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Want to lose weight? Here’s how to maintain muscle and lose fat when doing it.

Is it possible, yes.

Is it the norm, no.

Back when I was 280 pounds, I’m sure my lean body mass (muscle mass) was a lot more than the 160 pounds it reads today. However, you couldn’t see any of it because it was all covered up by a protective layer of baby fat.

Back then, the goal was to lose weight. It didn’t matter to me how the ratios broke down.  I was desperate to drop the pounds and gain a new life.

I can see how this is the same mindset of most folks who are looking for weight loss. The fear of failing, again, becomes blinding.  So much so that you will do whatever it takes. Weight loss supplements prey on this fear, crash diets are built for this fear.  And we swallow it all up.

After many failed attempts at weight loss, I finally got some solid advice.  I had a nutrition coach break down how many calories I should be eating based on my size and activity.

Being that I didn’t have a clue what I was currently taking in (yea I was that bad), the plan seemed easy enough to follow.

But as the first 2 weeks past by, nothing happened.  My weight didn’t go up or down. I was frustrated! What the hell?  I had put in the effort, I should get results…

Sorry, still laughing at that last sentence… Okay, let’s go.

The next step was game-changing.  

I was told to eat less.  To cut my calories by 250 calories or roughly 15%.

Two pounds melted away that week.  I. WAS. HOOKED.

Weight loss, or weight gain, is the outcome of calorie balance manipulation.

An excess of calories increases weight.

A deficit of calories decreases weight.

Where that weight comes from is complicated. It can be from water, stored glucose, actual fat, actual muscles, etc.

That’s what happened to me with the game-changing move.  The first two weeks were simply me being in a calorie balance.  No excess, no deficit, and no change. The 250 calorie drop put me into a deficit and put things in motion.

Over 2 years…


I lost 100 pounds and went from 280 pounds to 180 pounds. I could see my abs and I had veins popping out of everywhere. Another thing people noticed, that I never thought was a big deal until I met others who had lost significant amounts of weight, is that I really didn’t have much excess skin.

For the most part, my skin was pretty tight to my body.

This was due to the fact that I was able to maintain most of my lean mass as I lost the weight.

What are some factors that can influence this?

Genetics play a role here. Some folks are gifted with the ability to lose fat and maintain high levels of muscle. Other folks may not be as lucky. I’ve personally helped folks lose a 2:1 ratio of fat to muscle pounds lost. The goal is to aim for 1:1.

Alan Aragon, the author of The Lean Muscle Diet, has a good breakdown of why this happens. I highly recommend the read if you are interested in the subject.

Your training level also plays a role. An untrained individual has a lot of room for improvement. Therefore, it is possible for them to lose weight and increase lean body mass at the same time. Depending on their level, this can go on for a pretty long period of time.

Someone who has a higher fitness level, meaning they’ve been training for a consistent period of time (weeks, months, etc), doesn’t have as much room for improvement. So they become closer to the 1:1 pound ratio exchange.

I wish I knew what I was doing when I lost the weight.  I wish I would’ve tracked my lean body mass and fat mass more closely. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I don’t know what the ratio of fat to muscle mass loss was.  I don’t even know where I was to begin with.

The only thing I tracked was pounds and a couple pictures.

What I do know is what I did along the way. And what I’ve coached other people in doing too.

What can you do to help yourself out?

Resistance training can help preserve your lean body mass. It’s the cliche of use it or lose it. Stimulating the muscle via resistance training allows it to remain useful, and your body will hold on to it better.

A higher intake in protein, closer to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, can also be helpful for maintaining lean mass while you lost weight.

Calorie deficit is often an overlooked factor. The greater deficit you are from your maintenance calories (the calories you consume to maintain your current weight), the greater risk you are at losing muscle.

This is why crash diets usually come with a rebound.

A crash diet usually has a severe deficit (reduction) in calories in order to achieve the weight loss promised. This ultimately leads to a higher ratio of the weight loss coming from lean body mass (muscle). Because lean body mass helps you burn more calories at rest and in movement, losing it can slow down your overall metabolism. This is what leads to the rebound, or the regain of the weight loss and then some.

In conclusion

To give yourself the best chance to lose weight and not lose muscle (like I did many years ago), make sure to follow the following:

  1. Decrease your calories from your maintenance intake at a conservative rate. Don’t crash diet. Try maybe a 10% deficit instead of 50%.

  2. Use resistance training to your advantage. Barbell training, body weight, and kettlebells are all good options here. Follow a solid strength based program or seek someone out who can help.

  3. Hit a goal of 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass daily to make sure you’re getting enough building blocks to retain your muscle.

Have more questions?

Feel free to contact me here: Contact – Jesus Acuna

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