Your Go-To Guide For Cutting Fat While Keeping Muscle

Don't lose your hard-earned muscle! This guide and Q&A by Brad Borland shows you how to drop fat and retain muscle.

If you are like any other bodybuilder on the planet you fight for every ounce of hard-earned muscle each and every day you enter the gym. Your diet is on point, your workouts are consistent and your rest and supplement regimen is perfect. Somewhere on the road to your ultimate physique you may find yourself wanting to shed a little body fat to show off that work of art you have toiled over for so long. But do you need to sacrifice a few pounds of muscle mass for the sake of a leaner physique?

In a word: No! By tweaking your diet a little and paying close attention to your macronutrient numbers, you can melt away the fat while keeping your muscular gains. This step-by-step guide will show you how to lean up and stay huge!

Guide To Cutting Fat And Keeping Muscle

Cutting fat? Protein is king!Step 1: Protein is King

You have heard it over and over: amino acids are the building blocks of protein and protein builds muscle – period. Without adequate amounts of protein, you will not be able to hold onto that muscle you are trying to reveal to the world. Keep protein levels around 1 to 1.25 grams per pound of bodyweight (for a 200 pound lifter this would be 200 to 250 grams). Good sources include fish, chicken, lean red meat, turkey, skim milk, low-fat cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs and whey protein.

Step 2: Fat is Your Friend

It can not be stressed enough that fat is essential in your quest to keep muscle while trying to lean up. Dietary fat will actually burn bodily adipose tissue and keep your metabolism in check by regulating key hormone levels such as testosterone. Keep fat intake at about 30 % of your total calorie intake. Good sources include avocado, nuts such as almonds, olive oil-based salad dressings, egg yolks, natural peanut butter and fatty fish such as salmon.

Step 3: Cycle Carbohydrates

Having had a bad reputation for the past few years carbs are essential for normal bodily functions as well as fueling those intense workouts. The trick is regulating the amount and type consumed. For our purposes try out around 2 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight to start (this is 400 grams for our 200 pound athlete). This will be considered your base. Healthy sources include sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, green vegetables, oatmeal, spinach and apples.

Here is the variable in your plan. You will cycle these carb amounts for each week allowing your body to burn fat while still feeding your muscle. This will keep the body off guard to keep burning fat, but enough carbs every few days to keep muscle tissue. This is where a little experimenting on your part will be important. You will have a low carb day for 3 days (0.5 - 1 gram per pound) followed by a medium carb day (2 grams per pound) and finally a high carb day (2.5 to 3 grams per pound).

For our 200 pound example:

  • Low: 100 to 200g (3 days)
  • Medium: 400g (1 day)
  • High: 500 to 600g (1 day)

With a little trial and error you will have to determine if you need more or less low carb days cycled into your week. Do not be discouraged regarding keeping muscle on your frame – keeping protein and fat intakes in check you can be ensured that you will hold onto that hard-earned muscle mass.

You should be losing around 1 to 2 pounds of fat per week. Any more than that then take a day or two of low carb days out of the plan or add a medium day. Any less then add a day or two of low carb days in the cycle and/or possibly delete the high carb day.

Q&A With Brad Borland

Brad, is there any truth to the claim that eating too much protein is dangerous for the body?

There always seems to be a continued resistance against high protein intake especially amongst textbook junkies who have little or no experience in the business of building muscle. As extremely high amounts of protein may be detrimental to health (and not to mention a waste), elevated levels that of which are significantly higher than that of the sedentary population can be a necessity when it comes to both promoting muscle gain and cutting fat. A good rule of thumb is to start at around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Some individuals can get away with a little less and some may need a bit more. Experiment for several weeks to see where your level is.

Is it possible to get completely shredded like a bodybuilder and maintain all your muscle mass?

In a word: No. While dieting at a level to get shredded for the posing stage, it is inevitable that you will lose at least a little muscle mass. The body cannot go into an extreme mode of fat burning without sacrificing muscle tissue. The key to minimize this loss is to keep protein and fat levels in check. Keep protein levels high for muscle maintenance and take in healthy fats for energy and hormone balance – namely testosterone.

While dieting  it is inevitable that you will lose a little muscle mass.

For a beginner with an average amount of body fat that wants to build muscle and get shredded, should they do a cutting diet first, or spend some time learning how to build muscle before they try to cut fat?

Your best bet would be to cut the fat first. Reason: As you get leaner, you will look more muscular. The more muscular you become the larger you will look. Plus, being leaner is a much better way to look at the beach or poolside. Once you can see each muscle more clearly, then you can gain muscle mass at a more steady rate – just by increasing calories slightly. You will already have the knowledge to get lean, now you can stay lean and get bigger!

Should you change your training style when trying to cut fat to higher reps and lighter weight, or should you continue to use a muscle building routine?

To hold on to as much muscle as possible while dieting always use the same heavy loads and medium reps as you were using prior. This will ensure you will be able to retain muscle while dieting to cut fat. If you were to use lighter loads, the body would perceive that as a detraining period and compensate by sacrificing muscle. You must still give the muscle a need to be there. Heavy, compound movements such as bench presses, squats, leg presses, military presses, chins, rows and dips should make up the bulk of your program.