How to Reduce Body Fat Without Losing Muscle

"You lost weight! Have you been working out?"

"Yeah. I guess."

"Why the long face?"

"Think I am losing my muscle tone too"

"Uh oh. You do look a little wobbly."


When someone starts training, the most often asked question is - "Can I keep my muscle or even increase it while I lose my body fat? "


Short answer? Yes!


Our team at Oorja researched the main challenges that fitness lovers face. We came up with 7 science-backed strategies. These strategies will help you become stronger and tone up your muscles, while trimming the fat. Read on to find out what they are! 

1. Cut Calories Gradually

Several studies have proven that when you cut your calories too drastically or too quickly, you lose muscle mass along with body fat. See this study as an example.  In this study, one group lost weight twice as fast as the other group while doing resistance training. The group that lost weight less rapidly gained significantly more lean body mass while reducing the same amount of fat.


Bottom line, aim for 400-500 fewer calories per day. If you want to be more precise for your body weight, determine your maintenance calories. Then reduce the maintenance calories by 20 to 25%. Here is an easy-to-use online calculator to figure out maintenance calories. 

2. Strength Training: How Much Should You Do

You must do strength training to maintain and build muscle while losing body fat. But it is important to know how much strength training you should do. You know how the internet is filled with Pinterest pins advising 100 air squats at a time on a daily basis? This is a horrible advice especially when you are trying to lose weight and maintain muscle at the same time. Why? Because when you are trying to lose weight, you are in a caloric deficit mode. So your body has less energy available. Excessive training will cause the body to not recover enough because of lower energy. And without recovery, there is no muscle gain. As simple as that.


So give your muscles a break and add recovery time. 


How much recovery time or break should you give? This is individual specific, and a damn good reason to listen to your body. But a general rule of thumb would be 2 high-volume workouts per week for trained individuals and 3 low-volume workouts per week for untrianed individuals per muscle group. We base this recommendation on this study.

3. Add Some HIIT

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can be super beneficial to burning calories while guarding against muscle loss. It is important though how you do HIIT to maximize muscle gain and calorie burn. HIIT typically involves fast-twitch muscle fibers that are responsible for the size and definition of a particular muscle. On the other hand, HIIT can cut into the recovery of your muscles. Doing 1:1 ratio (work to rest) of HIIT has shown to build and improve muscles

4. Make Protein Your Best Friend

Everything else being the same, protein is the single biggest catalyst for muscle gain. There are several studies supporting this claim. But what is more interesting is there are studies (like this and this) extolling protein's virtue of preserving lean mass and satiety with weight loss. Which is precisely the crux of this blog. 


So how much protein should you eat? "Expert" recommendations are all over the map. But a recent literature review of 40 different studies has come up with a convincing conclusion. It recommends 0.4 to 0.55 g per kg of body weight per meal (0.18 to 0.25g per lb per meal).In other words if your body weight is 150 lbs, you would eat about 24 to 37.5g of protein to maintain optimal muscle mass.

5. And Make Sure Your Best Friend is Bio-available

Protein absorbed and used by your body is less than the protein advertised on the label. That in and itself is not an issue if the difference is not big. But what if we told you that your body absorbs much lower protein than advertised? Most protein bar makers will trick you into believing you are getting a lot more protein than you are. Seen those labels "20g protein!", "30g protein!"? The matter of fact is that only a small percentage of the protein snacks found in the market today allow protein absorption close to the levels advertised. Check out our blog post that covers the background and reasons behind this.


This can be upsetting if you work out a lot yet muscle growth isn’t occurring. 


So what can you do about it? Focus on eating protein snacks that have cold-processed or minimally processed whey protein isolate and milk protein isolates. Several studies and protein digestibility scores prove that these protein sources exhibit the highest bio-availability. If you use concentrates, then go for grass-fed whey protein concentrate. For even more options and easy tips on picking the right protein sources, check out our previous blog post.

6. Pre & Post Workout Nutrition

This topic deserves a special name in the hall of notoriety. Millions of fitness nerds have gone to war and died on the ruthless battlefields of online forums discussing it. More tomes have been written on this one topic compared to rest of the health and fitness spectrum. This topic is important in our discussion too. We want to prevent muscle loss because of careless nutrition choices. Such careless choices happen when you are starving to lose fat. And therefore, what you eat before and after nutrition is critical. After reviewing published studies, field results, and expert opinions, we have made it simple for you, and spared you the agony of those online wars :-):

A. Pre-workout: Eat at least 1 hour before your workout. Eat light. Eat a good mix of complex carbs, protein, and heart-healthy fats like monounsaturated fats, which would give you sustained release during intense workouts. 

B. Post-workout: Eat at least 45 minutes to 1 hour after your workout. Eat a balanced diet replicating the above recommendation for pre-workout. 

C. Carbs & Protein Ratio: Carbs shouldn't exceed over 2 times the protein. 


That's it! Follow the above guidelines and they will cover you in most cases.

7. Cut Artificial Sweeteners

Et tu, Brutus? Aren't artificial sweeteners supposed to be on the side of us, the weight-loss warriors? Zero sugars, zero calories means more weight loss. What can go wrong? This is what we all thought for a long time. A review on studies that lasted 10 years looking at thousands of people who consumed artificial sweeteners daily came up with a shocking conclusion: Artificial sweeteners don’t prevent weight gain. Worse, the people in studies gained weight despite consuming calorie-free sweeteners.There are two schools of thought regarding why artificial sweeteners don’t help with weight loss. One looks at the changes that happen in the microbiota after ingesting sweeteners, and the other looks at how cravings increase as the body feels the sweet taste but doesn’t take any calories in.

8. Putting it All Together

Your fat loss does not have to come at the expense of your muscle loss. This would result in not just bad shape but more serious health issues down the road. The good news is you don't have to lose muscle.  Even better, you can increase your muscle mass while reducing your fat. We went over 7 science-backed strategies to help you do exactly that. Good luck, champ! :-)

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