A lot of people seem to be under the impression that weight loss is the goal. Yes, you may be losing weight on the scale, but that isn’t the only way to gauge progress.
The biggest difference between weight loss and actual fat loss is the tissue lost.
For weight loss, this can include some fat, water, muscle glycogen and even muscle itself. Which is bad! Building muscle is much more difficult than fat is to lose. Maintaining it while attempting to lose weight is also difficult. That’s why you should be focusing on losing fat instead of weight.
The biggest distinction between weight loss and fat loss is preventing muscle loss. If you’re losing body fat and training hard in the gym, you shouldn’t be losing muscle along with it. This is important for overall performance in the gym as well as preventing a skinny fat physique.
Let’s go over the other major differences between weight loss and fat loss. I’ll also give some tips to prevent muscle loss as well!
Here we go!
Using The Scale To Track Progress
If you’re using the scale to determine fat loss success, be warned. While it will give you a rough outline of actual fat loss, it isn’t the only factor.
If you aren’t noticing a difference in the mirror, odds are, you’re burning through muscle as well as fat. This isn’t a good situation to be in whatsoever. Instead of only using the scale, you should track your body fat percentage as well.
There are a couple of ways to do this that gives a rough guideline on your fat loss progress. The one that I recommend is a basic tape measure. This is just another easy method to acquire data for the purposes of tracking progress.
The main way to do this is to use a
These can be inaccurate but as long as you use the same test every time, you’ll be able to notice a trend in your body fat percentage.
Other tests such as DEXA are the most accurate but are pretty pricey to do consistently. I would recommend getting one done before a fat loss phase and at the end of one as well.
The main one that promises more accurate results is body fat calipers. Not only are they cheap, but they’re also easy to perform as long as you test it the same way every time.
As long as you choose a similar method to track every time, you can check your progress in fat loss over time. If you only use the scale, it can be very misleading. Our bodies can store water from an increase in carbohydrates, salt, or from being sore.
This means it’s important to use at least one of these body fat testing tools to see what your body fat is doing.
Bottom line: weight loss means any type of tissue is lost. Such as muscle tissue. This is bad and something you need to prevent by any means necessary. Tracking your body fat percentage and body weight is an excellent way to make sure you’re on the right track.
Now let’s see what we can do to prevent muscle loss and focus exclusively on fat loss. Rather than weight loss.
Fat Loss Instead Of Weight Loss: Maintaining Muscle Mass
Focusing on maintaining lean muscle tissue while losing body fat is the #1 most important thing you need to do. I go over why having more muscle mass is important here. There’s a lot of reasons why you don’t want to be losing muscle so read up!
Here are my main tips to prevent losing muscle in the first place!
Don’t Drop Your Calories Quickly
This is one of the most common problems people run into when attempting to lose fat. They want to lose the fat now so they go on a super restrictive diet to lose it as fast as possible. This has a whole myriad of negative side effects that they don’t consider, however.
The biggest problem is that this huge drop in calories results in major weight loss. Unfortunately, this causes you to burn through body fat AND muscle mass.
Also, because your calories are super low suddenly, you’re going to be craving more food. This is a bad position to be in because of the lack of energy you’ll have from lower calories. The huge drop in calories will prevent you from training as hard in the gym.
This causes you to lower your training volume and makes it difficult to maintain muscle. It’s a huge negative feedback loop that most people don’t seem to think about. This is why your goal during a fat loss phase is to eat the MOST amount of calories you can while still losing fat. This will allow you to train hard in the gym and maintain muscle tissue.
The best way I’ve found to do this is by only dropping your calories by your bodyweight! Most people recommend bigger deficits (250-1000 calories), but it’s not necessary!
The other thing you should be doing is giving your body at least 2 weeks before you decide to drop calories again. If you’re maintaining your weight in those 2 weeks, drop your calories and keep working.
For a 200 lb man maintaining at 3000 calories, this would be a 200 calorie drop to get fat loss rolling again.
By making these small adjustments to your diet:
- You can continue training hard in the gym.
- Prevent muscle loss
- Keep your hunger levels in check
Try this out the next time you’re trying to lose weight. It’s a super-easy way to get into a calorie deficit without dying in the gym.
Consume Nutrient Dense Foods
Everybody knows healthy foods are good for you. Things like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and whole grains are always a good idea.
Why is this important for maintaining muscle mass during a fat loss diet? The vitamins & minerals found in nutrient-dense foods have important functions in the body.
Maintaining healthy levels of micronutrients is important for overall health and body function. These ones, in particular, are incredibly important.
- Biotin. It helps metabolize carbs, fats, and proteins into energy. Keeping your hair and skin healthier is also a plus. Good sources include: peanut butter, egg yolks, oats, almonds (just eat your nuts!)
- Calcium. Most people know how important calcium is for strong bones and teeth. However, it also assists in muscle contraction and metabolism. Good sources include cheese, yogurt, almonds, and sesame seeds.
- Copper. Copper strengthens connective tissues necessary to lift heavy weights. Good courses include: peanuts, sunflower seeds, and crab
- Iron. Iron is used to assist in transporting oxygen from your lungs to your muscles. Kind of important for maintaining muscle I’d say. It’s also an essential nutrient for keeping your immune system healthy. Good sources include sardines and dried apricots.
- Magnesium. It assists in muscle contraction and boosts energy levels. Good sources include: leafy vegetables, seeds, and nuts
- Omega 3. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential in our diet because the body isn’t able to make them. They help improve blood flow and suppress hunger. Good sources include flaxseed oil, salmon, walnuts, and brazil nuts.
- Selenium. It helps boost the immune system and assists in depression as well. Good sources include tuna and brazil nuts.
- Vitamin B12. It helps form red blood cells in the body. The most important function is to ensure the brain and muscles “talk” efficiently. Without optimal levels in the body, your coordination and ability to build muscle are affected. Good sources include eggs, meat, and milk. (If you’re vegan, make sure you’re supplementing Vitamin B12!).
- Vitamin C. This antioxidant assists in converting carbs into fuel. It’s also important in its ability to help the body absorb iron. Good sources include citrus fruits, broccoli, and green peppers.
- Vitamin D. Helps the body absorb other vitamins/minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Good sources include: fish, yogurt, sunflower seeds, olive oils, and eggs
- Zinc. It helps your body produce testosterone. SUPER IMPORTANT! It also helps with recovery. Basically Zinc is the most important thing on this list. Good sources include Red meat, eggs, pumpkin seeds, and cheese.
As you can see, the list of important micronutrients is expansive and needs to be addressed. If you don’t base your fat loss diets around these nutrient-rich foods you’re going to get lackluster results.
Supplementation is necessary for some of these but in general, food sources are going to be much more beneficial for absorbing and utilizing these micronutrients. They’re more important than you realize so pay attention to them!
Consume 0.8-1 Gram Of Protein Per Lb Of Bodyweight
Everybody knows protein is an important macronutrient, especially for gaining muscle mass. However, on a fat loss diet, it’s even more important. If you aren’t consuming enough protein on a diet, you’re going to burn through muscle tissue.
Definitely not the ideal scenario as I’ve explained above. That’s why you want to consume at least 0.8-1 gram of protein per lb of bodyweight. This will help you maintain your muscle mass and fill you up more than any other macronutrient. Both of which are incredibly important for fat loss.
A lot of people go super low calories and don’t consume enough protein, unfortunately. This is the worst way to go about losing body fat. You’ll burn through muscle at a faster rate, your energy levels will diminish, and you’ll die!
Just kidding on that last one…
The most important thing after calorie balance is protein intake so don’t neglect it. If you’re 200 lbs, your goal is to consume between 160-200 grams of protein per day. If this sounds like too much, I recommend supplementing with protein shakes throughout the day.
Don’t make the same mistake so many others do, otherwise, your muscle will burn away!
Eat Enough Fat To Maintain Proper Hormone Levels
Fats have a ton of roles to accomplish in the body. They act as messengers for protein and are necessary for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins. The most important function is fats ability to produce important hormones in the body.
For the purposes of maintaining muscle mass however, testosterone is the biggest factor! The more testosterone you have, the stronger and more muscular you’ll be. Dietary fats help in the production of testosterone.
If you go super low fat (<20%) for a period of time your testosterone levels will decrease. This isn’t a good place to be if your goal is to lose body fat and maintain muscle tissues.
To find this out for yourself, take 20% of your total bodyweight. This is the minimum number of fats you need to consume per day.
If you’re 200 lbs it will look like this:
- 200×20%=40 grams of fat
This is super easy to figure out so make sure you’re hitting at least 20% each day!
Consume As Many Carbs As Possible While Losing Fat
Carbohydrates have numerous benefits, the main ones that people know about are providing energy. Because they’re the preferred fuel source in the body, it’s important to consume as many as possible.
Of course, we don’t want to be overeating our calories. As long as you’re in a calorie deficit, you can consume as many carbs as you want and you’ll still lose fat.
This is great news! This means we can get the best bang for your buck energy-wise by consuming more carbs. Consuming more fats or proteins doesn’t provide any extra benefits but eating more carbs certainly does!
The other benefit that carbs provide is recovering from workouts and maintain muscle mass! In fact, if your goal is to build muscle in a calorie surplus, you can consume less protein by eating more carbs instead. Carbohydrates are just as muscle sparing as proteins so don’t skimp on them.
The best way to set up your diet based on all of this information is by setting your fats and proteins at the correct levels. Then, you simply consume the rest of your calories in the form of carbohydrates. This will allow you to have the most energy, reap the benefits of faster recovery, as well as maintaining muscle mass.
If you think carbs aren’t important during a fat loss diet, you’re absolutely wrong! So eat up!
Train Hard Enough To Build/Maintain Muscle Mass
This is the most important factor after diet so pay attention. When your goal is fat loss, not just weight loss, but actual fat loss, you need to train as hard as possible. You need to give your body a reason to maintain the muscle mass you’ve spent so much time building.
If you back off on the training and just do cardio, your body has no reason to maintain muscle mass. This is a huge issue and something I wouldn’t recommend you do.
Training hard sounds arbitrary so let’s throw some numbers out to give you an idea of how much work you should be doing.
In general, doing 5-10 hard sets per week per muscle group is all you need to stimulate muscle growth. Hard sets are those that are done 0, 1, or 2 reps away from failure. If you don’t push this hard, you’re going to have to do more total sets to make up for it.
As long as you’re working hard in this 5-10 hard set zone you’re good to go. This will prevent you from overdoing the volume and doing a million sets. I also recommend training each muscle group at least 2 times per week.
If you workout 3 days per week, do full-body training. 4 days per week; Upper Lower splits work well. 6 days per week, you really can’t beat Push/Pull/Legs x2.
Bottom line: work hard, use primarily compound movements, and give your body a reason to burn fat and hold onto muscle tissue.
As you can see, the difference between fat loss and weight loss really isn’t that complicated. If you’re only focusing on weight loss, you’re going to lose muscle and look skinny fat at the end of it.
If you focus on fat loss, maintaining muscle tissue is the goal! This will make you leaner and have a more muscular body at the end of it. Do whatever you can to maintain muscle because it’s much harder to build than most people think!
But that’s it for me! If you guys have any questions feel free to drop a comment down below! Also, when was the last time you attempted to lose body fat? Did you have an issue with maintaining muscle? If so, definitely try out the tips in this article. They work well and I’ve used them myself so I know they work.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time,