To preserve lean muscle during a fat loss phase is the aim of the game for a healthier, stronger and better looking body. Muscle tissue is also metabolically active meaning it can help you burn more calories, burn fat faster and keep it off for good. There’s plenty of rubbish theories surrounding the topic, so let’s first begin by clearing some up.
Burning fat and building muscle at the same time is physically impossible. Fat loss requires a hypocaloric state. This is a catabolic state or negative energy balance. You can achieve this by eating less than you burn. Building muscle would require a hypercaloric state. This is an anabolic state or positive energy balance. You can achieve this by eating more than you burn. Those that say you can build muscle whilst burning fat are seriously misinformed. That’s not to say you couldn’t drift between anabolic and catabolic states over a longer period of say 6-12 months. You could also improve muscle tissues ability to store glycogen and fluids during a fat loss phase, which would create the impression you’ve gained muscle.
With either goal there will always be an inevitable trade off. A fat loss phase will result in a certain degree of muscle tissue loss. Whilst a muscle gain phase will result in a certain degree of fat gain. With both goals alike the main aim would be to minimise those trade offs. Without further ado here’s the top ways to preserve lean muscle during a fat loss phase.
Do Resistance Work
“You it or lose it”. This couldn’t be more true with muscle tissue. Resistance based training with free weights, body weight and machines etc. is without doubt the best way to stimulate the muscles. In order to preserve lean muscle, resistance training should make up a large percentage of your week.
Use Strongman Inspired Movements For Cardio
In my opinion strongman inspired movements for cardio trump traditional stationary bikes and treadmills every time. Prowler sprints, sled drags, tyre flips and farmers walks are all great examples of strongman inspired movements. The nature of these exercises means they recruit more muscle mass than your traditional cardio and they’re much more fun to perform.
Avoid Fasted Cardio
Theory has it performing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will result in faster fat loss. This is hokum. It will result in decreased performance for your workout and a higher chance you’ll tap into muscle tissue for fuel. A better choice would be to perform it on what I call a “semi fasted” state. This would mean consuming a mix of 5-10g of BCAAs and a strong black coffee with coconut oil. Not only will this help retain muscle it can improve workout performance and speed up fat loss.
Skeletal muscle is up to 70% water so it goes without saying staying hydrated will mean your muscles stay full and healthy. As a baseline aim for 0.033L per KG of bodyweight per day. For a 70KG individual this would be 0.033L X 70 = 2.3L per day. To supercharge your water why not try spiking it with a pinch of electrolytes? This will help expedite it’s absorption.
Consume 5-10g Of BCAAs Intra-Workout
Sipping BCAAs during a workout has certainly become a trend lately. Shame 90% of the people doing it don’t know why they’re doing it. Intra-workout BCAAs will give your body some fuel to run off for improved performance, plus it can help prevent muscle tissue breakdown. BCAAs also compete with the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to the calming neurotransmitter serotonin. In layman’s terms this means that it can help prevent you from getting a sleepy slump halfway through your workout.
Pack In Protein
Proteins and the amino acids found within them are vital for the growth, repair and retention of lean tissue. Poultry, beef, fish, eggs, nuts and beans should all make a frequent appearance in your diet. If your goals are strictly fat loss, as a baseline I’d recommend aiming for your bodyweight in KG in grams of protein per day. A 70KG individual would aim for 70g per day. If your goals are focused around bodybuilding whilst trying strip fat as a baseline go for your bodyweight in KG X 2 in grams of protein per day. For a 70KG individual this would mean taking in 140g per day.
Maintain A Sensible Deficit
As already established fat loss requires a hypocaloric state. The less calories you consume doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll burn more fat. In fact the opposite will happen, you’ll hold onto fat and tap into lean tissue as a fuel source. So in order to preserve lean muscle drastic calorie deficits are a big no no. For that reason strive for a 200-500kcal deficit, but no more. As time goes on you can then gradually decrease this number.