan for the past 8 weeks while trying to lose fat and retain muscle. Since I hadn’t worked out with weights in years I have been able to gain strength while losing about 2lbs of fat per week. I still have about 30 pounds to lose. I’m wondering, since I still have a long fat loss journey ahead of me, should I should stick with the beginner workout or switch over to your “Fat Loss + Muscle Maintenance Solution”? Love this site and the e-book is great too!! Thanks!

  21. Hi there,

    Thanks for the awesome no nonsense articles.

    I have one query in regards to this. I agree with what you say but I am training for a Toughmudder contest which requires that I include strength training and cardio. How would you go about having a deficit in my diet and also increasing cardio? Weights (Monday, Thursday), Cardio (Wednesday, Saturday) ?

    Cheers

      • Am happy with the amount of muscle and strength but looking to reduce fat. As your article states I can do this without cardio but for the sake of Tough Mudder cardio and endurance is something I will require. I guess, how do I add cardio without losing too much strength and muscle?

        Cheers

        • Diet wise, keep protein sufficient and make sure you’re eating enough so that your deficit doesn’t become extreme due to all of the cardio work.

          Training wise, you may need to reduce the amount of weight training being done, more so than you typically would if you were just a normal person looking to lose fat/maintain muscle. Training for an endurance heavy sport simultaneously may require an even beginner reduction. For example, assuming it’s mostly lower body dominant cardio you’re doing, cutting back leg training to just once per week may be a good idea.

          Beyond that, a big key is going to be just keeping an eye on everything and adjusting when you feel like it’s needed.

  22. I wish the entire damn world would read this article but it is ON THE MONEY!! My personal experience: I weighed 162 pound June 2012. Had been doing cardio for 17 (seventeen) years and my body just would NOT change. In my mid 40’s – worked out 5 days a week WITHOUT FAIL all those years for an hour a day – sometimes two.

    Began weight lifting (seriously – not with damn water bottles) and in 7 weeks, dropped 10 pounds. Continued lifting HEAVIER weights / taught myself about sports nutrition / got a vitamin test check up from my doctor / and now – I’m 20 pounds lighter and my body has taken off!! I’ve even been asked if I was a personal trainer (and that was at a club where there are people thinner than I am).

    But what both club members told me is, “I saw your muscle and you look like a trainer – so I figured you were one.”

    I also cut down my running from 35 miles a week to 20 miles a week (can’t give it up – sorry) – and I had to INCREASE my eating and protein intake (I drink lots of water to flush kidneys) –

    Today, I’m 14 pounds from my goal weight of 127 (which is what I weighed at 27) and I look a hell of a lot better than I ever did back then. I feel sorry for folks in the cardio room. They need to be building muscle – period!!

    This article is outstanding!!! I totally agree with it.

  23. Great article. I am a personal trainer and nutritionist…thought I knew it all but you actually taught me something here. I have been Hiit training myself for years and have a hard time holding muscle. Would love to abandon cardio for a while but worry about heart disease etc. Will strength training and calorie deficit still give me benefits of cardio?

    • Assuming you’re not exclusively doing really low reps with really long rest periods, strength training definitely provides a bunch of cardiovascular benefits. The same as HIIT or other traditional forms of cardio? Doubtful. But still… some benefits for sure.

  24. Hi,

    Love the article by the way.

    I’m just struggling to understand this one thing.

    If you were calorie deficit and wanted to maintain muscle shouldn’t most of the calories you gain be from eating protein foods (since protein builds muscle)?

    But are you saying that you should eat a sufficient amount of protein (an amount balanced with all other foods you eat) without exceeding your recommended calorie intake?

    • Protein is important for muscle growth and maintenance, but consuming it doesn’t actually “build muscle.”

      More importantly though is the fact that there is an amount of protein that is optimal for muscle growth/maintenance. Once you exceed that amount, it doesn’t provide any additional benefits. Meaning, eating more protein once your protein intake is already at sufficient levels won’t lead to more muscle growth or better muscle maintenance.

  25. Hey man! Loved this article and it really helped out BIG TIME! One question though, when you’re on a diet break, should you lift or train at all? If so, should it be less than usual? Thanks in advance!

    • You’d still definitely want to continue lifting during this time. Unless of course your reason (or one of the major reasons) you’re taking the diet break is to deload, in which case you’d use that time to deload.

      • Wow. Thanks for quick reply man and the article about deloading is very helpful as well! One more question though, did you finish the article on solely the diet break yet? If not, how often should a guy that’s 5’9, 153 pounds, 19 years old, and a beginner at lifting (I lifted in the past but I stopped for a few months so I’m guessing I’m a beginner?) take that diet break? Thanks!

        • Well, the thing about a diet break (or more accurately, a deficit break) is that it becomes more important, needed and beneficial the longer a person has been in a deficit and the longer they still have to go.

          At 5’9 153lbs, are you still in a deficit? If so, how much more fat do you have left to lose? And at this point, how long have you already spent in a deficit?

  26. I have been on a deficit from 170-150 for about a month (lost some muscle sadly), but lately I’ve been on vacation so I have been eating pretty much anything delish.(I do try to ball park my calories but I still gained 3 pounds) Now I’m dieting again using this article as a guideline to prevent muscle loss so I just started my deficit up again. I do not have much fat to lose, but I’am working towards a six pack before I try bulking so I do want to lose some more fat. I’m not in desperate need of a diet break because of my vacation eating, but I do want to just know the information so that when the time does come, I will be informed.

    • In that case, your vacation mostly likely served as a pretty decent diet break… so you probably don’t need do it again now. But that point was probably a good time for it.

      And besides just the amount of fat lost, amount of time already spent in a deficit and amount of fat left to lose, 2 other factors to consider are level of body fat (someone obese who needs to lose a ton of weight won’t “need” a break as much as someone who’s already somewhat lean and looking to get really lean), and just how you’re feeling mentally and physically.

      If it’s been a while in a deficit and you feel perfectly fine, feel free to keep going. If you’re starting to feel like crap, time for a diet break.

  27. Great read! My workout partner and I have been hitting the gym really hard lifting high intensity heavy as we can go trying to push the limits every time 5x a week. We have also been doing cardio 4 times a week a mix of HIIT and steady state. We are now trying to go caloric deficit and lose some fat but are concerned with how much to cut back our workouts. We are looking at going to a 4 day on 3 day off cycle of lifting and cardio on the off days. What are your thoughts and are we on track?

    • For fat loss while maintaining muscle, 3 weight training workouts is what I’ve personally found to be ideal and recommend the most.

      Cardio depends on too many factors to cover in a quick comment, though.

  28. 56 year old post-menapausal woman. No supplements, hormones or illegal drugs. What is your opinion on daily protein intake in order to gain muscle mass? I lift heavy (relatively speaking of course) I find that if I don’t take 1.5gr/body wt I can’t maintain mass. If I eat 1.5 or more, I am consuming too many calories. What do you think?? Thank you.

    • My usual protein recommendations stand. For a female looking to build/maintain muscle, 0.8-1.2g of protein per pound is sufficient, with 1g being just fine. I see no need at all for you to consume 1.5g per pound, especially if it’s causing you to consume more calories than you should.

  29. Hi Mate,

    Thank you very much for the valuable guidance you are giving. If this was read by everyone, there would be no people struggling with weight loss out there.

    I have two small questions to ask from you.

    First, let me say I am 26, Male, 1.77m tall, 220lb with 33%BF, and want to lose fat and build/maintain muscle.

    (1) When you say eat more protein, how much exactly. If I be specific, in my case, say I eat 2000 calories a day. (Right now I keep 4:3:3 ratio between carb:protein:fat). How should this change? (1 gram of protein per 1 pound of body weight – does this apply?) So in this case, I am 220lb, so 220g protein, 880 cals (44% of my intake). Is this correct?

    (2) I am seriously considering dropping cardio, currently I work out very high intensity intervals, sprinting and slowing down on treadmill. Usually work out about 700 calories in 60 minutes (my daily net goal is 1500, eat 2200, burn 700 on cardio + lift weights as well). Taking your advice I am going to drop this to low-intensity walking 30-60mins. When you say “low-intensity” how low?
    As in what speed and incline would you recommend? Or in terms of heart rate, how much of a target heart rate should I go on?
    My 60%-80% HR range is 117-156. And usually if I walk at 3mph at 2% incline I burn ~490cal an hour. Is this considered “low intensity” walking?

    Many thanks in advance, I would very much appreciate if you can clear my doubts.

    Best,
    Shyam

    • 1. 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is always a good place to start. Regarding macronutrient percentages, it’s not something I consider important or worth caring about. But yeah, 220 x 4 = 880 calories from protein, which would be 44% in your example. The math is correct.

      2. Brisk walking is perfectly fine, no incline needed unless you really want one. Basically, for fat loss you need a deficit. If you’re going to use cardio to help you create that deficit, then, in conjunction with your diet you need to figure out how many calories you need to burn for that deficit to be present. Whatever amount that is, do enough cardio to make that happen.

  30. AWESOME article ! No BS , no “magic,secret” stuff that you have to pay for, no freaking FAKE before/after pictures… Just plain truth to help everybody !

  31. I’ve been looking for an article like this for I can’t tell you how long. To personalize my plan even more so I must ask. I like the muscle tone I have currently. For example, my arms are decently ripped from forearm to shoulder. My issue is I have a mini gut, love handles, and a not so lean chest. I work construction so I’m always lifting block and boards with my arms. How can I get ripped in the waist and chest without altering my arms? Thanks in advance

    • Well, losing fat from a specific part (or parts) of your body isn’t possible. That’s spot reduction, and it’s a myth.

      All you can do really is just lose fat, period. It will come off from your entire body as a whole in a pattern predetermined by your genetics. So if your arms are already lean and you train/eat correctly to maintain muscle, it’s say to say you’re arms will stay about the same (at worst, maybe get slightly leaner/more ripped) while the majority of your fat comes off from where you want it to.

  32. Excellent article!, just wanted to ask a quick question in regards to maintaing my muscle and cutting body fat. I work out monday- friday, am eating very healthy and also taking in my body weight in protein per day. I weigh 195lbs but want to get to about 180-185 lbs. I am starting to do cardio to help cut down on my body fat and was wondering when do you think is the best time to do cardio to help decrease my body fat and but not my muscle growth ? Immediately following my workout? or a couple hours after my workout (after I have eaten dinner and protein shake). Thanks for your time

    • My first preference for doing cardio is on your off days from weight training. If that’s not doable, my next preferred choice is the same day as weight training, but later on in the day (so maybe weights in the morning, cardio in the evening).

  33. This is THE BEST weight loss article I’ve found (and trust me, I have read a lot). It’s given me all the information I’ve been looking for. So many women think that hitting the treadmill every single day and going on a semi-starvation diet will give them the body of a fitness model and it makes me want to scream! This is the one article I will refer all my dieting friends to because they are so so so clueless. People NEED this information so thank you for this great article!

  34. Hi, I’m a 5’5″ female currently weighing in at 163lbs with 31.1% body fat. I’m looking to reduce this to around 18-20% and think I’ll need to be somewhere around the 140lbs mark.

    I’m currently on a 20% calorie deficit and lifting 3 times a week (Stronglifts 5×5), no cardio and I’m eating between 1g-1.2g of protein for every pound of lean body mass (112.3lbs) according to this calculator.

    I’ve been doing this strength training for 2 weeks now and have been losing the 1lb a week I was losing before the strength program, however since checking up on my body fat percentages I’ve noticed that the calculator seems to be showing that I’m losing 0.7lb of muscle and 0.3lb of fat for every 1lb of weight that I lose.

    Is this accurate? If so what am I doing wrong?

    Could it be that I’m just taking my measurements and checking my weight too often (once a week) and that I should give it more time before judging if I’m actually losing muscle? If so, how much time to get an accurate picture of what’s happening to my body?

    • If you’re eating a sufficient amount of protein (sounds like you are), have only a moderate deficit (sounds like you do) and are weight training with something close to an intelligently designed routine aimed at maintaining/increasing strength (sounds like you are), then there is no way you’re losing anything close to that much muscle.

      I’d ignore all of these stupid calculators (most range from highly inaccurately to pure crap) and focus on what you see on the scale, on the tape measure, in the mirror and in your workout log.

  35. As others have said, this is a fine article. If I may, a detail question based on my particular sitch:

    I’m 5’2″ 125-130 lbs (I don’t have a scale, you’ll be glad to know, so I only get weighed every few months at the doctor’s). For many years my routine was steady-state swimming every day. A year and a half (and roughly ten pounds ago) I switched to HIIT on a stationary bike twice a week, kept swimming the other five days (sprinting two, easy swim the other three), and added strength training. Lost fat and gained muscle as you’d expect

    Now maintaining that trajectory is hard. In fact, my reps on some bw exercises (chin-ups, push-ups) declined a bit, so a few weeks ago I cut the HIIT in half (one bike day and one sprint-swim day per week), and upped my food intake a bit. I think I’m building lower-body strength now; still kinda plateaued in the upper bod. Jeans are a little tighter — guestimating 2-3 lbs, hoping some of that is bigger quads/hams.

    The one recommendation of yours that’s a problem for me is cutting back on “cardio.” Swimming gives me physical and mental pleasure while I’m doing it, and it acts as an antidepressant. So “cardio” is not a chore for me as it is for others, and I need to keep doing some of it every morning (except my one bike day) for mental health. How can I limit the “damage” it does to my fat loss/muscle maintenance goal? I don’t need to swim for long — 20 min. is sufficient. If I keep that to an easy, relaxed pace most days, except for my one swim-sprint day per week, is that OK? Thanks in advance!

    • Cardio is perfectly fine if needed or preferred by the person. So in your case, where it’s something you actually enjoy doing… by all means keep doing it.

      As for how to minimize the negative effects in terms of maintaining muscle/strength in a deficit, that’s mostly going to come down to minimizing the duration, frequency and intensity of cardio you do.

      Now, if your reason (or one reason) for doing it is to burn calories and help with fat loss, then the amount that you do needs to take that into account (e.g. if you need to burn 400 calories via cardio for for a deficit to exist, limiting it to an amount that burns 200 will hinder progress).

      But if your main reason for doing it is just pleasure, I’d say do whatever amount brings that pleasure, and not a drop more. So if 20 mins works for you, do 20, not 45. If 3 days a week works for you, do it 3 days a week, not 6. If a low intensity works for you, do that and not HIIT.

      And if strength/muscle maintenance seems to be going well, you’ll know you’ve done it right. If it’s not going so well, reduce it a little bit and see if that helps.

  36. Great article! Finally something that addresses everything that I was looking for.

    I do have a couple of questions though..

    I’m 22 years old, 5’7. I was 250 lbs a year ago, and after exercising and fixing my diet (somewhat) I am now down to 180lbs and feel great. However, I still have a lot of body fat (~20%) and want to cut that down by the summer time. I started counting calories and put myself at about ~1300 calories/day. According to your other article about caloric intake, I should be at about 2300 to burn fat and maintain/build my muscle. Should I increase my calories? I haven’t been making any “gains” at the gym but I am unsure if that is attributed to me not eating as much or it’s just because I’m weak?

    My gym routine is split in a 3-day split, (Chest/tri’s, Back/Bi’s, Legs/Shoulders)with 4 exercises, 3 sets of 10 per body part. So that’s 8 exercises per workout day. Plus abs at the end. Afterwards, I jog for 2-3 miles. On off days I also do some cardio or play soccer. Is this too much? Or just right?

    As far as protein goes, is it okay to use supplements to help me get to my protein-intake goal? Meaning, can I have more than the single scoop of whey protein a day?

    And last but not least, I usually work out before breakfast, on an empty stomach. Is this bad? If so, what are simple, quick foods would you recommend to have just before a workout (first thing in the morning)?

    Thank you SO much! This has truly been a great help.

    • I recommend a deficit of about 20% below maintenance. So whatever amount of calories that is for you, that’s what I’d recommend.

      Regarding your routine, read this from beginning to end. It will cover everything.

      Yes, protein supplements are perfectly fine.

      Training fasted is only bad if you don’t actually like it that way. For example, I’ve tried training fasted and hated it. I feel/train better when I eat first, so that’s what I do. With else all (total daily calorie and macronutrient intake) being equal, it’s not going to matter. It’s up to you and your own preferences… do what you like best.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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!

    • 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?

  40. 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.

    • 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.

  41. 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 ?!

  42. Hi,

    This is the most helpful article I’ve written, and that includes talking to 3 personal trainers that all tell me different things, so I get stressed and don’t know what to do because everyone says something different!!

    I’ve yo-yo’ed for a few years now, between eating too few calories & doing too much cardio to make it up for binging. I was probably eating 1200 and doing stairmaster/hikes/running 5 days a week. With that said, I’m now 160 5’5. Even after my 100+ failed diet attempts and starving/binging cycle, do you think this will work for me?

    And how do you feel about drinking wine every once in a while?

  43. Very informative article but I have a question please.

    I am like a sake who has swollen a golf ball. Very skinny but lots of fat around belly. If I create a calorie deficit to loose belly fat which I have tried before, I loose some fat around belly but also become more skinner. If I try to gain weight to look bit better my belly fat increases proportionally. How do you I reverse this process? As in I gain some weight but also lose fat around the belly. But I am just as happy to lose all the fat without loosing whatever muscle I have. Thank you for your advise in advance.

  44. So it’s been about 3 months since I have been on a .20% deficit and I have made some progress on my belly. Being in a deficit really hasn’t given me any hunger problems and I really do want this belly to go away faster.

    Having said that, is it okay if I increase the deficit to .25 or even .30 percent? If the hunger issue remains as minor as it is now there shouldn’t be any problems right?
    Thanks again!

    • Hypothetically, you might be fine. However, the bigger the deficit gets, the more potentially problematic it becomes. Now that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to have issues (hunger, mood, sleep, hormonal, metabolic, strength/training performance, etc.), it just means the risk increases a little bit.

  45. Hi Jay,

    First of all want to say Thanks for a great site and a great writing style. I’ve bought your book too, and very impressed with it. For those who haven’t I’d buy it just for the Calorie Cycling.

    As a big tub of lard (but formerly one of the top 25 indoor rowers in UK, alas some 10 years back) I’ve been trying to lose the tub for my forthcoming wedding in August ’15. Particularly as it’s on a beach.

    As, with your definition, I’m a new trainee / beginner, and have started a 3 day full body workout, with 2 days of HIIT, so 5 days of training. I split the rest days up (Thurs and Sun). It’s going really well, as only 2 months in, with progression being made in both Cardio and Weight training. Would you say this is acceptable, or – with your lack of enthusiasm for cardio – is too much ( given my goal is remove tub of lard and retain what muscle I have)

  46. I often search the web for specific workout advice and seem to always find my way back to this site.

    The information is clear, non-ambiguous, and is communicated in a an easy to understand but confident manner. I’ll definitely be trying out the tips you mentioned in this article, as I’m trying to cut down some excess fat that I gained with my muscle over the last year.

    Thanks for the great article!

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