How To Burn Fat Like A Bodybuilder (Without Muscle Loss!)

Brad Borland
Written By: Brad Borland
January 7th, 2015
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Fat Loss
245.2K Reads
How To Burn Fat Like A Bodybuilder (Without Muscle Loss)
Achieving low body fat levels takes hard work and discipline, but having an understanding on how to manage carbohydrate intake helps facilitate the process.

The number of strategies to burn stubborn body fat stem far and wide. All kinds of fat loss workout plans, programs and the latest techniques flood the internet almost daily making promises they can’t keep.

Do you fall victim to information overload? Don’t know where to turn? Look no further than the competitive bodybuilder when it comes to losing fat and keeping your hard-earned muscle. Bodybuilders have a unique perspective when it comes to dropping unwanted pounds – they have to.

It’s not something they desire, dream about or wish for one day, it’s something they must do in order to reach their ultimate goal – to place as high as possible in a competition. It’s much like their job. Do what it takes to lose fat and keep muscle.

We can all learn a thing or two from a traditional bodybuilding diet. But first, let’s break down what the typical bodybuilder does in order to achieve such low body fat levels.

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How Bodybuilders Burn Fat

Contest dieting, as it is often referred to, isn’t something taken lightly with a few topical suggestions easily executed. It is a well thought out plan of scheduled meals, adjusted macronutrients and laborious consistency. Below are a few key concepts of a traditional bodybuilding fat-loss diet.

  • All macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) are carefully gauged according to bodyweight, body composition and ultimate goal. Water intake is also kept high.
  • Protein is kept optimal for muscle gains and prevention of muscle loss.
  • Healthy fats are vital in energy use and hormonal balance.
  • Carbs are complex in nature and are oftentimes cycled for greater fat loss.
  • A minimum of 12 to 16 weeks are required to reach the goal.
  • Weight training is kept heavy and cardio is added to accelerate fat loss.
  • Progress is closely monitored on a weekly basis. Adjustments may take place at these times.
  • Rest and recovery are practiced with the utmost discipline to ensure all body systems function properly.
  • Cheat meals (if any) are deliberate and seldom.
  • Consistency is the bodybuilder’s best friend.

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It Takes Work, and a Lot of It

One of the most, if not the most, important factor for success is the act of consistency. Staying the course and not wavering or giving yourself excuses is the surest way of getting to the finish line. Bodybuilding diets aren’t full of nice little ways to be flexible and be easy, they are disciplined and deliberate plans of consistent action all pointed toward one goal – to get you ripped. It’s not an easy or incredibly enjoyable process but if your goal is to lose fat and you are serious about that objective then a bodybuilder’s approach might be just what you need.

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What You Can Do to Burn Fat Like a Bodybuilder

Below are some ways to make a bodybuilding diet plan work for you. They are presented in such a way for you to easily put into practice for your own personal success.

  1.  Make a plan: The most important part of any lofty endeavor is to have a thorough plan of action. If you are new to this, however, the trick is not to jump in head first, but to gradually build consistency over time. To build muscle and lose fat takes time so apply the same thinking to your long-term dieting goals. Gradually clean up your diet, gradually become consistent with your meals, gradually build on your discipline. These, in turn, will create a solid and stable long-term foundation that you will add to each week. Make a plan and build on it.
  2. Keep protein high: You’ve heard that axiom before but do you honestly practice it? Start by adding a little protein to each meal. This may include adding an ounce or two of meat or one or two more eggs or egg whites to meals. The first step is to make sure you are getting at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Later, you may need to increase this slightly to 1.25, 1.5 or even 2 grams per pound. The key is to take in a consistent supply of protein to help reduce the risk of losing muscle while dieting.
  3. Support your training: While we are on the subject of protein, be sure to support your training with quality sources. Of course you want to eat several high-protein, quality meals per day but you also will want to bookend your training with amino acids as well. For convenience, a whey protein powder product can be ideal. 20-30 grams of whey prior and 40-50 grams after training will ensure the recovery process is at the forefront so you can reap all the rewards of your workout session. If you prefer whole-food sources, easily digestible proteins such as eggs and fish are viable options.
  4. Fats can stay, increase them if necessary: The research touting the benefits of healthy fats continues to mount. Not only are they an excellent source of energy when carbs are kept low (on a diet) they also have been shown to play key roles in the regulation of key hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone which can be vital in the process of burning fat. Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts and olive oil should be normally kept at around 20-30% of total calories. On extreme low carb days your fat intake can increase slightly to compensate for the energy loss.
  5. Types of carbs count: Another no-brainer is the fact that you should take in complex forms of carbohydrates. Brown and white rice, sweet and white potatoes, raw oatmeal, quinoa and Ezekiel bread are just a few examples of ideal energy sources. At first you will want to cut out highly processed carbs like desserts, cereals, pasta, most breads and snack foods. These not only do a number on your beltline but also on your blood-sugar levels as well. Aim for 1 to 2 grams of quality, complex carbs per pound of bodyweight to establish a baseline. Afterwards, you will know where you stand regarding energy levels, bodyweight changes and workout performance.
  6. Cycle those carbs: Now, here’s the trick. Most successful bodybuilding diet plan will have you manipulate carb intake in some fashion. From my own experience cycling carbs seems to be an effective and fast way to drop fat, save muscle and maintain energy levels for your workouts. The way I see it, there are two ways to approach this, and either approach has you manipulating carbs by depleting and then feeding in a cyclical manner:
    • You can drop carbs to 1 gram per pound of desired bodyweight for low carb, non-training days and increase carbs to 2 grams per pound on training days. Also, you may have one day per week (preferably a heavy training day) where you take in 3 grams per pound as a “cheat” day.
    • You can have set days per week you go low and high such as 4 days of low carbs flowed by 1 day of high carbs. Keep cycling this 5 day approach.
  7. Cheat tactfully: “Cheating” on your diet isn’t a green light to go crazy and eat whatever and however much you want. For the disciplined few it simply means eating more of the same bodybuilding-friendly foods. If you are carb cycling a high carb day would suffice for most as a “cheat” day. For those who can afford it having a cheat meal once per week can also be an option. Don’t fool yourself. If you aren’t making the progress of a pound or two of fat lost per week then you have no business eating high calorie meals every week.
  8. Have patience and discipline: Anything worth getting requires serious hard work. Results don’t happen overnight or day to day or even weekly. The body is not a machine. It doesn’t respond in a linear fashion with evenly-spaced gains and losses. Especially during the major road bumps and periods of little or no progress, patience is a requirement on the long road to lean. As stated before, discipline is built over time just like your physique. Trying to do everything at once is a perfect plan for failure.

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Sample Bodybuilding Diet Plan

Below is a sample diet plan for the average 200 pound lifter wanting to drop body fat like a bodybuilder. Use the low and high carb days as needed – either as low on non-training days and high on training days or as 3 or 4 days low carb and 1 day high carb cycles.

Training/High Carb Days
Meal 1: 1 cup of oatmeal with 2 tbsp of natural peanut butter, 2 eggs and 5 egg white
Meal 2: 6-8 ounces of chicken breast, turkey or meat in a salad with 2 tbsp of oil-based dressing and veggies, 1 ½ cup (cooked) rice, 1 ounce of nuts
Pre-workout: 1 apple, 1 scoop of whey protein powder or 6 egg whites
Post-workout: 1 apple, 1 scoop of whey protein powder or 6 egg whites
Meal 3: 6-8 ounces of chicken, turkey, meat or fish, 1 cup of green veggies, 2 cups of sweet potato
Off/Low Carb Days
Meal 1: ½ cup of oatmeal with 2 tbsp of natural peanut butter, 2 eggs and 5 egg whites
Meal 2: 6-8 ounces of chicken breast, turkey or meat in a salad with 2 tbsp of oil-based dressing and veggies, ½-1 cup (cooked) rice, 1 ounce of nuts
Pre-workout: 1 or ½ apple, 1 scoop of whey protein powder or 6 egg whites
Post-workout: 2 scoops of whey protein powder, 1 cup of berries
Meal 3: 6-8 ounces of chicken, turkey, meat or fish, 2 cups of green veggies, 1 cup of sweet potato

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Cecelia F Lawrey
Posted on: Sun, 10/17/2021 - 10:34

Had only tried this for 5 days when my pickleball friends asked how much weight I had lost. Not much but already lost inches. This is a great way to eat to burn fat and I find it kills the carvings for unhealthy carbs. I am 73 and feeling great.

Posted on: Fri, 05/28/2021 - 08:44

Great article!! It gives me an idea of how to burn my belly fat. Continue sharing more informative post

Madeline Theis
Posted on: Thu, 02/25/2021 - 01:39

Is it safe to take all these supplements once per day? If i bought them all individually and took the recommended dosages.

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Posted on: Thu, 02/25/2021 - 09:57

Hey Madeline - yes it is

Kristi Harsh
Posted on: Wed, 01/20/2021 - 19:38

I am 58 and have been lifting weights for about a year and i measured myself before i started working out and a year later i have the same measurements. If i ate 1500 calories a day I would gain weight easily. I usually try and keep it at 1200. I don’t know if its because of my age or what. I want to know what to eat while I’m working out to lose this fat i have on my sides and stomach. It seems like no matter what i do, i seem to stay the same.

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Posted on: Thu, 01/21/2021 - 08:55

Hey Kristi - that caloric number seems very low. Check out this guide on building muscle after 40:

John F
Posted on: Wed, 04/13/2016 - 10:14

What should i eat if i dont do any conditioning at those no-workout days at the afternoon? Any sugestions? I dont really have time at the afternoons for conditioning due college and i also workout three times a week at mornings, usually i eat a shake of 300ml milk 2 tbsp peanut and two medium bananas at afternoon but at no workout days i shouldnt be eating this much CH...

Posted on: Wed, 04/13/2016 - 09:25

At no workout days should i keep eating those pre and post workout meals even if i dont train? Any alternatives for the afternoon meal?

Posted on: Tue, 03/29/2016 - 17:01


You haven't mentioned bodybuilders actually cheat using anabolic steroids, insulin , growth hormones , loads of complex vitamin and minerals and so much other stuff. So basically their metabolism is extremely high and therefore they burn fat and build lean muscle!

Just look at them they are sweating even watching tv

Posted on: Mon, 11/16/2015 - 03:24

informative article!

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Posted on: Tue, 11/17/2015 - 11:05


Posted on: Tue, 07/21/2015 - 12:16

Hello Brad, I just saw this article and ive never used a 3 meal a day split. Since I and most people don't work out mid day how would you break your nutrition plan out over a day with 8-5, working out after 5? This is the question I myself get asked. I generally go 2-3 hours between meals and bracket snacks. Then do the pre and post workout shakes. I take it time of consumption is as important as what you're eating?

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Posted on: Wed, 07/22/2015 - 17:20

Yeah, timing can be important, especially when your training is intense and you work a full-time job (which is like, everyone).

Just be sure your pre-workout snack has complex carbs and easy to digest protein and your post-workout is easy to digest protein with an option of some simple sugars.

Posted on: Sun, 07/19/2015 - 17:21

This is where I get confused. By my calculations this is approximately 3,000 + calories you're consuming in a day. For a 200 pound male your approximate BMR is 2,000 calories, add in exercise for another 300 - 400 calories (I could be way off here), totaling about 2,400 calories burned in a day. Losing weight basically comes down to calories in vs. calories burned - I know not all calories are created equal, i.e., 500 calories of candy bars isn't the same as 500 calories of beef. However, eating the right foods still comes down to calories in vs. calories out, so how do you lose weight or for that matter not gain weight when you're consuming more calories than you're burning?

Thank you in advance for your response.

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Posted on: Mon, 07/20/2015 - 10:24

BMR calculators aren't always accurate given that they can't always calculate for genetic factors and NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis - see here for more info:

As such, you should start with a set amount of calories, eat roughly the same amount of carbohydrates and sodium, monitor your weight for 20-25 days, and then adjust as necessary depending upon your goals.

For example, I'm roughly 200lbs and I currently maintain on 4,000 calories working a desk job. Is that typical? No, but it's currently where I'm at and there isn't a single calculator online that would give me that data.

You have to know your own body, a calculator is a simply an educated guess at best.

Posted on: Sun, 07/19/2015 - 00:14

Hi there , how do you mix the egg whites and egg in with your oats ? Do you just throw it in or drink it seperatly?

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Posted on: Mon, 07/20/2015 - 10:29

You can eat them separately as an omelet or simply mix them into the oats once they've been cooked for a bit and the heat will cook them through. If the oats are still slightly runny then throw them back in the microwave until the eggs cook and that will dramatically thicken up the oats.

ian wallace
Posted on: Fri, 06/19/2015 - 15:45

HI... im very confused how is eating complex carbs all day even ur last meal a no/low carb day makes no sense....

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Posted on: Mon, 06/22/2015 - 10:02

It's simply a low carb day on a non training day, not a no carb day.

Posted on: Thu, 06/18/2015 - 11:23

Gonna give this a try, seems achievable. However I hate peanut butter and avocado, what are some good alternatives? Thanks

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 06/19/2015 - 09:55

You could substitute olive or coconut oil instead.

Posted on: Thu, 06/18/2015 - 09:47

Nice article, thanks. Two questions:

1. Why is there a pre and post workout shake on off days? I'm not understanding the rationale here.
2. Are there any adjustments that need to be made for the over 50 lifter? Our metabolism isn't the same as an 18 year old.

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Posted on: Fri, 06/19/2015 - 09:58

1. Some may prefer to do conditioning on off day which still constitutes as a "workout" even though they may not touch the weights.
2. Meal plans are somewhat tough in this sense. It would depend upon your goal - weight gain vs. loss. I would start with a set amount of food (perhaps what is suggested) and see how your weight reacts. If stays fairly stable and you're looking to lose then simply adjust calories slights (e.g 1.5 cups of rice to 1 cup and 1 cup of oatmeal to 3/4 of a cup.)

Posted on: Thu, 06/18/2015 - 09:46

That is a realistic and reasonable diet. Looks like about 175 gms of protein. I usually make a pound of ground turkey or beef with a bag of mixed vegetables for the day to cover that part of the diet. Then i can eat it throughout the day in work.

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Posted on: Fri, 06/19/2015 - 11:36

Joe, that is some excellent planning!

Posted on: Sun, 05/24/2015 - 20:18

Its so HARD!!!!
How can i suppose to get 2 times per pound of body protein ?its too much,cost too much money!!
I am 75 kg=165 pound,i should take 330 gr protein.if i take 4 scoop whey its just 80 gr,how much meat and chiken and egg need to get 250 gr???tell me please

Posted on: Sun, 05/24/2015 - 20:31

You should be able to get away with 1g per pound. Start there and work up if you need to. Buy meat in bulk and use protein shakes/bars to supplement your diet.

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Posted on: Mon, 05/25/2015 - 15:44

Thanks, Matt! : )

Posted on: Tue, 02/03/2015 - 10:05

Hi Brad, can I eat the stated amounts but spread them across the day? I work 13-14 hour days as a trucker & might struggle with just eating 3 times a day.

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Posted on: Wed, 02/04/2015 - 08:19

Absolutely! I can understand working those long days. That's when you utilize healthy fats the most - they are the most filling...

Posted on: Fri, 01/23/2015 - 03:42

Hi brad,
I am meet,i am a strict vegetarian so i always stays in confusion about eating,from what food i can get more nutrition like proteins,fibres,carbs, can u pls help me with some kind of vegetarian will be very helpful for me.

Posted on: Tue, 01/20/2015 - 10:19

I do not want to build awesome muscles but want to be fit please give me a complex barbell workout if possible and is whey protein is harmful l and who can take that ? how much workout I have to do to take whey protein

anand gupta
Posted on: Wed, 01/14/2015 - 02:34

I am a vegetarian person can u pl suggest the veg diet so can lose fat and not muscle

John redpath
Posted on: Sun, 01/11/2015 - 17:46

Hi Brad. Just a quick query. It says to eat low carbs on non training days and high carbs on training days but then it also says to try to eat 4 low carb days then 1 high but I train around 4 times a week! How would this work? Thanks, john

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Posted on: Mon, 01/12/2015 - 14:30

Hi John,
You can have the option of either doing a strict 4 days of low and 1 of high or just eat low on non training days and high on training days. It's more about your preference.

Carlos caputo
Posted on: Sat, 01/10/2015 - 06:01

Excellent article, very accurate about the right things to do to achieve fat loss.

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Posted on: Sat, 01/10/2015 - 14:32

Thanks, Carlos! I appreciate the feedback.

Posted on: Fri, 01/09/2015 - 03:01

As a student in college and living in a dorm. I cant prepare my own foods, I eat what the school provides for me. How do I do this diet plan? When I cant always have chicken or eggs or oatmeal? Is it a lost cause?

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Posted on: Fri, 01/09/2015 - 14:32

Hi Garrett,

Not at all! Although it may seem like a challenge, finding substitutes for certain foods can be done. Oatmeal can be prepared with a microwave, you can purchase canned chicken and tuna and your meal plan may include scrambled or hard-boiled eggs.

Really look hard at your options. If you want it bad enough, you will find a way. Don't give up!

Chris. Doyle
Posted on: Thu, 01/08/2015 - 19:49

Excellent info for a realistic eating plan and goal setting. Great article

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Posted on: Fri, 01/09/2015 - 14:29

Thanks, Chris!

Posted on: Thu, 01/08/2015 - 09:17

Brad - how many calories are in those diet plans above?

Posted on: Thu, 01/08/2015 - 09:15

Great article! Brad Borland always writes excellent take home advice. I'm definitely going to use some of these tips for my summer cut this year. Props.

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Posted on: Thu, 01/08/2015 - 09:42

Thanks, Dave! Let me know how you do.

Posted on: Wed, 01/07/2015 - 21:52

I'm a truck driver how do I make a plan for my job

Posted on: Wed, 01/07/2015 - 20:39

Woo-hoo!! Finally someone who isn't pushing five meals or more a day. For a weight loss diet isn't 1 gram of protein per body weight too much. Wouldn't u want 1 gram per desired weight

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Posted on: Thu, 01/08/2015 - 09:42

Thanks, Tim!
Actually, when dieting like this 1 gram is just about right since your carbs get pretty low. But, if you feel 1 gram is a bit much just lower them a little. Thanks!

Posted on: Mon, 11/28/2016 - 08:54

Hi Brad,

Could you recommend any near zero calorie snacks for in between meals?


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Posted on: Mon, 11/28/2016 - 09:35


Unfortunately, I'm not sure such a thing exists unless you'd like to chew on ice in between meals. My best advice is to drink 8-16 ounces of water in-between meals to feel full until it's time to eat again.

Hope this helps!