Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
20 Oct

How to Maintain Muscle While Losing Weight

“Losing weight” is insufficient terminology. It’s too vague, too unspecific. When a person sets out to lose weight, just what are they trying to lose? Bone density? Muscle mass? Organ weight? Of course not – they’re generally looking to lose adipose tissue. People want to burn body fat, and they want to do it without negatively impacting the more beneficial sources of (corporeal) gravitas. Simply put, you want to lose fat, not muscle. The only problem is that the popular methods for shedding weight often result in excessive (but really, any amount is excessive) muscle loss, too. I’m talking, of course, about precisely the practices I rail against in the Primal Blueprint Chronic Cardio, ultra low-cal/low-fat ascetic dieting, and other trappings of Conventional Fitness Wisdom. Granted, adhering to any, individually or in concert, will probably help you lose weight, but a ton of it will come from your lean mass (not to mention bones and organs). That said, if you’re going for skinny-fat chic or the waiflike, undernourished look, feel free to run fifteen miles a day and live off canned tuna and rice cakes. The scale will drop, and you won’t be weighed down by that pesky musculature any longer.

But you don’t want that (do you?). You want a strong, lean body. You want to maintain your agility, your power, your strength, and your agreeable appearance. You want to burn fat while maintaining (or even building upon) your existing muscle. Heck, if you’re mostly interested in burning fat, you need the muscle. Muscle is a hungry, wasteful thing. It craves protein and fat to run effectively, along with a bit of glycogen every now and then to fuel up. Next to the organs and the brain, your muscle mass is one of the biggest consumers of energy in the body, and the more you have, the better your fat loss. It’s a delicious cycle – the right kind of exercise spares muscle and burns fat, and more muscle with reduced body fat allows you to do the right kind of exercise.

To make sure you’re losing the right kind of weight, you have to chart your progress. It’s a little more complicated than just watching your total weight, though. In fact, you don’t even really need the scale anymore. Well, you can keep it around, but don’t get too comfortable; your meetings will be fleeting and infrequent from here on out. Spend a little quality time alone, if you must. Get your fill of each other, because you’re going to be using an entirely different set of barometers to monitor your weight loss: eyes, ears, belts, and weights.


Check yourself out. Don’t hover in front of the mirror, though. Strip down to the bare essentials and take full body snapshots, making sure to space them out every few days. A lot of people tend to obsess over minor daily fluctuations, but you’re not going to see a whole lot of visual differences that quickly. Five days, six days, or definitely a week, however, can be enough time to notice a difference in a direct comparison. Look out for misshapen lumps, sagging chests, flabby underarms – all signs that you’re losing muscle and maintaining fat.


If you’re doing it right, you should be getting noticed. Whether it’s a significant other, a co-worker, or friends, people will compliment you. Heed their words. When people say, “You’ve lost weight!” (and they’re not your grandmother clicking her tongue in disapproval) and, “You look stronger and healthier!” it means you’re on the right track. Take it as a sign.


Losing fat and maintaining muscle means dropping pants sizes. Using an extra notch on the belt is good. Having to buy an entirely new belt is better. Using a hole punch to create new holes because you can’t afford a new belt is pretty bad – but at least you’re still losing fat.


The best way to ensure you’re maintaining muscle mass is to chart your progress in the weight room. Muscle loss is accompanied by a reduction in strength, so if you find yourself failing to hit the marks you used to destroy with ease, you’re probably eating muscle. It’s a bad sign if you’re dropping weight and doing fewer pull-ups than before.

(You can also use body fat testing to get actual numbers, but I’m a big fan of the above methods. How you feel, look, and lift is going to be enough of a marker for most people.)

Okay, those are a few ways to monitor your progress (or lack thereof), but what about actually doing it? What should we be eating, and how should we be exercising? Short answer: follow the PB way. Eating a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet is pretty crucial in our everyday life, and it’s no different now. Minimizing our insulin load while filling up on fats, meat, and veggies is just as important. Likewise, lifting heavy things and running really fast every once in awhile are keys to promoting fat mobilization and muscle maintenance. You could even just check out the last post I did on building muscle and for the most part all that stuff will apply, too.

But there are a few specifics that bear repeating, and a few areas where today’s advice differs slightly from that of the previous muscle-building post.

Intermittent Fasting

IF is perhaps your greatest tool when losing weight and maintaining muscle. It increases insulin sensitivity (good for mobilizing adipose tissue), promotes the secretion of growth hormone (a muscle sparing, fat burning hormone), and reduces body fat. What’s not to love? It’s almost like the human body’s response to IF was designed specifically for our current predicament. Hmm, I wonder if Grok ever found himself in a situation where food was scarce and muscle mass was precious… For extra benefits, exercise in a fasted state and wait at least an hour before you eat something.

Avoid Excess Chronic Cardio

I know, I know, those words probably still sound like sacrilege to a few of you, but it’s true that constant, Chronic Cardio is catabolic – it retards muscle growth, interrupts protein synthesis, and can even reduce existing muscle mass. Too much exercise (especially highly stressful long distance steady state stuff) releases cortisol, a vitally important “flight-or-flight” hormone that can be incredibly damaging in unnaturally large amounts. In Grok’s day, cortisol would have kicked in when he needed it to jog his senses and get him focused on surviving a momentary threat; nowadays, we’re pelted with stress from all angles, and our body doesn’t differentiate between artificial stress (like work, traffic, or money) and “real” threats. Chronic Cardio is just another unnaturally stressful situation we subject ourselves to, and cortisol is happy to help – except all that help packs on the pounds and eats away at our muscles.

Make Sure You Sprint

Besides, sprinting (or really, any exercise that stimulates lactate production) is a great way to increase growth hormone production and burn body fat while maintaining fast twitch musculature. GH, fasting, sprinting, fat mobilization… it all seems to fit together, huh?

Lift Heavy Things

You fail to move it, you’ll lose it. You can’t forget about lifting, whether it’s with a heavy barbell or your own weight. Resistance training increases bone density, which is an important factor in healthy body weight, and it (obviously) also increases (or maintains, depending on your diet/intensity) muscle mass. Oh, and I probably don’t even have to say it, but heavy lifting (especially compound exercises like squats and deadlifts) also stimulates growth hormone production.

Don’t Go Overboard on the Food

You’re not trying to pack on weight – even if it’s muscle – so there’s no need to stuff yourself. When you’re not fasting, just eat normally. Eat your fill, and stop when you want. Just keep those carbohydrates low, no more than 50g or so for most people, and don’t obsess over calorie counting (in either direction). Focus on saturated and monounsaturated fats (with some fish oil to supplement) and take in about a gram of protein for every pound of lean body mass.

Again, you’d be pretty safe just following the normal Primal eating and exercise plans, getting plenty of rest, minimizing stress, and fasting once in awhile, but I figured a quick and dirty guide with a few clarifications would help ensure you achieve fat loss without sacrificing muscle mass. It’s just too bad that most of the mainstream assumes muscle loss accompanies weight loss – if they even consider it. Let’s hope a few outsiders stumble upon this and realize weight loss doesn’t have to be a compromise.

Shoot me some questions or concerns, if you got ‘em! I’m happy to help.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Mark – You’ve noted here to keep carbohydrates to no more than 50g. Is that 50g per meal or 50g per day?

    Shema wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • One more related question. For non dieting pregnant women, how many carbs do you recommend they consume on a daily basis?

      I’m a Type II Diabetic (well controlled with diet and exercise) and am contemplating trying to get pregnant next year. I mentioned this to my endocrinologist who said that while I’m pregnant I would need to raise my carb intake to 150 g per day, and cover that with insulin. (I’m not on insulin now). 150 g per day seems like a lot to me and is way more than I’m consuming now. I’d love to hear your views.

      Shema wrote on October 20th, 2009
      • Shema,

        Please do not follow your doctor’s advice to raise carbs and then inject insulin while you are pregnant! Please read Genocide: How Your Doctor’s Dietary Ignorance Will Kill You!!!” which is written by a long-time practicing doctor and discuses this very question.

        Aaron Blaisdell wrote on October 20th, 2009
      • I am a type 1 diabetic and have had 4 pregnancies (5 babies). I increased my carbs from 40g, my pre pregnancy intake, to 55g give or take. increasing your carbs will actually contribute to macrosomia in the baby. Your best bet is to increase lean proteins. I was a big fan of peanuts. Fish is good too, but you have to watch mercury. Increasing your carbs and compensating with insulin will cause unneeded fat gain and have ill affects on your baby. please do more research before heading his advice!

        Stacie wrote on December 16th, 2011
    • 50 g a day, not per meal, and total carbs, not net carbs (net carbs wouldn’t include carbs from fiber, total would).
      See the Carbohydrate Curb article in the Top Posts section.

      Karell wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • Seriously? 50g per meal…if you had 50g a day, you would have hardly enough energy to lift weight or cardio…

      That low state of carbs is something only body builders do when they are about a week or so out…

      Eric wrote on May 6th, 2010
      • I’ve been going 50g and less a day for over a month now, and I feel better than I ever have. My energy is awesome. Carb can be used for energy, but so can fat, and fat energy is more stable, because it doesn’t spike your energy and then drop you down. Body builders do do that, but they do to lose weight, or “cut down” as my bodybuilding friends do. For them, they don’t need keep their carbs that low all the time, but if you are trying to lose body fat, then you should, at least until your reach your ideal body fat percentage.

        Ryan wrote on October 24th, 2011
        • No, that’s perfectly normal- expected even! You’re in something called “ketosis”, where your body has few carbohydrates so it’s using primarily fat for energy. It’s a great thing and something many people strive for [see CKD and TKD]. 50g a day is fine- although to achieve ketosis, some peope may need 30g or less.

          Destiny wrote on May 9th, 2012
  2. 50 grams per day, Shema

    Patrick Kimberlin wrote on October 20th, 2009
  3. It might help to consume most of your carbs after working out when insulin sensitivity is high and then maintain a low carb diet the rest of the day. Supplementing with estrogen inhibitors (like Resveratrol) would also help block estrogen and stop testosterone from converting to estrogen.

    Kishore wrote on October 20th, 2009
  4. Are those Mrs. Korg’s feet on that scale?

    Jamie wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • ha! needs a little more hair…

      Jason wrote on October 21st, 2009
  5. This is my big struggle- building muscle and losing body fat. Building muscle is so hard – esp if you have hypothyroidism like me- and gaining fat is all too easy. I think I’ve also damanged my metabolism from eating vegetarian hi -carb, low- protein diet for too long (as I’ve mentioned many times here). That’s probably why the PB took a while to kick in (it’s like I have to get healthy first to lose fat!) But at long last, I’ve lost a few pounds recently (my fave jeans fit again now!)an I am so much stronger! I love eating & exercising & living the PB way- it’s the only lifestyle that promotes overall excellent health as far as I’m concerned which is why I will never give it up!

    marci wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • Marci,

      I realize this is a bit off topic with regards to today’s post, but if you are struggling with your thyroid I have a suggestion. If you take traditional meds like Synthroid or other synthetics, then read up on the natural replacement derived from pig thyroid (so Primal!). It contains both T3 and T4 hormone whereas the synthetics are only T3. Guess what your body has naturally? Lastly, the naturals were used exclusively until the synthetics were developed a few decades ago. Ask an older MD and they will know about it, anyone under age 50 or so probably hasn’t dealt with it much so it tends to get dismissed by most docs. Google is your friend if you are interested. I hate to post links here but good info is out there. Let me know if you have questions. Good luck!

      Rodney wrote on October 20th, 2009
      • hi Rodney- thanks so much for your interest. I’m on Armour. Sadly there is a war against natural dessicated thyroid being waged. I’m following the developments daily since this started this summer. Hopefully it will be resolved soon. Another instance of Big Pharma and conventional wisdom trying to smother natural, time-tested rememdies. Sigh.

        marci wrote on October 21st, 2009
      • hey… i went through same thing, i did a long post in the forum meet and great it shares what i found out…

        cybercutealicious wrote on September 5th, 2011
  6. Mark, I’m trapped in a truck all day and have no access to a gym. I’ve also been dead sedentary for over a year now. Where should I start? Aside from pushups and sit-ups what kind of exercises can I do with no access to weights or even a pull-up bar? And, considering most truck drivers are too lazy to walk into the truck stop and would rather water their tires, a truck stop parking lot isn’t something I want to get up close and personal with, so I’d prefer to avoid exercises that involve laying on the ground. I’ve been doing sit-ups and push ups, and I have a 15lb kettleball I’ve been doing bicep curls and triceps exercises with, but I have no idea how to work out the rest of my body.

    truckergirl wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • Look up bodyweight exercises. There are a lot of them in the video section of this website.

      Things as simple (but effective) as bodyweight squats can even be done at a gravel truck-stop in the rain!

      Grok wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • Hey truckergirl, it’s a while since your post but I’ve got some suggestions for you. I’d totally recommend getting TRX and using it to do loads of bodyweight exercises. Buy the military pack and the whole thing comes in a small pouch bag and in hard as nails cammo green. We use them on manoeuvres and active duty and hook them up to anything going. There are so many things you can do with them you’ll never get bored.
      Oh and then watch Over the Top.

      Paul K wrote on May 28th, 2010
    • you can do some body weight squats and alternating lunges, just up the number of reps. body weight exercises are a great way to incorporate resistance training into any workout plan. if you don’t know what burpees are, they’re a kind of hybrid total body move where you drop to the ground in a push up position, if you can do the push up great, but from that position you pull your knees in so your feet are back underneath you and you stand up and jump into the air, extending your arms over your head. that’s one rep. then repeat. it incorporates the whole body and will get your heart rate up, fast.

      roary wrote on August 28th, 2011
  7. Training 3 times per week a la eat stop eat seems to do the trick. I’m glad the constant feed brainwash is over.

    Yavor wrote on October 20th, 2009
  8. Speaking as a Primal Newbie, asking how is the start, then you do 😀

    Some advice that fits more into your work/lifestyle as it is:

    1. Park your rig as far away from the truck stop as possible, so you get more walking time in.

    2. Look up some of the more common kettlebell exercises. The most common one is where you swing it up and down in the same motion as underhand tosses when we were kids. Check youtube for some vids. Done right it gets a lot of muscles involved.

    3. Start preparing/bringing primalized dishes with you that can be easily or no require reheating.

    4. Do some searching and link clicking on the move primal section, you might find some exercises you can easily do with apparati from your job/truck.

    Jaeden Ironwolf wrote on October 20th, 2009
  9. As a reforming (on the road to wellness) scale watcher, I applaud the idea of using other means of measuing leanness. I know that when I was a long distance runner, I was scarily thin and very jiggly. We women want hard lean muscle and thick bones, and those aren’t light!

    HIIT Mama wrote on October 20th, 2009
  10. With the IF, that’s nothing but water, right?

    glorth2 wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • When I IF — either a 15 hour or a full 24 hour fast — I still have my morning coffee with a little bit of milk or cream in it (I’ve never used sugars or other sweeteners), and I find that I still burn the body fat just fine.

      Aaron Blaisdell wrote on October 20th, 2009
  11. just to follow up with the ladies, i have been a crossfitter for the past 2 years pretty regularly at least 3-4 days a week. I am in my 40’s, have 3 kids and am in the best shape of my life. I started paleo in January and have pretty much stuck with it, of course i do crave a carb here and there!!! I was never overwieght, only being pregnant. the extra fat cells do build up. It took me about a year to really start noticing muscle build up and fat loss. I went from a size 6 to a size 2! Not really trying to lose weight so much just get in shape and be healthy. I was shocked when my jeans no longer fit but my body felt strong. My body fat test back in March was an astounding 19% body fat. Curious to what it is now. I will get retested soon. My weight fluctuates but I know I am on the right track when I am carving protein and veggies and H2O!!!!( and a little vino here and there doesnt hurt!)

    MaryLou wrote on October 20th, 2009
  12. Okay, so I know long-duration cardio is bad for you (and BORING to boot)…

    My question is, what about duration on HIIT (high intensity interval training)?

    Here’s an example:
    I do a treadmill workout (I know, I know) where i cycle every 5 minutes.

    1 min: Moderate difficulty (5.5-6.5 mph)
    2-3: High difficulty (7-9)
    4-5: Low difficulty, (3.5-5)

    Should I stop after a certain time? I guess, at one point does this workout approach chronic cardio levels?

    Evan wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • Evan,
      HIIT is difficult and possibly dangerous to do on a treadmill, because you need maximum intensity for 10 to 60 seconds, which can easily lead to a nasty fall. Consider a bicycle, climber or burpees instead. Here’s a link for workout interval and duration suggestions:

      Ed wrote on October 20th, 2009
      • I normally sprint on the treadmill. 40 seconds all out, and about 40 to 60 seconds rest. for about 20 minutes. never ever fell! just don’t be getting all distracted by tvs, other people and thinking when you’re going to vacuum clean your room! concentrate on your workout!oh, and i also have cerebral palsy.if it helps…cheers!

        cougarkat wrote on August 3rd, 2012
  13. Need help here.

    I’ve been reading Protein Power and I worked out that I have to eat 30 grams of protein per meal to not have muscle loss and lose fat. Problem is, I’m still hungry after I eat a meal (and yes, I’m fulfilling those 30 gms per meal). I’m thinking that I’m not eating enough fat during the meals, it’s strictly (well majority) protein.

    Could that be the problem?

    OT: Is coconut oil supposed to look like Crisco? I went to the market yesterday and saw a jar of coconut oil and it was white and hard. Was that right?

    Mountain Dew wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • Fulfill your protein requirement each day, hit your carb range and then fill up the rest of your daily intake with fat. If you’re still hungry and you’ve got protein/carbs nailed down add some of that coconut oil to your meals. And yes, you saw it correctly. Coconut oil being largely saturated (stable) fat is solid at room temp.

      Mark Sisson wrote on October 20th, 2009
      • Thanks, Mark.

        I think it’s an issue of not enough fat. I’ll play around a bit with it to see what happens.

        Mountain Dew wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • Crisco… thats what my mom said when she first saw it haha.

      James wrote on May 15th, 2011
  14. Mountain Dew: Coconut oil has a melting point of about 24 Celcius. It will go liquid in summer (or if your kitchen is over-heated). Otherside, put some in a small jar and run it under hot water to melt.

    Sylvie Ouellette wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • Thanks, Sylvie.

      Mountain Dew wrote on October 20th, 2009
  15. Really helpful post Mark, thank you :)

    Dollface wrote on October 20th, 2009
  16. In line with Aaron’s comment above…When I do a fast, I have my morning coffee (can’t function without it, my final vice!), but leave out the milk ( I never use sugar). I really would rather not leave out the milk. Mark – can you clarify whether or not one tablespoon of milk will derail my fast? Thanks!

    gwen wrote on October 20th, 2009
  17. Yes. Those turkeys (trainers) in my last ‘cardio-loving, low-fat eating’ forum told me to eat a carb within an hour from working out (wrong). Never to skip a meal (wrong). Among many others. But the one thing they all told me: You can’t lose fat AND build muscle.

    I knew enough about the human body to call BS on that. They told me I was crazy and that I never built muscle while losing the fat. It was a conundrum to me as to why they would stand by this, until I realized that I took a healthier approach to my weight-loss, which was to include good fat and not ‘count calories’. Of course this did not fit their methods, as they only see pure caloric deficit as the ONLY way to lose weight along with exercise. If that were true, then YES, you couldn’t lose fat and gain muscle.

    No wonder I was so perplexed as to which plan to follow: My way (healthy, but fat) or their way (low-fat/ unhealthy, but lose weight). The only way I saw it was A. Be unhealthy, but lose weight or B. Be healthy, but stay at or gain weight.

    The clues about these ‘low-fat’ dieters noting in their journals about having more success with their weight-loss when cutting out carbs led me straight here. I haven’t gone back since….

    SassaFrass88 wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • It’s unbelievable how WRONG they can be isn’t it?? I was told the same lies. “Bulk up” to add muscle mass, calorie deficit and chronic cardio to lose fat. If you’re lucky you’ll add more muscle than fat on the bulk, and lose more fat than muscle on the cut. Except that never happened! It’s total BS!! For 15 years those lies kept me trapped in a “skinny fat” body where I couldn’t add any noticeable amount of muscle or ever get below 17% (roughly) bodyfat. I was just TRAPPED in the middle. 15 YEARS of lifting weights 3 times a week and I was unable to add the 20 pounds of muscle I wanted. That’s absurd. The thing is I never wanted to be a roided-out guy, I just wanted 20 pounds to go from emo-skinny to “average” muscle mass. Couldn’t do it in 15 years!! Sure every winter I’d put on a little muscle, and then every spring I’d tear it all off with chronic cardio. And just stay “skinny-fat” with my crappy, average body. I just thought that was life, that was the junk genes I was dealt. When really my genese were just fine. It was TERRIBLE advice holding me back.

      You pack muscle on with a LOW GI diet and MODERATE protein, not extremely high protein and 40 grams of dextrose “post workout shakes.” You drop fat through diet, not cardio. It’s that simple. It’s ridiculously simple. It’s so simple it makes me angry that I was kept in the dark for so many years, my PRIME, all of my 20’s, by following ‘Conventional Wisdom’. I shouldn’t be in the best shape of my life at 35 and NOT have been able to achieve that my when I was 25. Ya’ know? It’s so EASY when you have the right information and utterly IMPOSSIBLE when you follow misinformation.

      Fixed Gear wrote on October 21st, 2009
      • Oh, I soooooo feel your pain. I may not have been struggling like you for 15 yrs, but it’s had a yo-yo affect over the course of 7 years, resulting in metabolic breakdown after failure to get anywhere.

        I could’ve been so much further along than I am now, had I known this ‘simple truth’ back then.

        I have some good muscle still, but I felt so helpless when year after year, I struggled to lose the exact same 20 lbs over and over and over again.

        My dang closet had 3 – 4 different sizes of jeans that I rotated through, year after year! I am now wearing my smallest jeans and they are now too big on me. So, I have this revelation of “Wow, how sad is it that after ALL OF THAT HARD WORK and dedication, for 7 years, that THESE were my (then) ‘skinny’ jeans when they actually are quite a bit above my true optimum size!”.

        I almost feel cheated. But I chalk it up to a learning experience. One that I can relate to when I coach others on the true way to be free from the slave of protein shakes, hard-core cardio, dry chicken breasts, chemical-laden low-fat cottage cheese and the damned chain attached to a lunch bag that accompanied me EVERYWHERE, just to keep from missing a meal!

        Man, I feel like a Genie, release from her bottle.

        SassaFrass88 wrote on October 22nd, 2009
        • Hi!I read your comments and they do really fit my situation. I’m trying to tone myself up and drop the fat I have on my thigs, but really, I don’t need to lose weight, and that’s why I don’t wanna do cardio anymore, because it didn’t bring me anywhere, I only have a flatter bum and slightly smaller thighs, but I seem to still have basically all the fat I had before starting this new lifestyle.

          Therefore I wanted to know which is the secret of your regime? You eat healthy fats and few carbs?

          Chiara wrote on May 6th, 2013
      • Well, you could say calorie restriction is part way true, it’s just that on a high carb diet the insulin will make you crave more, so calorie restriction on high carb diet = gnawing hunger, calorie restriction on low carb diet comes naturally.

        James wrote on May 15th, 2011
        • So very true! I tried for years to restrict calories but would be starving and completely and utterly obsessed with food and trying to concoct low calorie goodies (this diet was naturally always high carb, low protein and low fat of course). NOW doing LC, I actually struggle to get enough calories… Can anyone tell me this- if I’m not hungry do I still need to be sure and get “adequate” calories? I try to stay around 1500 calories (5’10” current 163lbs 26 y/female 2 kids) but some days I only get 1250. Some nights I eat some fat like coconut oil in order to get extra calories in the form of fat. When I track my food it looks like this 1500 calories- fat 60%, protein 25-30%, carbs 10-15%.. I know we’re not supposed to stress about macros, and I DON’T, but I’m new at this and working to get the hang of things and I find it helpful for these beginning stages. Thanks

          Kaley wrote on April 9th, 2013
      • I came across this website and saw your post which I found interesting. I have had very similar experience like you for the last 8 yrs. I’ve never been able to retain muscle and lose fat at the same time. Infact everytime I went on fatloss I have lost all my muscle gains along with fat. And when I tried to bulk up, I gained some size but also gained inches around my waist.

        I saw your post and was wondering if you could explain in detail what diet and exercise you followed to drop fat and retain muscle. Your help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

        JamesT wrote on September 20th, 2011
    • Wow this sounds like exactly the issue I’m having difficulties dealing with! My problem is that I’m a female, 18, 8 1/2 stone and skinny fat trying to lose belly fat for a year now and I’ve tried almost everything but I’m just so confused now. I workout at least an hour everyday (moderately not intense each day) and calorie limit is 1200 which I usually have no trouble reaching – sometimes go over, other days under slightly.

      So my goal is to GET RID OF BELLY FAT and tone that area and I understand to burn fat you need muscle right? But I’m unsure on how to eat because following a meal plan that required me to eat every 2-3 hours was just stressful and made me anxious rather than feeling good (as I’m still in college and missing a meal meant jeopardising the whole routine) so what do I do? Keep following the meal plan and just suck up the anxiety until I get to goal weight and then eat normally?

      Because I heard that to lose weight you should create a calorie deficit, exercise frequently, small portions of food etc which is what I’m currently doing now but all I’m losing is muscle instead of fat? I don’t understand how I should go about this..

      I’m not intentionally trying to gain abs or anything – just a flatter midsection and I don’t lift. (I do a few squats with light weights if that counts lol) so I find taking protein shakes etc unnecessary. Like I said my main issue is to why aren’t I losing body fat if my diet is clean, exercise frequently, lots of water, small portions etc? If you could help shed light on this and offer some advice then I’d be truly thankful!

      LucyJ wrote on December 21st, 2013
  18. Mark –

    This article was perfect today for where I am at. I so appreciate you, the website and the forum.

    Thank you.

    Rocco wrote on October 20th, 2009
  19. Mark,
    I am confused about one thing — when you say that you want us to eat fruits and veggies — should I be eating the fruits separately from any other meal? I understand from your book that consuming carbs in combination with fats and proteins will increase the amount of storage of fats and proteins in fat cells (because insulin levels have increased and thus the insulin receptors on the cells have opened their “doors” into the cells).
    i know that with veggies it’s not really a big deal — but some fruits have a decent amount of simple sugars in them that may be of some importance.
    Also, when I do my Tabata protocol sprints (HIIT), should I not eat anything afterwards for some time to maximize fat loss, or is it better to refuel my muscle cells with some simple sugars afterwards — and what amount of simple sugars is optimal (5 g or 10 g or 30 g?). I do 14 minutes of total running (5 minutes slow job, then 8 20 second sprints with 8 10 second slow jobs with a 5 minute cool down) once a week.


    Mustafa wrote on October 20th, 2009
  20. Hi Mark,

    Following up on Evan’s comment about interval training, I would like to ask you about Turbulence Training.

    It is a combination of resistance training and interval training with very varied exercises changing every 4 weeks. The principle is to shock the body into not getting used to the exercises to improve the efficiency of the work out. Every 4 weeks, the difficulty of the work out increases and changes completely.

    The resistance part is very similar to the bodyweight work outs detailed on your website and I am confident that I am doing the right thing by doing this 3 times a week.

    However, I am not so sure about the interval training anymore. It basically works that way, more or less (as I said, the exercises vary all the time):
    5mn warm up at around 30% intensity
    1mn at around 80% intensity (very close to sprinting)
    1mn at 30%
    1mn at 80%
    1mn at 30%
    1mn at 80%
    1mn at 30%
    1mn at 80%
    1mn at 30%
    1mn at 80%
    1mn at 30%
    1mn at 80%
    5mn at 30% to cool down

    And this is to be done 3 times a week as well with at least one full day of rest in the week.

    I did this training about a year ago for about 2 months and lost around 7kg (from 83kg to 76kg for 1m76). I don’t think I lost muscle as I was improving on the push up test every week and was also able to increase the intensity and repetitions on the work outs week after week. My diet though was more traditional as in low carb/fat, high protein and high fibre.

    I am doing this training again now but this time following the PB diet and I don’t see the results to be as impressive as last year. I seem to lose weight but quite slowly (from 80.7kg to 79 in 2 weeks) and I didn’t improve on my push up test last week (I also gained like 700g since Sunday). My waist and neck sizes are decreasing though but I cannot see any noticeable difference when comparing 2 photographs at one week interval.

    I am really confused…

    What do you reckon?

    Vincent wrote on October 20th, 2009
    • Sounds like you may be overdoing it on the fats.

      I had the same issue. I would lose 1kg one week then I would relax on the fats and either lose nothing or gain a 500g the next week.

      Now I have pretty much narrowed it down to what I can and can’t eatwhen I am trying to loose fat without losing muscle.

      Also, when you are talking 700g here or there it could be water retention. My body can fluctuate 1-2kg during the course of a day.

      I always weigh myself Friday morning after I get up from bed and gone to the bathroom. Weekly weigh ins will give you a better idea of your weight loss. Daily will just make you stress. If you don’t know what your bodyfat percentage is the scale is pretty much useless anyway.

      This is the reason why you don’t see the scale mentioned in the above post except, oddly enough, in the graphic.

      chima_p wrote on October 21st, 2009
  21. Great article and all good points. I’m in my 50’s and find that varying my diet and workout routine along with fasting once a month for 24 to 48 hours (water fast) kicks me into fat burning gear.

    I’m currently using the jump rope as my cardio workout equipment for 10 -15 minutes.
    Thanks, I’ll keep coming back for more.


    Dennis Francis wrote on October 20th, 2009
  22. Hey, Mark, I love your site and visit almost daily.

    I wanted to ask about very slow jogging — I love doing this for about 20 -30 minutes every other day or so, clears my head, almost like moving meditation.

    Would this be considered chronic cardio? Haven’t checked HR on monitor, but I run so slowly a fast walker could keep up with me.


    Miss Gelic wrote on October 20th, 2009
  23. Mark… I have to hand it to you… I read your articles… and it is as if I … I could not write them better… nor before you… hang on while i put these ear muffs on my father… ok, Mark, I tihnk I am your son,

    Roman wrote on October 21st, 2009
  24. Hello all,

    I may have missed it on this post or on previous ones, but what is (if there is one) the guidline on quantity of fat consumption. That’s the one macronutrient component I’m missing.


    Damian wrote on October 21st, 2009
    • If you are consuming about 50g of Carbs and about 1g of protein per lb of lean body mass then the quantity of fat would be whatever the balance of calories is you need to consume to still lose stored fat.

      For me:

      192lbs total weight
      22.5 % body fat or about 43lbs (the weight of my 5 year old son haha)

      Then Lean Body Mass is 149 lbs


      50 gramsish carbs = 200 cal
      150 gramsish prot = 600 cal

      2400 total cal less 800 cal from carb and prot = 1600 cal from fat or 178 grams.

      If you want to loose fat faster then lay off the cals from fat, say maybe 100 grams of fat.

      Bottom line is the quantity of fat to consume will vary greatly for each person depending on starting size and fat loss goals.

      The reason the you lose muscle during CW style weight loss is the severe restriction of calories and the relience on carbs, moderate protein and low fat.

      The high level of carbs never kick starts the muscles to use fat as fuel (ketosis). The brain competes with your muscles for glucose. Guess which organ wins? By reducing the metabolic cost of muscle through catabolism (muscle loss)the brain reserves it’s glucose stores(oversimplified).

      chima_p wrote on October 21st, 2009
      • Thanks, Chima. Good info. Now I have a few things to calculate.

        Damian wrote on October 21st, 2009
  25. Hi Mark,
    I was in Roseville last night to listen to you explain the PB. I didn’t get a chance to really talk with you after the event, but I do have a question. Looking at your pictures, I could see that you were never an overweight individual. How would you address a 350 lb person with a heart condition on losing weight with your program??

    Robyn wrote on October 21st, 2009
  26. These recent posts have been so in line with what I am going through right now I need to respond and hopefully get some advice.

    I have been eating a paleo diet and doing cross fit 3-4 times a week for a year. That is until 2 months ago when I woke up with severe neck and arm pain/numbness. Come to find out I have herniated discs and should not be doing any activity outside of my physical thearpy and basic walking for at least a few more months.

    I am concerned with loosing the muscle mass I have built up. One of my goals with eating paleo and doing CF was to lean out, which I was on track with, although slowly. I have always been strong, building muscle has been easy, but loosing fat has been hard.

    What kind of a diet should I be concentrating on knowing that I will not be getting the kind of exercise my body is used to? I am 5’4″, 145# and eat on average about 100g protein, 75g fat, 75g carbs a day. I have lost only 10 pounds eating this way for the past 8 months, but I know I have gained muscle mass as well. My %BF went down about 7% but is still close to 30%. I was fine with the slow process since it was going down, but now I am not able to exercise. (I am still in pain and the thought just makes me hurt) I fear I will loose my muscle and gain fat. Tweaking my diet is all I have. Does anyone have some suggestions of what I should shoot for to avoid this?

    BTW, I love the recipes I have found here. I have made the beef burgandy two times already, one time by the request of my non paleo eating friend that loved it and is now converting!

    EZ wrote on October 21st, 2009
    • Read my reply to Damian a few posts above. My guess is you may be closer to 100 g of carbs than you think.

      Cut your carbs down to around 50 g and keep a close eye on them. Every thing else seems to be fine.

      To make you feel better, I did the math. Using your #s you lost 15 lbs of fat and gained 5 lbs of lean body mass! Even if you keep the status quo you are on track to lose 25 lbs of fat for the year! Amazing! People you have not seen since last Festivus may not even recognize you.

      chima_p wrote on October 22nd, 2009
      • Thanks, that helps AND makes me feel better. I use fitday to track and will focus on keeping the carbs on the lower end. Bye Bye berries and wine :(

        I have found all these posts to be the most helpful tool out there. Thank you to everyone that keeps the forum alive.

        EZ wrote on October 22nd, 2009
  27. Just wanted to add, the worst month I had since my primal fat loss journey was September when I surfed like a madman. Like 4-5 days a week 2+ hours at a time. Definitely in the “chronic cardio” range. You can’t not go ‘all out’ when it gets big. In that month, I lost very little fat and 4 pounds of muscle! Every other month without all the cardio, I dropped fat not muscle.

    Heed Mark’s advice about excess cardio. It really is a muscle killer. Just google images for ‘Olympic sprinter’ and then ‘marathon runner’. Tell me which one you’d rather look like…

    Fixed Gear wrote on October 21st, 2009
  28. Hey, you guys. Just wanted to say…please get the Primal Blueprint book. It will answer a lot of your questions. Drop into the MDA forum when you can.

    I’m new at this, only PB for 2-1/2 months. I started at 154 lbs, 110 lbs. LBM, now I am at 148 lbs, 115 lbs. LBM
    (I’m 5-9).

    Gone from “stuffed into a size 8 like a sausage”…to “size 6 jeans need a belt.

    Still not there yet, but hella stronger than I was, and loving it.

    It’s a much better life. If I can do it, so can you!

    kuno1chi wrote on October 21st, 2009
  29. Hi Mark,
    I’m interested in bodybuilding and performance and since I’ve been intermittant fasting I’ve seen great results. Cutting seems to happen so quickly and I haven’t noticed any muscle loss when I do.
    The odd carb splurge every 2 or 3 weeks seems to do well for increasing muscle mass, though it’s probably the illusion from suddenly full glycogen stores.
    Good work, IF works and keep it up!

    Jack wrote on October 22nd, 2009
  30. Mark, I agree with, and practice, most of the principles written here. However, besides my weight training and interval training, I truly love going for long runs. And I’ve been reading up on ‘persistence hunting’, the oldest known method of hunting which involves humans literally running an animal to death – and something Grok almost certainly did…
    I’d love to know your thoughts about this.

    Ana wrote on October 22nd, 2009
    • In my opinion Grok certainly hunted like that. However, with no “deep freeze meat life extender” he prob only did that type of hunting once every few weeks if at that. I highly doubt it was an every day activity.

      I can’t see going for a long run Sunday mornings hurting at all. If it is something you enjoy then you should do it.

      The last thing you want to happen is starting to resent your other activities while wishing you where out running.

      chima_p wrote on October 22nd, 2009
      • That’s good to hear. Since getting interested in primal blueprint I have started to cut back my overall running regime (combined with stress fracture motivations…) but I still do enjoy a good long run every week or two. I try to keep most of my runs either slow (9-10min/mile pace) or short, or in most cases both though. I think there’s a happy medium where you can still get the enjoyment of endurance sports and not harm your health that much if you’re careful about how you train. Mark is probably so opposed to cardio because he took it to such an extreme, but do ultra elite bodybuilders turn out any better? My current view is that cardio isn’t needed for health, but it can be done in a healthful way if you’re careful about it.

        James wrote on May 15th, 2011
  31. Surely without a deep freeze he’d need to do it more often? Probably not every day admittedly, but if the hunter brought back the meat to share with the clan, it wouldn’t last very long.

    Ana wrote on October 22nd, 2009
    • What would he do with all that extra meat, organs, hide etc.

      How many steaks can you get from a 1200 lb bison? More than enough to feed a group of 20-30 in a week.

      Ha! I really don’t know I am guessing.

      It’s not like they are running down rabbits haha.

      chima_p wrote on October 22nd, 2009
  32. Hello,

    Mark, I don’t understand why you linked to one of the articles on sprinting and growth hormone, because you seem to have misinterpreted the findings…?

    From my read of the paper (by Stokes et al), it seems as though GH is *inhibited* by multiple rounds of sprints. Furthermore, the authors speculate that it is due to the presence of free fatty acids, and suggest that a high fat diet (such as that consumed by the control group) will also suppress GH release even after 1 trial of sprinting.

    Your writing style certainly suggests you have read these articles and understand them well, which could be misleading when people just assume that your interpretations are correct. Does challenging conventional wisdom include blind faith of the guy with abs who has his own blog?

    Hortense wrote on October 22nd, 2009
  33. Hi from Seattle,
    Facts: 44 year old male. 6’1 175 lbs.
    Have lost weight easily ( and probably wrongly by almost exclusively strongly watching food intake)
    Much of what is written above.
    A much more agile, response body and a much higher increase in muscle mass.
    I need support to achieve the words and suggestions written above. For me, it is too much data, and easy for me to waste time and energy trying to decipher what is best, and meanwhile not making positive change.

    Would love it if someone could suggest someone to guide me through my defined goals. ( a live person) Or suggestions on how I can do this under a watchful and consistent eye, who will see where I might be straying in the wrong direction and keep me on track.
    Would love concrete feedback on how I can do this and achieve what I strongly desire and will devote myself to. If any folks know Seattle or live here and can give guidance to my question I would be greatly appreciative.

    Thanks so much,
    Seattle ( lower capitol hill)

    Boylston wrote on October 23rd, 2009
  34. After a bout with a demyelinating condition that put me on my back for 6 months, I’m trying to build my muscle back up.

    So, question is, how do you lift heavy when your left side doesn’t work so well?

    Talmadge Boyd wrote on May 14th, 2010
    • From what I’ve learned, use the right side as much and as heavy as you can which should cause compensatory action on the left.
      A good example would be how a lifter will increase the size of his/her chest, back, and arms by doing squats and no upper body movements.
      When working your left side, begin with lighter weights and get the form back down and increase weight gradually when you can do 15 reps or so.
      There used to be company that sold magnetic fractional weights in 1/4 lb increments which can be used to gradually increase your poundages without having to jump 2-5 pounds.
      I wish you luck.

      emory wrote on May 27th, 2012
  35. I completed my first round of HCG injections, lost weight (165 lbs @ 46% fat down to 144 lbs @ 40% fat). During the maintenance round I found my sensitivity to “carbs” and started PB at the end of May. I feel great and love the food. However, I am still at 40% body fat (Tanita scale). I have cut-out fruits, decreased dairy and nuts to hardly any. Taking short brisk walks and exercising to DVD’s 3x week. Any advice appreciated.

    PinkLady wrote on June 16th, 2010
  36. Only $1.5 let you lose weight in three days ,what are you hesitaty?don’t hesitaty come on .jion us my friend.if you want to know about ,please landing site (

    qiangqiang wrote on July 9th, 2010

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