My maintenance-calories number is fairly low (around 1500 calories), so I become very hungry if I cut based on diet alone. I've added basketball + HIIT-type training so that I can eat more and still be in a caloric deficit. Seems to be working fine thus far, but I've got to wonder...

Given that I aim to lose 1 pound a week, just how advantageous is this method (increased cardio + dieting) to losing body fat, especially without burning muscle? Along these lines, just hypothetically, if someone were to exercise enough to burn 1000 calories per day, but yet eat enough to maintain a 500-calorie deficit (hence 1 pound fat loss per week), how is this different from getting a 500-calorie deficit based on diet alone?


4 Answers 4


If you are in a calorie deficit I would focus on getting more protein and fat in your diet and get the majority of your carbohydrates from cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts) and low glycemic fruits (berries, cherries, plums, etc).That will help maintain the muscle mass. I wouldn't over analyze the calories too much. Concentrate on eating high quality nutrient dense food and the fat loss will come.

In terms of your weight training. Stick with compound movements (multi-joint lifts). Whether you are using dumbbells or barbells, keep the rest periods short (60 seconds maximum) and get your workout done in no more than an hour. Squats, deadlifts, presses, pull ups, chin ups, and rows are what the focus of your training should consist of. I hope that helps.



There are a million diet ideas out there but they all boil down to one thing: Burn more calories than you eat. One particular idea is the amish diet which is very high in carbs and ends up being nearly 6,000 calories a day and they have a 3% obesity rate because of all of the labor. My general recommendation would be to stop your cardio if you are feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or exhausted. These are your body's ways of telling you that you have not eaten/drank enough. In general unless you are reaching serious levels of exertion your body will not burn muscle. This is your body's last resort. I would generally say as long as you don't feel like you are shaking/seriously losing coordination keep playing sports and doing cardio particularly if you are doing one of the most important things: Having FUN.

Also don't forget to get plenty of sleep and drink plenty of water. If you are feeling ill after working out while drinking and sleeping enough that would be a good sign to maybe eat more.


That hypothetical person should concern themselves with strength training. It's pretty hard to make a lot of strength gains in a calorie deficit, but I know some actual Olympic-qualifying Olympic lifters who manage to keep their body fat pretty lean (weight class concerns) as they progress.

Adaptation is specific and constantly being adjusted, up and down. If you're not engaging your body in big strength demands, and especially if you're in caloric deficit, your body will note the lack of need for your strength and start cannibalizing muscle.

If you haven't already done real strength training you honestly probably don't have much strength to lose (that would take much to regain). So maybe don't obsess about muscle loss if you haven't invested months/years into your progress.


How advantageous is increased cardio + dieting to losing body fat without burning muscle?

This is a complex problem. If you do cardio, you are going to lose some muscle. Even some of the most hardcore bodybuilders struggle with keeping muscle while burning only fat. Does this mean you are going to "lose all your gainz" overnight? No. The problem with your plan lies in what it is missing: weight lifting. Without weight lifting being part of your regimen, the result will quite obviously be that over time you will lose your muscle.

The nice thing is weight lifting is a form of light cardio, so as the saying goes you can "kill two birds with one stone" by lifting weights to burn fat and put on muscle.

If someone were to burn 1000 calories through exercise, but eat enough to maintain a 500-calorie deficit, how is this different from getting a 500-calorie deficit based on diet alone?

The difference is that cardio gives you more benefits than just burning calories. Studies show that exercise increase your longevity, happiness, muscle tone, aerobic conditioning, and much more. Cutting 500 calories accomplishes none of this.

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