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The 4 Most Effective Ways To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

Published: 13th May 2018. Last updated: 21th July 2019.

Luna Smithton

Editor & Fact Checker


Introduction

One of the biggest questions anyone looking to score their best body might have is how to lose fat without losing muscle.

Even though it sounds like the mission of a lifetime – it is possible if you know what you're doing, and you do it consistently.

Several things play an important role in being able to burn fat without losing muscle – some of which may come as a surprise to you.

Read on to find out the most effective ways to lose fat without losing muscle.

Why It’s Important to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

When people think of losing weight, they immediately associate it with fat loss.

But it’s not the same thing. When you lose weight, that weight comes from many sources — fat, water, and, of course, muscle.

Why would anyone want to lose fat without losing muscle? Well, that’s an easy one. Muscle – a metabolically active tissue – is what makes our bodies look toned. It shapes the body – and you can’t really build a more toned, perkier body without building muscle. So, muscle is the stuff you want to keep – or gain – when you’re trying to get fit.

Navigating how to lose fat while trying to sustain your muscle isn’t easy – but it is doable. The most important thing to bear in mind is that your scale will not be the best way to measure your progress – your mirror will! In fact, the first thing you should do when you decide to "lose weight" is to ditch the scale. If your goal is to shed fat rather than just any "weight" – numbers on the scale are irrelevant.

If you rely on the scale to tell you how much progress you’ve made, it could be very disappointing – even though you’re shedding fat and building muscle.

What losing fat without losing muscle comes down to is two main things – nutrition and fitness.

So, here’s how to lose fat without losing muscle.

1. Reduce Your Calorie Intake Marginally

One of the most effective ways to lose fat without losing muscle is also the simplest. The key is to aim for slow and steady weight loss – rather than quick, astonishing results. It’s a well-planned, steady approach that’ll lead to weight loss – but without shocking your body.  

When you’re cutting calories, you will naturally lose muscle mass too – especially if you are on a low-calorie diet. When aiming to lose fat without losing too much muscle, it’s all about reducing your calorie intake slightly — for example, reducing your caloric intake by about 300-400 calories instead of going for a diet that requires you to very suddenly half the amount of calories you consume daily.

The number of calories you'll need to reduce your caloric intake by will vary – but you should aim for about 25% of what you consume daily now. You won’t lose as much muscle mass because you will be losing weight slowly.

Studies also show that losing less weight gradually, over a longer period of time, results in reduced muscle mass loss. In one study conducted in Oslo, Norway, athletes were separated into two groups. [1]

One group lost 1.4% of their body weight per week while the other group only lost 0.7%. While over time both groups lost the same amount of weight, the slow-weight loss group lost 11 pounds of fat and gained 2 pounds of lean mass, while the other group lost 7 pounds of fat and 0.66 pounds of lean mass. The study concluded that those who want to lose more fat without losing mass should be aiming for bodyweight loss of 0.7% per week.

2. What You Eat Matters

Eating the right foods is very important in helping you lose fat without losing muscle – especially if you're cutting your calorie intake.

Foods that are high in protein are very beneficial when aiming to gain muscle, so when you’re reducing your calories to help you burn more fat, none of those calories should come from protein.

Protein is the nutritional stimulus for building and maintaining muscle – and is the least likely nutrient to be stored as fat (even when eaten in excess). So, make sure you load up your plate with plenty of protein daily, including the following:

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Chicken breast
  • Tuna
  • Shrimp
  • Lean beef
  • Cottage cheese
  • Soybeans
  • Turkey breast
  • Beans
  • Edamame

What you eat when you’re trying to lose fat and not muscle is incredibly important – and it can be the make-or-break factor in helping you succeed.

3. Strength Training For Fat Loss

Another effective way to maximize your fat loss without losing muscle is strength training.

What strength training does is build muscle. As you may already know, muscle generally has a higher metabolic rate than fat, which means that having more muscle raises your energy expenditure a little compared to when you have more body fat. And if you don't give your body the calories, it needs to create energy (i.e., your body is in a calorie deficit), that means – YES – burning more fat!

Weight training is very important in helping you maintain muscle mass when trying to lose weight.

And that’s where protein is so important again. When building muscle through resistance training, increasing your protein intake is beneficial because it promotes muscular benefits. [2]

So, eating plenty of protein (even though you’re cutting your calorie intake) is the key to losing fat over muscle, and helping you gain muscle through resistance training.

4. Getting Enough Sleep is Important

Are you aware that sleep can directly affect your fat loss results? A study published in Science Daily showed that when the participants got a full night’s sleep, their ability to lose weight wasn’t impacted – and more than half of the weight they lost was fat. [3]

However, when they cut back on sleep – the amount of fat they lost decreased to only about one-fourth! Additionally, they felt hungrier – because their bodies produced higher levels of a hormone that triggers hunger and reduces energy expenditure.

So, if you're aiming to lose more fat and less muscle, having a good night's sleep is essential. In the study, participants slept an average of 7 hours and 25 minutes each night – and that helped them burn more fat. While the perfect amount of shuteye is different for each person, most healthy adults (aged 18-64) need at least 7 to 9 hours a night. [4]

Combine These Approaches For Optimum Results

Even though these approaches can deliver promising results on their own, our recommendation is to combine them for optimum results.

If you’re aiming to shed fat without losing muscle, you need to make sure your body is in a caloric deficit so that you can burn fat, fuel your fat-loss your diet with the right foods, as well as find a balanced workout routine that allows you to shed fat while toning and building muscle. Finally, make sure you get quality sleep every night to maximize fat burn.

As before, resistance or strength training – the really tough kind of exercise – is what you should mainly be focusing on to shed fat without losing muscle. It helps shape your physique and melt fat.

While including some cardio in your training is important when trying to lose fat and shape up, you need to find a balance that works for your body.

Conclusion

When you lose weight, it isn't just fat you're shedding – it's also the lean muscle you probably don't want to lose. Therefore it is important to make sure the way you decide to lose weight allows you to burn as much fat as you can without losing muscle.

Luckily, there are ways to achieve this – and that includes things like reducing your calorie intake only slightly rather than going on a low-calorie diet immediately, as well as exercising to build muscle at the same time.

Strength training is the ideal way to build muscle and burn fat – but you do have to be consuming fewer calories than you should. It helps maintain muscle – and boosts your resting metabolic rate.

By combining elements of fitness and nutrition, you can definitely achieve fat loss without losing muscle mass.

Because each body is different, your starting point would be to consult a fitness trainer. They’re specialists in the field – and they can find a balanced plan that works for your physique and goals.

What works for your body may not work for someone else’s body – so finding a nutrition plan and a balanced fitness plan that does the job for you is important.

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