The summer is round the corner, and it’s only natural that you want to look good in the sunshine. A lot of guys out there who only usually do resistance exercise like to start a bit of cardio training as the days get longer.
In my early days, the weights room was my second home. I would lift weights day in and day out, giving no consideration to cardio whatsoever. The main reason behind this, and I’m sure a lot of you out there will relate to this, is the fear of losing size, and this is why a lot of the “meatheads” won’t do much cardio.
Let’s face it, it takes a long time to build muscle and maintain it if you do it the natural way. And the mere thought of looking slightly smaller in your favorite T-shirt sends shivers down your spine.
And to a certain extent, these fears might be justified, because doing too much cardiovascular exercise will not only reduce fat, it can also reduce muscle mass. I’ve been there!
But then I educated myself and found ways I could maintain my gains, whilst blitzing my body fat. Here’s what I did…
Fat Loss and Weight Loss Are Two Different Things
“I want to lose weight” is a term often used, but if you think about it, it’s very ambiguous. Weight loss can refer to any number of things:
- water weight
The basic rule to losing weight is what is commonly referred to as a “calorie deficit”.
Calorie deficit means consuming fewer calories than the body burns during the course of your day. When there is a calorie deficit present, the body by default will look for an alternative source within your body for energy. In an ideal world, your body would suck up all your body fat, but it doesn’t work that way. Your body prefers to reach out to your muscle tissue instead. Are you getting the picture?
Your brain might want you to burn body fat and leave your muscle untouched, but your body has a mind of its own. It doesn’t give two hoots what you want! It only wants to survive and will do what is necessary under the circumstances. It will seek stored energy from around the body, and sometimes this can be a culmination of both muscle tissue and fat.
The long and short of it is you want to tell your body to keep all your muscles and incinerate body fat.
Here’s how I did it, and now I’m telling YOU how to do it, here goes:
Protein, Protein and More Protein!
In order for you to maintain your muscle mass, protein is fundamental. Protein is the most important dietary need for maintaining muscle. Protein comes before supplementation, timing of your meals, size of your calorie deficit, the types of foods you eat, and almost anything else you can possibly think of.
If you speak to most nutritionists, they’ll tell you it’s vital that you have a healthy protein intake daily to enable your body to maintain its muscle mass. Many trials have shown this to be accurate. Protein is so brilliant that even without regular training; you can maintain your muscle and shift body fat instead.
Make sure you are getting sufficient protein every day. By sufficient I mean 1 g per every lb. of your body weight. That’s exactly what the experts recommend.
Supplementation Isn’t A Bad Idea
Let’s get one thing straight, not all supplements are crap. I’m a big fan of supplements because they can help weight loss more than you think. Supplements are exactly what the word means, “supplement”. They are designed to be supplemented with exercise and diets.
I have a favorite fat burner that helps me get through the day without experiencing hunger cravings. Now, the mistake a lot of people make is they think some of these supplements work like “wonder-pills”, and all you have to do is pop them and do little else. It doesn’t work like that I’m afraid.
My fat burner is extremely effective in helping me with my calorie deficit diet and gym workouts because it gives me a bit of extra energy. If I sat on my ass all day watching TV and eating pizza, that same fat burner would be doing absolutely nothing for me. Catch my drift?
There are also supplements that help increase testosterone naturally. Testosterone boosters contain natural ingredients that work in conjunction with each other to encourage the body to start producing more testosterone. I regularly use a testosterone booster because I feel it encourages a bit of extra energy and power. Protein shakes are another great example. When you’re on the go, and you don’t have time to grill up a mean steak, a protein shake is a great substitute.
Whatever you do, don’t make a habit of relying on supplements too much because they only supplement the things you need, they don’t replace them.
Want to Burn Fat? Lift Weights!
The best way to maintaining your muscle is by consistently training it. It’s a long held belief that gradually getting stronger is the most natural way for your body to start building muscle. When people are on a fat burning diet rigorous exercise is what’s required to keep reminding your body to leave the muscles alone.
Now imagine if that signal goes haywire, and your body suddenly forgets that it’s not supposed to go near your muscle?
This fact alone puts to bed all those myths that it’s important to lift big-ass weights to get muscle mass, and then move onto lighter ones because they help you burn fat and "tone"! What a load of old Cobblers!
It basically works something like this: if you’re on a calorie deficit, and suddenly you’re lifting lighter weights, don’t you think your body will start thinking it doesn’t really need all this muscle mass? Well, that’s exactly what happens.
The best way to not lose muscle mass is to use the same weights you used in the bulking period.
Reduce the Number of Times You Weight Train
When you are on a calorie deficit, this means you are lacking in energy, and in terms of losing body fat, this is the perfect environment. But in real life terms, this affects a lot of training related things such as performance, strength, and recovery.
The way you used to work out when you were in calorie surplus was perfect for building strength and muscle. But with a calorie deficit, you’re probably three quarters of the man you once were. It takes too long to recover, and you can’t lift the weights you use to lift. Do you know what this ultimately leads to? Yes, you’ve guessed it, strength loss and muscle loss.
So this leaves us in a tricky situation because to maintain muscle mass, strength is important. So if you’re working out in a way that’s not allowing your body to recover fully, you will end up losing strength.
It took me many years to get my head around this fact. I mean, working out without a calorie deficit was perfect, I was smokin' those weights! But when my calorie deficit kicked in, those same workouts became more difficult because I was feeling weaker, and I was doing less reps, I had to drop the weight, and this pretty much describes most people’s “cutting phase”. You end up having lost way more muscle than you wanted.
You basically need to dovetail your training regime with your slower recovery. This means training less frequently in terms of reps and sets, as well as the number of times you work out in a week, while trying to maintain strength.
For example if you used to squat 100 lbs. for 4 sets and 10 reps in the bulking phase, now you should still squat 100 lbs. but for just 3 sets and 6 reps. This will help you maintain muscle mass, while the calorie deficit and cardio training will lead to fat burn.
Don’t Go Crazy With Calorie Reduction!
In dietary terms, a calorie deficit can be categorized as the following:
This is all relative to how far below your maintenance level you can go. All 3 calorie deficit categories have their share of positives and negatives, but from my experience a 20% deficit below your maintenance level is probably ideal for most people.
If you go for the larger deficits, thinking you’ll lose weight faster, other than torturing yourself, this will kill your training regimen, not to mention recovery.
By cutting down your calorie intake too much and too fast will mean a higher chance of losing your muscle mass and strength.
When you eat more calories on certain days, and less on other days is referred to as calorie cycling. This is normally done by masquerading carbs and fat as protein, which our bodies need for maintaining muscle.
Without a calorie cycling routine, you are likely to have the same number of calories and nutrients day in and day out, whilst maintaining the same calorie deficit throughout.
By cycling your calories, some days you will be on a larger deficit than others and on other days you would have a very small deficit. But by the end of the week, your total calorie consumption will be the same.
It sounds nonsensical, but the thinking behind calorie cycling is to help improve different phases such as the recovery, providing more of the right calories on training days, and less on non-training days for instance. Ultimately calorie cycling will help to maintain muscle and strength levels whilst supporting fat loss.
So there you have it guys, my top tips on how I learnt how to lose fat without losing muscle and succeeded. Good Luck!