Ways to Burn Fat Without Losing Muscle
There’s no other way to say it.
At some point, every one of us will likely need to lose body fat. Yes, those genetic outliers walk around lean, ripped, and toned all the time, but for the vast majority of us "normies," we'll have to spend at least some time burning off the "goo" we've accumulated.
To lose weight, you have to be in a calorie deficit whereby you burn more calories than you consume.
When this happens, there is always a concern about muscle loss.
This is because when the body is deprived of energy, it will turn to its own energy reserves (fat and muscle). Since muscle is more metabolically "expensive" to maintain than body fat, it's possible for the body to break down muscle for the energy it's not getting from food.
The good news is that, with the right approach, it’s 100% feasible to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass. This article explains how to lose weight without sacrificing your hard-earned muscle tissue.
Is It Possible to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle?
Let us assuage your fears and concerns and say, "YES."
It is possible to lose fat without losing muscle.
However, there are several things you need to continually do to “remind” the body that it needs to maintain its current muscle mass and instead get its needed calories from stored body fat.
Rest assured, there are no "hacks" or "secrets" or "magic pills" you need to take to lose fat without losing muscle.
The things you need to do to maintain muscle while losing fat are probably things you're already doing!
Ways to Lose Fat and Maintain Muscle Mass
Combine Strength With Hypertrophy
Resistance training ("lifting weights") is a must to build muscle.
Cardio is beneficial for heart health and keeping fat gain to a minimum when building muscle (“massing” or “bulking”), but its potential for actually building muscle is minimal at best.
Resistance training, on the other hand, is beneficial for building muscle and maintaining lean muscle mass when dieting for fat loss.
This is because resistance training provides the robust stimulus to your body that screams, "I NEED THIS MUSCLE."
Now, there can be a tendency to change your resistance training workouts when shifting from a building or "gaintaining" phase to a fat loss phase, as there has been a myth promulgated over the decades that "low reps are good for building and high reps are good for toning."
However, you must realize that you cannot "tone" a muscle. You can train a muscle through the application of stress across muscle fibers (i.e., "resistance training"), but you do not "tone" a muscle.
More often, when individuals are talking about "toning" a muscle, they mean losing fat.
You need to maintain or build muscle and reduce body fat to do that.
Additionally, there is no need to overhaul your current training program drastically. What works for building muscle (in terms of exercise selection, sets, reps, etc.) works just as effectively for maintaining lean muscle during a cut.
With that in mind, continue to use a variety of exercises and rep ranges (anything between 6-30 reps per set is effective for stimulating hypertrophy/muscle retention).
As a bonus, lifting weights also helps boost metabolism, not only during the workout but for hours and hours afterward!
Use Slow Aerobic Cardio
Many “experts” will tell you that you “have” to do cardio to lose fat.
But, this isn't true.
Cardio can be a tool that helps increase energy expenditure and lose weight, but it is certainly not "absolutely" required.
Remember, a calorie deficit is the only thing "needed" to lose fat. This can be accomplished simply by reducing your calorie intake between 10-20% below maintenance.
However, if you don't want to live on "poverty macros" for the foreseeable future, incorporating some form of cardio into your daily/weekly regimen can be beneficial. It will allow you to eat more calories (thus increasing satiety) while losing weight/body fat.
Now, there has been much debate when deciding which type of cardio to perform, low-intensity steady state (LISS) or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Research shows that BOTH are effective for losing body fat.
Which type you should perform to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass ultimately boils down to personal preference.
By that, we mean that whatever form of cardio gets you "excited" to show up and do it each day/week, then do it.
For some individuals, this could be hopping on the treadmill for 30 minutes each morning (a la "fasted cardio"). For others, a few HIIT sessions could be scattered throughout the week. For some other individuals, this could be hitting a certain number of steps each day. And even still, some individuals may prefer to incorporate a mix of LISS and HIIT.
There is no one "perfect" cardio recipe for all individuals. It could be LISS. It could be HIIT. It could be daily steps or no cardio (though we suggest at least some level of cardio training each week to support overall cardiovascular health).
Eat More Lean Protein
Protein is the unsung hero of weight loss, particularly when maintaining muscle during dieting.
Remember, our muscles are made of protein and amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Without adequate protein intake each day, you’re essentially robbing your muscles of the essential nutrients they need to maintain themselves (let alone grow stronger).
But, that's not the only reason to consume enough protein daily.
Protein is also the most satiating macronutrient, which means it keeps you feeling full and thereby less likely to overeat at mealtime or go scrounging for snacks between meals.
Furthermore, protein is also highly thermogenic. Your body expends more calories digesting protein than it does, either carbohydrates or fats.
Collectively, this makes it a no-brainer to ensure that each and every day, you consume enough high-quality protein from sources such as:
- Greek yogurt
- Whey protein
- Plant proteins (such as Steel Vegan)
In terms of "how much protein" to consume during a fat loss cycle, it's typically recommended to consume at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight.
Building off of the previous point, consuming enough protein each day is imperative to guard against potential muscle loss when dieting.
For individuals who struggle to consume enough protein daily, amino acid supplements can be beneficial. The simple truth is that many individuals struggle to consume enough protein throughout the day for one reason or another.
A delicious tasting amino acid supplement, like Steel Fuel, can help individuals consume enough of the required blocks to sustain muscle tissue during periods of calorie restriction.
What About Supplements?
There is a natural tendency to wonder whether supplements can be beneficial no matter the desired fitness goal -- muscle gain, fat loss, body recomposition, etc.
Keep in mind that to get the most benefit from supplements, you need to ensure your training and diet, especially when it comes to losing body fat. Without it, even the best supplements will offer marginal benefits at best.