Learn everything there Is to know about fItness, performance, fat loss and lifestyle from Adrian McDonnell.
Losing weight and losing fat are not the same thing.
If all you care about is losing weight, you could just sit in a sauna and sweat a lot. Did you lose weight? Yes. But did you lose fat? No!
If you want to know how to lose fat without losing muscle, then read on!
1. Calorie Deficit
The only way to lose fat consistently is to create a sustainable calorie deficit. By consistently eating less than your body needs to maintain its current weight, you will lose fat. This might sound simple. I’m aware it does not sound fancy, but it’s really that simple! While it might sound simple in theory, it can be difficult in practice.
So how do you create a sustainable calorie deficit?
For example, say your maintenance calories are 2,000 calories per day. A 10% calorie deficit would require you to reduce your calories by 200 per day while a 20% deficit would require you to reduce your calories by 400 a day.
With my coaching clients, I like to give a calorie range instead of a calorie target. Why? Experience has taught me that it’s important to have some wiggle room. In the past, I used to be obsessive over hitting my exact number of calories. Some days I may not have been hungry or felt like eating but I felt I had to eat anyways to ensure my numbers are right. Sounds a bit rigid doesn’t it?
Because of this, I have found it’s much better of having a flexible mindset around calories as opposed to a rigid one. So I like to give ranges. For example, instead of telling someone they have to eat 2,200 calories, I prefer giving a range of 2,100-2,300.
It allows for more flexibility firstly and secondly, it’s much more reassuring on your mindset that it’s ok for some days to have a higher intake and for others to have a slightly lower but you’re always around that range.
Note: Give yourself enough time (12 weeks or more is usually optimal) to tone up and get leaner. It’s not a healthy nor sustainable to cut your calories by upwards of 40% or more and starve yourself for a couple of weeks because you want to make changes quickly.
Unsustainable methods yield unsustainable results.
2. Protein Intake
I always say, when eating in a calorie deficit, you should have two goals in mind:
1.Maintain as much (if not all) of your muscle mass as possible
2.Eat as much food as possible while staying within your calorie limit
This is where the benefits of setting a high protein target comes in. It’s not uncommon for people to lose weight but they just because a smaller version of themselves. While I’m not trying to be critical or to sound like an a*shole, the common term used to describe this is “skinny fat.” You’ve lost weight on the scale yet you still don’t have that toned and trim physique which you had hoped for. If this has happened, chances are your protein intake wasn’t adequate and/or you didn’t strength train (future point).
So how much protein should you eat? I recommend 1.6 – 2.2g of protein per Kg of bodyweight. So if you weigh 70 Kg, this would range from 116g to 154g of protein per day. In general, it’s always better to be on the higher end if possible.
Of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats), protein is the most filling – which was my second point from above. Being hungry while dieting sucks. It is not enjoyable going to bed hungry. You can help keep hunger at bay by ensuring you’re getting in an adequate protein intake.
Unsure of good sources of protein? Don’t worry – I’ve got you covered!
3. Carbohydrates, Fats & Micronutrients
As mentioned above, protein is the most important of the three macronutrients when trying to lose bodyfat without building muscle.
Carbohydrates and fats can be balanced based to make up the remainder of your calorie target. In general, I recommend eating more carbohydrates on training days because you’ll need them more to fuel your training and less on rest days because you’re not as active. Fats would make up the remainder.
And while it is important to ensure your macronutrient intake of protein, carbohydrates and fats are being met, it’s equally important to ensure you’re getting your micronutrients in also.
That’s where specifically vegetables but also fruits come into play. Yes, calories and protein are the two most important targets to hit, but the make up of these calories still matters.
I often would’ve checked out bodybuilders physiques when I was in my late teens and early twenties and wondered how they look so shredded yet were eating pop-tarts, cereals and bars of chocolate.
That is the danger of social media. It might look cool to be constantly posting photos of eating donuts, pop-tarts and bowls of cereal. But that is not reality. Eating those foods alone didn’t get them to that shredded and it can be misleading for people (younger people especially) when all the see is these high-level physique athletes share their highlights.
While I’m all about having a flexible approach to dieting, it is important to note that you can look good but not feel good which defeats the purpose of doing this in the first place doesn’t it?
Going back to the above example of needing some wiggle room with your calories, you also do need to have some leniency and flexibility with your foods. I like to adapt the 80/20 rule with my clients whereby we aim to get upwards of 80% of the foods they eat from real food sources, leaving the other 20% with more flexibility.
However, if you’re just focused solely on the calories and don’t consider the micronutrients (like those you get from vegetables and fruits), you might look good on the outside but I guarantee you, you will not feel as good on the inside.
The moral of the story? Eat like an adult! Get your veggies in. Get your fruits in. Include your favourite treats also. But don’t eat foods consistently that were meant to be sold to 10-year-old children!
See below for good sources.
4. Strength Training
Whenever someone says they want to get in “shape” or to “tone up,” if you think about it, what are you referring to? What gives your body that shape and tone?
No it is not your bones! They hold your body in place. But to get that shape and tone you desire, you are specifically referring to building muscle in the right areas so you can get that toned stomach, or defined butt or big arms! Muscle is the thing that gives your body that shape and tone in the absence of bodyfat!
As mentioned above, a lot of people lost weight but their weight loss is typically a combination of fat and muscle so what you’re left with is a smaller version of yourself. The focus should be to build muscle, not burn it off.
The best way to get “shaped” and “toned” is to perform strength training while eating in a calorie deficit. This will give you a much better overall transformation. Anyone whose lost a considerable amount of weight but still looks somewhat “soft” is usually because they have lost some fat, but their muscles aren’t overly toned. I recommend at least 3-4x a week of strength training (not working out) for optimal results.
If you think you can’t get results with minimal equipment, then checkout the one of my clients Aidan, who made phenomenal progress with just 2x5Kg Dumbbells.
And ladies, if you think weight training makes you bulky, then checkout how Michaela managed to tone up while lifting weights and performing proper strength training.
Do you need to do cardio to lose bodyfat without losing muscle? Absolutely not.
Does that mean cardio is a waste of time? Not at all! Adding some extra cardio in on top of your strength training will help you burn some additional calories.
On top of that, there are many benefits of doing cardio for your cardiovascular health. Your heart and your lungs typically work harder doing cardio than weights.
What are the best forms of cardio?
The best form of cardio is the one you enjoy the most that you can adhere to. This might include running, cycling, elliptical etc. However, one universal form of cardio everyone should be doing is the most basic one – walking. Don’t underestimate the power of getting your steps in on a daily basis.
If you’re someone who acknowledges the benefits of having a good cardiovascular base but hate the thought of lacing up your runners and going for a 45 minute jog, then HIIT or circuit training might be a better alternative for you.
HIIT training involves alternating intense exercise which requires shorts bursts of energy (usually between 8-12 seconds) with low-intensity recovery periods.
Circuit training involves performing a number of exercises in a circuit fashion with minimal rest in between. I like to call this ‘muscle-building cardio’ and share multiple examples of it on my Instagram page.
6. Be Patient And Enjoy The Process
Have you ever made the mistake of telling yourself I’ll be happy when:
And then, when that moment comes, you don’t feel accomplished at all?
This has happened to me on so many occasions before – fitness and non-fitness related. For example, I led myself to believe I’ll be happy when I get to a low bodyfat percentage. But, when I actually got there I didn’t feel accomplished because it came at the expense of being very restrictive in my diet and barely eating any carbs at all!
In other words, I didn’t enjoy the journey – the process of getting there.
And that is where the lesson is. If you’re miserable on the journey, even if you reach the destination, you’re not going to be happy.
Being anxious around and not being able to enjoy social gatherings (when they come back again) because you’re following a rigid diet isn’t good on your mindset. You might drop the bodyfat and look good, but if you were to ever rebound and have to go through the same process again, you would falsely believe that this would mean you not being able to enjoy yourself.
Wherever you are on in your fitness journey – even if you’re currently not happy with where you’re at right now, enjoy the journey and embrace the challenge it brings.
Once you trust this process, experience the highs and the lows of the journey but keep moving forward regardless, you will feel much more accomplished when you achieve what you set out you wanted to achieve. There will be days when you go over your calories. There might be days when you miss a workout. But it’s all part of the process.
An analogy I like to use is to imagine you set out to climb a mountain but instead you got a helicopter to the top instead. Sure the view is still the same but the person who started at the base and climbed to the summit had a much more memorable experience.
And that’s what it’s all about. The experience and the journey.
Embrace the journey and enjoy the challenge everyday brings. That is the real reward.
“Success without fulfilment is the ultimate failure.” - Tony Robbins.
Losing bodyfat without requires you to:
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this beneficial.
References: Syatt, J. 2015: "Training and Nutrition for Fat Loss."
What to Do Next
If you found this post beneficial, then join my Free Facebook Group for more training tips.
If you’d like a coach to help put all of the above in operation for you, then book your free consultation call today to see if you’d be a good fit for my 1:1 Online Coaching.
Having something the structure and accountability you need to get the results you’ve always desired will make your journey much easier and quicker.
What’s the purpose of the consultation call?
To deep dive into your health & exercise history, your goals and current struggles and from there decide if we’d be able to work together (note – I am not the right coach for everyone which is why I have consultation calls with potential clients of mine).
If we are a good fit, we can get working on your personalised program so you can finally make the changes you’ve always wanted.
Adrian McDonnell -
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