Dieting to lose fat can lead to muscle loss as your body attempts to lower its basal metabolic rate (BMR) in a caloric deficit.

The longer you diet — especially if you’re in a caloric deficit or attempting to get down to a very low bodyfat percentage — the more of a risk you run to lose muscle muscle as you shed fat.

Your body will eventually lower testosterone levels, spike cortisol levels; while you experience a dip in energy and slower recovery times as you simply aren’t eating enough calories.

For this reason, it is recommended to diet to lose fat as slowly as possible to avoid losing too much muscle.

We typically advise for you to lose fat at around a pound a week (a weekly caloric deficit of 3500-4000 calories spread across the 7 days).

But if you’re in a fat loss mode, you might not want to train like you used to — temporarily — and focus on exercises that will preserve as much muscle mass as possible.

This means forgoing endless drop sets and spending hours per week polishing up on isolation movements.

How to Train When Dieting to Lose Fat

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Considering all of the above, you will need to structure your training around the following:

  • Lower energy levels
  • Reduced recovery times
  • Loss of strength

Again, this means you won’t be able to throw around as much weight as before, perform as many sets as before, and heave less energy to do endless isolation work.

So, what you will need is to incorporate compound exercises with a high stimulus to fatigue ratio.

Exercises such as the Deadlift, Barbell Row, High Rep/Heavy Squats, Overhead Press, etc., are undeniably great, but are very taxing on the central nervous system, joints, connective tissues, and muscles.

Instead, you should look to exercises with a lot of bang for their buck.

These exercises include:

You can still do isolation work, but the main focal point should be compound movements with a view to building/retaining strength.

This means slightly lower rep ranges to conserve energy and to give your body a reason to hold onto your muscle mass.

Here is a sample workout you can employ during your cut:

Lower Body Day 1Total SetsTotal RepsWeight Used
Paused Squats 3×6
Walking Lunges 3×8
Weight Glute-Ham Raises 3×6-8
Hanging Leg Raises 3×12
Upper Body Day 1
Spoto Press 3×6
Incline Bench Press 3×8
Chest-Supported Row 3×8-10
Chins 3×8-10
Lateral Raise 4×10-12
Lower Body Day 2
Snatch-Grip Deadlift 3×6
Speed Deadlifts 8×2
Front Squats 3×6
Reverse Hyperextensions 3×10-12
Ab Wheel Rollout 3×10-15
Upper Body Day 2
Seated DB Overhead Press 3×8
Lat Pull Down 3×12
Dips 4×10-12
DB Rows 4×10-12
Wide-grip Upright Row 3×10
Face Pulls 4×12-15

The goal of this workout isn’t only to give you enough bang for your buck, but to ensure that you recovery properly. We are also assuming that you will be doing some form of cardio to complement your fat loss goals.

For more strategies to help you lose fat as pain free as possible, check out our article on the subject.