How to Lose Weight Without Losing Muscle

We are always encouraged to lose weight to maintain our health. But what it really means is not clear. And if we lose weight, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a healthy one. In losing weight, we need to consider the type of weight we actually lose. Our weight consists of various variables such as bones, fats, water, glycogen stores, and muscles. In this article, we will understand how to lose weight without losing muscle.

Fat vs. Muscle

Your body weight is not the only factor to determine your health risk. People with the same weight but with different percentage of muscle and fat can look different. For instance, having extra pounds of muscle makes you look sculpted and firm, while extra pounds of fat makes you appear softer and less toned (1).

Fats and muscles have different functions. Fats are the body’s insulators while muscles are responsible for your metabolism. That is why if you consider losing weight without losing muscle, you will most likely burn more calories even while at rest.

Why Lose Fat Percentages Instead of Muscle Percentages?

A study shows that people with a high percentage of fat are at a higher risk of death, despite body mass index or weight (2). Fats can make you at risk of various health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. This only means that even if you have low body weight, you will still be at risk of obesity-related conditions, especially if you have a poor muscle-to-fat ratio.

Keeping your fat percentage low and maintaining your muscle percentage can prevent you with these conditions (3). But it also doesn’t mean that you need to build a huge percentage of muscle. Since you already know why losing muscle percentages are crucial to losing weight, let us learn the six ways on how to lose weight without losing muscle:

Cut Fewer Calories

In general, a woman needs around 2,000 calories, while a man needs 2,500 calories a day to maintain weight. On the other hand, a woman requires losing around 1,500 calories, while a man requires losing around 2,000 calories a week to lose one pound (4). But these depend on various factors, such as height, age, weight, metabolic health, and activity health.

Cutting fewer calories can make you lose weight slowly. In a study, two people weighing 200 pounds lose either 1.4 or 0.7 percent of body weight. The total weight lost by two groups is just the same, but the fast weight-loss group loses 0.66 pounds of lean mass, while the slow weight-loss group loses 2 pounds of lean mass (5).

Perform strength training

Cardio can increase the extraction of oxygen, but muscle mass is not necessarily changed. There are also instances when you will lose muscle mass if you are losing weight. But, strength training is popular to build muscles. A study shows that resistance training can prevent losing muscle mass while in a caloric deficit (6).

Strength training exercises can increase type 2 muscle fibers, contributing muscle mass gains, and preservation. This kind of exercise can produce hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone, which aid in retaining and building muscles.

Increase protein intake

Protein helps in building muscles. Protein acts as a nutritional stimulus to maintain muscles. Protein helps with your satiety level. It increases your fullness, and there is a lesser possibility that it will be stored as fats even if it is excessively taken.

A study shows that men who cut calories but follow a high-protein diet gain around 2.64 pounds of muscle and lose around 10.56 pounds of fat. On the other hand, men who follow a low-protein diet gain pounds of muscles of about less than a quarter and lose 7.7 pounds of fat (7).

Protein sources may come from eggs, nuts, fish, lean meats, and quality supplements. These foods help in boosting your metabolism since digesting protein requires more energy than fat or carbs. Furthermore, these foods help in maintaining fullness, which prevents you from overeating.

Be aware of your carb consumption

Losing weight doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to follow a low-carb diet. This kind of diet can even affect your muscle maintenance, as well as growth since it limits your physical activities. But, a study has shown that women following a 1.4:1 carb-to-protein ratio lost more fat and lesser muscle mass. On the other hand, those following a 3.5:1 carb-to-protein ratio lost more muscle mass (8). If you want to maintain muscle mass while losing weight, you can start by following a 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio.

Perform high-intensity intervals

High-intensity interval training, like sprints on a stationary bike or the treadmill, can burn calories during and after exercise. This training can recruit type 2 muscle fibers, which prevents muscle loss. Aside from that, this can also help in building muscles.

A study has shown the effects of high-intensity intervals on muscles. People exercising at a 1:1 ratio experience an increase in muscle mass than those exercising at a 2:1 interval (9). The most common forms of exercises include jogging, running, cycling, and speed walking (10).

Prioritize recovery

Sleep is one of the best forms of recovery after an exercise. The quality of your sleep affects your muscle and fat loss. This is mainly because the quality of your sleep influences your hormone levels.

For instance, an inflammatory hormone called cortisol is increased if you are deprived of sleep. If cortisol levels are high, you will most likely find it hard to lose weight, including your muscle mass. On the other hand, human growth hormone increases during night time, specifically during sleep.

A study has shown that lack of sleep can influence your weight loss. People who sleep about 5.5 hours at night decreased their fat loss by 55 percent even on the same diet (11). In another study, it was shown that people who are sleep deprived for four days decreased their insulin sensitivity and increased their fat storage, but reduced their growth hormone levels.

To promote weight loss without losing muscle, you also need to understand how you will lose fat and build muscle. In this article, we will further discuss how to lose fat and how to gain muscle.

How to Lose Fat

Excess body fats have a detrimental effect on your health from increasing your risk of various chronic diseases to harming your body image and emotional wellbeing (12). One of the main goals of losing weight is to lose fats. And to do this, you need to make a calorie deficit.

A calorie deficit can be done if you exert more energy or consume fewer calories. But too much of either of these, such as engaging in strenuous cardio for many hours or cutting a large number of calories, can have adverse effects on preserving your muscle mass.

To lose weight while maintaining your physique, it is a good idea to gradually minimize your calorie consumption while incorporating physical activities that help build muscle mass in your daily routine.


Your diet is also important to lose fats. A protein-rich diet is said to help in reducing fats while maintaining muscle mass (13). In a study, people who include about 0.64 grams of protein in their diet preserve more muscle mass and reduce fat than those who include about 0.36 grams of protein in their diet (14).

Furthermore, it was shown that a protein-rich diet is crucial for athletes who want to maintain muscle mass while losing fat. A study shows that athletes who lost the least amount of muscle mass are those who consumed the most protein (15).

That is why if you increase your protein consumption to more than 0.64 grams per pound, you will most likely improve your body composition.

Other Ways of Reducing Fat

Aside from increasing your protein intake, as well as your calorie expenditure, here are the other methods of losing body fat:

  • Avoid processed foods. Consuming high amounts of processed foods, such as candies, chips, packaged baked goods, and fast foods, are linked to excess body fat (16).
  • Minimize carbs. Reducing carbs and consuming foods high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats can lower insulin levels, responsible for promoting fat storage. This diet can also increase fullness (17).
  • Maximize fiber. Consuming foods high in fiber such as beans and vegetable help in reducing your body fats, especially your belly fats (18).

How to Gain Muscle

To lose weight, losing fat is as important as gaining or at least maintaining muscle. Your diet alone may not be sufficient in maintaining your muscle mass. To do this, you need to focus on your diet and exercise that help in growing and maintaining your muscle.

Why is Protein Very Important in Gaining Muscles?

The right diet is crucial if you want to build muscle. Whatever your goal is when it comes to fitness, a healthy diet composed of whole foods such as healthy fats, fresh produce, protein, and complex carbs is ideal for you.

Several studies have shown that a high-protein diet is important to promote muscle growth. In a study, it is recommended to take 0.73 to 1 gram of protein per pound a day to increase muscle strength and gain (19).

Another study has shown that even if a person already consumed about 0.64 grams of protein a day, protein supplementation which adds around 35 grams of protein a day is ideal to further maximize the increase in muscle mass (20).

To maximize protein consumption in maintaining or increasing muscle mass, distributing protein sources throughout the day, such as consuming these foods every 3 or 4 hours a day, is a good idea. Some protein-rich foods include poultry, dairy products, eggs, and protein supplements.

Exercises in Gaining Muscles

As mentioned earlier, aside from your diet, you also need to consider and incorporate strength training exercise. Strength training, such as lifting weights, uses resistance exercises for building muscle mass and strength.

If your goal is to lose weight- reduce body fat and maintain muscle-you need a training protocol that involves at least two days of resistance training a week. This is because a study has shown that resistance training conducted twice a week is more effective in increasing muscle growth than that which is conduction only once a week (21).

Combining strength training exercises and interval training may be ideal for muscle growth. Strength training exercises like bench presses, pushups, squats, and other muscle-building exercises can be done for at least twice a week. Interval training may be done once or twice a week. A study has shown that combining this training can lead to fat loss and increased muscle strength and mass (22).


In losing weight, we need to consider various factors such as bones, fats, water, glycogen stores, and muscles that compose our weight. There is a big difference between losing a percentage of fat and losing a percentage of muscle. Fat is generally harmful to our body, but it serves as our body’s insulators. On the other hand, muscles affect our metabolism.

Having a high percentage of fats can make us at risk of obesity-related conditions. But keeping this percentage low and maintaining muscle percentage can help prevent these conditions. Of course, losing weight without losing muscle is good for our entire wellbeing.

Cutting fewer calories, performing strength training, increasing protein intake, maintaining carb consumption, performing high-intensity intervals, and prioritizing recovery are just a few ways on how we can lose weight without losing muscle.

To lose weight, we need to focus mainly on losing fats and gaining muscles. Losing fats require us to consider our nutrition. We also need to avoid processed foods, minimize carbs, and maximize fiber. To gain muscles, we need to focus on our protein-intake and appropriate exercise.



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