Everyone is so focused on shredding the fat and building a six pack that they forget they are LOSING their muscle mass. Losing hard-earned muscle is a bodybuilder's worst nightmare.

The Questions

How can you preserve muscle while cutting?

What are some nutrition tips for preserving muscle while cutting?

What supplements would help preserve hard earned muscle? List only three.

How much muscle mass can be preserved, and how much can be lost?

Bonus Question: Have you ever lost any muscle mass while cutting? If so, how much? Have you learned from it? How much do you now lose when cutting?

Show off your knowledge to the world!

The Winners

  1. buffguy900
  2. BurningHeart
  3. thebarbarianway

1st Place: buffguy900

Summertime is a rough time. Everyone is so focused on shredding the fat and building a six pack that they forget they are LOSING their muscle mass. Losing hard-earned muscle is a bodybuilder's worst nightmare.

How Can You Preserve Muscle While Cutting?

In order to understand how to preserve muscle while losing body fat, it is helpful to understand the biological motivation behind these processes. Why does the body break down muscle tissue when dieting? During periods of reduced caloric intake, the body must compensate for this lack of energy.

It does so by breaking down fats in adipose tissue and proteins in muscle tissue to be used in synthesizing glucose which is used for energy (this process is called gluconeogenesis).

So, making sure that the body has proteins constantly in the blood stream will make it less likely to go to muscle tissue for those proteins. You should therefore frequently provide your body with sufficient protein sources through your diet.

Aim for 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day which is spread evenly throughout 5-7 meals. This will ensure that your body always has those proteins at its disposal in the bloodstream... making it think twice about tapping into that hard-earned muscle tissue.

Another important concept to keep in mind is homeostasis. Homeostasis describes the tendency for your body to maintain a steady state. Generally, it likes things just the way they are. Your body does not want to gain or lose weight and there are certain biological mechanisms for maintaining this dynamic steady state. At any given point, your body will be in either of two states: an anabolic state or a catabolic state.

When you gain weight, you will gain muscle and fat (anabolic pathways).

  • Anabolic: building more complex structures from simpler ones.

When you lose weight, you will lose muscle and fat (catabolic pathways).

  • Catabolic: breaking down complex structures into simpler ones.

This coupling of fat and muscle tissue is inevitable and it is just how the body operates; accept it. This means that you can't build muscle and lose fat at the same time (perhaps with the exception of "newbie gains" made by first-time weightlifters).

The endless quest in bodybuilding is more muscle and less fat, but you can't do both at once! Think of this concept like bodybuilding friction, because it always works against you. Because of this, when you are building muscle (anabolic) you aim to minimize the fat gained. Complimentary to this, when you are losing fat (catabolic) you aim to minimize the muscle lost.

Using both diet and exercise, you can create the desired changes in your body. Controlling both aspects is essential, but personally I think diet is the more complex part of the problem so I will focus on that.


Going back to homeostasis, you can minimize the unwanted effects (either muscle loss or fat gain) by deviating from homeostasis very slightly. This means gain weight slowly and lose weight slowly... otherwise you will encounter the bodybuilding friction and either gain extra fat or lose extra muscle

So how fast can you lose weight? Bodybuilding is highly individual; everybody is different and with time you will understand how your body responds best. As a general guideline, losing more than 2 pounds per week will result in a "significant" amount of muscle loss (certainly 3 pounds per week is too fast).

Personally, I aim to lose 1.5 pounds per week and have found great success in retaining muscle at that rate. Of course the slower you go, the less muscle you will sacrifice. However, most bodybuilders limit their pre-contest dieting to around 12-16 weeks (low calorie diets are tough!). This is another motivation to not get so fat in the off season.

So aim for losing 1.5 pounds per week as a starting point. The next step is to dial in that weight loss rate by eating the appropriate number of calories. Bodybuilding.com provides a variety of calorie calculators for this purpose.

As a guide, begin by eating your basal metabolic rate (BMR) of calories per day. Weigh yourself daily under the same conditions in order to accurately measure your weight (and therefore weight loss rate). A good time to do this may be in the morning before breakfast after you went to the bathroom. Keep track of your daily bodyweight and adjust the calorie intake accordingly.

If you are not losing weight fast enough, then reduce your calories by 5-10%. If you are losing weight too quickly, then increase your calories by 5-10%. You do not want to rapidly change your caloric intake (remember homeostasis!), so only make minor adjustments in the 5-10% range.

Your bodyweight will fluctuate on various timescales (hourly, daily, weekly). We wish to measure the weekly weight loss rate since day to day fluctuations may not be physically significant. It is also for this reason that you want to weigh yourself each day at the same time under the same conditions.

In preparation for my last contest, I would measure myself right before I lifted every day to within 0.25 lb accuracy (I had access to a doctor's scale). I knew this method was reliable because I would eat the same foods and drink the same amount of water at the same times every day (to within 10%).

I have included a plot of my measured bodyweight using the above procedure. These data were plotted in Excel and I applied a linear fit to determine the average weight loss rate. The gray line represents losing 2 pounds per week so I made sure to stay above that weight loss rate. I averaged 1.6 pounds per week and it workout out great for me.

You can see the daily fluctuations in my weight (some days are abnormally high and some abnormally low). This is why it is important to look at the average weight loss rate on a weekly timescale.


Hopefully you now have an idea of how many calories to eat in order to achieve the desired weight loss rate (start with your BMR and work from there). The next step is to get the appropriate sources for those calories.

Make sure your protein intake remains high (1-2 g / lb bodyweight). Remember to eat frequently so your body has a constant supply of protein at its disposal. Next, make sure fat intake is sufficient (20% of total calories).

This fat should come from quality sources like an essential fatty acids (EFA) supplement, fish, fish oil, flax seeds/oil, peanuts and almonds to name a few.

The rest of your calories will come from carbohydrates. Changes in carbohydrate intake will account for the adjustment in total caloric intake and to create the calorie deficit needed to lose weight.

In addition, most of your carbohydrate intake should surround your daily exercise. This will help you to train with more energy and help your body recover. Keep this in mind when you are removing carbohydrates from your diet. For example, I will prioritize which meals should have the most carbohydrates in the following order.

  • Pre workout (most Important)
  • Post workout
  • Breakfast
  • Post post workout
  • Pre pre workout
  • Other meals (least Important)

When I reduce my total calories by reducing my carbohydrate intake, I begin by lowering the carbohydrates in "other meals," then in the pre pre workout meal, then in the post post workout meal, etc. The last place where I will reduce carbohydrates from is the pre-workout meal.

Personally I feel like garbage if I do not eat enough carbohydrates before working out. It took some time before I have realized how important that is for my body. With time, you will learn what is important for your body as well.

The following plot shows my carbohydrate intake at each meal at one point during my low-calorie diet. My workout was between meals 2 and 3, which contain most of the carbohydrates I eat in the day. This helped to keep my strength and energy levels up when I was lifting.

Since you will be lowering your carbohydrate intake, it is critical that the carbohydrates that you do eat are from quality sources. Eliminate foods that contain sugar (perhaps with the exception of post-workout) and corn syrup and especially processed foods.

Instead, select foods like:

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole grain bread
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Yams
  • Potatoes
  • And vegetables to name a few.

Fruit can be a touchy issue for bodybuilders; personally I limit it to one serving of whole fruit per day. Fruits have a lot of great benefits, but they are mostly sugar. Vary these food sources throughout the day to make sure your body has a variety of foods at its disposal.

As you continue the low calorie diet, you may realize your body craves certain foods and the constant low-energy feeling becomes wearing. For these reasons, you should perform a "re-feed" once per week. On this day, increase your carbohydrate intake to maintenance levels (40% of your maintenance calories). Reduce your fat intake (less than 15 grams for the day) and reduce your protein intake (but never below 1 g / lb bodyweight). Your total calories should go up, but the re-feed mainly focuses on carbohydrates.

This will allow your body to reset metabolically and give you a lot of mental satisfaction and energy. In addition, if you are training for a bodybuilding competition, you can read into how your body responds to increased calories. Understanding this response is crucial during the final week of contest preparation. Keep in mind that this is not an excuse to cheat. The best re-feeds will contain a variety of the best carbohydrate sources (as listed above).

I have plotted my total calories (divided by 10 for scale) and my total carbohydrate intake each day. Throughout the 12 weeks of low calories, I systematically stepped my total calories down.

This adjustment was to ensure that I continued to lose 1.5 pounds per week. My weekly re-feed can also be seen from the increase in carbohydrate intake (green spikes). On those days, I increased my carbohydrates and reduced my fats and protein (never going below 1 g/lb bodyweight). My total calories also went up on those days. I always looked forward to the weekly re-feed; it made me feel great and it was motivation to stay tight to the diet the other six days of the week.


The two main forms of exercise discussed in maintaining muscle while losing fat are weight training and cardiovascular training.


You must be lifting otherwise you will certainly lose muscle, that is a given. Lifting will send signals to your body instructing it to build muscle. Although you won't be building any muscle on low calories, this makes your body less likely for it to breakdown muscle tissue that you already have. Lifting ensures that your body realizes that the muscle that is there is important!

Use lifting routines which you have made gains on while building muscle. If you were making gains in muscle mass, this is an indication that your body responds well to this type of stimulus; stick to what works for you.

For example, if you get great gains using heavy weights to build muscle, then use heavy weights while you are losing fat. If you get great gains using HST, periodization, high volume, low volume, etc. then use those techniques while you are losing fat.

A large aspect of bodybuilding is being able to communicate well with your own body. This involves both reading and understanding the signals that your body is giving to you as well sending the right signals to your body to accomplish your goals.

I have personally found the best results while continuing to lift heavy and minimizing rest time between sets. Keep in mind the fundamentals of lifting:

  • Progressive resistance
  • Volume
  • Frequency
  • Rest time, etc.

My lifting sessions are focused, effective and brief (less than 60 minutes). It is trivial to overwork your body, so instead keep the mindset of get in, make it effective and get out (and eat!).

You should be aware of the increased potential for overtraining due to the low calorie diet. On lower calories your recovery will be compromised and therefore you will not be able to push your body to the extent that you may in the off season.

Also, keep an eye out for injuries and illness as your body will also be more susceptible to both. You may need to cut back on your lifting before these become serious problems. For these reasons, it is critical to get plenty of sleep. Personally, I sleep 8 - 10 hours per night.


Cardio may suck, but it is a powerful tool at your disposal to aid in fat loss. Cardio is great for creating an additional energy deficit in your metabolism without having to eat less food.

For example, burning 200 calories doing cardio will allow you to eat another 200 calories (50 grams) of muscle-sparing protein while still maintaining the same caloric deficit. There is plenty of dispute on how and when to do cardio (upon waking, pre-lifting, post-lifting, on an empty stomach, etc.)

I personally have found the best results when I treat my cardio session like a lifting session. I will do it on days when I am not lifting (or 6+ hours away from a lifting session). I will make sure to eat enough calories both before and after cardio.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is my favorite type because it feels like lifting to me (short bursts of high intensity). I will walk on a treadmill (3.5-4.0 MPH) at a steep incline (12 degrees or more) and then run at 5-7 MPH for one minute intervals with 2-3 minutes between each interval. I have also found that cardio is great for creating additional development in the lower body (calves, shins, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes).

What Are Some Nutrition Tips For Preserving Muscle While Cutting?

Make sure your water intake is sufficient. Personally, I drink about 3 gallons per day. I accomplish this by immediately drinking one liter after each of seven meals per day. I also drink 1-2 liters during my workout and 2 liters within 30 minutes of finishing my workout. The rest is consumed in between meals.

I have not yet found an amount of water that is too much, but I recommend 1 gallon per day as a BARE minimum. Water runs a lot of metabolic processes and it aids the filtering functions of the kidneys and liver. Urine is the main outlet for your body to eliminate toxins, so drink up!

Another tip is to make sure you keep variety in your foods. Get your fats, proteins and carbohydrates from a variety of sources. Do not get into the grind of eating the same thing every day. This will create gaps in your diet which may prompt your body to breakdown more muscle tissue.

What Supplements Would Help Preserve Hard Earned Muscle? List Only Three

When losing weight, you must ensure that your diet remains complete. This becomes increasingly difficult when on low calories because you are eating less foods. I am a firm believer in natural foods, so I stick to the basics in terms of supplementation.


There are lots of great vitamins and minerals are found in carbohydrate sources. When you reduce carbohydrates, you limit this intake of micronutrients. Taking a multivitamin will ensure that your diet remains complete. Personally I take two per day, one with breakfast and one in the afternoon (or with my post-workout meal).

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)

Many metabolic functions require fats (hormone production for example) which are critical to maintaining muscle mass. Therefore, getting the essential fats are important.

Upon that, EFA have been shown to aid in fat loss. Personally, I take two tablespoons per day, one with breakfast and one later in the day.


As stated above, dietary protein intake becomes critical during low calorie diets. You must make sure you have the right protein at the right times. You can learn more about different types of protein by reading the following article.

Also, it is important to get all the essential amino acids so your body does not have to break down muscle tissue to get them. Essential amino acids are ones which your body cannot synthesize directly. Therefore you must eat them through dietary protein. Most protein supplements have excellent amino acid profiles which contain all of the essential amino acids.

How Much Muscle Mass Can Be Preserved, And How Much Can Be Lost?

This is a difficult question to answer because everybody is built differently and there will be variations depending on genetics and the quality of the cutting cycle. I believe if your weight loss rate is low enough (< 1 lb per week) then you will lose a negligible (< 5%) amount of muscle.

Recall from above, that deviating from homeostasis will create unwanted effects (either fat gain or muscle loss). So lose weight slowly to retain muscle and gain weight slowly to prevent fat buildup.

Bonus Question Have You Ever Lost Any Muscle Mass While Cutting?

I have definitely lost muscle while cutting! In preparation for my first contest I lost 18 lbs in 6 weeks. This was way too fast. It was very stressful both mentally and physically. I also lost a significant amount of muscle because of it. I can't be certain how much muscle was lost because I did not measure my body fat levels accurately before and after. I can tell you that it was far too much and that losing 3 pounds per week is far too fast (at least for me).

I learned from my mistakes and for my most recent contest, I aimed to lose 1.5 lbs per week. I estimated that I should lose 20 lbs, so I started reducing my calories 14 weeks out from the contest. I measured my bodyweight daily and adjusted my caloric intake and exercise accordingly.

I feel that I was able to preserve a lot of muscle and I felt much better doing it more slowly as well. Again, it is still hard to say how much muscle was lost because I did not measure my body fat levels accurately before and after. This sport is highly individual and you must learn your own body and go from there. With time and effort, you will be the master of your own metabolism. Be patient and never stop learning. Good luck!

2nd Place: BurningHeart

Summertime is a rough time. Everyone is so focused on shredding the fat and building a six pack that they forget they are LOSING their muscle mass. Losing hard-earned muscle is a bodybuilder's worst nightmare.

Three months, six months, a year, of work and sweat laid down in the weight room. Protein shake after protein shake, chicken breasts, brown rice, the occasional cheat meal here and there, bulk, bulk and more bulking, and now it's summertime. You look in the mirror and realize you've gotten a lot more muscular through your workouts. However you are not satisfied.

While your body has grown and you've gained pounds on top of pounds, you notice that you don't have that stunning figure yet, the "beach body." In fact after all of this time of working out, you still would be reluctant to take off your shirt in public, when others with almost zero muscle mass have no problem with it.

We've all been there, either in the past, currently, or will be there in the future. It's time to go on a cutting diet. The thought of actually eating a deficit of calories and losing the muscle that took so long to earn terrifies you. All is not lost though, it is possible to retain muscle on a cutting diet, and gain... Yes, GAIN muscle on a cutting diet.

Almost everyone agrees that newbies can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, so you have to ask yourself, "Why only newbies?" It's true that newer people to weightlifting gain muscle easier. It is because their body forces itself to build muscle in response to the stress placed on them.

However not only newbies have the ability to gain muscle and lose fat, everyone does. Plus it's a lot easier than you think. It all will be explained in this article, a must read.

How Can You Preserve Muscle While Cutting?

The way to preserve your muscle on a cutting diet can be separated into four main categories. They are:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Nutrition Timing
  3. Cardio
  4. Weightlifting

Each has its own role in doing what some think can't be done, building muscle while losing fat. Nutrition aids in building and retaining muscle, while the timing of the nutrition plays the key role in when the body loses fat or when it gains muscle. Cardio burns fat off quicker by increasing your metabolism and using fat for energy, and finally weightlifting, in combination with the right nutrition timing, forces the body to build muscle. First we will start off with cardio.

Efficient Cardio Method

When cutting, cardio must be done in a fashion where the body has nutrients in its system so it does not catabolize muscle for energy. Cardio must also be done in a way that maximizes the use of fat for energy. This method is called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).

For the rest of the article, I will be speaking of a routine that includes cardio in the morning and weightlifting at night. While it is possible to reverse these, I believe it to be much more effective the latter way.

HIIT's concept is around 20 minutes of cardio, consisting of a warm-up period, short high intensity period, moderate low intensity period, and so on, finishing with a cool-down period.

The logic behind this method of cardio is that the alternating high and low intensity periods keep your body in a "fat-burning mode" and not burning carbohydrates or protein for energy. Many tests have been done to test the effectiveness with HIIT, and most show that HIIT burns fat up to 50% more efficiently than low intensity cardio.

Now our cardio is in place. Thus the Sunday and Thursday will look like this:

  • 2-minute jog warm-up: 1 minute of sprinting
  • 2 minutes of jogging: 1 minute of sprinting
  • 2 minutes of jogging: 1 minute of sprinting
  • 2 minutes of jogging: 1 minute of sprinting
  • 2 minutes of jogging: 1 minute of sprinting
  • 2-minute jog cool-down

The Tuesday of heavy bag work will look like this:

  • 3 minutes of punching: 1 minute of rest
  • 3 minutes of punching: 1 minute of rest
  • 3 minutes of punching: 1 minute of rest
  • 3 minutes of punching: 1 minute of rest
  • 3 minutes of punching

Of course these exercises can be substituted, for instance if you do not have access to a heavy bag, then you can substitute a stationary bike, elliptical, stairstepper, or another day of running.

Now that we have our cardio routine in a schedule, it's time to move on to weightlifting.


Weightlifting should definitely be done during a cut, and there should be no changing to a weightlifting routine because of switching to a cutting diet. A good weightlifting routine would be one that covers every body part. For instance we can start with a 3 day split, hitting each body part from different angles.

Our weightlifting and cardio schedule is now done. However that is only a template on getting started with cutting fat and preserving muscle. To put the plan to action, we need the nutrition timing.

Before we discuss how to time your nutrition, let's first go over the basics of nutrition to better understand how and why it works.


Calorie Intake

In simple terms, the only way to lose body fat is to use more calories than you consume. This is what the basis of losing fat while preserving muscle will revolve around. To begin with, calculate your total calories burned. Once that is calculated, subtract 1000 calories from the total.

That figure will be the total number of calories you aim to get everyday to lose body fat without muscle. Keep that number handy, we will be getting back to it later on.

Carbohydrates, Protein, Fat Intake

There are three types of calories to consume, carbs, protein, and fat. Carbohydrates, along with protein, contain 4 kilocalories per gram. Fats contain 9 kilocalories per gram. A kilocalorie is what we often refer to as a "calorie." In scientific terms, it is the amount of energy required to heat 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

What all of this means is that fats contain the most energy compared to protein and carbohydrates. So 10 grams of fat will contain 90 calories, and 10 grams of protein or carbohydrates will contain 40 calories. When planning your meals, it is best to try to get 40% of your calories from protein, 35% from carbohydrates, and 25% from fats.

Carbohydrates: There are two main classifications for carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are found in sugar, white bread, and white rice. Complex carbohydrates are found in wheat bread, brown rice, and whole grain cereals. You should consume as little simple carbohydrates as possible. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are broken down slowly.

Protein: Protein can be classified as many different types, and even broken down further into individual amino acids. Fortunately it is not necessary to know what each of these types of amino acids do, to read more on each amino acid bodybuilding.com has an in-depth article here.

We will discuss only the two most popular categories of protein, whey and casein. Whey protein is mainly found in milk and is the fastest digesting protein, and because of that, it is the best protein to consume after a workout. Whey protein also has the highest value in BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids), which are used for building and retaining muscle. Casein protein is also found mainly in milk, and is an extremely slow digesting protein, and because of this, it is best used before bed. More information on the timing of these proteins will be seen later in the article.

Fats: Fats are categorized in two main categories, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are found in cooking oils and butter. It is important to eat as little saturated fat as possible. We do need fats in our diet however, and the "healthy fat" as most people refer to it, is called monounsaturated fat.

This fat is found mainly in olive oil, sesame oil, nuts, avocados, and fish oil. Another type of healthy fats is the EFA's (Essential fatty acids). These are found mainly in flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, fish, shellfish, and walnuts. Fats should always be a part of your diet and are the only way your body can absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K.


It would be mind-numbing to try to eat a meal that contains every vitamin and mineral that your body needs, which is why it is imperative and convenient to take a multivitamin. Multivitamins should be a staple part of everyone's diet, whether bulking, cutting, or maintaining.

What Are Some Nutrition Tips For Preserving Muscle While Cutting?

Nutrition Timing

Now that all of the nutrition guidelines have been covered, and we have a grasp on each portion of our diet, it is time to learn the nutritional aspect of cutting while preserving and gaining muscle. A popular mistake people make when planning a cutting diet is they believe a total deficit of calories for the day is all they need to lose fat. While that is true, not timing your calories during the day can result in both fat and muscle loss.

Eating To Lose Fat

Remember the total calories burned we calculated in the beginning of the article, well now it's time to use it. Get that number out, and remember to subtract 1000 calories from the total. Next divide that number by how many meals you are able to get in a day.

It is recommended to be able to get 6-8 small meals a day, 2-3 hours apart. For example if our safe cutting calorie intake was 2000 calories a day, 2000 / 6 meals equals 333 calories per meal. This would be the amount of calories we aim for each meal.

Now the portion of your diet concerned with losing fat is the deficit of calories. However this should not be a total deficit for the day. Instead, your day should contain a deficit except for the beginning and end of you workout. For instance, you wake up and have a small breakfast of proteins, fats, and carbs to replenish your body with nutrients that it has been lacking during sleep.

An hour later you do your HIIT cardio. Your body is now running on a deficit of calories. For your next few meals you continue to eat meals consisting of about 333 calories all the way up to your weightlifting workout, where you eat a small meal an hour and a half before the workout. Since you've been at a deficit the entire day, you have been burning calories. This concludes the portion of the day devoted to losing fat. We now move on to retaining and building the muscle.

Eating To Build Muscle

So it is nighttime, and you've just finished your weightlifting. Immediately after the workout you consume a protein shake as normal. The protein shake, combined with the pre-workout meal, has put your body in a slight surplus of calories. An hour later you have dinner, and now your body is in a definite surplus of calories.

The reason why this is important is because your body now needs nutrients to recover and repair your muscles from the weightlifting. Before bed you take some casein protein to give your body some slow digesting protein to build your muscles.

Nutrition Recap

Now to recap the whole day of nutrition, we've woke up and had a small breakfast, done cardio, continued to eat a deficit of calories until the weightlifting, finished the workout, and ate a surplus of calories when our muscles needed to grow, then went to bed. Following this routine will burn fat most of the day, and build muscle at the most opportunistic time, since most muscle building occurs during sleep.

What Supplements Would Help Preserve Hard Earned Muscle? List Only Three

The three supplements that are best aimed for helping preserve muscle are protein, creatine, and a multivitamin.

1. Protein

If there is one supplement that is the most important out of all of them, it is protein. Protein is a must have for any bodybuilder wanting to preserve muscle, as it is quick and convenient to take. Whey is best after a workout, when your body needs immediate nutrients; and the slow digestion effects of casein is best before bed, when your body will go without food for hours on end.

2. Creatine

Whether bulking or cutting, creatine is excellent for taking your workouts to a higher level. Creatine helps replenish ATP (adenosine-diphosphate) faster in the muscles, which allow you to lift a weight for a longer period than without creatine supplementation. Because of this characteristic of creatine, it makes itself a top choice of supplement when it comes to preserving your hard earned muscle.

3. Multivitamin

There are many types of multivitamins on the market, and it may seem like they are all the same. However some differ from others in the fact they contain amino acids and anti-oxidants, which are both important for retaining and building muscle, and reducing the effects of free-radicals. Added with the fact that it is near impossible to get all of the vitamins and minerals that are needed just by consuming your daily meals, a multivitamin is a top supplement everyone should take.

How Much Muscle Mass Can Be Preserved and How Much Can Be Lost?

If done correctly, all muscle mass will be preserved and some even gained. If muscle mass is lost, then that is a sign of poor sleep or nutrition post-workout. When consuming enough proteins and nutrients after a workout, your body has a sufficient supply to be able to repair and build your muscles after a workout, just as if you are in a 'bulking stage.'

It is a misconception that to gain muscle, you must eat a surplus of calories the entire day. While it is true that your body repairs itself during the day, the majority of muscle building takes place during sleep. On the same note, it is a misconception that one needs a deficit of calories during the entire day in order to cut fat.

Your body does not tally the amount of calories at the end of the day and cut off a portion of fat from yourself while you are sleeping. Fat comes off gradually, especially during activities such as cardio that take energy to perform. So by consuming a deficit of calories during cardio and most of the day, and a surplus after a workout, you are taking advantage of the times when your body burns the most fat and builds the most muscle.

Bonus Question Have You Ever Lost Any Muscle Mass While Cutting?

I am one of the few that can say, no I haven't. Let me take you back a year ago. I measured 6'2", 190 lbs., around 17% body fat. I was constantly reading on the Internet that in order to build muscle, you must eat, eat, and keep eating. Being a skinny person most of my life, I decided I should start eating big, so I did. Almost every day I'd eat an entire frozen pizza. It was high in calories and high in protein, so it sounded like a winner to me.

Fast forward 8 months later, I had gotten bigger, and I thought I was making awesome progress because my arms were up to 16 inches. In only those 8 months, I had gained 45 lbs., up to 235 lbs. My body fat was close to 23%. Looking in the mirror I was not pleased. Yes I had in fact gained a good bit of muscle, but as a tradeoff of gaining muscle so quickly I also put on a ton of fat.

Weighted pullups, which I used to do with 30 lbs strapped to myself, I was suddenly struggling to do them with just my bodyweight. I decided it was time for a change.

This is when I started researching on losing fat advice in preparation for my first cut. Something that interested me was the fact that new weightlifters had the ability to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, but experienced weightlifters didn't? So I studied deeply on how the body builds muscle and loses fat. It was agreed everywhere that most of the muscle building takes place during sleep while the fat burning takes place when you are actually using energy, for instance during cardio.

So I decided there was no way I was going to lose my hard earned muscle and cut the wrong way, and I decided that I would eat a deficit of calories when I was doing cardio, including during the day until when I started my weightlifting routine at night. At that time I'd eat a surplus of healthy calories, protein, essential fatty acids, and moderate carbohydrates. I started the cutting diet in April of 2006.

Now move on to the present, August of 2006. I now weigh 200 lbs. My muscles look much bigger and defined, and I am happier with my body. My body fat is around 15% now. And the proof that I actually gained muscle during my cut is my arms are still 16 inches. That is 35 lbs. less weight on me, yet my arm size did not change.

I urge you all to try this routine out. Cut the fat without worrying about losing any muscle, because I am planning on sticking to my routine forever, after all -

3rd Place: thebarbarianway

Summertime is a rough time. Everyone is so focused on shredding the fat and building a six pack that they forget they are LOSING their muscle mass. Losing hard-earned muscle is a bodybuilder's worst nightmare.

How Can You Preserve Muscle While Cutting?

First off, the tips and techniques in this article are not easy! It will be hard and some may even consider extreme. Don't fret, just because it may be considered extreme does not mean it will be hazardous to your health. In fact, a well outline and prepared cutting program can be quite healthy and the visual results overly rewarding!

This plan was the same one I used to get ready for my first fitness model competition when I was 210 pounds 20% body fat. It is the same one that I am using as we speak to get ready for an all inclusive vacation to Cuba with my girlfriend and some friends at the end of the month.

The Training Strategy

  1. Maintain as much strength and muscle as possible while losing as much fat as possible. Loss of strength will result in loss of muscle mass and decreased metabolism.

  2. Increasing training frequency per body part. What signal will tell your brain to hold more muscle? Training a body part once a week or three times per week? More frequent training sessions will result in more stimulus and harder muscles

  3. Decrease in overall training volume to prevent sore muscles and delay in recovery. I have never understood training one body part per day while training, especially while cutting. Why would you attempt to train your muscles with the same intensity and volume as you do when you are eating 2-3x as much food?

  4. Stick to one or two compound muscle exercises per muscle group. Stick to the movements that created the muscle mass on your body in the first place.

  5. Rotate between high reps, medium reps and heavy reps to stimulate all muscle fibers on the body. Of all the training variables, your body will adapt to the number of reps quicker than any other variable so let's focus on this variable the most.

  6. If you have not figured it out yet, Full Body Workouts every other day will be the secret to maintaining as much muscle as possible. Notice we did not create a 'fat loss/circuit style weight training workout. This is definitely a valid option but I find that your muscles can get flatter and softer quicker because of the high energy expenditure and increased cortisol release. We will use a caloric deficit and lots of cardio to melt the fat.

  7. Separate cardio workouts and weight training workouts as much as possible.

  8. Perform long, slow cardio for 30-115 minutes on your weight training days as far away from weight training workout as possible. Ideally, if you can do something that stimulates your quads and glutes, you will burn more calories as opposed to being on a flat surface. Your quads and glutes are the two largest muscles in your body so have the greatest opportunity for energy expenditure. A hilly run or cycle, walking on an incline treadmill, a stair climber, or stair master would be your first choices.

  9. Perform short, high intensity cardio for 20-40 minutes on non-weight training days. You need some variety and you want to maintain your conditioning so interval training will come to the rescue. Interval training also creates an enormous after burn affect meaning you will be burning a lot of calories after you finish your workout as well.

  10. Every week monitor your rate of change. Goal is to lose at least 1% of your body fat per week. Everything above can be tweaked and adapted to your progress. Remember, there is 3500 calories in one pound of fat so if you are training every day, you should be burning at least 500 calories per workout to lose at least one pound per week. If you want to lose more, adjust accordingly.

Sample 6-Week Full-Body Workouts

The 12 Week Program

  • Workout A: 4 sets of 10 with 60 sec rest
  • Workout B: 3 sets of 15 with 30 sec rest
  • Workout C: 5 sets of 5 with 90 sec rest
Muscle Group Order

Workout A:

  • Lats
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Hips
  • Quads
  • Traps
  • Calves
  • Abs

Workout B:

  • Quads
  • Hips
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Rows
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Calves
  • Traps
  • Abs

Workout C:

  • Rows
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Quads
  • Hips
  • Traps
  • Calves
  • Abs
Exercise Selection

Personally I like to do a high rep ab workout while cutting. Preferably 1 set of 10 for 10 different ab exercises similar to a boxer's ab workout. Simply choose 10 floor ab exercises and cycle through them as fast as you can with no rest. Consider 1-3 sets to give you a total of 100-300 sit-ups/crunches at the end of the workout. This will rip your stomach apart and make your abs pop!

What Are Some Nutrition Tips For Preserving Muscle While Cutting?

The Calories

If you are planning on leaning down and getting supper ripped than you know that you are going to have to cut your calories and your going to have to cut them hard. These guidelines are designed to help you cut your fat 0.5%-1% per week. Grab some paper and pen and get ready:

  • Weeks 1-2: Bodyweight in lbs x 14 kcal
  • Weeks 2-4: Bodyweight in lbs x 12 kcal
  • Weeks 4-6: Bodyweight in lbs x 10 kcal
  • Week 6-goal ripped weight: Bodyweight in lbs x 8-9 kcal
Troubleshooting The Calories
  • The progression is assuming that you are already in a current bulking phase and you want to come off of it gradually. Dropping from 3000 calories to 2000 calories is perfect. But dropping from 5000 calories to 2000 calories will be disastrous.
  • If you are not dropping 1-3 lbs of fat per week or at the rate you wish then simply move up quicker. You should be able to achieve your goal—ripped look—by staying at 9-9 kcal per pound of bodyweight for the final six weeks.
  • If you are not dropping, it might also be because you are not consistent from day to day. Tighten things up and smarten up!
  • These calories are very low so if you have a damaged metabolism or have been under eating for along time than this will probably not work for you.

The Macro Nutrition Breakdown


Protein will make up 30-35% of your total caloric intake and must come from all whole food sources. Here are the reasons why you should not use any protein powder unless extreme emergency:

  • Whole food has more nutrient sources. You are already borderline deficient in vitamins and minerals so can not afford to miss up the opportunity for precious vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and digestive enzymes found primarily in whole food.
  • Whole food will keep you fuller and not feeling as hungry.
  • Whole food has a greater thermal effect on your metabolism and since you want to maximize your metabolism you need to stick with whole food.

Carbs will make up 10-15% of your intake. All of your carbohydrates will come from fresh vegetable sources such as spinach, broccoli, beans, peppers, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes etc. The more variety the better. You will be taking in at least 1-2 cups with each serving of every meal.


Fats will make up at least 55-60% of your intake. You should be getting a fairly even amount between saturates, polyunsaturates and monounsaturates. Don't worry if you don't get the exact amounts. Just make sure you are getting some flax oil, fish oil, olive oil, avocados, mixed nuts or natural peanut butter with each meal.

Meal Timing

This is quite easy. You are going to eat four real whole food meals a day so split your goal calories evenly between four meals. Do your meals have to be split perfectly? No, jut do your best though for optimal results.

The Re-Feed Day

The best part of the program! This day comes every 2 weeks and will feel like Christmas dinner but you must earn it! It is only for those who are disciplined and consistent for the 13 days leading up to it. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Schedule this day in advance, preferably on a weekend or a more social day so that you can indulge in whatever you have been craving.
  • Do not go overboard. Do not eat more than 4 x your intake. So if you are dieting at 2000 calories, do not exceed 6000 calories.
  • Schedule this day on a heavy duty workout day so that most of the energy will go to your muscle and kick starting your metabolism.


What Supplements Would Help Preserve Hard Earned Muscle? List Only Three.

Supplements 1 and 2

Branched Chain Amino Acids and Creatine

Combining these two supplements will help preserve your muscle mass and strength. They will help prevent you from feeling like a total weakling in the gym prevent your muscles from feeling flat and soft.

Here's how to take it:

  • For those under 200 lbs, take 2.5 grams of creatine and 5 grams of BCAA 4x per day. Take one serving pre workout, one post workout and the other two mid AM and mid PM.
  • For those over 200 lbs, take 5 grams of creatine and 10 grams of BCAA 4x per day in the same manner as above.

Supplement 3

Full Spectrum Multivitamin (one that includes fish oil and extra antioxidants)

No matter how well you eat during a cutting phase, because of the reduced caloric intake you will be lacking in many vitamins and minerals that play a huge role in fat metabolism and energy production. The key vitamins and minerals that can be depleted quickly while cutting are:

  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin E
  • Pantothenic Acid
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc

How Much Muscle Mass Can Be Preserved and How Much Can Be Lost?

Too be honest, unless you are intentionally trying, can you really "lose" dry muscle? There is way too much fear and fret of "losing muscle." In fact, I believe that it is more of a state of mind than anything else. Sure, a body composition test can show a loss of "lean muscle mass" which causes you to freak out.

But in reality, all you have lost is water weight and all your hard, dense muscle is still in tact. I truly believe that losing dry muscle is a very difficult and can only happen when stranded on a deserted island like Survivor!

  1. https://www.bodybuilding.com*
  2. Nelson and Cox, Principles of Biochemistry, Fourth Edition (2004).

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