How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

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Creating an  an appropriate fat loss plan is a task which nearly all of us must tackle from time to time.  When training for hypertrophic gains, it’s nearly impossible to turn every morsel of caloric surplus into lean body mass.  Every once in a while, cuts will need to be utilized to ensure proper insulin sensitivity and health in general.

When you decide it’s time to strip away the excess body fat, there’s a few items to keep in mind.  This list certainly isn’t all-inclusive, but it contains items most casual (and even some serious) gym goers often overlook.

Get out your notebooks – and make a checklist.  See how many of these you are doing – and make the appropriate alterations to your plans.  It will save you loads of heartache, headache, and atrophy during your cuts.


The 5 Fat Loss Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes.

1.  Training too much.

When devising your fat loss plan, it’s quite simple to see why one can be manipulated by the idea that they must “do more”.  Whether “do more” means more sets, more training sessions, more workout days, more exercise selections……………the thought tends to be in order to “lose fat”, you will need to “do more”.

This simply is not the case.

When training to lose fat, you are already in a caloric deficit.  You have a stressor being placed on your body.  And when a stressor is placed on your body, your recovery capacity is compromised.

If you decide you are going to “do more” and ramp up the frequency, the volume, the intensity, or the duration of your workouts, you’re placing stressors on top of stressors.  The odds of burnout begin to multiply exponentially.

The fix:  Your training sessions should be 45 minutes to 60 minutes, 3 times per week.  The purpose of training during fat loss phases is to remind your muscles of why they are there.  Short, intense, low volume and frequency. And then walk out the door and recover.  Your strength isn’t compromised in a deficit, only your recovery is.  Play this to your advantage.

Training too much while in a caloric deficit is like getting a salary reduction when you already can’t pay your bills.  You’re likely to be in trouble quickly.  Be advised.

2.  Performing targeted isolation work.

Utilizing isolation work in order to improve a lagging and underdeveloped body part has been a staple in bodybuilding circles since the dawn of time.  The research and anecdotal evidence shows again and again that in increase in frequency and volume targeting a particular muscle group will allow for an increase in lean body mass for that particular area.

There’s just one problem:  When you’re in a deficit…………..there’s no “fuel” for the “fire”.

The theory behind muscular gain is to break your musculature into a state of momentary weakness.  If you are training adequately, you will literally be weaker at the end of the training session than you were at the start.  Your hope?  As you refuel (ie – “eat”), some of your intake goes towards general maintenance and recovery.  The slight surplus?  Hopefully some of the slight surplus will go towards rebuilding that one, specific area you just annihilated.

In a deficit, the surplus is missing.

You can do curls, skull crushers, and cable crunches for days.  If you’re not eating in a surplus, the odds of gaining in those specific, targeted areas are slim to none.  Save a few uncommon situations such as a long layoff from training or a stark beginner.

By performing isolation work, all you’re doing is taking away recovery resources from an already taxed body.

The fix:  Focus almost entirely on total body movements.  Two joints.  Pulls, squats, and pushes.  Pick movements which hit nearly every muscle group.

Want to hit biceps?  Pull-ups, chin-ups, and rows.

Want to hit triceps?  Bench presses, shoulder presses, and dips.

Want to hit legs/glutes?  Deadlifts, squats, and hip thrusts.

Want to hit abs?  All of the above.

But aim for 8-12 total sets per session in the 6-12 rep range.  All compound movements.  Keep the isolation stuff for the bulking cycles.  When cutting fat, keep your focus on training the whole body for strength only.  Not size.

3.  Focusing too much on “Calories Out”.  (aka – “Too Much Cardio”)

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.  It’s all accounted for somewhere.  And although there is a decent amount of evidence which shows this isn’t always true, it’s the best we have.  So, we need to roll with it.

Calories in versus calories out is the name of the game here, folks.

This means, in order to create fat loss, our equation must produce a negative number.  You need a negative energy balance at the end of each day (or perhaps week….) in order to lose fat consistently over time.

So?  Your choices?  Consume less or expand more.  Your call.

When in a fat loss phase, it’s always advantageous to work on keeping stresses as low as possible.  Eating well, sleeping well, hydrating and supplementing appropriately, etc.  Again, this is why we train intelligently.  No need to do anything haphazardly.

Our choices?

Focusing on our “Calories Out” – or doing more cardio/activity – is a stressor in and of itself.  It causes you to do more.  Whether or not you will “lose all gains” when performing cardio isn’t the point here.  The point is simply that it causes a stress response AT ALL.

If you’re planning on stepping onto stage in the near future and are already strikingly lean, targeted cardio might be used in order to get rid of stubborn body fat and mobilize free fatty acids.  But most of us simply want to cut fat efficiently.  And cardio isn’t a requirement to obtain efficient fat loss.

The fix:  Focusing on “Calories In” – your diet – requires a bit of planning.  Some strategic shopping.  A bit of thought.  But activity?  Unless you count “cutting up your onions”, there’s no additional activity involved.

Preserve your recovery, your energy, your stress, and your sanity.  Plan well, eat well, be strategic, and rest up.  Skip the cardio for the times when you truly need it.  Which just might be never.

4.  Cutting too hard.

Muscle gain is tough.  And it takes time.  But it’s rather fun.  For most of us anyways.

Let’s be honest, if you’re reading this, you’re likely a fan of training hard.  You love the iron.  You live for “Leg Day”.  We get it.  We skip out of the gym after a new PR as well.  We understand those feels.

And cutting?  Well, cutting kind of sucks.  Will we look better?  Likely.  Will we make “gains”?  Likely not.

And we have to watch our diets!  And we will probably be hungry!  And we have to train less!  And we (probably) need to cut back on Pop Tarts and booze!

Shit.  Cutting sucks.

So, what’s the answer?  Well, to make it suck for as short of a time as possible, of course!  So you can get right back to bulking.

Probably not the best of plans.

Muscle building takes time.  Energy.  Patience.  It’s EASILY the difficult part of this equation.  And cutting too quickly can put those gains at risk.  Preserve your muscle at all costs.

Remember, the weight on the scale seldom reflects exactly what is happening to your body composition.  Yet we all get so caught up in seeing that number decrease.  Men and women alike.

The fix:  Aim for a slight deficit.  An average of 500-700 calories under maintenance per day, at most.  This will add up to 1-1.5 pounds of fat loss per week, if dietary consistency is  shown.

No need to get fancy.  Get your protein.  Cycle your macros if you wish.  Just don’t go to extremes.  Carb Backloading?  Ketogenesis?  Protein Sparing Modified Fasts?  Completely unnecessary.

Keep the big picture in mind.  Intelligent training + slight daily deficit + patience = full muscular retention and rather effortless fat loss.  Simple as that.

5.  Dieting “too clean”.

Eating stereotypically “clean” foods does make sense while dieting.  Theoretically, this seems to be the most logical choice.  Whole foods sources are certainly more nutritionally dense and contain more micronutrients than processed foods do.

From a strict satiety point, you will obviously be more satisfied if the vast majority of your cutting calories come from potatoes instead of Skittles.  Sorry, Marshawn.  No bueno, brother.

However, going too far in one direction can certainly cause issues.  And restricting your diet to 100% whole foods sometimes isn’t the best approach for your cut.  Especially if your cut will take a decent amount of time.

The fix:  World renowned nutritionist Alan Aragon is famous for this excellent advice when it comes to dietary composition when cutting: You should aim to make your diet 80% whole foods you enjoy, 10% whole foods you don’t enjoy but you know are healthy for you, and 10% “pure junky goodness”.

How you choose to integrate that “junky goodness” is your call.  Whether it’s fitting 2-3 cookies into your macros after dinner each night, or allowing yourself a piece of cake or a drink once per week on a Saturday.  Assuming it’s consumed in moderation, that 10% of “processed nonsense” may be the golden ticket to sanity during your diet.

Too much restriction can easily spell out B-I-N-G-E.  Which is quite obviously a sign of an unhealthy food relationship.


Remember, cutting fat isn’t a complicated process.  Consume under your maintenance, train hard, hydrate adequately, rest often, and have patience.  That’s about it.

Keeping a level head at all times will ensure you stay ahead of the game, you keep the muscle you have, and you look phenomenal after your “summer shred”.


Happy Cutting!




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