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How to Burn Fat Instead of Muscle

author image Amber Canaan
Amber Canaan has a medical background as a registered nurse in labor and delivery and pediatric oncology. She began her writing career in 2005, focusing on pregnancy and health. Canaan has a degree in science from the Cabarrus College of Health Sciences and owns her own wellness consulting business.
How to Burn Fat Instead of Muscle
Strength training, here with kettlebells, helps prevent muscle loss while losing weight. Photo Credit AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

The human body contains more than 600 muscles, assisting in movement and in the formation of your resting and basal metabolic rates. Crash dieting, severe carbohydrate restriction and prolonged workouts lead to muscle loss. Modifications to your diet and exercise routine help you lose unhealthy fat instead of muscle. Always check with your doctor before starting any new diet or exercise program, especially if you have a history of chronic illness or injury.

Calculate Your Calories

Step 1

Determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR). For women, use the formula BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches ) – (4.7 x age in years). For men, use BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years).

Step 2

Determine your activity level by evaluating your exercise level and overall daily activity. A sedentary lifestyle is one with very little, perhaps very sporadic or no exercise at all. Lightly active individuals participate in occasional light exercise, one to three days per week. Moderate activity includes three to five days of exercise; very active individuals participate in higher-intensity workouts most days of the week. Extra active individuals participate in extremely physical exercise, sports or careers.

Step 3

Determine the number of calories your body needs each day by multiplying your BMR by 1.2 for sedentary individuals or 1.375 for those who are lightly active. Moderately active individuals multiply their BMR by 1.55, or 1.725 for very active people. For those who are extra active, multiply the BMR by 1.9. Your BMR times the activity factor equals your recommended daily caloric intake.

Work It Out

Step 1

Feed your body with proper nutrition by following your recommended caloric intake, re-adjusting as your activity level increases. Aim for a ratio of 30 percent protein, 45 percent complex carbohydrates and 25 percent fat. Keep your meals interesting by incorporating colorful fruits and vegetables and a variety of spices. Use a food diary and an online nutrition calculator to help determine your percentages and keep track of your caloric intake.

Step 2

Participate in physical exercise for a minimum of 40 to 60 minutes per day, at least five days each week. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Hospital for Special Surgery encourages individuals to exercise for 200 to 300 minutes each week to burn fat and build muscle. A study published in the "Journal of Applied Physiology" noted that participants who engaged in exercise and ate a healthy diet lost more fat than those who participated in diet or exercise alone.

Step 3

Lift weights to help build muscle and promote fat loss. Incorporating strength training into your exercise regimen two to three days each week is sufficient. As you build muscle, your metabolic rate increases and your body will burn more calories at rest, aiding in weight loss. Avoid working the same muscle group two days in a row. Choose weights that allow you to complete 10 repetitions of each exercise while still maintaining good form. Start with one set and add weight, no more than 5 percent at a time, as your muscles grow stronger.

Step 4

Perform strength-training exercises prior to aerobic exercises like running, walking or using the elliptical. The University of Michigan Medical School explains that strength training and high-intensity exercises burn glycogen and blood sugar for energy for optimal performance. By the time you complete your strength training and begin aerobic exercise, your body is using fat for energy, increasing fat loss.

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