How I Lost over 30lbs without Losing (too much) Muscle

Strong headline, right? I went from over 220lbs to 191lbs over the course of 6 months. I maintained most of my big lifts (and actually set a new deadlift PB) and now look bigger than I did with the extra bulk. 

Want to know the secret?

There isn’t one. No secrets here.

 

MyFitnessPal: the single greatest weapon in your bulking or cutting arsenal. Download it now. Really. 

Everyone loves a good weight loss story. Especially those adverts you see at the bottom of articles touting the “latest fat burning pill” or “new legal steroid”. You know the ones. 

And yet though we’re smart enough not to fall for the click bait headlines, part of us wonders if there is some secret to weight loss. 

There isn’t. 

I’ve tried to out-train a bad diet; I can’t do it. 

I’ve tried to do daily cardio; I found it unsustainable and detrimental to my lifting. 

You know the single change I made that had the greatest impact? 

Tracking my food intake.

Everything I read pointed me towards a common denominator: weight loss (and more specifically, fat loss) comes down to one primary equation:

Calories in versus calories out

If your body takes in fewer calories than it needs, fat loss will occur. 

I had no idea how many calories I needed. The bet took I found to estimate (and the keyword here is estimate) how much I needed was the IIFYM (if it fits your macros) calculator. From there I went for a 15% reduction below maintenance and monitored my progress. 

Hitting my macronutrients goals and being flexible with my diet were critical in making sure I could adhere to meeting my calorie targets, but actually seeing how many calories were going in each day and over the course of a week gave me great insight and control over how what I consumed affected my body composition. 

Calorie Budgeting

I worked off a weekly caloric budget rather than daily. This meant I could eat above my target one day and then dial it back over the next couple of days. 

No more cheat meals. No food group was off limits. I can’t tell you how much easier this made the whole concept of eating at a caloric deficit. 

The rule of thumb is that you need to decrease your calories by 3,500 over the course of a week to lose a pound of fat. Based on that, I ate approximately 500 calories below maintenance every day.  

It was a blunt approach but it worked. Hindsight tells me that I went too low too quickly on my calories and didn’t spend enough time experimenting with dieting at a higher level of calorie intake. 

It’s said that you should diet on as many calories as possible, as the longer you diet, the lower you’ll need to drop your daily food intake as you progres. 

As your body weight decreases, so too will your maintenance level. That means that after you’ve lost a good few pounds, you’ll need to recalculate your baseline and work off that figure less 500 calories. 

From the third month on, I had one day per week where I’d eat at maintenance level in order to keep my metabolism from stalling. Again I’m not 100% sure this worked but fat loss wasn’t hampered by doing this. 

Low Carb, High Carb, and Sugar

I ate carbs and still lost fat. 

I ate sugar and still lost fat. 

I tried low carb and my training went to shit. 

I found that provided I hit my protein target of 1 gram per pound of body weight, I could fill the rest of my calories for the day with any food I wanted. 

I trained best on 200g-plus of carbs. Any less than that and I struggled to match my previous session intensity, which isn’t surprising given that I was in calorie deficit for the majority of the time. 

I’ll write a post on sugar in a future instalment but for now, I’ll just say that telling people to avoid sugar when dieting is setting them up to fail. And that’s both stupid and sucky. 

Training

Over the course of the 6 months, I trained 3 days per week on a two-week cycle. 

The split was:

Week 1  (secondary exercise after each primary)

  • Monday – Squats & Calves with Overhead Press 
  • Wednesday – Bench Press &  Deadlift with Biceps
  • Friday – Squats with Triceps

Week 2 (secondary exercise after each primary)

  • Monday – Incline Press & DB Rows
  • Wednesday – Squats & Overhead Press with Calves
  • Friday – Bench Press & Deadlift with Biceps

The rationale was to hit each body part roughly every 5 days using compound lifts and going heavy with good form for a minimum of 5 reps on the last set. The only exception to this was deadlift where I’d test my strength and go for a 1-rep max.

As training splits go, it’s not ideal. I often dropped shoulder work in week 2 due to the amount of work they were doing as part of chest days. 

I also didn’t really progress in terms of the weight I was lifting. My squat plateaued at 264lbs then decreased to 242, bench stopped at 220lbs, and deadlift topped out at 440lbs. 

Although the numbers didn’t keep going up, that they didn’t drop too much meant that I held on to most of my size. 

Main problem with my training is that it lacked structure and progression. I was spinning my wheels. I maintained and that was enough to get me through the caloric deficit phase. 

Summary

To recap, I lost weight by:

  • Eating fewer calories than my body needs over a period of a week
  • Tracking my food intake to monitor those calories and remove any guesswork
  • Lifting weights three times per week
  • Eating a variety of foods and never feeling deprived 
  • Not seeing my diet as a diet, but just simply as “the way I eat” 

I’ll blog in more detail as I get around to it, but it’s been a revelation in finding out that fat loss isn’t as difficult as it’s made out to be. 

Calories in – calories out. Fat loss is all about those numbers. 

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