You must go about losing weight safely and effectively to optimize fat loss and muscle maintenance. This is especially important if you want to maintain your fitness level, physical activity, and overall function.

If you’ve been working hard to get in shape yet still want to lose fat, you may have concerns that you’ll lose muscle as well. To prevent this, you can follow a few eating and fitness guidelines that will help you achieve the results you want.

With the right approach, it’s possible to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass. This article outlines how you can use an exercise and eating plan to shed fat effectively without losing muscle.

To lose fat, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn each day and exercise regularly. Frequent physical activity helps get rid of fat. If you lose weight without exercise, you’re more likely to lose both muscle and fat.

While it’s not possible to lose fat on particular areas of your body, you can work on lowering your overall body fat percentage.

Go slowly. Losing weight quickly may contribute to muscle loss. It’s best to lose a small amount of weight each week over a longer period.

To keep the muscle you have while losing fat, you’ll need to strike a balance between limiting yourself and pushing yourself as much as you can.

Each person will have different results. Listen to your body, and adjust your workout and eating plan accordingly.

Schedule recovery time

Give yourself enough time to recover between workouts. This is especially important if you’re eating fewer calories and doing intense workouts. Get plenty of sleep, which helps restore your energy levels.

Don’t restrict

Avoid any type of eating plan that’s too drastic or restrictive. It will be harder to keep up with long term.

Avoid overtraining, and stay away from any workout plan that has the potential to drain you or cause injury. Pushing yourself too hard or fast may result in missing workouts due to fatigue or injury. Remember, rest days are important.


Exercise is another important aspect of maintaining muscle mass. Research from 2018 examined the effect of calorie restriction combined with resistance, endurance, or both types of training in older adults with obesity.

The researchers found that when individuals followed an eating plan and did some type of exercise, they were able to prevent muscle loss due to calorie restriction.

Most of the eating plans consisted of 55 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein, and 30 percent fat.

More research is needed to determine which type of exercise is most effective in preventing muscle loss.

Eat healthy

Change up your eating plan to include healthy proteins and fewer unhealthy fat sources.

In a 2016 review of 20 studies, researchers found older adults retained more lean mass and lost more fat when consuming higher protein diets.

Try a supplement

Consider taking a supplement, such as chromium picolinate, which is said to have a positive effect on weight loss, hunger, and blood sugar levels.

Research from 2018 points to the importance of reducing body weight without losing lean body mass.

Along with taking chromium picolinate, you can do this by:

  • eating the right amounts of macronutrients, such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
  • managing calorie intake
  • doing resistance exercise

Before taking any supplement, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor. Some supplements may negatively interact with certain medications or conditions.

Follow a few of these tips to help you exercise smarter to hit your goals.

Do cardio

To lose fat and gain or maintain muscle mass, do moderate- to high-intensity cardio for at least 150 minutes per week. Example of cardio exercises include:

  • cycling
  • running
  • boxing
  • soccer
  • basketball
  • volleyball

Increase intensity

Increase the intensity of your workouts to challenge yourself and burn calories. For your workout to effectively build strength, you must push your muscles to their maximum capacity. This may involve taking a break before proceeding.

Continue to strength train

Do strength training two to three times per week. This may be a combination of:

  • weightlifting
  • bodyweight exercises
  • resistance band exercises

Exercise classes, such as yoga, Pilates, or tai chi, are also options.

Always start with low weight loads and fewer repetitions. Gradually work your way up to heavier weights or more repetitions. This will help avoid injury.

Strength training helps prevent muscle loss while increasing muscle mass. Make sure your routine is balanced and targets all the main muscle groups.

Give your muscle groups time to recover. You can aim to target each muscle group a maximum of twice per week. To cut fat, you can also incorporate interval training into your workout plan.

Take a rest

Allow for adequate rest and recovery on alternate days. Either take an entire day off, or opt for light-intensity exercise, such as walking, swimming, or dancing.

To optimize fat loss while maintaining muscle mass, follow a healthy diet that meets your nutritional and energetic needs.

Eating healthy foods may also help you feel full, so you’ll be less likely to overeat.

Before your workout, make sure you’re well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Replace sugary beverages with drinks such as green tea, coconut water, and fresh vegetable juice. You can also have a light, easy-to-digest meal that’s rich in carbohydrates.

Within 45 minutes of finishing a workout, eat a meal containing protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Boost your energy levels with carbohydrates after a workout. This helps in the recovery process, and may even help speed up that process. Carbohydrates help replace glycogen stores that were used for energy during exercise.

Carbohydrates that are ideal to eat after exercise include:

  • fresh fruit
  • sweet potatoes
  • whole wheat pasta
  • dark, leafy vegetables
  • milk
  • oatmeal
  • legumes
  • grains

Protein options for gaining lean muscle include:

  • lean meats, such as turkey and chicken
  • seafood
  • nuts
  • eggs
  • low fat dairy products
  • beans
  • quinoa
  • buckwheat
  • brown rice
  • protein shakes

You can also include healthy fats in your postworkout meals, including:

  • avocado
  • nuts
  • nut butters
  • chia seeds
  • trail mix
  • dark chocolate
  • whole eggs
  • olive and avocado oil
  • fatty fish
  • cheese

A certified nutritionist or dietitian can help you align your eating and exercise plan with your overall goals.

Working with a professional may be especially beneficial if your eating plan affects any existing health conditions, or if you have special dietary needs. It’s also useful for people who are unsure of exactly how to change their eating habits.

A personal trainer can help you create an exercise routine that’s in line with your goals and fitness level. They’ll also make sure you’re using the correct weights and using proper form.

As you progress, a pro can continue to tailor your program in a way that helps you advance. They’ll also motivate you and provide accountability.

If working with a professional isn’t possible, consider finding a buddy with whom you can create an eating and fitness plan. Together you can help each other succeed.

While you may end up losing a small amount of muscle mass along with excess fat, you can help manage it with a proper eating and exercise plan.

To support fat loss, maintain a calorie deficit while eating lots of protein, carbs, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Set attainable, realistic goals. Keep track of your progress over several months. Challenge yourself to improve your performance and focus on building strength.

Stay consistent in your approach, and continue to focus on your progress. Be sure to appreciate the benefits of your hard work.