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Guide to Cutting Fat Not Muscle: Body Recomposition

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With diet season just around the corner, you’re unsure if your eating plan and training will result in cutting fat, not muscle. Or whether you’ll end up lean but with no mass whatsoever. 

When it comes to building muscle and shredding excess fat, you’ve always been told that there’s a bit of a trade-off. You can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time. And that cutting fat, not muscle, is a pipe dream.

But it’s entirely possible.

And in this detailed guide, we tell you how to achieve what’s known as body recomposition – the process of obliterating excess fat without sacrificing that muscle mass you’ve worked hard to develop.

Here’s what we cover:

  • Can you decrease fat mass but maintain lean tissue?
  • What is body recomposition?
  • How to make sure you’re cutting fat, not muscle

Can You Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle?

The old school mentality to training was to cycle phases of bulk and shred.

In other words, you’d increase calories and training volume to achieve as much muscle mass as you could during a ‘bulking’ phase.

And then, you’d reduce the intensity of your strength workouts and reduce your food intake during your ‘cutting’ phase. You aimed to shed the body fat and uncover the muscle beneath it.

The problem with this approach was that it was easy to under or overshoot.

You’d drop the calorie intake down, and as fast as body fat would decrease, so would muscle mass. So at the end of your weight cut, you’d look lean, but with minimal muscle tissue, you’d look like you’d never lifted a weight in your life.

And if you didn’t cut aggressively enough, your progress would be non-existent, and you’d retain the excess fat covering that valuable mass—no six-pack for you.

Fat loss all comes down to a calorie deficit.

You can argue many things when it comes to diet and exercise. Some people prefer a specific diet. Others swear by a particular training program.

There’s no right or wrong.

But one thing you can’t question is the role of calories in fat loss. You can’t lose body fat if you’re not in an energy deficit.

A calorie deficit happens when you consume fewer calories than your body needs for essential functions such as digestion, breathing, blood flow, movement, and exercise. Swing the pendulum in favour of a deficit and the laws of thermodynamics dictate you’ll lose fat.

When your body falls into a deficit, it realizes it needs extra energy from somewhere.

In a perfect world, “somewhere” would be from your triglyceride cells, full of fatty goodness. Trigger these, and the fat will melt from your physique.

Get it wrong, though, and your body will turn to muscle tissue for fuel. Because as far as it’s concerned, energy is energy. It doesn’t care where it comes from.

Body recomposition - cutting fat not muscle

Body recomposition – the key to cutting fat without losing muscle

The process of cutting fat without losing muscle mass is called body recomposition. It’s the holy grail of fitness as it allows you to shred down to a single-digit body fat percentage while keeping the muscle mass you’ve worked hard to cultivate.

With the proper diet and training plan, you can target excess fat while simultaneously maintaining (and in some cases even significantly boosting) lean muscle mass.

Body recomposition is easier for some people than others.

If you’re already super-lean and don’t carry much muscle mass, you’ll find it challenging to cut fat, not muscle. Likewise, if you’re well-trained and hit the gym regularly, you’re probably already pushing the boundaries of tolerable limits for the muscle mass you carry.

And that means your body will be happy to use some of it for fuel during a weight cut.

Here are the people that find body recomposition easier.

Cutting fat, not muscle, is easier if:

  • You’re new to strength training or haven’t lifted weights for a long time
  • Those that are carrying a decent amount of body fat and have plenty to lose
  • You hold a lot of muscle mass already

How to Cut Weight Without Losing Muscle

‘Burn fat, not muscle.’

Now you know that cutting fat, not muscle is entirely possible. All that’s left to do is look at how.

It might sound too good to be true, but you can transform your physique from muscular but fluffy to lean and strong with the proper diet and training program.

Here’s how.

Calorie cycling for body recomposition

A calorie deficit is essential for fat loss.

There’s just no way around that.

But the road to cutting fat, not muscle, isn’t black and white.

Calorie cycling is a method of energy balance control that involves alternating high and low-calorie days throughout your diet.

It helps you cut fat, not muscle, as calorie intake is never aggressively or perpetually low.

So how do you calorie cycle?

It’s pretty simple.

On days when you’re in the gym, you take your calorie intake up to maintenance. As a result, you’re not eating in a surplus, but you’re giving your body enough energy to lift heavy and productively without excessive fatigue.

It helps to keep progressing and improving in the gym, which will lead to muscle maintenance and growth.

It also boosts recovery, energy levels and mood.

On days when you’re not in the gym, you’ll shoot for a calorie deficit. How aggressive that deficit is, is up to you. But somewhere between 20-40% works well.

This will trigger cutting fat, not muscle.

Keep protein intake high.

Your body fights a constant battle between two physiological processes:

  1. Protein synthesis – the creation of new protein cells
  2. Protein degradation – the breakdown of existing protein cells

When you train hard in the gym, eat plenty of calories and take in sufficient protein throughout the day, your body has enough fuel to push the balance in favour of protein synthesis – you build more muscle cells than you break down.

But as calories drop, you run the risk of degradation increasing and muscle cells being used as energy.

Especially if your protein intake decreases too.

One way to make sure you’re cutting fat, not muscle, is to maintain a high protein intake – around 1 gram per pound of body weight. 

By giving your muscle cells enough fuel, they’ll be able to fight off protein degradation, even in a calorie deficit. And if muscles are protected, the only other place they can get fuel from is fat.


Lift heavy and frequently

The best way to elevate muscle protein synthesis is to lift weights. The actual stimulus that strength training provides increases the chemical signalling process that creates protein cells.

You need to lift to make sure you’re cutting fat, not muscle, and achieve body recomposition. 

If you don’t stimulate your muscle tissue, your body will begin to break it down.

Don’t expect to get much stronger during a cutting phase, and don’t think you’ll add serious muscle mass.

The main aim of strength training here is to put the brakes on muscle loss.

Cardio Without Losing Muscle

You might be thinking about adding cardio into your body recomposition plan. After all, cardio is an effective way of increasing energy expenditure.

You need to remember that cardio isn’t essential for a weight cut.

You’re already hitting a deficit every other day, which will take care of the fat loss. However, cardio doesn’t stimulate muscle growth like strength training does, so there’s an argument that you’d be better off just lifting weights.

But… if you enjoy cardio and have the time and energy to fit it into your weekly exercise plan, go for it.

Make sure you do it on your non-strength training days so it doesn’t interfere with recovery.

Keep testosterone levels high.

Testosterone is a natural anabolic hormone produced in the Leydig cells of your testes.

It’s involved in everything that makes you a man – from muscle mass and strength regulation to sky-high libido, energy levels, and stamina.

Prolonged and aggressive dieting can harm testosterone levels, especially when following low-fat diets [1].

If testosterone levels decline, so does your health, leading to:

  • Increased fat mass and decreased muscle mass
  • Lower energy levels and mood, as well as loss of sleep
  • Reduced libido and sex drive
  • Stamina and endurance begin to taper off
  • Increased risk of metabolic disorders
  • Low mood and a higher risk of depression

Strength training goes a long way in helping you maintain testosterone levels. But the key here is to make sure you get sufficient nutrition from the low calories you’re allowing yourself.

Nutrients such as D-aspartic acid and vitamin D3 have a primary role in elevating testosterone by stimulating greater release from your testes.

So that means plenty of meats, seafood and eggs.

And minerals such as zinc and magnesium support testosterone production while regulating energy production. They also help cutting fat, not muscle, by providing essential building blocks for optimal functioning. 

It can be challenging to get all of your nutrition from food on a cut. A reliable, effective strategy is to supplement a premium testosterone booster such as TestoFuel.

That way, you know that your anabolic hormones are supported, and your journey to body recomposition will be faster and with better results.

Summary – Cutting Fat, Not Muscle With Body Recomposition

Cutting fat, not muscle, can be tricky, especially when unsure how.

With these hints and tips, and some good old-fashioned motivation, you’ll be cruising to single-digit body fat while retaining your muscle mass in no time.


  1. Hämäläinen, E et al. Diet and serum sex hormones in healthy men. J Steroid Biochem. 1984; 20(1): 459-64