How can I lose body fat without losing muscle? I hate cardio!
– Sean S.
Thanks for your question, Sean. This is among the most common questions that I receive. Many people believe that in order to shed body fat, they must also sacrifice significant amounts of muscle mass. This simply is not true! Not only can you lose body fat without sacrificing appreciable amounts of your precious, hard-earned muscle, but if the correct approach is taken, you should be able to gain some muscle while losing fat at the same time. Just as long as your diet is on point, then as you’re building more muscle, your basal metabolic rate will increase. This, in turn, will allow you to burn fat at an increased rate. For example, 1 pound of muscle will burn approximately 50 more calories per day at rest. So, if you gain 10 pounds of muscle, that will amount to around 500 more calories each day that your body will burn at rest. And this amount will increase as your energy expenditure increases (such as during that dreaded cardio! – lol).
In order to force the body to rely on stored body fat as a fuel source, an energy deficit must be created. This means it’s mandatory to consume fewer calories than your body requires to fulfill its energy and metabolic requirements. Reducing your calorie intake by 500-700 calories per day is a good starting point to realize some meaningful fat loss. In order to maintain, or possibly build muscle mass, you must provide your body with sufficient nutrition. You can do this even while you reduce the calories you consume. Just choose foods that provide more nutrition but are also lower in calories than the foods you typically eat. Also, limit yourself to unprocessed or at least minimally processed whole foods.
These typically provide little to no nutritional value. Rather, the most nutritious parts have been replaced with fat promoting additives and empty calories. For example, many processed meats, bread, cereals, and snack foods are loaded with refined fructose—primarily high fructose corn syrup—along with unhealthy fats like soybean or sunflower oils. Research has shown that even moderate consumption of refined sugars, such as fructose, results in reduced insulin sensitivity, increased fat gain, decreased testosterone levels, and a greater risk of developing diabetes.
Additionally, oils from polyunsaturated fats, such as sunflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, margarine, and even light butter spreads, contain a disproportionately high ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. When we consume too much Omega 6, an inflammatory response occurs in our body. This is significant to your bodybuilding endeavors. Thyroid dysfunction and higher cortisol levels can cause inflammation. Too much cortisol leads to reduced testosterone levels and incomplete protein turnover resulting in muscle loss. As I mentioned before, the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism will be. So when you lose muscle, your metabolism slows down and hinders fat loss.
On the other hand, these are lower in calories and provide much better nutrition for supporting muscle growth and fat loss. For example, grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, wild caught salmon, and extra virgin olive oil contain a much more favorable ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. Research has proven that diets higher in omega 3 will help reduce cortisol and inflammation levels in the body, thus making you less prone to hormonal disruptions that wreak havoc on your physique. Consuming carbohydrates in the form of veggies, yams, pumpkin, squash, turnips, beets, and potatoes will provide a gold mine of nutrition without saturating your system with gluten the way that many whole grains do. Most whole grains today contain higher amounts of gluten due to genetic modification. Higher amounts of gluten coincide with higher prolactin levels. Prolactin kills testosterone.
Furthermore, fruits such as pomegranates, blueberries, cherries, and red grapes contain natural compounds that can help rid the body of excess estrogen, as well as reduce inflammation levels in the body. High levels of estrogen promote increased fat synthesis and reduced testosterone levels.
Outside of your diet, this next part is extremely important: DO NOT OVERTRAIN! This is even more critical if you are a natural athlete. Research shows 45 minutes or less of intense weight training positively affects growth hormone and testosterone levels. However, training much beyond this point causes cortisol levels to increase. It also causes growth hormone and testosterone levels to rapidly decrease. As you know, too much cortisol is detrimental to muscle gain and fat loss. Not to mention, it’s horrible for your cardiovascular system. I’m personally an advocate for lifting weights on non-consecutive days in order to keep cortisol levels to a minimum and maximize recovery. I also believe working in the 8-12 rep range is ideal for maximum muscle hypertrophy.
One last point I want to make is in regard to supplements. There are several that I consider being of vital importance. The first one is creatine. There are a plethora of human studies that prove creatine supplementation helps increase lean muscle mass, power output, and reduce fatigue. These are benefits you certainly need when you’re adhering to a reduced calorie diet. I prefer Kre-Alkalyn EFX creatine myself because it’s “pH-Correct” (adjusted to pH-12 for stability and optimal use by the human body). Moreover, Kre-Alkalyn EFX is also Creatine Monohydrate — the most studied and proven form of creatine ever!
The other supplement that I’ve always said is one of the most important bodybuilding supplements, especially for those on a fat loss diet, is Branched Chain Amino Acids. Studies confirm that supplementing with free-form BCAAs may help boost testosterone levels and reduce cortisol levels, both during and after training. Furthermore, branched chain amino acids have a very powerful effect on muscle recovery and protein synthesis (muscle gain). I personally take a serving, or two of Training Ground BCAA between each of my 3 main meals, in addition to during and after my workouts for this very reason. I’ve always referred to BCAAs as a type of insurance policy for your muscle tissue while you are dieting.
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