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How To Get Lean Without Losing Your Strength Gains

If you are a strength or performance based athlete you don't need to make it overly complicated to strip body fat without losing your strength that you have worked hard for. Use the 4 Step formula below to maintain your strength and let your abs show through.

Is it possible to stay strong whilst stripping body fat? This is a common question I get asked as a coach. It may be from a client who simply wants to get beach body ready, alternativaly it could be a boxer or powerlifter looking to maintain their strength but drop down a weight class for a competitive advantage. Whatever your reason, you don't have to let your performance slip to just see your abs. 

One thing to clarify, though, is that gaining muscle while losing body fat is highly unlikely, particularly with the more training experience you have under your belt. Newbie’s going from couch potato to eating protein and doing some lifting? Sure, they’re in that magic unicorn realm of time where it’s highly possible. But the rest of us are probably just looking to hang on to whatever muscle that we have at best, and will need at least a small caloric surplus to start layering on new muscle tissue. 

Step 1: Build a Small Caloric Deficit

Let’s get something out of the way at the start. In order to lose fat you must be in a caloric deficit. There needs to be less energy coming in than what’s going out in order for bodies to begin oxidizing fat so that it can be used as fuel. Understand how many calories that you usually put into the body on a daily basis and strip this back sustainably. Do not try to go from 3000calories down to 2000 immediately as you will feel fatigued a your training intensity will drop off significantly, losing your muscle mass and strength. Instead aim for small sustainable drops in the calories you consume (start with approx. 300).

You can get a rough idea of how many calories you are expending each day by using the Harris Benedict Formula

This is by no means exact but it gives you a good outline. For health reasons plan your cut over a longer period.

Step 2: Design your weekly macronutrient intake

When designing your macronutrient intake percentages, try to keep your protein constant as this is important for maintaining muscle regeneration. Aim for between 1.6-2g per kilogram of bodyweight.

Non Training Days: Higher Fats/ Lower Carbs

For non-training days we want to keep our fats higher and our carbs lower. On our non-training days our body will primarily be using fat as a fuel source and will not need to dip into the glycogen stores to nearly the degree it does on training days. Fats are critical for brain health and hormone production so we want to get a healthy amount, but in a deficit it's all about giving our body what it needs when it needs it. Since we are depriving it of energy we have to do a bit of the work we otherwise wouldn't need to in a surplus. 

Training Days: Lower Fats / Higher Carbs

On training days we want to keep our fats lower and carbs higher. The reason for this is fat slows digestion down and we don’t want that around training. We need energy, primarily in the form of glucose (from carbs) to fuel our workouts and if we consume too much fat around our pre-training meal we risk the food remaining in our stomach, unabsorbed by the body, and inaccessible during training. Initially this may not pose much of an issue, but as you get deeper into the cut it will become quite noticeable. The same applies for our post workout meal. We need carbs to fill our depleted glycogen stores and we don’t want fats slowing down that process. On training days I make it a rule to keep fats as far away from training as possible.

For post workout aim to consume simple carbohydrates and protein together with no fats to ensure that the nutrients get into your bloodstream and to the muscle as quickly as possible. A suggestion would be a protein shake with a banana, creatine and skimmed milk.

Step 3: Example of reducing macronutrient intake


  1. Nathan is 100kg and he is looking to cut some fat while getting stronger. The first thing I’ll have Nathan do is log his food as accurately as possible for at least a week or two in order to find his maintenance calories.

  2. We find his maintenance to be at 2800 calories per day. At this point, we’ll drop his intake to 2500 calories to put him into a slight deficit. 

  3. Next we determine his macro nutrients - or the grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates that he needs to eat each day.  First, I solve for protein. I am going to have Nathan consume 200g (2g per kg of BW) of protein. Protein is 4 calories a gram so that is 800 calories from protein. 

  4. Next I solve for fats. On training days we don’t need as many fats so I will drop between 15-20% of his total calories from fat. (I like to keep ladies closer to 20% on training days) For our purposes I’ll stick to 15% for Nathan and that puts him at 375 calories from fat. Fat has 9 calories per gram so that equals 42g.

  5. The remainder of his intake comes from carbohydrates. When we subtract 800 and 375 from 2500 we are left with 1325. Carbs also have 4 calories per gram, so Nathan gets a whopping 331g of carbs. If this were an off day I would do the same thing except I would keep Nathan at 30% of his calories from fat and his carbs would drop accordingly. 

Step 4: Everything will be ok!

Everyone is different and the same formula will not work for all, constantly tweak things to better meet your individual needs. But if you start small, stay consistent, and stay patient you will see results. Don't expect change to happen overnight, it will take a little time for the bodies metabolic processes to adapt. Stick with the path you have chosen and give it time to work.

I’d also say don’t change your approach with only one week’s worth of data. There are far too many variables when it comes to weight loss, and while the scale is a tool in our arsenal, true fat loss doesn’t always immediately reflect with the number that’s staring back at you. Your body weight can fluctuate for any number of reasons, ranging from your quality of sleep to your hydration status to overall stress levels, etc. So it’s important to remain logical with your decision making as opposed to emotionally reacting and making sweeping changes at the drop of a hat. 

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