An alternative to the common eat nothing and do tons of cardio strategy for fat loss
Is it possible to lose fat without cardio? Sure, go on a diet and restrict calories.
But, there's a better strategy.
One that not only requires zero cardio, but it also allows you to eat more calories (compared to traditional dieting). In some cases, significantly more...
The strategy is super simple.
Focus on building as much strength as you can.
IMHO, that's actually the best and healthiest way to lose fat.
Let me show you how it works.
This fictional man weighs 176 pounds / 80 kgs and is 5 ft 11 inches / 180cm tall.
John is fat. As in very fat. He has 30% body fat.
However his BMI (body mass index) is 24.6. According to this popular doctor-approved formula, he is not obese. He must be healthy ;)
The reality is however different. John is uber-fat and has health problems because of that.
What if John manages to get down to 10% body fat at the same body weight? Imagine that.
To transform himself from the fat to the lean version, John will have to build 35.2lbs / 16kg of muscle mass and lose 35.2lbs / 16kgs of fat mass. See image below (in pounds)
Quite a feat.
Here's the most important part.
By turning into a leaner more muscular version of himself, John will burn extra calories every single day at the same activity level.
Look at the Fitness Assistant screenshots below:
John's total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) at 30% body fat is: 2582 calories per day.
At 10% body fat, John's total daily energy expenditure is: 2850 calories per day.
The difference is 268 calories per day. Every single day. At the same activity level. In 1 year John will burn extra calories equal to more than 26 pounds / 12 kgs of fat.
If "30% body fat John" eats 2850 calories per day, he will gain more fat! The 10% body fat version of John can eat this amount of calories any day without gaining weight.
Let me show you something even more eye-opening.
What if 30% body fat John decides to eat the extra 268 calories per day, but burn them off with cardio.
Look at the screenshot below.
He will have to do 1 hour of cardio every single day. Day-in. Day-out. In order to eat 268 extra calories.
To me the cardio strategy is a monumental waste of time to eat 268 extra calories (less than half a bar of chocolate).
Having as much muscle as possible is the best fat burning strategy!
Here's a simple mathematical fact: the more muscle you have at any given bodyweight, the less fat you have! And the more energy you burn, the more food you can eat without getting fat!
But the positives don't stop here.
At 10% body fat, John will feel much lighter, stronger and will have more energy. In other words, John will (without even realising it) move more and burn more calories. John is very likely to increase his activity level.
A common side effect of dieting is "lack of energy" which manifests in dieters moving less and burning even fewer calories.
Not with strength training.
With strength training you build muscle and eat/burn more energy.
One last point about calories: synthesizing new muscle tissue aka building muscle is also an energy hungry process. Yes, building muscle also burns calories. So focus on building your body! Not on burning it off.
So, how would John achieve his transformation.
He will start at maintenance calories (no dieting!) - 2582 calories per day.
He will do ZERO cardio. Why waste time to eat just a fraction more?
John will focus all his energy on building strength and muscle.
As he progresses in strength and working weights, John has more muscle and burns more calories.
Instead of lowering his calorie intake, John increases it a little! He eats more to meet the energy demands of his new muscle.
With dieting, you need to constantly lower your calorie intake or increase your cardio (to keep the rate of fat loss).
With the strength training strategy, you need to get stronger ASAP (and eat more and more calories).
1. Set your calories at maintenance or slightly below (no more than 10% below maintenance). In RARE case like, when you need to drop fat faster, you can go down to 20% calories below maintenance.
In some studies, untrained people almost failed to build any muscle when they lowered their calories from 2500 (maintenance) to 1500 (40% below maintenance).
Never lower your calories more than 20% below maintenance! Or else you'll build zero muscle and not increase your energy expenditure.
2. Focus 100% of your effort on strength training with heavy weights. Combine basic multi-joint classic exercises like deadlifts, benches, squats, military presses with select isolation movements like french presses, barbell curls etc for best results. Avoid exercises that use too little weight.
If you have some strength training experience, you can try our X3M 5x5 workout program.
How much strength do you need to gain?
I'd say this just as a guideline (everyone is different), but for every 2.2lbs/1kg of muscle, you'd need to increase your 1 rep max by:
11lbs / 5kg on deadlifts
8.8lbs / 4kg on squats
6.6lbs / 3kgs on bench presses
Use the Strength Goals Calculator in Fitness Assistant to set proper strength goals.
Is it easy? No. You have to lift heavier and heavier weights and put a lot of effort on the basics. But no healthy man or woman should prefer to starve and waste time on cardio and be weaker and fatter than leaner and stronger.
Is it possible? Hell yeah.