Today we’re talking about the holy grail of fitness and a great physique – losing weight while maintaining muscle. Most people get this completely wrong and end up either muscular but puffy, or lean but small. This article is here to help you get it just right. Stick with me for the next few minutes and I’ll show you the 5 most important rules that you need to follow in order to lose weight yet prevent muscle loss.
1. Lose weight slowly
The number one thing to remember if you want to keep your muscle mass is to lose weight slowly. You should ideally lose 1 or 2 pounds per week at the absolute most. Any more than this and there’s a good chance that you’ll be losing muscle as well.
“But that will take ages!” I can hear some of you thinking. Well, that depends on how you define “ages.” If you do an eight-week weight loss programme, you could aim to lose between 8 and 16 pounds, which is a substantial and noticeable loss of fat.
Don’t get me wrong; you can lose weight faster. You might even manage to lose 4, 5 or 6 pounds per week – just don’t expect all that weight loss to be from fat. And don’t come crying to me when you’re not happy with your physique at the end of it.
Be patient and lose 1 or 2 pounds per week. You’ll definitely reduce your body fat and you’ll do so without losing your hard-earned muscle!
2. Protein is king
When it comes to building muscle, we all know that protein is king (and if you haven’t read my article on protein then click here to find out more). To give you the short version, protein is broken down into amino acids, which are used as the building blocks of muscle. Without protein, you won’t have enough amino acids, and without amino acids your body won’t build muscle, period.
Therefore, you need to be extra careful when reducing daily calories, and organise your diet so as not to limit or reduce protein intake. I usually recommend 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, so when working out your daily macros and calories make sure to prioritise protein.
Lastly, although the science is pretty mixed, some competitive bodybuilders in the last two or three weeks before a show find it useful to increase protein intake to more than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, as well as supplementing with branch chain amino acids. For most of us this will never be necessary, but if you’re preparing for a show it might come in handy.
3. Keep your training volume high
It can be pretty tempting during a weight loss phase to come in to the gym and do the bare minimum. I understand: You’re tired, and doing loads of work probably sounds super-tough. However, if you want to maintain your muscle mass you’ve got to keep challenging your muscles, and that means plenty of sets and reps.
If your chest is used to getting 16 working sets each week, and now you’re only giving it 8 working sets each week, then there’s a good chance that it’s going to lose some size. The same principle applies to every muscle in your body.
It’s also useful to remember that keeping your training volume high keeps your total daily expenditure (TDE) higher, allowing you to eat more calories each day and still lose weight. This can have a huge psychological impact, especially during the later phases of your weight loss plan.
4. Cardio is optional
There are some benefits to cardio for weight loss: If you burn 400 more calories per day, you can eat 200–300 more calories of food and still be in a calorie deficit, which is awesome.
However, cardio isn’t magic and it will still fatigue your system. In a weight loss phase, you only have a limited amount of energy, and it makes much more sense to use this energy for lifting weights.
The number of bodybuilders I’ve chatted to that have ended up doing hours of pointless cardio every day is ridiculous. What’s even worse is that lots of them lost a lot of muscle because of this. So feel free to do some cardio, but keep it limited and remember that it’s optional.
Remember, when it comes to building muscle and getting stronger, the two most important things you can do are eat and sleep. But here’s the kicker: In a weight loss phase, you’re going to be eating less food, which means your body is going to be much less able to recover from training. This makes it insanely important to get as much sleep as possible.
I recommend aiming for at least 8 hours per night – ideally 9 or 10 hours per night.
This is because your body is at its most anabolic (muscle-building) while you sleep. Put simply, more sleep means more testosterone means more muscle. With this in mind, you need to make the most of this time in order to maximize your muscle retention during weight loss.
So stop watching late-night TV, stop those late night video game marathons, and get some extra sleep. Set a “go to bed” alarm if you have to – just make sure that you find a way to get those Zs!
Are you ready to start losing weight while keeping your muscle?
Over the next few weeks you’re going to have to pay attention to your macros, calories, sleep schedule, weight training, and cardio. If it sounds like hard work then yep, to be honest, it is. On the other hand, nothing worth having ever came easy, and if you want that ripped/shredded/yolked/jacked physique then you’ve got to be willing to put in the effort.
Are you willing enough?