How to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle – Workout and Diet Plan

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Since you’re reading this post, you’ve essentially told me that you’re currently looking to preserve your hard earned gains while you move into the “cutting” phase of your fitness journey.

QUICK NOTE: I have 2 similar guides like this for different circumstances. If you landed on the wrong guide, for whatever reason, use these boxes below to get to the correct guide or share a guide with a friend 🙂

Read this guide if you are skinny, but have a “chubby” physique with very little muscle.

Read this guide if you are very overweight and are looking to lose weight fast.

It’s a very common situation for most people.

I’m guessing you have some sort of lifting experience if you’re in this situation, but if you don’t, that’s OK too.

We’re going to cover everything in this post: calories, macros, lifting routine, and cardio routine.

I know exactly what it feels like to be at this stage.

I’m not someone who’s been skinny their entire life and going to tell you “just put the fork down.”

lose fat without losing muscle

When I was at this point in my life, the very sight of myself in the mirror was very discouraging.

It wasn’t until I started to change things in my life and got a better understanding of the importance of lifting weights and nutrition, that things began to change.

So that’s the good news.

That you CAN change your current physique state.

It’s possible to gain some quality, lean muscle, lose fat, and, become leaner and stronger.

That’s what this guide is all about.

It’s not going to be easy, but I am here to help, so let’s get started.

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The Hierarchy of Weight Loss and Fat Loss

lose fat without losing muscle diet

As you can see from the pyramid above, your calories and macronutrients are MOST important.

Lifting weights are important, but it won’t matter unless your calories and macronutrients are in place.

After lifting comes cardio.

Cardio is not necessary to get the body you desire. Cardio can help, yet, you shouldn’t get rid of cardio altogether. Cardio enables you to stay conditioned which is important for your health.

After cardio is meal timing and how many meals to eat, along with micronutrients and other minutiae.

Then, finally, watching motivational videos and other little things to keep you going. As you can see, it won’t get you very far on its own.

Remember this hierarchy whenever you seem stuck. If something isn’t in the right order, everything falls apart.

We’re going to go over most of the hierarchy in more detail to give you a better overview of how to drop fat.

First up is your calories and macronutrients.

How to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle – Calories and Macros

calories for lose fat without losing muscle

Your first step is to calculate your Caloric Deficit (the calories required to eat to lose weight):

1. Multiply your body weight by 10.5. For example:200 lbs x 11 = 2200 Calories

This means that you would eat 2200 calories per day to lose weight.

Simple enough.

Your next step is to calculate your Maintenance Calories (the calories required to eat to maintain the weight you’re at currently):

2. Multiply your current body weight by 14. For example:200 lbs x 14 = 2800 calories

Once per week, you want to have something called a Refeed day. This is where you eat at maintenance calories (2800 for example) and to make sure a majority of them come fromcarbohydrates.

This is 1) better than having a cheat meal and 2) helps you stick to your diet better throughout the weeks.

Do not freak out if you gain a bit of weight after a Refeed day. Its just water weight from the carbohydrates and the increase in calories in general.

Your weight will go back to normal after a day or two. There’s a bit more behind Refeed days, but this should cover it for now.

Your calories, over time, will need adjusting for different reasons. I have an article on how to judge and track weight loss progress here so make sure to check that out.

Now that we have your calories set up, we need to figure out your macronutrients, which are equally as important.

A caloric deficit is how you lose weight. Your macronutrients decide where that weight comes from.

Macronutrients For Fat Loss

I’ve written an entire book on macronutrients and how to track them, so I won’t go over everything here, however, you must know that your macronutrient “split” is essential when it comes to body composition (how you end up looking).

Sure you can eat the number of calories I assigned above, but, the weight you lose may come from lean muscle and not fat.

This is how you end up “skinny fat”:

The Skinny Fat Physique. Source

This is where macronutrients come into play and why they’re so important.

Calories are made up of 3 macronutrients.

Protein, Fats, and Carbohydrates.

Let’s go over your “macro split.”

Let’s start with protein. Protein, especially for you and your case, is going to be extremely important to track because you want to keep the muscle you already have.

To keep this simple, multiply your body weight (in lbs) by 1. That’s how much protein you should eat.

For example:

200 lbs x 1 = 200 grams of protein per day

The next couple steps require some other calculations. To make this step easier, go here.

Under the “Pick Your Calculator” button and click the “Personalized Macronutrient Calculator” button.

You will calculate your macros for both your normal “diet” days and your Refeed day.

Step 1: Go to the link above and enter your calories in the first input field.

Step 2: Slide the “Protein” slider to the closest percentage that matches your protein needs that you calculated above.

See the picture below:

Step 3: Make the “Total Percentage” equal 100% by sliding the “Fat” slider to 20% and leave the rest to carbohydrates.

Step 4 (Optional): Click on the “Show Grams Per Meal” button and choose how many meals you have on average.

This will show you how many macros each meal should contain.

Let’s use the example pictured above.

A sample “meal 1” could be:

  • 9 of Chicken Breast (roughly 59 grams of protein)
  • 11 oz of Sweet Potatoes (roughly 62g of carbs and 5g of protein)
  • 240 of Stir Fry Kirkland Vegetables (roughly 18 g of carbs & 3g of protein)
  • 1 tbsp of Olive Oil (roughly 14 grams of fat)

You would need a food scale for weighing everything out (I use this one) and some measuring cups for oils and other things.

You would also need an app like MyFitnessPal to scan barcode nutrition labels and make this process a whole lot easier.

Again, I have an entire book on this process on Amazon (also available on my website as a PDF):

IIFYM Book Cover | Leanwithstyle | Christian Pinedo

The book goes over the entire “Macronutrient Tracking” part of fat loss and takes it to the next level with tips and tricks, meal plans, fast-food guides, and a whole lot more.

If you’re interested in checking it out, you can do so by clicking here.

That’s it for now on calories and macros.

I cannot stress enough how important this section is.

If you do not follow the caloric and macronutrient recommendations, you will fail to obtain your goal, I promise you that.

Remember the hierarchy.

If this part doesn’t work, everything else falls apart.

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The Lifting Routine – Why You Must Strength Train

how to lose fat and not muscle

Three Days Per Week

That’s all you need for now. Could you do more? Yeah.

But, I want to make this guide as accessible as possible. Therefore 3 days is all I will assign (hit me up in the comments if you have/want a ⅘ day workout split).

Don’t think that the workouts will be easy.

No way.

You’re going to make the MOST out of these 3 days to ensure you get the body you want.

There are going to be 8-Weeks of workouts that you can follow.

The organization of these workouts are in the schedule below.

Day 1 can be Monday or whatever day works best for you.

Here’s the schedule:

As you can see, the schedule is very simple.

Since you’re trying to lose weight, I want you to do 2-3 cardio sessions per week just to keep your cardiovascular health up and speed up the weight loss process.

More on this later.

The workouts themselves should only take 45-60 minutes.

Here’s a Video Exercise Library  to help you with how to perform the exercises, which we’re about to go over right now.

All workouts follow a Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) Style.

If a certain exercise does not have “RPT” next to it, then it will just be a straight set (SS) which just means to keep the same weight for all sets.

This will all make sense in a second.

Workout A:

• Barbell Overhead Press: 3 sets/6-8 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)

• DB Incline Bench Press: 3 sets/6-8 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)

• Triceps DB Kickback: 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/SS

• DB Lateral Raises: 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/SS

Workout B:

• Deadlifts: 3 sets/6-8 reps/3-4min rest/RPT (-10%)

• Row Variation (see notes): 3 sets/6-8 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)

• Chin Ups (see notes): 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)

• Hammer Curls: 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/SS

Workout C:

• Squats: 3 sets/6-8 reps/3-4min rest/RPT (-10%)

• DB RDLs: 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)

• DB Forward Lunges: 3 sets/8-10 reps each leg/2-3min rest/SS

• Calf Raises (seated or standing): 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)

Workout Notes – Very Important:

  • What RPT and the Percentages Mean

Everywhere an exercise says “RPT” it means that your first set should be the heaviest and decrease as the sets go on.

For example, in Workout A, the second exercise says: “DB Incline Bench Press: 3 sets/6-8 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)”

Here’s how this would look:1st set: 70 lbs – 6 reps 2nd set: 65 lbs – 7 reps 3rd set: 60 lbs – 8 reps

As you can see, the weight decreases by after the 1st set, and again after the 2nd set.

This is called Reverse Pyramid Training (one form of it at least).

Each time you decrease the weight, you want to get 1, maybe 2, more reps than the previous set.

The weight will not always decrease exactly by 5%.

In the example above, if you do the math, set 2 should be 66.5 lbs. However, no gym I know of has 66.5 lb dumbbells.

For that reason, on any exercise that requires DBs, just go 5 or 10 lbs lighter depending on how heavy your first set was.

The image below demonstrates how each set should look. I have put how much of a percentage decrease (5 or 10%) next to each exercise.

how to burn fat without losing muscle

Depending on how much weight you use, this could be anywhere from a 5 lb decrease to 50 lb decrease so just open the calculator on your phone and subtract the weight you used in your first set and subtract 5 or 10% from it to get your next weight.

  • Row Variation Notes:

There are so many great “row” exercises so I will leave this up to your personal preference.

I would usually recommend the seal row but not many gyms have a high enough bench to perform this.

Therefore, you could choose from a 1-arm DB row, bent-over DB row, cable row, barbell row, etc.

I personally love the barbell row:

Make sure to check the exercise video library for demonstrations and proper form.

  • Chin-Up Notes:

I put chin-ups as an exercise because that is the ultimate goal in the end. For you to be able to do multiple chin-ups.

Chin-ups, and especially weighted chin-ups, are an ultimate sign of physical fitness.

However, you probably aren’t strong enough (yet) to do chin-ups or at least the amount prescribed, so please do assisted band pull-ups, or the lat pull-down instead for now.

how to lose fat and keep muscle

After 4-weeks of doing these assistance exercises, see where you are with chin-ups.

Tips for Progressing on Chin-Ups

Extra Tip: If you want to speed up your progress with chin-ups, do some every-day. 

Do 5 jumping (negative) chin-ups 3 times a day (morning, afternoon, and night).

Jumping (negative) chin-ups are where you jump up to the top of the chin-up movement and slowly go down.

You can do pull-ups like I am doing here, or you can do chin-ups.

This will get you used to the movement and you will be able to do chin-ups in no time.

Once those 5 jumping chin-ups become easy. Start trying normal chin-ups.

You’ll be amazed at how fast you progress.

As someone who couldn’t even do 1 before (see my progression here), I know what it takes.

Obviously, you can’t be at the gym 3 times per day so I highly recommend you get a doorway chin-up bar for your home.

I use this one because its high-quality and doesn’t ruin my door like other cheap ones. You can see my full review here.

  • General Workout Notes:

Do NOT use light weights and just try and hit the rep ranges given.

For example, when you’re doing squats and you’re on your last few reps, those reps should be hard! They should not feel easy.

Lift heavy enough to where you could not get another rep with proper form.

If it says 6-8 reps, you should not be able to get a 9th rep with proper form with the weight you are using.

If it says 8-10 reps, you should not be able to get a 11th rep with proper form with the weight you are using.

Please don’t go light on the weights.

Here’s why:

If you were to do a bunch of sets and reps of certain exercises, you would be targeting something called Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy (hypertrophy means muscle growth).

This type of muscle growth increases the fluid in the muscle making it bigger and puffier, but NOT necessarily stronger. Not what you’re going for right?

Of course not.

You want to get stronger and leaner right? If you answered yes, here’s what you want to do.

To get that body you desire, you must strength train and add size to the right areas by targeting Myofibrillar Hypertrophy.

This type of muscle growth is what you want! It increases the density of the muscle and makes it stronger, without making it much bigger (like the man in the picture to the left).

To stimulate this type of muscle growth, you want to lift heavy.

The more and more heavier you lift over time (progressive overload) the more muscular you’re going to look.

That’s why you must challenge yourself in the weight room.

Lift heavy (safely, of course) and challenge yourself and you will get the body you desire.

With that out of the way, let’s now move onto to cardio.

The Cardio Routine – HIIT & LISS

how to lose fat and keep muscle

  • Notes on HIIT

You may have noticed that there is 1 High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session a week.

Although it says to do it on day 6 (Saturday for example), you can do it on any day if you desire, however, just make sure its after or apart from your weight lifting.

As far as what to do for your HIIT session, I recommend 30 minutes of either sprinting, cycling, rowing, or some form of body-weight HIIT.

I won’t go over everything about HIIT here because I’ve written a huge article about it already. You can check that out here.

That article has other forms of HIIT you can do like on the stair machine, hill sprints, jump rope, etc., so make sure to check it out if you have questions.

I also have some sample workouts that you can do that you can check out below as well:

• 20 Minute HIIT Treadmill Workout

• HIIT For Beginners

  • Notes on LISS

There are 2 Low-Intensity, Steady-State (LISS) sessions per week that I want you to do.

Do the cardio between workout days or right after your lifting workout.

A sample LISS workout would be 45min on the StairMaster or walking on a incline on a treadmill machine at a low speed.

You don’t want to go too slow where its super easy but you also don’t want to go too fast either.

Somewhere between “Wow, this is going to suck for a bit” and “I could do this for 45 minutes.” You’ll know when you’ve found that speed.

Aim to burn a bunch of calories with this cardio session and listen to an audiobook or watch YouTube/Netflix during.

Use LISS to burn extra calories without messing up your recovery. This is why HIIT is on the weekend with an extra day of rest before hitting the gym again.

  • Notes on “Walk”

“Walk” means don’t sit at home all day.

Be active. Move. Go on a hike. Do something.

Burn calories and don’t sit at home all day. The more active you are, the easier this whole process will be for you.

Higher activity = Higher calorie burn = faster weight loss.

If you want to get technical, go on a 1.5 to 2 hour walk and listen to an audiobook.

Enjoy nature and have some fun dammit 😀

  • Notes on Cardio in General

Remember that hierarchy we talked about earlier? Remember where cardio landed? It was not as important as your overall caloric and macronutrient intake.

Lifting came after and then came cardio.

If you have to miss a cardio session due to X reason, that’s fine. Just don’t miss a lifting session and stick to your calories and macronutrients.

Cardio is just for increasing your caloric deficit and of course, heart and lung health. Don’t dismiss it but don’t make it the focus of your fitness journey.

Conclusion

We’ve come to the end of your guide.

I hope this has helped you realized what you need to do and how you need to do it.

I tried to provide as much value as possible, however, if something is unclear, or you have any questions in the guide, please email me at anytime at chris@leanwithstyle.com.

I will gladly try and clarify something in the guide.

Before you do email me however, please check out my website to see if I have not already written about the topic, which you can do by clicking here.

Also, here some other articles and pages of mine that may help you along your fitness journey:

related resources

Also, here are some of my social media platforms that I post on regularly. Come by and say hi!

YouTube

Instagram

Twitter

Thanks again for going through the guide and I hope to talk to you soon.

– Christian Pinedo

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