How to lose fat without losing muscles: the only guide you need

 

 

I can understand your puzzle…

You want to know how to lose fat without losing muscles as you have worked very hard to gain them over the last few months and you don’t want to lose them.

So, you have every right to wonder how to lower body fat percentage while preserving your muscle mass as it seems more like a complex math problem: you are wondering how to subtract one but the answer should be the same?

But you are not alone as losing your weight without losing your muscles has been been a tough job for many fitness enthusiasts too who are looking to lose their body fat fast.

So, If you really want to know how you can lose fat without losing your precious muscles then missing this post is not an option for you.

Steps to lose fat without losing muscle

Before you even think about losing fat without muscle you need to understand what is the difference between weight loss and fat loss? And even before that, you need to understand the difference between fat and muscle.

For instance,

Whenever you lose fat, you almost always lose weight. But whenever you lose weight, that does not mean you have lost your fat. Moreover, losing weight does not necessarily require creating a calorie deficit while losing fat does require necessarily a calorie deficit. 

So, the very first step towards losing that body fat without muscles is first to understand the fundamental difference between fat vs muscle. Without understanding the difference between the two, you will make the wrong choices and wrong decisions that will not help you in succeeding in your fitness goals.

First thing first: Understand your misleading weight

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If you are following your weight scale for your fat loss and fitness improvement, then keep it in mind that it is bound to disappoint you because of the following reasons.

1. Your weight scale measures everything in your body as a weight

Your body composition depending on your fitness level, your total body weight consists of the following components

  • Muscle: 30-55% of body weight
  • Fat: 10-30% of body weight
  • water: 10-25% of body weight
  • Bone: 15% of body weight
  • Organs and other tissues: 10-15% of body weight

The digit of weight you see on your weight scale is a deceptive number i.e it does not measure your body weight only rather it adds many other things of your body to add to your weight tally. 

2. Your weight does not account for muscular changes in your body.

Your weight scale does not express the changes which are occurring in your body like increasing body fat levels or increasing muscle mass levels. For instance, the muscle mass you have built by doing strength training and heavy lifting does not show up in your weight scale.

Also, the fat you have lost simultaneously does not represent in your weight digit while you are getting leaner and slimmer during fat loss.

3. Your weight doesn’t reflect your fat loss/weight levels and health

Since your weight scale can’t differentiate between your muscle mass and body fat, so your weight might not be an appropriate indicator of your bodily health and fitness levels. Similarly, it will not be able to tell if a person is unhealthy as he might have high levels of body fat but a low level of weight overall.

 In short, the scale can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle. That means a person can have a low body weight but still have high unhealthy levels of body fat.

4. Your weight can be a source of demotivation.

Since your weight scale can’t express your actual health statuses like less body fat or more muscles,  you might get disappointed by finding out that weight scale is not up ticking.

It could make you question your training, diet, even your commitment and overshadow the positive results you’re getting such as fat loss, more endurance, and higher energy levels.

5. Your weight number is not a reliable number even for a day

It varies through the twenty-four hours. Why? Because it counts everything in your body as weight which can vary its needle. For example, depending upon what are you eating and how many times you are eating, it can change its weight scale.

It can also change given the amount of water your body has which normally varies throughout the day e.g when you go to the bathroom, it could be different then you come out of it.

However, the weight scale is not entirely useless, it can benefit in some ways as well. 

Regularly weighing yourself can give you body weight changes

For people who have lost weight, studies have shown that regularly weighing themselves helps them maintain that weight loss. It’s very common for weight to slowly build up and your scale can reflect this.

Now when you have understood what does your weight actually means on the scale, now it’s time to understand the difference between fat loss and weight loss which is the second important step for achieving your goal of losing fat without muscle.

Step 2: Understanding the difference between weight loss vs fat loss

best exercises to get slim and smart

To estimate your fitness progress correctly, you need to fully understand what are the exact differences between fat loss and weight loss.

Diff 1. Chemistry of fat loss and weight loss is different

When you lose fat, you make permanent body composition changes in your body i.e your body loses fat but gains (or not, but no loses) muscle. On the other hand, when you lose weight, it could be just lost of water or a hormonal change effect on your body or even loss of muscles sometimes.

 

Diff 2. Fat loss and weight loss are different in size

A pound of muscle is very compact and consumes less space as compared to a pound of fat( a pound of fat is bigger but less dense). Also, the weight loss can be due to loss of water, whose weight is itself different than fat.

 

Diff 3: Muscle weight vs fat weight

You may have heard this before: Muscle weighs more than fat. More precisely, one pound of muscle is four times smaller than one pound of fat because the muscle is denser than fat, it weighs more than fat. Here is an example to illustrate this point.

Suppose, Person A and Person B have the same belly circumference.

Person A’s body fat is 20% fat while Person B is 30% fat. Apparently both will look similar in size but their weight will differ because Person A likely has more muscle. Similarly, a lean person with more muscle might weigh more than somebody who is thin but not so lean.

That’s why you when you lose inches on the scale but not weight, it is because of the melting of fat stored in your belly while, on the other hand,  when you lose weight it could possibly be either loss in water content or other bodyweight changes happening in your body.

 

Diff 4. Fat loss is visible but weight loss might not be.

When you lose fat, it is clearly visible in your body in the form of a reduced waistline, reduced-fat on hips, thighs, belly, etc. and more lose/bigger clothes. But when you lose weight, it does not show up on your body. It is only adequately visible on the weight scale.

 

Diff 5. Fat loss is a sign of good fitness and health while weight loss may not be.

As explained above, losing fat means you are on the right track of fitness but when you lose weight, it does not necessarily mean something good may be happening in your body i.e your body might be suffering from a fresh physiological problem that needs attention.

 

Diff 6. Fat loss can be due to healthy aging but weight loss might not be.

Since the loss of fat is a sign of good fitness and overall health, it means you will lose fat and build muscle. And an increase in muscle mass has been associated with healthy and prolonged aging.

On the other hand, sudden loss of weight is usually indicative of serious health concerns needing your immediate attention.

Additionally, the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be, which slightly increases caloric expenditure throughout the day and that means further fat loss.

 

Diff 7. Fat loss requires proper training & dieting as compared to weight loss.

You lose fat only when you put extra effort in the gym and in the kitchen too. While weight loss can occur without all sorts of these efforts. For example, when you get sick, your weight scale automatically goes down but you haven’t lost fat necessarily.

 

Diff 8. Fat loss requires weight loss but weight loss does not require fat loss.

This fact can be understood as the following breakdown of our body composition. Depending on your fitness level, your total body weight consists of:

  • Muscle: 30-55% of body weight
  • Fat: 10-30% of body weight
  • Water*: 10-25%
  • Bone: 15% of body weight
  • Organs and other tissues: 10-15%

Since your body weight includes the weight of bones, water, and other organ’s weight and your fat content in your fat muscles, so when weight loss happens, it could be loss of any of the following above mentioned things.

While on the other hand, when you lose fat, you only lose fat, not anything like water content of your body or loss of the weight of your organs. Hence, fat loss can happen with weight loss but weight loss may not imply fat loss. 

 

Diff 8. Fat loss and weight loss need different instruments to measure them.

Fat loss is only measured by a specially built purpose fat calculator either in your home or gym or even your doctor but weight loss can simply be measured at your home weight scale without much struggle.

 

The Bottom line
Instead of just tracking how much weight you have lost, you should also track fat loss and muscle gain, because this gives you a better indication of how your body is changing.

How to make better fat loss judgments?

Just because you aren’t losing weight in your hips doesn’t mean you’re not losing weight somewhere. It may just be from a place you don’t much care about and to find out that place you need to adopt other means of measuring your fitness success which are:

 

1. Look out for your clothes fitness

Clothes don’t lie. This is very simple: pick up one of the pairs of your tight pants and keep checking it by wearing it weekly. If you feel they are loose, you are losing your fat and if tight, you need to make some changes to your diet or training.

2. Make regular measurements of your body

Keep measuring your body at different intervals of the month which will more accurately tell you if you are losing fat or not more aesthetically. Here are the principal measurements that you could use to track your progress.

  • Bust: Measure all the way around your bust and back on the line of your nipples
  • Waist: Measure its narrowest point, usually just above the navel
  • Hips: Measure all the way around the widest part of the hip bones and glutes
  • Upper arm: Measure above your elbows, around the fullest part
  • Thighs: While standing, measure around the fullest part of thighs
  • Calves: While sitting, measure around the fullest part

Also, if a measurement tells you are on the right track, it can be a source of motivation for next week to put more effort and energy in the way you have put the previous week.

3. Use a body fat-measuring scale instead of weight

Use a body fat measurement scale that measures body fat through bioelectrical impedance. These are often easily available at your local fitness club or if possible, buy one for your permanent satisfaction and ease. 

Or if that is not possible, you can use an online calculator. These are in fact rough estimates but if you are regularly visiting them online, these can give you accurate assessments given that you save the records of measurement.

4. Use fitness improvement standards for real performance goals. 

A fat loss measuring instrument is not always the best way to keep yourself on the right fitness track and you need to change your mindset.

For instance, Instead of worrying about weight loss or fat loss, focus on how many more pushups you can add to your previous tally or how much your stamina has improved for exercise.

These are clearly visible and valid achievement assessments that can give you an instant idea of where your fitness is headed.

How to lose body fat fast?: Best dieting & workout tips 

The following are some of the best tips to lose that body fat fast and easy. Read them and try to implement them as religiously as possible.

 

Step 1: Create a calorie deficit

Creating a calorie deficit is the most basic yet most fundamental part of losing fat process because during calorie deficit your body utilizes your fat stores for energy, that’s how fat is burned.

Now, there are two ways to create a caloric deficit.

  1.  You can either eat fewer calories than you need daily  
  2.  you can eat the same amount of calories and increase your activity level to burn more calories.

 Since we’re looking for fat loss without muscle loss, that activity should focus primarily on strength training, not cardio training which should be minimal.

Warning: Don’t starve yourself for creating a calorie deficit !
 
Creating a calorie deficit should not lead you to starve yourself and lose muscle because body in extreme calorie deficit can trigger your body to eat your muscles to compensate for energy loss from cutting calories.

To mark yourself safe, make sure your diet should have a sufficient amount of healthy proteins and you perform muscle-building strength training.

Please Also,  note that these numbers are not set in stone but an average estimate of a men/woman having the same bodyweight, fitness level, metabolic rate levels, etc.

Since these factors differ in each woman and man, not every man or woman is consuming the same type of diet. So every individual has its own math regarding how much calorie deficit they need to create.

Step 2: increase your protein intake

Increasing your protein intake is the single most important element which can save you from losing your hard-earned lean mass of muscles due to a starvation mode triggered by a calorie deficit. 

During a calorie deficit, 9 out of 10 calories should come from protein to protect your muscles from breaking down.

Protein has other benefits too like acting as a satiating agent i.e suppressing your appetite and keeping you fuller for longer times. It is also the least likely to be stored as fat even if you eat in out of limits.

Research evidence:

Study 1: According to one study where participants were cutting calories and exercising, those who took a high protein diet lost double the amount of fat and gained double the amount of muscle as compared to participants who consumed a low protein diet.

Study 2: According to another study, increased protein intake can help you burn more calories in an effect known as the thermic effect of food through the process of digestion, absorption, assimilation, and distribution of food nutrients.

How much to increase your protein?

How much protein you need per day depends on different factors, but a 2018 review found that, for optimal muscle growth, you should consume between 0.4 to 0.55 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight at every meal.

This would translate into about 30-40 grams of proteins for about 4 times a day which is best for muscle growth and preservation.

Step 3: Do muscle-building strength training

Your training should be focused on building muscle, fat burning and not just calories. And for that try to focus on compound movements, such as squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows instead of doing lightweight exercise is a sure recipe for muscle gain. Why?

Because these compound exercises allow your muscles to be stimulated to grow as they are stretched. Keep increasing your weight lifting levels and also keep increasing your reps too for maximum results. Now you will like to question the effectiveness of cardio.

Here is the truth about cardio.

Cardiovascular exercise works on your aerobic muscle fibers, which will increase oxygen extraction, but not much change in muscle mass. Hence, you can still lose muscle mass if you are banking on cardio to lose fat and gain muscle. Better yet, at least don’t lose them.

However, while strength training is most important for building muscle while in a caloric surplus, myriad studies show that resistance training is effective at attenuating declines in muscle mass when in a caloric deficit.

In fact, unlike aerobic exercise, heavily-loaded strength training—primarily recruits type 2 muscle fibers, which are known for muscle mass preservation and gains.

Finally, strength training also stimulates the short-term production of human growth hormone and testosterone that are proven for muscle preservation, repair, and building.

Step 4. Choose strength training over Cardio to burn fat fast

Going for cardio in a calorie deficit is one of the common mistakes people make while trying to lose fat while preserving muscles.

However, this excess amount of cardio can start burning calories too which can further widen the already large calorie deficit. This is where the muscle can be eaten by our bodies in response to starvation mode activated by our extreme choices.

Instead, the better choice for you to burn fat is using resistance training (like weight lifting and other heavy exercises, etc) which is capable of burning calories both during the exercise and after the exercise through post-exercise oxygen consumption.

Moreover, it involves type 2 muscle fibers over type 1 which help it protects against crucial muscle loss. However, resistance training can also help you to build muscle. 

Research evidence

Study no. 1

A study published in the of Science and Medicine in Sport found that, over the duration of a four-week training program, participants who exercised at a 1:1 ratio gained a lot more muscle than those performing 2:1 intervals.

Study no. 2

Another study established the importance of strength training over cardio as it found that it can successfully help us lose fat while we still are in a calorie deficit. The study divided participants into two groups but both were put on the same calorie deficit.

While one group was told to do only aerobic exercise like jogging, biking, brisk walking for four weeks, the other group was told to do resistance training only three times a week.

The Result: After 12 weeks, both groups obviously lost weight. 

However, the aerobic group lost 40 pounds of total weight while losing up to 10 pounds of lean muscle mass. The resistance training group, on the other hand,  lost about 32 pounds and almost all were fat, not a single pound was muscle.

Moreover, the resistance training group got their metabolic rate increased while the aerobic group metabolic rate decreased sharply

 

Bottom line: Choose resistance training over cardio to burn fat fast.
 
To be successfully able to lose weight without losing your precious muscle mass while on a calorie deficit, you have to incorporate and prioritize strength training over cardio

Step 5: Rethink your pre-workout and post-workout nutrition.

While strength training is fundamentally important but without all the supporting parts of a perfect weight loss & muscle building regime, you can’t make a lot of progress.

Pre-workout and post-workout nutrition is one of those crucial components of a successful fitness checklist which you need to always tick.

1. Regular protein intake is more important than pre/post

The widely believed anabolic window of protein to make a maximum effect on building muscle is no longer just for half an hour rather research has proven that total protein intake in the whole day is crucial.

Moreover, this anabolic window is much larger i.e lasting for more than 2 hours. So bounding yourself to take protein right after a workout is not true and necessary.

2. Preworkout protein can equally be effective as pre-workout carbs for building muscle.

Generally, we believe that pre-workout protein is not useful as compared to pre-workout carbs for muscle building goals.

While taking pre-workout carbs have proven to be energizing for our workouts and performance. However, new research has proven that even pre-workout protein is equally beneficial too, and even more than pre-workout carbs in some cases.

Research evidence

According to one study, taking about 20 grams of protein with few grams of carbs or fats, about half an hour before a heavy resistance training was found to enhance energy expenditure for as long as the next 24 hours or so after doing workout as compared to taking an equal amount of pre-workout carbs with protein and fat.

Step 6: Never ignore post-workout recovery

Adequate recovery after your intensive post-workout recovery is very critical for your muscle gains and weight loss efforts. Particularly, the best type of post-workout recovery is “sleep”.

In fact, the amount of sleep you get after your strength training is very important for losing fat without losing muscle efforts, mainly due to the amazing effects of sleep on healthy hormone levels of a hormone called ‘cortisol’ which has negative consequences for your overall health and fitness functions.

On one hand, this inflammatory hormone promotes hunger by releasing a hunger hormone called ‘ghrelin’ which directly leads to more food cravings which mess up your calorie deficit efforts for fat loss.

Moreover, all of the human growth hormones are stimulated mostly at night sleep which directly concerns your muscle repair and synthesis at night.

So getting an adequate amount of sleep is critical not only for your fitness health but your overall physical health too.

Research evidence:

According to a study, participants given the same amount of diet intake, who slept for less than 6 hours and those who slept for up to 8 hours have marked difference in their rate of fat loss i.e the 8-hour sleeping group has almost 60% more burning of fat than the 6-hour sleeping group.

According to another research in Diabetologia, sleep deprivation of almost 4 days reduced the body’s insulin levels which, in turn, reduced the levels of growth hormones in the body leading to more fat storage. 

The bottom line: Getting an adequate amount of sleep is not only important for your fat loss and fitness but for overall body health too.

FAQs

Q: How do I burn fat without losing muscle?

Ans: To burn fat without losing muscles, you have to implement this step.

  1. Firstly, understand your misleading weight
  2. Understand the difference between weight loss and fat loss.
  3. Create a calorie deficit to lose fat 
  4. Cut out all kinds of bad carbs
  5. Eat a lot of healthy proteins 
  6. Eat a lot of fiber-rich foods
  7. Choose resistance training for fat loss and muscle building at the same time.
  8. Always prefer HIIT over cardio
  9. Manage your stress and depression
  10. Get adequate sleep for good post workout recovery results.
  11. Take pre-workout and post workout protein nutrition.

Q: Can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?

Ans:  Yes, you can burn fat lose muscles at the same time by implementing these steps 

  1. Firstly, understand your misleading weight
  2. Understand the difference between weight loss and fat loss.
  3. Create a calorie deficit to lose fat 
  4. Cut out all kinds of bad carbs
  5. Eat a lot of healthy proteins 
  6. Eat a lot of fiber-rich foods
  7. Choose resistance training for fat loss and muscle building at the same time.
  8. Always prefer HIIT over cardio
  9. Manage your stress and depression
  10. Get adequate sleep for good post workout recovery results.
  11. Take pre-workout and post workout protein nutrition.

Q: How much protein do I need to maintain muscle and lose weight?

Ans: About 4-6 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight. This translates into about 250-300 gm total in a day for muscle preservation while losing weight

During a calorie deficit, 9 out of 10 calories should come from protein to protect your muscles from breaking down.

Protein has other benefits too like suppressing your appetite and keeps you fuller for longer times. It is also the least likely to be stored as fat even if you eat in out of limits.

How much to increase your protein?

How much protein you need per day depends on different factors, but a 2018 review found that, for optimal muscle growth, you should consume between 0.4 to 0.55 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight at every meal.

 

Q: Can you lose fat and maintain muscle?

Ans:  yes, you can burn fat and still maintain muscles by following these steps

  1. Firstly, understand your misleading weight
  2. Understand the difference between weight loss and fat loss.
  3. Create a calorie deficit to lose fat 
  4. Cut out all kinds of bad carbs
  5. Eat a lot of healthy proteins 
  6. Eat a lot of fiber-rich foods
  7. Choose resistance training for fat loss and muscle building at the same time.
  8. Always prefer HIIT over cardio
  9. Manage your stress and depression
  10. Get adequate sleep for good post workout recovery results.
  11. Take pre-workout and post workout protein nutrition.

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