How to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

One of the simplest truths behind losing fat is that the number of calories you’re burning should be higher than the calories you consume.

Over the decades this simple truth has transformed itself into a mathematical equation that gave rise to great many different diets and apps that count how many calories you consume and how many you burn.

The truth of the matter is that some people became so obsessed with the calorie-spotting game that they can recite the calorie content of almost any food by hard. Yet, when it comes to practical application, this simple equation often appears as faulty and incomplete. As if it’s missing a key element that makes the difference between a seesaw dieting and losing the fat for good.

Counting Calories

Less calories equals less fat. The logic behind this equation is so simple and elegant that it’s difficult to disagree.  If you constantly burn more calories than you consume, you’re bound to lose weight eventually. This principle has been proven true by numerous studies and personal experiences. One of the most dramatic proofs came from an experiment conducted by a professor at Kansas State University.

He too has consumed less calories than it is required for a healthy person to maintain the weight, but with an additional twist. Namely, the calories he consumed came from all sorts of chocolate bars, and snacks containing unhealthy nutrients. The result was the same.

Not only did he lose 27 pounds, but also marked an improvement in his cholesterol and triglycerides count, despite the unhealthy diet. Although this study is far from providing us with the general picture, it is another example of the importance of total calories when losing weight.

While consuming less calories compared to what you burn might be the key to losing weight, you can specifically target fat loss by basing your diet on protein.

The effects of protein vs. carbohydrate on the weight loss has been examined in a study which included 31 overweight postmenopausal women on a low calorie diet.  Each of them was taking 1,400 calories, with 65% of the calories coming from carbohydrates, 30% from fats and 15% from protein.

They were also divided into two groups. The first one was receiving 25 grams of carbohydrate supplement twice a day, while the second received 25 grams of protein supplement. The latter marked a 3.9 percent higher weight loss then the former, and they also retained more of the lean muscles at the expense of fats.

The Effect of Overeating on Weight Gain

However, although protein can help you preserve muscle mass, you still cannot count on sticking to a high protein diet and eating as much food as you want, while still burning body fat.  The effect of overfeeding on weight gain has been examined in a study which included 25 healthy adults with normal weight. After an initial period of normal weight maintaining diet which for determining their daily calorie requirements, they were divided into three groups. 

The first one received 5%, the second one 15%, while the third one 25% of their total daily calories from protein. Each of the subjects were also overfed, consuming 40 percent more calories than their normal daily requirements.

The study span over an eight week period with the low-protein group consuming 6% of total calories from protein, 52% from fat and 42 from carbs. The ratio of the normal group was 15% protein, 44% fats and 41% carbs, while the high protein group received 26% protein, 33% fats and 41% carbs.

While all of the subjects gained weight, the average increase in the low-protein group was the lowest – only 3.16 kilograms. The normal protein group marked an average increase of 6.05 kilograms, while average weight gain of the high protein group was 6.51 percent.

On the other hand, the average fat mass gain was more or less similar in all of the subjects (3.51 kg), which is a clear indication that the number calories are responsible for the increased body fat.

The study also showed that although the weight gain was lower in the low protein group, the subjects have stored 90% of the excess calories in a form of fat, compared to the 50% stored by the normal and high-protein group.

Another interesting result emerging from the study is that the low-protein group did not mark any muscle-gain, losing 0.70 of muscle mass over this period. On the other hand, the normal and high protein group have added a significant amount of muscle mass – 2.87 kilograms and 3.18 kilograms respectively, which accounts for the increased weight gain.  

Both the normal protein and high protein group showed an increase of their resting energy expenditure, which could be due to burning the calories in the muscle building process.

The moral of the study is more than obvious – overeating will result in increased body fat regardless of the source of calories. Increasing the protein intake, will result in increasing the muscle mass. And although the study has labelled the group consuming 5% of their calorie from protein as the low-protein group, their diet contained only slightly less protein than the required daily allowance for adults.

Advantages of High Protein Diet

One of the advantages of high protein diet is that it reduces muscle loss when you are losing weight, which will reduce the chances of regaining weight after ending the diet.

When your diet is poor on protein, you risk losing muscle tissue which is involved in the metabolic processes by the virtue of burning calories at rest. And although you may think that the amount of calories you burn at rest is insignificant and accounts to almost nothing, you should also have in mind that every calorie counts. And with the added muscle mass, you can invest more energy into working out, thus burning more calories.

Another important advice is that the numbers on the scale don’t always show the whole picture when losing weight. You should also follow the changes of your body composition.

Physicians often use the body mass index as an indicator of a person fatness. The body mass index is calculated using the person’s weight and height.

However, BMI is more of a general tool, not a specific based marker that determines the body composition. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a person exceeding the recommended BMI has higher body fat percentage.


All things considered, dieting is not a simple and straightforward science. If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you are not losing weight although you stick to a diet, the chances are that you need to make a revision of what you eat. Take into consideration not only the number of calories, but also their sources.

Protein should be the cornerstone of your diet. They should be included in almost every main meal because they help you maintain your muscle mass. Of course, you should always stay within the optimal calorie intake range. Stick to this, and you’re bound to see some results soon.

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