How to burn fat without losing muscle, according to a keto bodybuilder – Insider – INSIDER

  • Losing weight can be challenging, and trying to cut calories too quickly can have side effects for your health, including loss of hard-earned muscle mass.
  • The key to burning fat, not muscle, is gradually decreasing calories and periodically “refeeding” to keep your metabolism healthy, according to keto body builder Robert Sikes.
  • For healthy fat loss, be patient, take your time, and don’t rely on a quick fix or yo-yo dieting.
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A common misconception about weight loss is that there’s a “quick fix,” but burning body fat and building muscle sustainably takes time, patience, and dedication, according to Robert Sikes, a bodybuilder who has six years of experience on the keto diet. 

Common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight are not creating a personalized plan, cutting calories too quickly, and staying on a diet for too long, Sikes said in a recent presentation for KetoCon Online.

To avoid these, Sikes offers simple steps — be strategic, don’t overdo it, and give your body a chance to recover — to help people burn fat without losing muscle, whether or not you’re on a keto diet. 

Know how many calories and grams of protein you need 

The first step to burning fat while maintaining muscle is to understand your metabolic baseline, according to Sikes. That includes how many calories you need per day to maintain your current weight, as well as how many calories you typically eat in a day, and what percentage of that is carbs, fat, and protein. 

“If you don’t know where you’re starting from, you can’t optimize for where you’re going,” Sikes said. 

From there, you can figure out what balance of macronutrients works best for your body by experimenting with different ratios of carbs, fat, and protein.

Sikes recommends getting around 0.8 – 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day to start, and increasing as needed until you find what works for your body. Too much protein, especially on a keto diet, can cause bloating, digestive issues, and higher blood sugar, as well as other long-term health issues

If you’re cutting calories, do it slowly and don’t sacrifice nutrients

Once you’ve establish a balance, you can figure out how many calories you need to cut to be in a deficit — eating fewer calories than you burn is what prompts the body to burn fat. 

Sikes recommends doing this gradually, tapering off proportional amounts of fat and protein (and carbs if you aren’t keto) each week so you’re slowly getting fewer calories. This can help prevent your body from starting to burn muscle or slow your metabolism, both of which are survival mechanisms used in response to an abrupt or severe calorie deficit. 

“This is the hardest phase and the most boring phase,” Sikes said. “So many people come to me and they’re wanting to have this short-term fix. By doing it consistently with discipline and concerted effort, you’re going to get so much better a return on that investment than if you just jump from one crash diet to the next.”  

For Sikes, this can mean up to six months total of slow, consistent cutting for a bodybuilding competition. 

At the same time, focus on high-quality, nutrient dense food, so you’re still getting the building blocks (like protein and amino acids) you need to maintain muscle, he said.  

Include a higher calorie ‘cheat day’ once a week

During the cutting phase, Sikes said it’s crucial to maintain your muscle and metabolism by having at least one higher-calorie day a week so your body can refuel. 

You should still focus on balanced, nutritious food, but eating more calories provides a break that keeps weight loss sustainable both mentally and physically. 

Sikes recommends eating about 30 to 40% more calories on refeeding days, and experimenting with having one or two of them each week. You can also be strategic and plan these days for when you have more intensive workouts. 

Don’t stay on a diet forever 

Finally, Sikes said that once you’ve reached a target body fat percentage, or spent a certain amount of type in a deficit, it’s time for the “reverse dieting” phase. These means increasing your calories back to maintenance or even a slight surplus to let your body recover and go back to building and maintaining lean muscle. Sikes, for instance, said he takes up to two years of calorie maintenance or surplus to recover from a six-month stint of competition cutting. 

Doing so not only prevents the health risks of chronic dieting (like losing muscle and disrupting hormones or metabolism) but it also allow you to build more lean muscle and increase your calorie-and-fat-burning potential overall. 

“It’s hard to build muscle when you’re in a chronic deficit. You need to have a surplus of energy, building blocks, amino acids acids to build lean muscle tissue,” Sikes said. ” The more lean muscle tissue you have, the better your metabolic rate is going to be in the first place.”  

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