How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle: The Basics 

Knowing how to lose fat without losing muscle is essential if you want to maximise your potential and get your ideal body within a reasonable time frame.  

Moreover, if you do not know how to maintain muscle while cutting, you could set yourself back and never make any real progress.  

Let’s jump right into it and take a look at how to lose fat without losing muscle.  

What it Takes to Lose Fat 

The mechanics behind losing fat are incredibly simple. 

To lose fat, you just need to be in a caloric deficit for an extended period of time. 

This means eating less than or burning off more than your maintenance calories (you can find out a rough estimate of your maintenance calories by using an online calorie calculator) every day until you get your desired result.  

As a general rule of thumb, you want to aim to be in a 250-500 caloric deficit if you want to lose fat without losing a ton of muscle, but this is something we are going to touch upon later in this article.  

However, if you follow this path, you will lose some muscle mass. This is just to be expected. 

Unless you take additional steps, you could end up losing a significant portion of the muscle you may have gained during a bulk or mass-building stage.  

So, let’s look at how we can prevent this.  

How to Maintain Muscle 

1. Eat Enough Protein 

If you want to learn how to lose fat and maintain muscle, then you need to understand the importance of protein.  

Protein plays a vital role in the muscle-building/muscle-maintenance process, and it is more important than ever when cutting.  

If you can, it would be a good idea to increase protein consumption while cutting.  

This will ensure that your body has everything it needs to maintain muscle and that you are not putting yourself at a disadvantage right from the get-go.  

2. Maintain Strength/Intensity/Weight On The Bar 

One of the biggest mistakes people make when cutting is that they decide to tone down their workouts a notch. 

This is the exact opposite of what you should do. 

You should try as hard as you can to keep the same weight on the bar as you used when bulking, and while you may have to reduce the weight at some point, you should do everything in your power to maintain your strength while cutting. 

If you lower the weight or the intensity, your body will have no excuse not to pull energy from your muscles since you no longer need them to lift the weight you used to lift.  

4. Get Pre & Post Workout Nutrition Right 

If you are looking to min-max, then you need to get your pre and post-workout nutrition right.  

For your pre-workout, you need to consume a decent amount of carbs so you have more energy to put into working out. 

For post-workout, you should eat some protein and also supplement with creatine for optimal results. 

While these changes won’t make a huge difference, they will definitely help, especially when paired with the other points on this list.  

5. Don’t Reduce Calories 

The best way to lose body fat and keep muscle is to just not reduce your calories.  

This is obvious, but it is something that most people do not think about.  

Instead of reducing your calories, simply eat at maintenance and use exercise to get into caloric deficit. 

This will drastically increase the chances of your body keeping your muscle, as it will be heavily incentivised to draw energy from your fat. 

It’s simple, but it’s extraordinarily effective.  

6. Incorporate Calorie/Carb/Nutrient Cycling 

Calorie cycling can be a little tedious if you are new to the concept, but it can give you a huge advantage when it comes to holding onto your muscle when dieting. 

Calorie cycling simply involves eating different amounts of calories on different days. 

For example, on leg day, you may slightly increase your calories so you can have a better workout. 

To make up for this increase in calories, you would then reduce your calories slightly on a different day like a rest day.  

This ensures that your body has all the nutrients it needs when it needs them, and it allows you to optimise your caloric intake.  

7. Take Diet Breaks When Needed 

Another somewhat surprising step that you can take to maintain muscle mass when cutting is to take diet breaks when needed.  

Taking a one-week break from your diet when you begin to get mentally drained will not only help you out on the mental side of things, but it may actually help you hang on to more muscle.  

By having a diet break, you tell your body that food is readily available, making it much more likely to leave your muscles alone when you get back to it.  

8. Avoid Excessive Amounts Of Cardio  

It can be incredibly tempting to jump on the treadmill for a few hours to speed weight loss up. 

While this can work great if weight loss is your only goal, if you want to hang onto your muscle, you need to avoid this at all costs. 

If you do decide to do cardio, make sure you don’t overdo it.  

You could end up forcing your body to eat into your muscle if you do end up doing too much cardio.  

What About Eating Only Healthy & “Clean” Foods? 

There is a common misconception that only eating healthy or “clean” foods is the best way to keep muscle while dieting. 

While eating clean foods can provide certain benefits, like making you feel fuller and improving overall health, there is no evidence that suggests eating clean foods is superior to regular eating. 

What does this mean? Well, it means that you can have that slice of cake or piece of chocolate guilt free! 

As long as you stay in a caloric deficit, you can still lose weight and maintain muscle while eating whatever you want (providing you eat enough protein).  

How to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle 

Schedule Recovery Time 

While having recovery time is always important to muscle building and maintenance, it is particularly important when dieting. 

If you do not have sufficient recovery time, your body may struggle to repair your muscles in time for the next workout session, and you could even end up losing more muscle than you would have done if you had taken more rest time.  

Don’t Restrict 

The common trope of only eating chicken and broccoli is a very real thing that we see many people doing.  

For some reason, people assume that you can only eat certain foods to lose weight. Let us reassure you; this is not the case. 

While you should try and limit the amount of junk food you consume, you can theoretically eat as much as you like as long as you stay in a caloric deficit. 

Knowing this will not help you cling onto your muscle per se, but it will make it easier for you to stay in a small caloric deficit. 

If you just stick to certain foods and limit yourself, we can almost guarantee that you will be tempted to increase your deficit to speed up the process.   

Do Cardio 

Instead of reducing calories to lose weight, it’s a much better idea to just do more cardio.  

This ensures that your body has all of the energy it needs to repair itself and maintain muscle while also increasing the chances of you losing fat. 

Increase Intensity 

Despite the fact that you are inevitably going to have less energy while on a cut, you will want to try and increase your workout intensity. 

This means that if you normally leave two reps in the tank every set, you should try and reduce this down to one or zero. 

This will make using muscle as an energy source less viable, and it will minimise the amount of muscle you lose while cutting.  

Continue to Strength Train 

One of the most important parts of keeping muscle while losing weight is that you continue to strength train when cutting. 

If you stop strength training during a cut, your body will assume that your muscle is an easy source of energy to pull from as it is not being used. 

You need to show your body that your muscle is in fact important to you and that you need it on a regular basis.

Take a Rest 

Trying to lose weight can become frustrating, and the more you think about it, the harder it becomes. 

This is why taking a rest from your diet from time to time can be incredibly beneficial. 

This will help to keep you sharp, and it will also show your body that you are not starving to death (which may help preserve muscle even further). 

Healthy Eating 

As is usually the case when trying to lose fat, eating healthy is recommended. 

Not only will this benefit your overall health, but it will also give you more energy to work out and make you feel fuller. 

Of course, you don’t have to eat healthy all the time (you could even eat whatever you want as long as you stay in a caloric deficit).  

But eating healthy most of the time certainly is going to make things easier.  

Additional Tips  

Use Slow Aerobic Cardio 

While doing cardio can help, it is crucial that you do not go overboard. 

This is why slow aerobic cardio can be a great choice if you want to minimise muscle loss while cutting. 

Slow aerobic cardio is very low impact and burns minimal calories, and this is exactly what you want when trying to cling onto your muscle.  

You want to burn some calories, but not so many that your body notices and begins to pull additional energy from your muscles.   

Drink BCAAs 

Getting BCAAs from your diet will be tough, especially when in a caloric deficit.  

This is why supplementing with BCAAs is vital when cutting if you want to hang on to as much muscle as possible – BCAAs play a substantial role in muscle maintenance and growth.  

Eat Carbs After Your Workout 

Some studies have shown that eating carbs right after a workout can lead to an increase in muscle protein synthesis.  

While any differences will be minimal, if you truly want to min-max, then you might want to consider adding some carbs after to your post-workout meal.  

Sleep 8 Hours a Night 

Sleep is incredibly important when it comes to maintaining muscle.  

While it might not be possible for everyone to get 8 hours of sleep every night, it should certainly be your goal if you are trying to lose fat.  

Do not overlook just how vital sleep is to the muscle-building process as well as health overall.  

Take it Slow 

If you truly want to lose fat while maintaining muscle, the key is to take it slow. 

The slower you lose weight, the better your chances of keeping all of your hard-earned muscle. 

This means you can tailor your weight loss to the results you want. 

If you want to keep every last bit of muscle you have gained, then you might want to just go in a 50-calorie deficit for as long as it takes. 

If you don’t mind losing a bit of muscle to cut quicker, then you could do a 250-500 calorie deficit.  

The slower you go, the more muscle you will hold onto.  

When to Talk With a Pro 

If you have tried and failed to lose weight without losing muscle in the past and just feel you are not capable of doing so without assistance, it might be time to talk to a professional. 

Learning how to cut effectively without losing muscle can take time and perseverance, and having a personal trainer walk you through the entire process can make things so much easier.

You do not even need to stick with a personal trainer for a long time if you do not have the funds to spare – once you learn what you need to you can go off on your own. 

You should not hesitate to seek a professional if you are struggling to keep your muscle when cutting. 

It will save you a ton of trouble and strife in the long run.  

how to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle – FAQs 

How To Lose Weight Not Build Muscle? 

The main things to know when it comes to how to lose weight not build muscle are that you should only reduce your daily calories slightly and carry on with your usual strength training routine.  

Can You Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle?  

Yes, you can lose fat without losing muscle.  

The best way to do this is to go in a very slight caloric deficit while still continuing a strength training/muscle-building routine.  

How To Burn Fat and Not Muscle? 

To burn fat and not muscle you need to ensure that you are in a minimal caloric deficit whilst also following a good lifting routine.  

How Can I Lose Weight and Lose Muscle Mass?  

To lose weight and lose muscle mass, you should go into a caloric deficit and stop weight training.  

How To Lose Weight Naturally?  

To lose weight naturally you should eat healthy foods that are low in calories.  

How To Lose Body Fat Slowly?  

To lose body fat slowly, you should go into a very slight calorie deficit and do light cardio a few times a week. 

We hope this article will be of use to you!  

Knowing how to get shredded without losing muscle is going to be integral to your success in your fitness journey, and without this skill, you are going to run into a ton of problems.  

If you would like more advice on how to lose fat without losing muscle or just want to get access to more fitness content in general, don’t hesitate to check out the other content we have here at MovingForwards

See you next time.  

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