Fat Loss for Bodybuilders

Last updated on February 10, 2024

Bodybuilding isn’t just about getting big. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of guys who look huge in a tank top but when they peel down to a tank top, resemble a ton of lard. It’s lean muscle that is impressive – and lean muscle is fat-free muscle.

The concept of fat loss is actually pretty simple: if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose body fat. When you create a caloric deficit in this way, the body is able to tap into existing energy stores in order to maintain its energy needs.

The challenge happens because your body perceives this time of controlled starvation as a threat to survival and wants to respond by getting rid of your most metabolically active tissue. The problem is that this energy-burning tissue just happens to be your hard-earned muscle.

The loss of muscle mass when you are dieting to lose fat is a double negative. Loss of muscle mass means less muscularity and less 24-hour fat burning.

The good news is that you do not have to lose muscle tissue in order to get ripped. The two keys to avoiding muscle loss are resistance training and protein.

Protein Intake

vegan protein powder vs whey

During your fat loss period, you will be reducing calories from carbs and fats. But you should not cut back your protein intake. In fact, you may even want to slightly increase it. Doing so will help you to preserve the metabolic machine that is your muscle.

In a 2010 study, it was found that among resistance-trained athletes who underwent two weeks of caloric restriction, more lean body mass was retained in a group that consumed 2.3 grams of protein/kg of body weight compared to those who ingested 1 gram of protein/kg of body weight daily.

Resistance Training

The general belief among most people is that cardio is the best type of exercise for fat loss while resistance should be confined to muscle building. This, however, is not correct.

Although cardio is a very good secondary training method to burn calories, resistance training needs to be number one. We have already established that a key goal during a fat-loss diet for bodybuilders is to preserve muscle tissue. You also want to simulate as much energy expenditure as possible every day.

Traditional low-intensity cardio may burn a greater proportion of fat for energy while you are doing it. However, the overall energy expenditure is limited.

The fat you burn can come from different sources. As well as your fat stores, it can come from your blood and your muscle tissue. However, there is a way to manipulate your fat burn from exercise so that you are burning only stored body fat.

Metabolic Flexibility

mediterranean diet

The human body has two main sources of energy:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats

Carbs are an inefficient, but quickly available source of energy. It fuels most of the work when you’re lifting weights in the gym. When you are not performing high-intensity exercise, your body can only rely on internal fat stores to meet its energy needs.

Fats are the most efficient energy source. They are what you are using for energy right now, as you read this. However, it takes a long time for this delivery system to ramp up when demands increase, such as during resistance exercises.

The body switches back and forth between these two energy sources as the need arises. Whenever fat burning is insufficient to provide adequate energy, your body shifts to carb burning. This is important to know when your goal is to get rid of body fat, because you want to make it easier for your body to switch to the fat-burning state.

This concept is called metabolic flexibility. It involves controlling the body’s ability to shift between the use of fat and carbs for energy. Adding low-intensity exercise to your routine, along with reduced-calorie dieting and resistance training can help your body to burn fat. The easiest way to do this is to make sure that you consume more carbs for your lift, which will allow you to have a better workout and greater muscle stimulation.

To facilitate a shift toward fat burning, your lower-intensity exercise should occur after a period of relatively lower carb intake. This type of training is not designed to burn a lot of calories immediately. Its key benefit is to promote longer-term fat loss by switching to a fat-burning state.

Low Intensity Exercise Type

So far we have established that, as a bodybuilder, it is a good idea to add some low-intensity cardio exercise to your routine, along with your resistance training. This will help flip your body to a fat-burning state so that the calories burned are coming from your stored fat reserves. There is the risk, though, that this extra exercise could interfere with your resistance training.

To make sure that this does not happen, your low-intensity training should be low-impact. So, it is better to use traditional cardio machines such as a cycle ergometer or an elliptical machine, rather than running. A recent gym addition makes another great low-intensity workout option for fat loss – sled training.

Sled training provides resistance in the horizontal plane. This contrasts with the gravity-based vertical loading you get from loaded carries or running. The best type of sled training that I recommend is walking as you push a medium-weighted sled rather than doing intense HIIT sprint-type work.

To know whether you are exercising at the right level of intensity, you should use the progressive talk test. You should exert the maximal amount of effort that will enable you to speak normally, without having to pant while you are doing the exercise.

I recommend that you do 20-30 minutes of low-intensity exercise 3-5 days per week for fat loss.

HIIT Training

battle ropes HIIT workout

In addition to your weight training and low-intensity interval training, you should also do a couple of HIIT sessions per week.

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training.  It involves interspersing short periods of intense activity with even shorter rest periods. If that sounds like hard work that’s because it is. It is designed for beginner and advanced trainers, so if you are at the beginning of your bodybuilding journey, you should hold off for a few months.

In addition to burning a lot of calories while you are actually doing it, HIIT also increases your metabolism for several hours after your workout. This is because it brings on what is known as the EPOC effect.

EPOC stands for enhanced post-workout oxygen consumption. The effort required for the workout places an ongoing demand for oxygen on the body which requires greater energy production.

My favorite form of HIIT cardio is on a rowing machine. Start with a two-minute warm-up. From a minute thirty onwards, increase your rowing intensity until, at two minutes, you are going all out with maximum rowing effort.

Row at full blast for exactly twenty seconds. Then give yourself a 10-second recovery. Repeat this sequence for 8 rounds. Now finish with a two-minute warm-down.

This entire HIIT workout will only take eight minutes. But it will probably feel like a lot more than that!

Drink a Gallon of Water Every Day

drink during intermittent fasting

To achieve your fat loss goal, you simply have to consume a lot more water than normal. A key reason for this is that more water helps the liver to better break down stored body fat into energy. Your kidneys also require a constant flow of water.

Make it a goal to drink a gallon of water each and every day.

Cut Out Alcohol

If you are truly serious about getting lean, you will be willing to say no to alcohol. With 7 calories in every gram, and a decent amount of sugar in every glass, alcohol is bound to destroy your efforts to get ripped.

In the course of an average Saturday night’s drinking, it’s pretty easy to chug down a thousand calories worth of alcohol. That is going to take a lot of cardio just to get back to square one again!

Despite having a reputation as an alpha male enhancing beverage, beer – along with every other form of alcohol – actually has a testosterone reducing effect on the body. In addition to lowering your body’s natural testosterone reproduction, it will also compromise your body’s ability to convert fat into energy.That’s because it turns into a compound called acetate, which the body is able to use preferentially for energy.

The bottom line here is that alcohol is bad news when it comes to trying to get ripped, Get wise and cut it out.

Use a Fat Burner

Fat burning supplements are useless unless you are first doing all the other things needed to lose fat the smart, healthy way. So, the advice to take a fat burner presupposes that you will first put all the other suggestions offered into practice.

Remember that a fat burner is supplemental to proper nutrition and proper exercise. It can give you a 5-10% fat burning advantage.

Fat burners are designed to lose weight through the following mechanisms:

  • Thermogenesis
  • Lipolysis
  • Appetite suppression

Thermogenesis involves taking a supplement ingredient that will increase the internal body temperature. This forces the body to burn calories in order to bring the body’s temperature back down to its normal state of homeostasis of 98.6 degrees F.

Lipolysis is the process of breaking down fats, otherwise known as lipids. The body’s preferred energy source of glycogen. When that supply is depleted it turns to stored body fat and breaks it down for energy in the process called lipolysis.

Fat burners often contain fiber-based ingredients such as glucomannan. These fibers expand in the stomach when in contact with water. This fills you up so that you are less likely to overeat.

Best Fat Loss Ingredients

what can you drink during IF

Check the label on a fat burner and you’re likely to see a long lift of words that you cannot even pronounce. Here are the top four to look out for.


Natural sources of caffeine include foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, and chocolate. Energy drinks, soda, and dietary supplements all include it artificially.

Because it aids in removing fat from tissues and acts as a stimulant, caffeine is well known for its ability to burn fat.

According to a comprehensive review, caffeine may help people lose weight and lower their BMI and body fat levels. One study found that caffeine boosted fat burn in lean individuals more than obese individuals by roughly three times. [1]

Green Tea

Green tea has some caffeine, but only about half as much as coffee. Catechin is a type of antioxidant found in green tea. Epigallocatechin (EGCG), in particular, has been demonstrated to increase metabolism.

In essence, EGCG blocks the enzyme that degrades norepinephrine (a fight-or-flight hormone). There is more possibility for more fat to be broken down as norepinephrine levels rise.

In one study, individuals in the green tea group lost an additional 0.2–3.5 kg of weight on average than those in the control group. The evidence does not, however, relate to brewed green tea, but rather to green tea extracts, and in the majority of the investigations, the weight loss was not statistically significant. [2]

Thermogenesis, fat oxidation, and muscle preservation were found to improve weight maintenance when green tea and caffeine were combined.


L-carnitine is a conditionally essential amino acid. It occurs naturally in meat, fish, and eggs.

It is believed that L-carnitine helps fatty acids enter cells where they can be used as fuel. In one metastudy that looked at nine other studies, it was shown that study participants who took l-carnitine lost significantly more weight than people in placebo groups. [3]

Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Conjugated linoleic acid is a fatty acid and a building block of dietary fat. Foods like beef and dairy products naturally contain it.

According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, persons who consumed 3.2 g of CLA daily had a moderate decrease in body fat. [4]

Key Points:

  • Create a 250-500 calorie deficit to maintain a daily caloric deficit.
  • Continue with your normal resistance training workouts.
  • Do low-intensity cardio 3-5 times per week.
  • Add in a couple of HIIT sessions each week.
  • Drank a gallon of water daily
  • Cut out alcohol
  • Use a fat burner


[1] Tabrizi R, Saneei P, Lankarani KB, Akbari M, Kolahdooz F, Esmaillzadeh A, Nadi-Ravandi S, Mazoochi M, Asemi Z. The effects of caffeine intake on weight loss: a systematic review and dos-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(16):2688-2696. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2018.1507996. Epub 2018 Oct 18. PMID: 30335479.

[2] Jurgens T, Whelan AM. Can green tea preparations help with weight loss? Can Pharm J (Ott). 2014 May;147(3):159-60. doi: 10.1177/1715163514528668. PMID: 24847368; PMCID: PMC4025876.

[3] Pooyandjoo M, Nouhi M, Shab-Bidar S, Djafarian K, Olyaeemanesh A. The effect of (L-)carnitine on weight loss in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Obes Rev. 2016 Oct;17(10):970-6. doi: 10.1111/obr.12436. Epub 2016 Jun 22. PMID: 27335245.

[4] Leah D Whigham, Abigail C Watras, Dale A Schoeller, Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 85, Issue 5, May 2007, Pages 1203–1211, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.5.1203

Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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