Tried to Lean Out and It All Went Wrong

Ok, been lifting for a couple years and was getting to the point where you could tell I visited a gym but had too much body fat, especially belly/gut fat. This is me a few moths ago, sucking in the gut a bit;

Well, those few months ago I decided to lean out for beach weather and started a new high volume full body workout routine, lot’s of walking/hiking, rowing like crazy (think half marathons and 10k’s on the erg) and really cut down the carbs. After almost 3 months of this I have lost a LOT of my muscle that I busted my butt for and if anything, proportionally, my belly is even bigger!

So, what went wrong with my strategy? For now I’ve ditched the high volume routine and went back to what was working, cut out all the long walks/hikes, rowing and added the carbs back. So I fully expect to get that muscle back for winter and my plans of being a studly zoomer for the beach gone.

What should I have done differently?

You may not have been carrying as much muscle as you thought you had. There’s also a point where you may start to look big again but there is always a no-mans land until you get there again where you will feel smaller.

Additionally, doing a complete 180 is always hard to pull off. Going from a surplus, with low/modern volume on a split to full body, high volume plus limited carbs plus a bunch of extra activity on-top of that is going to end in disaster.

Give yourself time and make one or two small changes (eg. add a 2x per week hike) until things stop moving in the right direction - then make a small change again (eg. drop desserts) until that stops working.

No need to start behaving like you are 10% body fat trying to get down to 7% when you are closer to 20%


In a state of compromised recovery (reduced calories), you upped training demand (trained more)

When you train more, traditionally, you need to INCREASE recovery, not reduce it. This allows you to recovery FROM the training. You went the opposite route: you induced catabolism by training very hard, then further promoted it by not eating enough to recover. This, in turn, got you the results you got.

When you are building muscle, THAT is when you increase training, because you are eating enough to recover. In turn, when you take away the calories, you need to start pairing down the training. Yeah, bodybuilders will start doing cardio to get absolutely peeled, but even that tends to be low intensity stuff, and it’s at the end of the fat loss phase.

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Yeah this alone really not going to help

Just from looking at your picture you aren’t that fat. IMO you just needed to dryout a bit and maybe up the Nitrous Oxide supplements to bring out the vascularity.
The older we get the more carbs are our enemy.
Give high protein high quality fat and low carbs a try and go back to the heavy lifting. If you need to burn a few more calories for the day go for a nice bike ride with the wife or GF.

What you should of done:

  • kept on lifting heavy weights
  • increase steady state cardio a little bit (an extra 15 minutes of walking a day etc)
  • reduce calories by a small amount (10-15%), and re-adjust after a week or so.

The idea is to lose the fat slowly.


Just a side note to this, it is valuable to keep your stress levels low. Take this into account when considering who to invite to these activities.


When you cut carbs, it’s like hitting the deflate button on your muscles. If you’re going to do low carb, go all in full keto and keep it brief. The muscles will re-inflate when you get some carbs as long as you don’t burn off too much muscle tissue. Steady state cardio for “marathon” length didn’t help that, it just burns all of your glycogen and then starts eating muscle. Interval cardio works better. When I have cut weight in the past, my shoulders disappeared, which just makes the stomach look inflated even if it’s actually shrinking.

IMO, this is the be-all, end-all of this topic. I started at 225 and thought, 10 pounds of fat off and I’ll be where I need to be! Well, I’m knocking on 200 and I’m just seeing abs. I went from heavy lifting to training for and competing in a triathlon, and I haven’t lost an ounce of muscle, and I don’t think you have either. Fat just makes the arms, chest, and shoulders look bigger. Running half marathons and going all-out on cardio is unnecessary and inefficient for long-term fat loss, but you didn’t lose a ton of muscle, you just didn’t have as much as you thought you had.

You know if you go 180 degrees in the opposite direction and it doesn’t work out like you thought it would, you can stop halfway back instead of just getting back all the fat that cushioned you into looking semi-large with a shirt on.

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I agree 100% with @flappinit. I started out this year at 160, thinking that 150 would be perfect. Dropped as low as 143.5 last week and found myself realizing I was now “close” to where I wanted to be body comp-wise.

Check out the Transformation 2019 thread for some insights into some of the better fat loss/muscle preservation accomplishments of the folks around here. Plenty of good basic info that I know has helped me on my quest for more muscle and less fat.

I think you are very correct @strongmangoals. I tried to do too much and my body had to compensate. Am back on my ‘old’ program, non hyper volume lifting, cut the cardio and added my carbs back in at a regular amount and am ever so slowly starting to see some shape come back after a few weeks.

Haha, it did not! Felt like a good theory at the time though. Looking on the brighter side, at least I learned something.


Will look into that @burien, thanks!

Yes, there is a reason I didn’t post a shirtless photo, have too much fat on my torso. Thanks @flappinit. You can definitely see it in my pecs on my photo, definitely not square and muscle-slabbed!

Good advice about going halfway back to my original routine and not all the way to keep fat at bay.


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Go make a training log and tag some of us in it, you can post your workouts and diet there. Very supportive community.

There’s a MyFitnessPal app from Under Armour. Record each meal’s calories for awhile, and if eat same things regularly, you’ll soon be able to stop recording them regularly. Deduct a few hundred from your maintenance calories and hunger won’t really be an issue. I cut 500 calories a day from my 2800 maintenance number without feeling hungry, and I’m losing about l/2 lb week.

OK cool. Personally I think high volume is fine if return carbs back to high(and clean choices).

Also if want to do rowing can tack on these to your workout once or twice a week.They can even help hold muscle…