Program/Nutrition Advice to Lose Fat without Losing Strength?

Hey T-Nation wizards, I’m needing a little programming/nutrition advice…this is my first post, not sure where to begin so here’s some stats:
Age: 33
Ht: 5’11"
Weight: 225
Bodyfat: ~25-30% (rough guess)
Waist: 41"

Current best lifts: (not 1RM)
Squat: 325 3x3
Deadlift: 340 3x3
Bench: 210 1x6
Press: 140 1x5

I had always been skinny/fat, until I got really fat. About 235 with NO strength (shout out to cokes and laziness). Went through a divorce and through calorie restriction and stress unintentionally got skinny again. Then I got remarried and got happy and of course…fat. Jumped on the cardio train and cleaned up my diet. Intermittent fasting, moderate fat, low-low carb, moderate protein, lost fat. Stumbled onto SL 5x5 june 2015 and started barbell training. Had never used a BB before. EVER. Started light as recommended. Got my BW down to 185lbs./36" waist but struggled BAD with my strength. Couldn’t squat 225 for 5x5. Took a break for about a month, found and read Starting Strength and started the low bar squat as well as drinking tons of milk. Like a lot. And I ate. A lot, not junk ALL the time but I snuck PB&J sandwiches in late at night and eating breakfast like a beast. I started gaining weight, low and behold my lifts went up!! I was making huge gains every session! But I could tell my gut and love handles started coming back. WtF***! I didn’t care. I just wanted to be stronger. But I kept getting thicker around my waist ESPECIALLY MY LOVE HANDLES! My Large t-shirts are too tight.
So I started 5/3/1 back in January but increased the frequency of the lifts with the intention of getting better at them.

Example: I usually do whatever % and set/rep range the 5/3/1 is for that week. So that could be 3x5, 3x5 or 5/3/1… I MAY add 5lbs on tues/Fri lifts. I’m NOT maxing out every session either. I’m still training sub max.

Low-bar squat: 5/3/1
Bench: 5/3/1
BB ROW: same as bench

Deadlift: 5/3/1
OHP: 5/3/1
KB swings or chins

Wednesday: off

Nutrition note: Now I use 16/8 intermittent fasting. I cut pit the milk and bread. I don’t count calories, I eat clean 90% of my meals (meat, veggies, little fruit, nuts, little dairy, coffee, unsweet tea, unrefined carbs). I try to eat “more than enough” good food.
I cheat 2-3 big meals on the weekends with my family (burger and fries, pizza, ice cream)
I get 5-7 hours of sleep every night.

I don’t want to be at this body fat percentage, but I don’t want to lose the strength that I’ve gained.
I don’t want to have a 41" waist.
I would like to look good naked like everyone else does I’m sure. I don’t care about a six pack but I don’t like fat hanging over my pants/shorts
Should I add sprints or tire drags 2x a week?
Am I over training???
Is this training beneficial?
Am I over analyzing everything and need to just STFU and be consistent and patient? Yeah. Probably.

Anyways, thanks for reading this. Go easy on me, I’m not asking to be roasted. Getting a little discouraged on my journey and would appreciate any advice.

A couple of things. I’d say 2-3 cheat meals on the weekends is too much for someone looking to lose a decent amount of weight. Depending on the specifics, that might be enough to undo much of what you did during the week diet-wise.

Here’s another suggestion for someone that wants to get stronger but not with reckless weight gain. Add chin ups and mile-time runs to your weekly training. If you can get your big barbell lifts to go up, while also getting your chins/pull ups reps to go up, you’re getting stronger without just getting fatter. Also, I think running a mile for time 1-2X a week is a great way to get leaner, fitter, and keep your weight down. Shoot for a reasonable decrease in whatever time you currently can run it, and track it. It’s a quick workout (add a warm up and cool down).

This is where your problem is. For getting stronger, it’s a perfectly fine approach. For getting leaner, it sucks balls.

You need to decide which is more important at this time: strength or appearance. I believe it was Jim himself who has said numerous times that you cannot serve two masters.

You’re looking in the wrong direction. Until you clean up your diet, there is very, very little chance of you getting leaner the way you want almost no matter how much conditioning you do.

I wouldn’t train the way you’re currently training, because I don’t think it’s optimal. That’s just me. I would pick a template from the book or Jim’s own forum and run it as intended. However, there is almost no chance of you overtraining with what you’re doing currently. You might be under recovering, but not overtraining.

Full Body, Full Boring springs to mind as something you might like.

There it is. If losing fat is important you, focus on your diet and accept that you may lose some strength along the way. Be disciplined. Drop your training maxes, add volume for main lifts and assistance. Cut out the cheat meals. Eat less, and only good food. When you’re at the level of leanness you want, spend a bit of time letting your body adjust and then focus on getting stronger.


Sounds as if you should hire a qualified coach. You’ve got many questions, and conflicting goals.

MarkKO nailed it: You absolutely _have to prioritise strength or aesthetics, once past the beginner stage at least.

Therefore, don’t worry about losing a little strength, which you will do, eventually.

In terms of your diet, I would re-frame these “cheat” meals as relaxation periods. Try not to go too mental with ice cream and pizza. IF is great, so keep it up there. I do think adding in some cardio gives you extra freedom and flexibility in terms of calorie consumption, just like IF does. What type of cardio?

The type of cardio that you find fun, and will therefore be able to stick to, which means you won’t keep yo-yoing around due to your relationship status.

Good luck, you can do it!

I’d have to disagree with it not being possible to drop body fat and get stronger - I’ve done it, and starting with lower body fat and higher strength than you are. At 25+% body fat I don’t think you’d have a problem slowly losing fat and at a minimum maintaining your strength levels with a more appropriate diet.
I also find personal if I am looking to lose weight and therefore ‘accept’ I’ll get weaker it will likely happen but if I say fuck that I’m going to drop some fat, train hard and get stronger then I can do it… just my opinion

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Hi there, my advice would be to look at your diet. Really start to understand exactly you’re eating on a day to day basis. I know it’s a pain but keep a food diary and log everything that you consume for 2 weeks, drinks, everything. Use an app like myfitnesspal if that helps. Be completely honest, you may be very surprised. In my experience what I ‘thought’ I ate in a day is quite different to what I actually ate. Yes I was eating clean but I was going through almond butter, butter, olive and coconut oil like my life depended on it. Just sneaking an extra spoon of almond butter and handful of nuts soon added up.

Speaking from personal experience, I’d forget about cheat meals or anything like that until you’re at quite a low body fat precentage and even then I prefer a carb refeed rather than a cheat.

Not everyone agrees however, some people say it can give you a bit of a mental boost and help you to stay the course.

I’d recommend reading articles from Nate Miyaki on T Nation or google precision nutrition and understand what your portion sizes should look like. From the physique goals you’ve described you won’t need to worry about drastic calorie cutting or macronutrient ratios.

You should be able to maintain strength and drop the fat as long as you put in the effort in the gym and really get your nutrition on point. It’s difficult physically and mentally when you are trying to shed the fat and a lot of the time you feel weaker but this is more down to depleted glycogen stores. You’ll want to give up because it’s miserable sometimes you’ll feel you can barely drag your arse to the gym let alone get underneath a heavy barbell. This is why common advice is to alternate your goals have a fat loss phase where you do get a little weaker and then a strength phase where you forget about fat loss for a while. I can’t remember who said “you can’t ride 2 horses with 1 arse”. You may even progress quicker with this approach. I did it the hard way and there were times when I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around and times where I could barely focus at work. It took it’s toll to say the least.

Stick with 5/3/1 as you will need to keep lifting heavy to maintain strength but go easy on the conditioning if you are dieting. First assess if you’re losing fat on the diet and perhaps a small amount of low intensity cardio on one of your recovery days. Perhaps a 45 minutes walk or something like that. Before you think about having to do any further conditioning. It’s not a good idea to bring all of the possible techniques into play initially. You need to hold something back for when the fat loss slows down or stalls.

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You can maintain strength for a while, especially if you’re starting out at 20%+ body fat, but when you do start to get lean strength loss is inevitable.

Basically, the guys I’ve worked with who start to lose strength stress out about it so much that they cease to keep themselves in a calorie deficit. They’re also disappointed because they expected to maintain strength. Whereas, if they just accept that a slight reduction in strength is ok, then they will happily keep losing weight.

So yeah it’s possible for a while, but not forever.

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Ok wow! So much good info here! Thanks for the response. How would I go about a carb-refeed? I’ve heard of “Carb nite” from Keifer but I’m not sure if it’s the same thing. And I understand to consider it when and only when I get my bf% down.

Thanks to everyone for all the replies. A lot to look at and consider so thank you again! I’m gonna chew on this for a bit but I may have a few more questions.

Sometimes I keep carbs really low to give my fat loss a bit of a boost and I’ll get to a point every now and then where I feel more tired than usual, I also struggle to keep warm and I have trouble recovering before my next session. It’s usually every 10 days or so.

When I feel like that I drop nearly all of my fat intake and replace it with carbs for a day or two and I eat as much of them as I can stomach.

These are from unprocessed sources like various types of rice (white, black, brown) , steel cut oats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa.

It really helps to give me a boost mentally and physically. At the gym the weights feel light and I have bags of energy. It’s at those times when I tend to see new PRs in reps and weight on the bar.

The reason I say that you don’t need to do it while you have a higher body fat % is that you’re better off keeping things as simple as possible until you need to start pulling tricks out of your playbook to keep up the fat loss. You don’t want to run out of options before you’re anywhere near where you want to be in terms of your physique. Also for me I didn’t really feel to many negative effects from dieting until my body fat was around 10(ish)%

Yeah you know you’re lean when you’re cold, with absolutely no reason to be! Then it’s time to raise the carbs a little :wink:

What do you mean by relaxation periods? Thank you!

I’ve dropped 800 cals from my daily food this year, last year was trying to bulk my quads ( knee injury ), 3000+ down to 2200. This year I’m boxing, and I’m just under super heavyweight and want o avoid it for obvious reasons!. I’ve no previous boxing experience and am doing an exhibition match at the end of the year. Obviously boxing is the priority so I’ve dropped the weights to twice a week.

I only do squats and deads 5/3/1, with alternating FSL ( FSL squats on deads day ) though I do FSL MP every session.

I’ve managed to increase my strength doing this. I’m 5’9" x 90kg at the start of the year and am now around 88-88.5. A good 1.5kg lighter but slightly stronger. You can do it, just go slowly. One cheat meat max a week for me.

Hiit on a spin bike once a week works great too, or joins boxing gym, it kills you haha

Basically, there is a chance that the 2-3 big cheat meals on the weekend (especially if you’re not measuring them), are completely screwing up your progress.

Obviously I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling they are. So, in my opinion, the best way to handle this is a psychological shift. Maybe try to think of Sunday (for example) as a day whereby you spend time with your family, maybe have a couple of beers/wine/whatever with your meals, but only choose one cheat meal, out of:

-Ice Cream
-Burger & Fries

In my experience it’s difficult to keep the weight off with the “cheat meal” mentality - it encourages binging when the diet gets really hard, I think.