how to lose fat while getting stronger bench press

How To Lose Fat While Getting Stronger

It’s not hard to lose fat.

But losing fat while maintaining strength and muscle? Now that’s trickier – but not impossible.

I get it. You spent a little too much time in bulking mode. Had a few too many cheeseburgers. Now that beach bod you used to rock is looking more like a dad bod, and you’d like to not only lift like a badass but look like one too. You just don’t want to lose all your hard earned gains.

What if I told you that you could not only maintain your current strength levels but even improve strength while dieting?

I’ve got your attention now,  haven’t I?

I’ve got some good news for you. It’s absolutely possible. In fact, powerlifters do it all the time when they want to compete in a lower weight class. And I’m going to break down the entire process so you can do it too.

Setting Expectations

Now that we know it’s possible, we need to set expectations. You need to be realistic about how much you want to cut without losing any muscle or strength.

I’m going to make some general assumptions here that you’re just looking to have a few more abs popping on the beach this summer and that you’re not looking to compete in bodybuilding or powerlifting – as the approaches will be different and outside of the scope of this article.

So how much fat can you cut with worrying about losing any performance?

If you’re sitting at 20%+ bodyfat right now, it’s going to be pretty easy for you to cut to 13-15% without risking any muscle/strength loss. But if you’re sitting at 10% and looking to cut to 7-8%, then you need to accept you’re going to risk losing some lean tissue and possibly strength.

Possibly the most important point you need to understand is this: go slow. Don’t set an aggressive goal and rush this or you’re going to risk losing lean tissue and strength. You can’t decide to cut 20 pounds three weeks before a vacation and expect to maintain all your gains.

So how fast can you cut then?

As a general guideline, if you’re sitting at 18%+ body fat, you can aim for 1.0% weight loss per week. If you’re 13-18% body fat, aim for 0.75% weight loss per week. <13% body fat, aim for 0.5%.

The slower, the better if you’re patient enough. How you go about achieving this loss starts with getting your nutrition under control.

Note: these suggested weight loss rates are based on my own, as well as other coaches, anecdotal observations only. The only studies, to my knowledge, looking at strength and muscle maintenance while dieting has been done on obese subjects.

The Importance of Nutrition

You might think that your training would be of top priority when trying to maintain or add strength while dieting, but you would be wrong. Nutrition is king here. If you want to lose fat, you’re going to need to be in a calorie deficit. But if you cut that calorie deficit too low, you’re going to destroy all your gains.

There are three factors of nutrition that you need to worry about; how much food you eat, what you need to eat, and when you need to eat it.

how to lose fat while getting stronger eating

How Much Food?

The size of the calorie deficit makes a huge difference in your results. The more fat you have to lose, the bigger your deficit can be, as mentioned above with the suggested weight loss rates.

I’ll use myself as an example of what that might look like.

At 16% body fat, I would aim for 0.75% weight loss per week. Sitting at 215 pounds, that’s roughly 1.6 pounds per week. With the assumption that all weight loss is going to come from body fat, not muscle, it will take roughly 3500 calories to lose one pound.

That means I need roughly a 5600 calorie deficit per week(3500 x 1.6) or 800 calorie deficit per day(5600 / 7 days). Taking that off my 4150 maintenance calories, I would be aiming to hit 3350 calories per day (4150 – 800).

There are a million calorie calculators online that can give you a rough idea of your maintenance calories. But just realize that’s all it is – a rough idea. You’re going to need to monitor your rate of actual weight loss and adjust your calories as required to reach the desired rate.

What Kind Of Food?

I’m not giving you a meal plan here. You’re an adult, you can learn to eat like one. I think you know a steak is going to be better for you than a double BigMac. I’m only going to give you some general guidelines, and you can fill in the blanks.

Protein is the top priority when aiming to maintain muscle mass and strength. You should aim for 1.0 to 1.3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. The lower your body fat %, the higher in that range you should be aiming for. (1)

Carbs are next of importance. Carbs are the primary fuel source for explosive exercise. So don’t jump to cutting carbs immediately, as most dieters do. 30-40% of your total calories from carbs is a good target to aim for.

When To Eat

For the general dieter, meal timing doesn’t matter. But you should at least take it into consideration. Energy levels are going to be low during a diet, no matter the size of your deficit. So timing your nutrition around your workout can help you make the most of it and improve recovery.

Pre-workout(60 to 90 minutes before), it’s a good idea to get 60+ grams of carbs and 25+ grams of protein to properly fuel your workout.

Intra-workout nutrition isn’t a big deal for most. But if you tend to drag your workouts out pretty long(1.5-2+ hours), a quick digesting protein such as a whey shake, and some quick digesting carbs, such as a sports drink may give you a small advantage taken mid-workout.

I’m not going to tell you there’s a 15-minute anabolic window after your workout, in which you need to immediately consume protein or your gains will disappear. That anabolic “window” is actually more of a barn door. (2)

Getting a meal within a couple hours after your workout will be just fine. The meal should consist of 60+ grams of carbs and 25+ grams of protein.


How To Set Up Your Training Program

Your training program doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, your training, while dieting and trying to maintain/build strength, is going to look very similar to the program that built your strength in the first place.

It goes without saying that you need to lift heavy to build strength. And yet, I needed to repeat it. Many dieters switch into more of a hypertrophy or metabolic conditioning program when trying to cut in hopes of speeding up the process. But that’s not what we want.

You’re going to want to train heavy. You’re going to want to do low rep sets(1-5 reps per set). And you’re going to need to take adequate rest on all your big lifts. Basically, you’re going to need to do the opposite of what every fitness magazine tells you is best practice for fat loss.

how to lose fat while getting stronger curl

It’s not likely you’re going to be building any new muscle during this diet, as that’s pretty hard in a calorie deficit for a seasoned lifter. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build strength. Obviously, adding more muscle increases your potential for more strength. But actual strength gains are more of a neurological adaptation than physical. (3)

Hence you why you see badass’ like Richard Hawthorne deadlifting 600+ pounds at a tiny 132-pound bodyweight.

Keep applying progressive overload to your training program and there’s no reason why you can’t improve strength while dieting.

What about cardio?

Typical practice for cutting weight in both the general dieting population as well as the bodybuilding world is to increase cardio. You don’t fall into either of those categories, so you’re not going follow those rules.

In fact, you’re going to reduce cardio. You’re going to cut out HIIT training completely as it will only mess with your strength workouts and recovery.

Stick to low-intensity cardio only. Walking, biking, or stair climber will be best. Spread out your cardio and strength workouts as much as possible. Preferably, on opposite days, or morning/night if needed.


Not only is maintaining or building strength while getting beach shredded possible, but it’s also now going to be easy for you if you follow the formula above. You can have your cake and eat it too – as long as you stay in a calorie deficit.

Keep your nutrition in check and go as slow as possible. The more you rush, the more you risk. Train the same way as you did to build the strength in the first place. Avoid popular fat loss strategies. And don’t over-do the cardio.

There’s your recipe for going from dad bod to beach bod in one paragraph. You no longer need to look like a potato to lift like a badass.


  1. Eric Helms, May 2017, Reflecting on 5 years studying protein, Stronger by Science,
  2. Alan Aragon & Brad Schoenfeld, Jan 2013, Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?, NCBI,
  3. Nathaniel D. M. Jenkins et al, May 2017, Greater Neural Adaptations following High- vs. Low-Load Resistance Training, NCBI,

About the Author

As a certified nutrition & strength coach, Andrew Holmes, takes a no BS approach to fat loss and training to help people build their dream body by destroying their old toxic habits and building new, healthier habits that last a lifetime without the dreaded rebound.

For more fat loss & training info, you can check out his website, or connect with him on Facebook. Thanks for reading this article.