Here’s a fun mathematical problem for you: How do you subtract one thing but gain another? Shedding fat from your frame is not an easy feat, but losing fat while gaining muscle could be the greatest fitness challenge of your life. Yet, while losing weight and not muscle are two different goals, you can do both. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s impossible, because it’s been done.
If you’re ready to learn how to lose fat without sacrificing muscle, keep on reading.
Weight Loss & Fat Loss Are Not The Same
People always talk about how they want to lose weight as if “weight” is synonymous with “fat.” That’s not how it works, though. Your weight is a number made up of different variables, such as fat, muscle, bone, glycogen stores, and water. This is why you can lose weight on diuretics and cleanses—because you’re ridding your body of weighted matter.
In reality, most people just want to lose fat.
Sadly, mass media has perpetuated this myth that slicing calories, going on crazy fad diets, and juice cleanses are going to somehow help you with this. But it doesn’t. The only thing that is going to help you is the calories in, calories out the equation and a little something called a “calorie deficit.”
A calorie deficit is when the calories you burn off is greater than the calories you put into your body.
When you are doing the right activities and eating certain foods, your body will choose to burn fat for energy instead of sugar. Furthermore, knowing how exercise and diet can affect how your body breaks down fat and protein helps you develop a plan that helps you lose fat while keeping muscle.
Choose Your Diet Wisely
Now that you realize losing weight is not the goal but burning fat is, let’s discuss the diets that target fat without subtracting too much weight. It doesn’t matter if you are vegetarian/vegan, following a ketogenic or paleo diet, or have other dietary restrictions. You need to focus on lean protein from either plant or animal sources, cut out processed sugars and other empty calories, avoid eating too much salt, and limit poor quality fats.
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You might even consider intermittent fasting, which has been proven to help with fat loss while promoting muscle maintenance. Intermittent fasting has benefits like:
- Boosting human growth hormone production
- Regulating insulin sensitivity
- Modulating the levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone
- Decreasing triglyceride levels
- Decreasing inflammation and limiting free radical damage
The best part to intermittent fasting is that it is flexible, so you can work the eating and fasting periods around your personal schedule.
If intermittent fasting seems too strict for you, try cyclical eating instead, where you cut your calories for one or two days in a row then have a high-calorie day. Your activities should also reflect the number of calories you are eating.
Eat Enough Protein
Aside from choosing a diet that supports your fat loss goals, you need to consider your macronutrient ratio. Losing fat without losing muscle requires eating enough protein but not too much. You want to fall into a range of 0.8-1.3 grams of protein per pound for your current body weight. For those who are overweight or obese, you need to use your healthy goal weight.
Anything over this range could result in an overload of macronutrients. It doesn’t matter if you’re overeating fat, carbohydrates, or proteins, too much of any macronutrient results in it being stored as fat in the body.
But why is protein so important? First, protein boosts your basal metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories throughout the day. Second, it helps repair your muscles and supports muscle growth. Thirdly, protein promotes satiety, which keeps you from overeating.
If you want to lose fat while keeping muscle, then you need to remember that you can’t lose and gain at the same time. When you are cutting fat, you need to focus on maintaining the muscle that you presently have by lifting the same weight you have been lifting to build that muscle. Don’t fall prey to the myth that cutting weight and upping your rep range is going to signal your body to burn fat. What you are really doing is telling your body that it’s okay to burn that muscle since it’s not being used.
Therefore, your strength goals throughout your fat loss is to keep pushing around the same weight you could when starting this trek.
Reduce Frequency or Intensity
Calorie deficits are how you burn fat, but you are still reducing the available energy. This means that if you were in the gym 6 days a week, you won’t be able to do that now. If you keep the same volume, frequency, and intensity of your resistance training and cardio, your body won’t be able to recovery—and you will lose strength.
You know what that means. Reduce either frequency or the intensity of your workouts (see above point). Avoid excessive cardio. Maintain your current level of fitness but don’t push yourself to go beyond it during this time.
Don’t Shave Off Too Many Calories
Crash dieting will put your body into starvation mode, and it will want to metabolize your muscle, since muscle is easier to break down than fat. Additionally, restricting your calories too much means you won’t be getting the appropriate amount of vitamins and nutrients. You won’t be able to heal or recover from workouts. This is a disservice to your goals and your overall health.
Instead of slashing your calories by the thousands, start with moderate deficits of 200-500 calories. This is enough to keep your metabolism humming without putting your body into shock.
That’s it. These six points are what you need to apply if you want to burn fat while maintaining muscle. Create a calorie deficit, eat protein, cycle your calories, maintain your current level of fitness and muscle, and don’t overthink things. You’ll be amazed at the results.
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