How To Keep Your Muscle Mass While Losing Fat

Most of you probably know that NattyOrNot.com does not believe in gaining muscle mass while losing fat for the most part. There are some peculiar cases when it occurs, but it’s extremely hard to do naturally for prolonged periods of time. That’s why we recommend to people to either eat at maintenance {or above} or focus on losing weight solely. One of the most frequent problems lifters occur when they’re on a diet is preserving muscle while losing fat. Thankfully, the theory behind the process is quite simple.

We are all fatter than we think

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A long long time ago when I was probably about 17 years old there was a fat percentage measuring booth at one of the local malls in my town. I was about 6′ tall and probably 150 lbs. I was new to all that muscle stuff and was just doing some research on how to get swollen and ripped. That’s why I decided to test my body fat thinking that it would be extremely low because I have always been really skinny. I measured at 17% BF. Damn. I was shocked but I didn’t really care, at least that time.


To this day, I have never met a natural guy who hasn’t at some point underestimated his body fat percentage at least once. A good example are Rippetoe‘s followers who get to some insane bodyweight levels in the quest to rival powerlifting legends on steroids. It’s not uncommon to be called skinny on Rip’s forum, if you weight less than 200-220 lbs. Most of those guys don’t realize that in order for a natural to be 220 lbs and lean, he must be over 6’3″ tall.

The real pain sets in when you start losing fat. I would say that the process is super painful. Seeing all your ‘mass’ evaporate could break your heart. It’s even more difficult to accept, if you have a history of perma-bulking (bulking without a planned end). It’s not uncommon for somebody who is supposedly 220 lbs @ 10-15% lbs to become 160 lbs in order to get to 5% BF. Quite often that person was not really 10% BF but more like 28% BF.

Even if it appears that you’re losing muscle and your measurements are getting smaller and smaller, the problem may be that you are fatter than you thought and you have a lot less muscle mass than estimated. You also have to take into account the lost water and glycogen.

Related articles: Eating Six Meals A Day To Get Ripped: SCAM or not?

Why do we lose muscle mass when we lose fat?

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When the body is losing fat it’s essentially transforming or more precisely decomposing. Every organ is affected by the loss of weight – fat or not. The hormonal profile of the individual also changes. It would be extremely naive to believe that your muscle mass will not be affected during the process of losing fat.

When the body is put in a state of deprivation a.k.a. caloric deficit it needs to burn stored energy in order to survive. The body is obviously quite smart and pre-programmed for survival. That’s why when you are on a diet you will lose primarily fat in the initial stages. When your fat stores, however, get smaller it becomes hard to only lose fat. That’s why people do all kind magic stuff to get below 10% BF.

If you are fired or your salary is reduced, the first thing that you are going to do is spent your saved money for basic needs. However, if you don’t find a new source of income you will eventually be selling your belongings in order to survive. The same principles holds true when you’re on a diet – you first burn fat, but once you get out of fat the knife starts cutting muscle.

The whole process is heavily dependent on nutrition and training. Those are the two main factors that naturals get to play with in their quest for less fat and more muscle mass.

Training when dieting

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When you’re on a diet you have less energy and it makes sense to reduce the volume of your workouts to preserve your strength. If you are on a low calorie diet, doing crazy high volume programs is not sustainable for a very long time. It’s harder to recover and get stronger. As a result you’re risking regression presented in the form of muscle mass and strength decrease.

However, since our goal is to keep all the muscle mass we have, the intensity of your training must be maintained. This means that you need to keep on lifting heavy in order to keep your strength up.

Let’s say that when you weren’t on a diet you were doing something like squats for 3 x 8 two times a week or something. If you are on a easy ‘small diet’, you may be able to maintain the same volume, but if the caloric restriction you’re following is catching up to you, you can reduce your working sets to 1 x 8 after a warm-up. You must used the same weight that you used before. That way you’re maintaining your strength, while keeping on losing fat. If you are able to keep your strength, it’s obvious that there could not possibly be any noticeable muscle loss. Nobody gets stronger, especially in the barbell lifts, while losing significant amounts of muscle mass.

You may also have to reduce all supplementary exercises. For example, if you are doing leg extensions as one of your many leg lifts, you can remove the exercise during your diet. The whole point is to keep the essential and remove all of the fancy stuff. If we go back to the money analogy, this would mean that you have to stop buying all kinds of cheap toys and other junk while you’re still unemployed. Save the cash for your main needs.

Eating when dieting

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image via: pixabay.com;

No matter what kind of diet you’re on, make sure to take about 1 gram of protein per lbs. This means that if you weight 180 lbs, you need about 180 grams of protein every day. When you’re on a diet your protein needs go higher because the overall calories are really low. When you are not dieting you can take less protein because the rest of the macro nutrients you’re taking are protein sparring. However, when you’re on a diet your calories go down and the body is more willing to use protein as a source of energy. That’s why you need more of it than usual.

A classic way to ‘cut’ would be the low carb diet. This means that the primary source of energy for you will be fat and your carb intake will be lowered significantly. Out of the big three {protein, fat, carbs} carbs represent the only one macro nutrient that’s not essential. This means that you can live perfectly fine without eating carbs ever. The body can run efficiently on fat. Of course, there’s no need to go that crazy and we’re not against carb intake. However, make sure it’s before and after your workout in order to have energy for your lifting session and be able to replenish the lost resources afterwards. Simple, isn’t it?

The less fat there is, the harder it is to lose it

If you are 30% BF, you can safely drop to 15% BF without losing muscle mass. It’s not very hard. Truth be told, going from 15% to 10% BF is also not super hard but it will require a significant effort and you will need to be more precise with your training and eating. Mistakes at that level are tolerated even less.

When you get to 10% BF going down to 5% BF would be the hardest of them all. Whether you want it or not some muscle mass will be lost. Most people don’t really realize how low 5% BF is. It’s so low that it’s not even healthy to maintain it all the time unless you’re naturally lean. There are side effects such as feeling cold all the time as well as depression. Of course, this does not hold true for everybody but it does happen.

The principle, however, is the same – keep the intensity high, keep the calories really low, keep the carbs low, keep the protein really high and pray.

Refeeds – the only way to avoid going insane

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Technically, the fastest way to lose fat is to follow a strict diet consisting of clean food. However, we all know that doing something like that is not as easy as it seems. That’s why it’s fine to do the so-called refeeds.

A refeed is basically a cheat meal eaten one or two times during the month. On that day you’re essentially eating whatever you want – from gene modified ‘chicken’ to Chinese. If you do everything correctly, one cheat meal every few weeks, won’t do you any harm. The goal is to keep your mental state stable for the sake of your health. People around you will probably appreciated it as well.

In the end of the day losing fat while preserving muscle mass is simple and can be summarized in a few sentences:

1. Reduce volume, but keep intensity high. Stop doing stupid exercises during your diet.

2. Reduce your caloric intake.

3. Don’t waste your time with low intensity cardio. High intensity cardio like sprints is fine, but the volume must be low.

4. Keep your protein high and take carbs only around your workouts.

5. Consume some cheat meals from time to time in order to prevent your head from exploding.

One comment

  1. regularguy

    HI Trueseeker, I was in a cutting diet for a long time, and about two months ago I could achieve 10% BF, but in that time, it emerged a lot of stressfull events in my life, and I lost the motivations about bodybuilding. I started to eat junk food and I earned a lot of fat. Could you recomend me or give any advice for begin a new cutting diet? Its just the fact to thinking about spent another cutting diet season is mentally devasting.

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