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The Heretic's Guide to Losing Muscle Mass


Hi folks,

What I’m going to ask here may be flamed. My choices may be questioned. I understand that, as in nearly all circumstances, gaining muscle comes with physiological advantages, and that what I’m asking could be seen as blasphemy, idiocy or worse…!

That being said, my goal is actually to lose muscle. I’ll explain why.

I’ve been weight training, on and off, since I was about 15, currently 29. The biggest I’ve been is about 17.5st, with some reasonable lifts to boot.

I’ve come to a point in my life where I want to focus more on aerobic activity. I would like to race triathlon, do some long distance hiking; in doing so I’d like less body load to transmit through my chronic injuries (both knees, lower back issues, some vertebrae damage). To be perfect honest, it’d also be nice to be able to wear ‘normal’ clothes without my shoulders busting out, thighs not getting in jeans etc.

To do this, I’ll need to trim down. I’ve always gained muscle easily; not so for leaning out. To do this sensibly, I’m looking for soundly reasoned, scientifically based advice. I’ve searched fairly far on the internet; as you can imagine, this topic isn’t much discussed, although there are some articles out there. They talk of calorie deficits, marathon cardio, less protein etc, but I’m not sure on the physiological aspects required for this type of goal. I’m expecting this process to take 1-2yrs, but that’s just a guess.

My biggest concern: what happens to fat metabolism in an environment of significant and protracted muscular atrophy? No weight training would cause the little muscle buddies to exit the body enmasse. Can they be used for energy in the process? No one wants to lose muscle and keep body fat, looking like a f’ing marshmallow.

I’m hoping to be able to use the collective knowledge of this forum, arguably the best resource on the webs! I need some input on calorie requirements, optimal macros, exercise programming etc. Some stats to help:

Current stats

Sex: male
Age: 29
Weight: 98kg (215lbs)
Height: 179cm (5ft 10in)
Bodyfat: approx. 17-18%

Goal stats

Weight: 85kg (187lbs)
Bodyfat: approx. 12%

I suppose it something like ‘bear mode’ -> ‘otter mode’ (swimmers physique, but probably bulkier given my genetics).

I hope all that makes sense. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, cheers!


If your body fat approximation is accurate, you currently carry about 39 lbs of fat. Your goal physique carries 22.5 lbs of body fat. Thats a difference of 16.5 lbs. Losing just this fat mass and keeping all of your muscle would take you down to 195.5 lbs bodyweight. This would leave you with 8.5 lbs of unwanted lean mass. So, your goal is to lose 16.5 lbs of fat and 8.5 lbs of lean mass – roughly a 2:1 ratio.

A mild to moderate calorie deficit coupled with an increase in the amount of aerobic exercise you’re doing (due to your goals of becoming an endurance athlete) should get you there without taking any extreme measures.


I think Chris Hemsworth did the same by just eating less and doing more circuit-style training. Honestly, the easiest route might be to just train for performance in running/cycling swimming and let the rest sort itself out.


I don’t think there is anything wrong with someone not wanting to do all that is required to carry a lot of muscle. Muscle is extremely expensive to maintain.

I also think a lot of people over think things. Just start doing what you want to do. If it is hiking, go hike. If it is training for a triathlon, go train for a triathlon. Your body will adjust to whatever you are doing.

I have been 130 lbs to 200 lbs with varying body fat percentages along the way. I few years ago I lost 25 pounds because I started back rock/ice climbing and quit lifting and actually got leaner because I wasn’t stuffing my face with food like I do when I am trying to build strength.

Anyway, if you are into geeking out on your training and shit-- I would just started researching on how to train for what you are wanting to accomplish. So if it is triathlons, find some specific things from other people who compete in those areas. Not sure how may triathletes we have here on T-Nation. I’ve done a lot of mountaineering and alpine climbing, and I can say with something like hiking and things like that the only thing you need to do is just get outside and do it.

In short, I personally wouldn’t worry about fat metabolism and all of that other stuff. Just eat a healthy balanced diet and enjoy your life.


Some interesting answers here folks. I thank thee all.

I can certainly understand the “change activity and let the body change” attitude. Makes a lot of sense to me, and that seems to be what you are all saying. It helps to have some of my intuitions confirmed, as all my gym buddies think I should be using weights to achieve my goals. It doesn’t matter how much I tell them that I respond extremely rapidly to anything that stimulates hypertrophy, they all recommend some variation of German body comp, 8x8 programs, cyclical carbohydrate diets etc. It’s like a one size fits all approach to exercise and diet.

I have a friend who’s completed a few iron-man comps and he was like “dude, just eat less than 2000kcal and hit the pool or track every damn day. Soon you’ll be carved out of wood”.

Sounds simple enough. But I was concerned I’d just end up like the aerobic instructors. Puffy, weak and wearing stupid s***.

I haven’t lifted for about a month, cardio about 3x week, average of 2,500kcal a day and so far I’m smaller (duh) and flabbier (noticeable abdominal pinch increase). Does any one think my calories could be too high? My appetite guides me to about 2500-3000 if left to its own devices.

My gf is a PT and always asks me to forget calorie intake, and just focus on healthy food, but it doesn’t ever seem to change my body comp!


It’s entirely possible to train with weights without stimulating hypertrophy. Keeping the volume relatively low would be the first step. I’d suggest following a strength-based lifting plan while cleaning up your diet. Trying to drop weight with zero lifting is a great way to lose muscle, as you suspect and as you’re seeing.

Something like this plan with smart eating and not-a-ton of cardio should get you headed to where you want to end up.

She’s right. :slight_smile: If you’re strict (in the sense of being honest with what you’re actually eating) and actually focus on quality whole foods, many coaches are getting into the concept of not necessarily counting calories, instead focusing on nutrient density and food quality. The “Eat As Much As You Want” plan and this article talk about that idea.


Just train really hard for triathlon especially HIIT in the pool and you will ‘trim down’ fast. Keep your caloriesup/at maintenance to fuel hard workouts and recover properly