It can be difficult to navigate how to lose fat while trying to sustain or even gain muscle. Fat loss and weight loss are two different things so you want to approach one differently than the other. Don’t rely on a scale to measure your progress.
Trying to lose fat without losing muscle – or, better yet, gaining it – is like a physiological maths problem. How can you subtract one, but sustain the other?
Shedding anything off your body is no easy feat, but in order to grasp the concept of losing fat without losing muscle, you first need to realise that losing weight and losing fat are two very different goals. Making the distinction between the two will ultimately influence how you approach your fitness plan moving forward.
Matt Veigl, an instructor at EverybodyFights, said that because muscle is denser and metabolically more expensive than fat, when you lose weight, pounds can drop from three main sources: fat, water, and, you guessed it, muscle.
“When you lose weight it can be from many sources (fat, muscle, water) and the scale will react accordingly,” Veigl told INSIDER. “However, what most folks actually want is FAT loss and keeping muscle tone, and even increasing muscle tone, will be the MOST effective method to make this happen.”
There are a few key ways to go about losing fat without sacrificing muscle, but first things first: ditch the scale
Contrary to popular belief, numbers on a scale are often irrelevant, especially when it comes to fat loss. When you’re shedding fat, but sustaining or gaining muscle, NY-based Bi-Coastal fit model trainer, Charlotte Reardon told INSIDER you could put on weight, or stay the same. In that case, relying on numbers can become an unhealthy obsession, and lead you to make inaccurate conclusions about your progress.
Once numbers are taken out of the equation, you should be focusing on two things: fitness and nutrition
When you think of the most effective way to lose weight, what kind of physical activity comes to mind? If you thought cardio, you’re not alone. Cardio is definitely a component when it comes to losing fat, too, but Veigl told INSIDER that if you’re trying to lose fat without losing muscle, doing too much cardio is counterproductive.
“When your body is adapting to high volumes of cardio it will sacrifice calorically expensive muscle to both keep weight and caloric expenditure down and try to keep fat on due to its high metabolic capacity. Basically doing only high volumes of cardio will make your body sacrifice muscle in favour of fat,” Veigl explained.
But even though cardio shouldn’t be your only source of physical activity, it’s still an important tool to use when trying to shed fat. The key is to find a happy medium that works for your body. Similar to how you’d approach good nutrition, a solid workout plan is built on balance.
“Have a balanced workout plan including weights and some cardio that is either very high or very low in intensity,” such as “running sprints, pushing a sled, boxing, jumping rope, or going on long, slow walks,” Veigl said. “Do resistance training two-three times per week using total body exercises that are technically sound and safe for you to perform.”
Though exercise is what’s going to sustain, tone, and help you gain muscle, a major component to fat loss is diet
Putting in the physical work will help shape your physique and, yes, melt fat, but nutrition is just as, if not more, important in shedding that excess. But before you can accurately come up with a food plan, you need to either consult a trainer or physician to figure out how many calories you should be consuming throughout your training.
In his experience, Keto expert Drew Manning said one of the most common mistakes he sees people making when trying to lose fat, is that they stay in a caloric deficit ( the number of calories necessary to maintain your current weight ) for too long.
“[Staying in a calorie deficit for long periods of time ] slows down the metabolism, and makes it harder and harder to lose fat,” the personal trainer and NYT best-selling author told INSIDER. “Undereating and not doing any type of resistance training are usually the major causes of this.”
Eating enough food is important, but you want to make sure you’re eating enough of the right foods
“Not only is the amount of calories important, but the quality of your calories is important,” Viegl said. “A balanced meal of lean animal protein, veggies, and quality, unprocessed carbs are worlds apart from the same calorie number in pizza and nachos.”
And while all major food groups should be represented in your meals, certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), Greg Pignataro told INSIDER to make sure you’re getting enough protein.
“When your body receives the signal (through strength training) to hold onto or build new muscle, it needs something from which to build and repair muscle tissue,” the personal trainer with Grindset fitness explained. “Since muscle tissue is essentially long chains of proteins, the protein you eat is that building block.”
So how much protein should you be eating per meal, per day? The number will vary depending on key details like your body’s needs and your fitness goals. Pignataro estimated that, when trying to lose weight but sustain muscle, the average person should be eating roughly 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
“While that may seem like a ton, an intake at this level has an added benefit,” Pignataro said. “Protein digests more slowly than any other macro-nutrient, which helps keep you feeling full and satisfied longer. This leads to eating less overall, which again, makes it easier to lose fat.”
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