Do you have to lose some muscle to lose fat? Not really. Here are some calorie guidelines to get you started.
Lose the Fat, Keep the Muscle
Should you expect to lose some muscle when dieting for fat loss? Well, bodybuilders, especially natural ones, may lose muscle because they must get into low single digits, which means energy intake is super low for a while and energy expenditure is high. There's really no other way to get truly inside-out ripped for the competition stage.
But if you're just looking to get lean (9-12% body fat), then that can be done intelligently without fear of muscle loss – especially if you're patient and willing to stretch out the fat loss over a longer period of time. Then muscle loss can be significantly minimized (if any is lost at all) if done properly.
The First Step
Simply establish your caloric baseline. Meaning, the number of calories you need to take in each day just to maintain your current weight. Once that's established (and yes, you'll need to track calories during this whole time if you're trying to do it right), reduce daily intake by 300-500 calories.
The reduction will come from your carb or fat intake. Protein intake should never dip below 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight, and keeping at 1 gram per pound is even better.
All of this of course will lead you to ask, "What's a good caloric intake to start with and establish this baseline?"
For the great majority, it's going to fall within the bodyweight x 13-15 range. Now if you eyeball that number and know right out of the gate it's too high, the answer is kinda simple. Reduce that. It's simply an estimate to help someone find their maintenance range.
For the non-competitor, or someone looking to just get lean and not ripped, I also recommend setting a caloric floor: you're going to have a set number of calories you never go below. Ever. And once you hit that floor, if you wish to get leaner, you're going to increase your activity level to facilitate further fat loss.
The floor for most people will be bodyweight x 10. Once you get to that point, increase cardio by duration, frequency, or both.
- Find your maintenance intake: bodyweight x 13-15. (Track calories. Figure it out.)
- Reduce daily intake by 300-500 calories.
- Don't ever fall below bodyweight x 10. Increase cardio duration or frequency instead.