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How to Lose Fat Without Losing Your Muscle (Part 2 of 3)

Last week we learned the first steps to avoid being the skinny fat, ie. Losing muscle instead of fat. So you end up looking lean but still have high body fat and low amounts of muscle.

In addition to lifting heavy weights, there are other important steps.

Lower Your Overall Training Volume & Frequency

When eating a calorie deficit, you’re feeding your body less energy than it needs every day to create a negative energy balance and encourage weight loss, predominantly through the loss of fat.

This means your body won’t be able to repair itself or recover as fast and its capacity to bounce back from training sessions will be diminished whilst you’re in a calorie deficit. For this reason, you want to be careful with how often you train and how much training you do.

When you lift weights, you damage the cells in your muscle fibres which signals the body to increase protein synthesis rates to repair this damage. Your body then adapts by adding new cells which make your muscles bigger and stronger.

To build muscle the rate of protein synthesis must be greater than the rate of protein breakdown and this is where it gets tricky. You already know that to lose fat you need to be in a calorie deficit.

The problem is when eating in a deficit your body reduces its rate of protein synthesis, which directly impacts your ability to create new muscle fibre cells. Therefore, if you train too much when in a calorie deficit your body will struggle to maintain adequate protein synthesis rates to preserve or even build muscle.

Remember your goal when trying to lose fat is to mainly to preserve muscle mass and due to your body’s reduced capacity for recovery, you need to be more strategic when choosing your training plan in a calorie deficit. Your priorities should be to;

  • Build on or maintain your current strength as best as possible*

  • Get sufficient periods of rest and recovery between workouts

*some strength loss is normal especially after you’ve been in a calorie deficit for a prolonged period of time.

Don’t Use More Than a Moderate Calorie Deficit

The more severe your calorie deficit, the more weight you will lose. It sounds great, doesn’t it? Why not just use a really big deficit and lose all the weight really fast?

Well, the faster you lose weight, the higher the chance your body will start using your muscle mass as energy. This means you’ll lose fat but you’ll also lose muscle, which is the worst possible thing to happen if you want to retain any strength and look good.

Of course, you need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight but it should be moderate (20 – 25% below maintenance calories) at the most and closely tracked to ensure you don’t start losing weight fasting than the recommended rate of 500gms -1kg per week.

See this online calculator to identify how many calories a day your body needs,

Aim for a 20% deficit and you can track your weight from here before determining if you need to make any adjustments. One thing to be aware of is, as your body fat levels go down so will the number of calories you need to stay in a calorie deficit.

This process is called adaptive thermogenesis and it’s the slowing of your metabolic rate when you’ve been in a prolonged calorie deficit. The greater the calorie deficit and the greater the duration of the deficit the higher this reduction in metabolic rate will be.

However, there’s no need to panic. At most you’re looking at the slowdown of your weight loss progress over time as your calorie needs change due to this metabolic change combined with your change in weight.

As you lose fat and your body weight goes down so will the number of calories you need to maintain your weight, which means the number of calories you can eat and lose weight will also change. For example, what worked for you at 100 kgs won’t necessarily work for you at 80 kgs as your body’s needs will be different.

Conclusion so far

Maintaining your muscle mass in a calorie deficit is possible. By following the tactics laid out in this post you can diet with confidence, knowing that you’re going to minimise the amount of muscle you lose if you lose any at all.


  • Train using moderate to heavy weights

  • Reduce your overall training volume & frequency

  • Don’t use more than a moderate calorie deficit

Next week we'll look at what else to consider in order to keep you muscle with improving your body fat, including:

  • Eat enough protein

  • Don’t overdo the cardio


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