Lose fat, not muscle, by following these dietitian-backed tips for healthy weight loss

  • 3 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

A healthy weight loss plan will help you lose fat, not muscle, so you can maintain strength and metabolism while feeling your best.

Lose fat, not muscle

Why is it better to lose fat, not muscle?

It's rewarding to see the number on the scale go down, but most important is reaping the benefits of healthy weight loss. This means a plan that helps you lose fat, not muscle. Muscle is essential for strength, balance, blood sugar control, and bone health. Preserving muscle will lessen the drop in your metabolic rate (calorie-burning) as you lose weight. Aside from the health benefits, muscles give a more toned appearance, so you can look and feel strong.

Follow these 3 proven strategies to maintain muscle

1. Aim for a reasonable calorie deficit

A calorie deficit is the foundation of any weight loss plan. By eating fewer calories than you burn, you achieve this deficit. However, cutting calories too low can lead to muscle loss because your body will break down muscle and dietary protein for fuel rather than using the protein to build and repair muscle.

Aim for one to two pounds of weight loss a week, which is safe and reasonable. It takes roughly a 3500 calorie deficit to lose one pound of weight. For results that don't sacrifice muscle, create a daily 500-1000 calorie deficit through fewer calories in, more calories burned with exercise, or a combination of the two.

2. Make strength training part of your plan

A combination of cardio and strength training is the winner for losing fat, not muscle. Cardio exercise is a vital part of your fitness and weight loss plan and has benefits for reducing abdominal fat. Strength training is key to minimizing muscle loss. A review of exercise and weight loss studies concluded that exercise helps people lose more weight and that strength training minimizes muscle loss.

Fortunately, strength training doesn't require a major time commitment. All you need is a program that works all of your major muscle groups, two to three days per week, for muscle-retaining benefits. Using free weights, resistance machines, resistance bands, and doing bodyweight exercises (such as lunges, squats, and push-ups) all count as strength training.

3. Focus on protein

To minimize muscle loss, don't short-change yourself on protein when cutting calories. Aim for 1.2-1.5 g of protein per kg (or 0.5- 0.7 g per lb) for losing fat, not muscle. Athletes looking to build muscle mass may require up to 1.7 grams per kilogram (0.8 g per lb).

Protein is essential, yet more isn't better. There is no benefit to getting more than 2.0 g protein per kg (or 0.9 g per lb). The protein surplus will only serve as an unnecessary source of extra calories.

Protein timing matters. Distribute your protein throughout the day to maximize muscle rebuilding and repair. Aim for about 20-30 grams of protein per meal.

If you are working to increase your protein intake, consider MyNetDiary's Premium High-Protein Diet for additional support.

How do I know if I am losing fat, not muscle?

If the scale hasn't budged, but you notice your clothes fitting looser, you have lost fat and may have gained some muscle! Likewise, losing inches around the waist is a sign of improved body composition.

Body composition testing can also tell you if you are reducing your body fat percentage. Several methods are available, ranging from home scales using bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) to more sophisticated testing with DEXA scan or BOD POD.

Why it's ok to have some muscle loss

It's common to lose some muscle with weight loss despite a sensible calorie deficit, eating enough protein, and strength training. People who are overweight have more fat and muscle compared to those at a lower weight. This is because carrying extra weight requires more muscle for structural support and body movement. Therefore, you don't need as much muscle to be healthy when you are at a lower weight.

In fact, how well your muscles function may be more important than how much muscle you have. Research suggests that muscle function improves with weight loss, even with a decline in muscle mass. Better muscle function means healthier aging and the ability to perform daily activities and exercise with less effort.

Track your progress with MyNetDiary

Is your weight loss plan set up for muscle maintenance? Create a healthy weight loss plan with MyNetDiary. Tracking with MyNetDiary will help you meet your protein needs while achieving a sensible calorie deficit. MyNetDiary even allows you to track body measurements, such as waist circumference or body fat percentage.

Still new to MyNetDiary? Learn more today by downloading the app for FREE.

Related content

Is cardio or strength training better for weight loss? Learn the best exercise plan for you to meet your goals!
A complete guide on how to create your own workout plan from scratch (no expensive trainer required)
What is the difference between BMI and body fat percentage?

Exercise->Weight resistance Weight Loss->Body composition
Oct 27, 2021
Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

Start Your Free
Food Diary Today

Sign up Devices