How do I lose fat without losing muscles?

When you want to lose fat without muscle, you will surely compromise some muscle loss in the process. This is inevitable, and it happens to all of us. Muscles require nutrient replenishment all the time, and when we are restricting our consumption of calories, this can put a damper on protein synthesis. Lack of calories also impairs performance, and that means you may not take on those heavy lifts you need in order to increase your muscle mass.

Below is an extremely intriguing study of elite athletes who reduced their caloric intake

Let’s look at a study from the 8th international conference on strength training in Norway, that attempted to identify the ideal dose of energy restriction that would not compromise strength and power in athletes. The study featured elite athletes reduce their energy intake by either 500 or 1000 calories per day. The aim was for them to lose 5 percent of their body fat.

The final results showed that the athletes who restricted their energy by 500 calories, took 3 weeks longer to lose fat, than those who restricted intake by 1000. But the greater daily energy intake allowed the 500-calorie group to gain 2.1 percent muscle mass at the same time. On the other hand, our 1000 calorie group lost 5 percent body fat by week 5, and unfortunately at the loss of 0.5kg muscle.

When it came to strength training, both groups did heavy weight training sessions, as well as their regular athletic training. The group who reduced calories by 500 per day, had a much better body composition and performed better overall in their strength and power tests. The faster fat reduction group (1000 calorie reduction) only increased their squat 1RM by 8 percent and upper body performance by 5 percent. Those on a 500 caloric reduction on the other hand, improved their jump performance by 7%, 1RM squat by 12 percent and lifted an average of 11.4 percent more on upper body strength tests and power tests. The jump is huge when you compare side by side.

In summary, if you want to lose body fat without compromising your muscle mass, you must be aware of the following points.

  1. Heavy training in your program is a must when cutting calories, and still maintaining your lean muscle mass
  2. Reduction of body fat should be pivoting around the 0.7 percent per week. Anything less than this will lead to much poorer performance and can in fact subject you to muscle loss.
  3. In the absence of heavy training, do not try to burn calories with endurance exercise. It will lead to far more muscle loss.

It’s very important to attempt fat loss at a much slower rate and allow your body to keep a relatively high caloric intake, so as not to compromise too much muscle loss.

The above study was featured in: Garthe, Ina. Changes in Body Composition and Performance in Elite Athletes During a period with negative energy balance combined with strength training. Eighth International Conference on Strength Training. Norwegian school of sports sciences. October 2012.

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