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Does Cutting Calories Cause Muscle Loss?

3 tips to prevent muscle loss when losing weight

On today’s episode of Live Lean TV, I’m answering a viewer question who asked: does cutting calories cause muscle loss?

This is another post from our #TBT Q&A series.

These are questions from our #LLTV Q&A series, that we filmed for our Live Lean TV YouTube channel back in 2012.

So first, I’m going to share my answer to this question from 2012.

Then I’ll answer the same question again today, with more specific details.

Make sure you read until the end, as I give you 3 key take aways to ensure you:

  • lose weight by burning fat
  • prevent muscle loss
  • protect your metabolism

Here is today’s viewer question:

Rug27mamay from YouTube asks: Does cutting calories cause muscle loss?

Here’s the thing.

When you’re in a calorie surplus, you’re going to add mass, whether that’s fat or muscle.

The opposite of this is being in a calorie deficit, where you’re going to burn fat or muscle.

If you’re at a maintenance level where you’re actually expending as many calories as you’re taking in, you’re going to maintain your body weight.

3 Ways To Create A Calorie Deficit For Weight Loss

So if you’re looking to lose fat, but you’re looking to maintain muscle, or even build muscle, just make sure you don’t create too much of a calorie deficit.

If you cut calories too drastically, your body will burn muscle for energy as well.

You have to be very smart with how much of a calorie deficit you’re creating with your diet.

It’s important to not go too crazy and get too aggressive with your calorie deficit.

Start with a 300 calorie deficit per day and see how your body reacts.

If you notice you’re starting to lose muscle, add in more calories.

You just have to playing around with your calorie calculations and test what works for you.

Now here’s my answer 7 years later

I still stand behind everything I said back in 2012.

Yes, cutting calories can cause muscle loss, if you follow an extremely low calorie diet, and you over cardio yourself to a skeleton.

How To Lose Weight In 7 Days

Unfortunately this is the approach many people take to lose weight fast.

However, during the process they are essentially becoming a skinnier fat version, who has not only lost muscle, but also ruined their metabolism at the same time.

Let me say this again

If you’re overweight or obese, the goal is to lose weight from fat, not from lean muscle tissue.

Preventing muscle loss, while maintaining your metabolism, is essential when cutting calories.

This is because muscle is the key metabolic driver of your body.

The more muscle you maintain, the faster your metabolism, thus the more calories you’ll burn at rest.

It’s more than just calories in, calories out

Sure at its core, losing weight can simply be described as the following math equation:

  • Calorie deficit = Calorie Burn > Calories Consumed

I did a full post here on the best way to create a calorie deficit.

Simple right?

However, there are other important factors to consider when creating a healthy and sustainable calorie deficit.

If you’re looking to lose weight the healthy and sustainable way, without losing muscle, follow these 3 tips.

3 healthy and sustainable tips to lose weight without muscle

#1: Make sure you are in a healthy calorie deficit to lose weight

This one is obvious, but it’s often done in an unhealthy and unsustainable way.

First of all, the number for this calorie deficit depends on your current body composition.

For example, someone who is extremely obese could safely get away with a higher calorie deficit than someone who only has 10 pounds to lose.

Depending on the level of obesity, you could safely be in a daily calorie deficit of up to 1,000 calories a day.

However, for someone who is just slightly overweight, not obese, this level of deficit could be too high.

I typically recommend of 300-500 calorie deficit for people who are classified as overweight.

#2: Make sure you are consuming enough protein to prevent muscle loss

Unfortunately there’s a lot of propaganda that you need to give up healthy sources of animal protein like grass fed beef, chicken, and eggs when going on a weight loss diet.

Grass Fed Beef - Fitness Super Food #6


Healthy sources of protein contain the essential amino acids required to protect lean muscle tissue when in a calorie deficit.

Best High Protein Foods For Weight Loss And Muscle Building

Therefore, don’t just eat a plain and boring, low calorie iceberg lettuce salad.

Make the most of the calories that you do have, by consuming muscle protecting sources of protein and hormone friendly and satiating dietary fats.

8 Fatty Foods That Make You Skinny

If you’re looking to lose weight, aim to get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.

Note: when it comes to obese individuals, this is 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, not per pound of bodyweight.

To find your lean body mass, simply subtract your total weight from your total body fat.

Calculating Your Ideal Body Weight

Eating this amount of protein can help prevent muscle loss.

#3. Make sure you are lifting weights in addition to cardio

Again, the goal is to lose weight from fat, not lean muscle tissue.

Lifting weights can help protect your muscle while cutting calories.

This means 3 hour cardio sessions are out.

Excessive cardio will inevitably burn into your muscle tissue, as well as elevating your cortisol stress hormone.

Depending on your fitness level and how much weight you need to lose, start your workout with a warm up, hit the weights, then finish the workout with cardio, and a cool down.

Always do your resistance training before weights.

Avoid These 2 Common Mistakes When Doing Cardio To Lose Weight

I did a full video on why you should do weights before cardio, here.

Bottom line: Does Cutting Calories Cause Muscle Loss?

Just because you’re cutting calories, it doesn’t mean you also have to lose muscle.

Follow these 3 tips and you’ll be losing weight from stored body fat, while protecting your metabolism, and preventing muscle loss.

If you want more help with the right types of workouts, meal planning, and staying accountable to your goals, go join our group coaching platform at

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Question For You:

  • Are you currently in a calorie deficit, calories surplus, or at calorie maintenance?

Be sure to share your answers in the comment section below.

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