View Full Version : Burn fat and gain LBM on a reduced-calorie diet?

Brad Gibbs
08-10-2010, 09:28 AM
After a recent DXA scan, I've decided I want to lose about 32 pounds of fat and gain about 20 pounds of LBM. I was 215 and 8% bf back in law school, so, I'm assuming it's possible for me to regain the atrophied muscle over time.

I've been monitoring caloric input and output with a Bodybugg. On average, I expend 3,200 - 3,600 calories per day and I aim for an 800 - 1,200 calorie deficit daily (with a goal of losing 1.5 - 2 pounds per week). Initially, I dropped about 5 pounds, down to 191. Over the past couple of weeks, I've gained weight again, back up to 198.

I started on Paleo, then moved to Zone (thinking about going back to Paleo). I've been lifting weights 1 day on and 2 days off, and running 4.5 miles/day, 3-5 days per week. I *think* I look leaner, but, the mirror is deceiving and the body fat analyzer on my scale is horribly inaccurate. Is it possible that I'm losing fat and gaining muscle, despite the caloric deficit? My weights have gone up a bit each lift.

I'm starting at a CrossFit box on Monday and I plan to add CrossFit Endurance and tighten-up the Paleo. I'm probably asking questions that only I can answer with trial-and-error and some time, but, I'm going to ask anyway, am I barking up the right tree? Given how fat I was (am?), it seems like I should be seeing some progress by now.

Thanks in advance for any advice.


Derek Weaver
08-10-2010, 12:50 PM
Wait, so you want to end up in the 188-190 range give or take, with 20 more pounds of muscle and 32 pounds less fat?

There are a few things that are likely to happen. A reoccurrence of "newbie" gains. Noobs often lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. This is likely happening for you right now.

It will stop though. And likely soon.

Losing 32 lbs of fat, at the current deficit you have running will take at least 16 weeks. That's assuming that: you will not get sick or injured, your metabolic rate won't slow down, you will not become overtrained or overreach, and that your fat loss will be linear.

For that drastic of a shift in body composition (20+ lbs of muscle, 32 lbs lost of fat), you're looking at making your activity and caloric intake a lifestyle for years. Assuming hormones, age, lifestyle etc. will even allow it.

In general, muscular gains happen at about one-half the rate of fat loss. Nobody ever just puts on muscle, unless they are willing to drag the process out even longer with some sort of a recomposition protocol (UD 2.0 "bulk", Lean Gains, Alternate Day Refeeds and a bunch of other stuff).

Best advice I can give you. Don't do CF Endurance. Seriously. Lean out first for health, focus on a long, slow, steady road towards increased LBM, possibly and hopefully increased lifespan at a higher quality.

Brad Gibbs
08-10-2010, 01:02 PM
Thanks for the advice, Derek.

I was planning to give myself 6 months, or 26 weeks to lose 25+ pounds of fat. 32 is the ultimate goal, but, if I could lose 25 pounds in six months without losing much muscle (maybe gaining?) I'd be happy.

I thought that since I'd developed a LBM of 190 pounds or so when I was younger, it would be easier to put the muscle back on. Is that no longer current thinking? (I'm thinking of the Colorado Experiment with Casey Viator, so, my knowledge is dated at about 1998).

If not CF Endurance, should I be doing regular cardio -- 4 - 5 mile runs several times a week? Or, have I misunderstood?

Thanks again.


Derek Weaver
08-10-2010, 03:29 PM
25 + lbs of fat in 6 months would be completely doable. 1 lb/week, consistently over 24 weeks gets you right in the neighborhood. What method did you use to figure out your BMR?

Like I was saying in my post, you can certainly gain a little muscle back while you first get restarted. It's sometimes called "the newbie affect". For scientific reasons I can't really go into, new athletes or athletes getting back into training often lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously. Then it stops, they get frustrated and stop.

Casey Viator is not an example to look to.

Take what I say with a grain of salt. I'm not a professional, and can only suggest ideas:

What I would suggest would be this: work out, and walk or do some sort of metabolic work often, up to 5 or 6 days/week. The higher the volume, the lower the overall intensity should be. If you are going to do this, sacrifice intensity with your cardio stuff, not in the weight room. As you get better conditioned, work in more steady state jogging and running to push the heart rate.

Run a moderate deficit of around 500 cals/day. Some suggest a smaller deficit, I look and see that most people end up with tag along calories in the form of extra proteins, fats, carbs etc that aren't usually calculated.

Running a high deficit like you are is going to catch up to you. Decide on slow and steady, or get off with a fat loss war doing something like the V-Diet, or some other PSMF. I'm not recommending these approaches but you may want to look at them and make up your own mind.

I recommend against CFE, more than any other CF "variation" because a) I've never met anyone who actually did well following the program. b) 3/1 scheduling is brutal for anyone, and is generally poor thinking when combining lifting, metabolic work and sprint/interval work with endurance work for anyone other than actual elite athletes who are possibly on drugs. Unfortunately, there aren't many around here who are elite athletes.

Brad Gibbs
08-10-2010, 04:52 PM
Maybe this post belongs in the Training / Fat Loss forum? I didn't see that one this morning...

I've been using a Bodybugg to calculate calories burned. It claims to be 90% accurate and, based on my two weeks' experience with it, I wouldn't doubt it. It's the most accurate practical tool I could find for the job.

I've been running 4.5 miles most mornings and lifting about 2x / week -- sometimes both of those things happen on the same day. I'm not fast by any means, but, I manage to average about 42 - 45 minutes for the entire ordeal, including hills. Are you suggesting that I scale this back?

What I meant by the Casey Viator story was that one of the criticisms of that experiment was that Casey was just regaining muscle that he'd lost after the car accident -- as if they somehow cheated, since a newbie weightlifter wouldn't be able to do the same thing. (I was a big fan of Ellington Darden).

I do feel like my body reacts better to short duration, high-intensity workouts, which is why I liked Darden and Mentzer, and why CF is appealing to me. Also, NHE recommends short, intense workouts.

I think I should get another body scan next week to see what's really happening and then re-evaluate. I'd be happy with a steady one pound per week fat loss, but, I've got a feeling that's not what's happening...

Derek Weaver
08-10-2010, 07:22 PM
Read this article, as well as the two articles linked within it on Calorie Partitioning. Be sure to set aside some time.


1 lb/week is completely doable and should be expected. But this is an average. You are likely to get off to a great start, have weight/fat loss stall, accelerate, stall and accelerate a few times.

What's needed is an intelligent approach, adherence to a goal and what's required to reach it.

I'm not an Ellington Darden fan myself, but Martin (http://leangains.com) has some training ideas that are HIT centric, with maybe a little more volume. Short and intense.

CF is a great way to get hurt if done according to main page. I trust you're smarter than that, and don't mean to criticize you since you said you're opening a box.

Something else that would work fine would be 2-3 hard, full body workouts per week, maybe 2 metabolic sessions, and a ton of NEPA stuff, like.... walking, working in the yard, taking the stairs etc.

You're already doing better than most by looking for more information.

Geoffrey Thompson
08-10-2010, 08:27 PM
Most important thing one can learn from both CrossFit and Nautilus is this: learn to distinguish between marketing copy and science. Everything written about CrossFit is either from CrossFit (marketing copy) or newspaper reporting (unreliable, lazy, just pushes along press releases). Same with Nautilus back in the day.

Brad Gibbs
08-11-2010, 05:00 AM
It's clear that there's some serious anti-main-page-CF sentiment here... I guess I'm behind. I thought I was going to be hanging with all the cool kids doing the hippest workout around.

I'm not opening my own CF, I was planning to join a nearby CF box on Monday, but, you've got me re-thinking things.

10-15 years ago, I tried nearly everything I could find -- 2-day, 3-day, 4-day splits, some crazy Bulgarian workout that came in a black, 3-ring binder that had me lifting 3x / day and an abbreviated form of a Darden / Mentzer workout that had me doing 6-8 compound lifts for a full body workout 2-3x / week. That last one was the one I felt produced the most significant gains. To be honest, I was young then and full of testosterone, and probably just about anything would have produced gains.

In the years since then, whenever I've dabbled with weights, I've gone back to that workout and I haven't kept up the research.

Derek, you mentioned 2-3 full body workouts + 2 metabolic sessions (metcons?). This doesn't seem like the workouts posted on the Catalyst Athletics site. Is Starting Strength a good resource for programming for the 2-3 full body workouts? If not, what would you recommend? Also, where can I learn more about metabolic sessions? Also, I do enjoy the outdoor run -- it's a nice run along the Pacific Ocean and a good time to relax. I'd like to keep doing that a few times a week, unless it's really detrimental. I could make it into more of an interval training by sprinting part of it or sprinting the hills.

I'm sorry if these seem like basic questions. It really isn't that I'm trying to avoid doing my own reading -- I've spent 3-4 hours / day for the past couple of weeks reading books, websites and forums, which is far more time than I have to devote to research. I did read the Body Recomposition links you sent and I may try the Rapid Fat Loss plan. Primarily, I just want to feel lean, strong and healthy again and I'm willing to enjoy the journey (ie, I'm willing to take my time getting to the final result, as long as I can see some results along the way to indicate that I'm on the right path). I'm not trying to enter a powerlifting or bodybuilding competition.

Thanks again for all your help.


Donald Lee
08-11-2010, 07:02 AM
These articles from Body Recomposition will probably be helpful:






Allen Yeh
08-11-2010, 07:03 AM
CF can be good and it can be bad. It's not really anti-CF more like anti-silly shit. The main page WOD and the way it's "programmed" is not optimal and a good way to get hurt like Derek said above. That being said there are some affiliates that do have good coaching and good programming because they don't just focus on the main page WOD. They take all the good elements and toss away the bad.

Brad Gibbs
08-11-2010, 09:06 AM
Thanks again for the input.

I think I'm going to go with the beginning barbell workout Lyle McDonald outlines in the Beginner's thread. It's more-or-less what I've been doing for the past month (same exercises, but more sets and one more time per week). I think I might keep the reps to 5-8, though - a compromise between McDonald's approach and Starting Strength (and also what McDonald recommends in another article on his site).

If I have the energy, is there any harm in adding a few runs per week on non-lifting days?

Once I'm in better shape, I might re-evaluate CF.


Donald Lee
08-11-2010, 12:29 PM
These are some generic principles when dieting:

1. The fatter you are the more energy you'll have.

2. The larger the deficit the less energy you'll have.

3. Generally, adding insane amounts of activity when dieting is not smart, even if you're fat.

4. If you're small (like 135 lbs or less), you probably have to add some cardio to have fat loss at a decent rate.

5. There is no reason to switch from low-moderate reps to high reps. Heavy weights helps to maintain muscle mass.

6. If you want to go from couch potato to fit guy/gal, you should look long term and do a moderate/sustainable diet that involves a lifestyle change. You're not going to lose weight and get fit fast.

7. Rapid fat loss to start a long-term diet could be helpful with dietary compliance. (http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/is-rapid-fat-loss-right-for-you.html)

Derek Weaver
08-11-2010, 05:22 PM
Well said Donald. Though I have no problem with 8s. I figure for most, 8s are plenty heavy to maintain muscle mass. I don't do them with few exceptions, mainly because I don't like to.

I would absolutely not run on non lifting days until you've a) established a decent enough strength base again- it's more important than anything else, b) consistently upped the intensity and length of several times/week walks.

Seriously, scoot, then crawl, then walk. Whether you're in great shape coming off a 3-6 week injury (this progression may be over the course of a week, but it does or at least should take place), or are de-conditioned and lacking with regards to body composition (looking at a couple months).

Don't fall into the CF trap of "it's okay to be a pussy". Do be scared. Being unscared gets your hurt.

Brad Gibbs
08-11-2010, 08:55 PM
I bought and read Rapid Fat Loss today. Seems like a wise place to start -- very well researched and documented. I will stick to walking for 30-45 minutes / day (as permitted by RFL).

I have another question about DXA scans, but, that belongs in a separate thread.

Thanks for all the help!


Derek Weaver
08-11-2010, 10:30 PM
May as well keep it in this thread. If that topic takes off, one of our noble Moderators can move it into its own.

If you got a question related to your situation, ask away.

Allen Yeh
08-12-2010, 04:30 AM
I bought and read Rapid Fat Loss today. Seems like a wise place to start -- very well researched and documented. I will stick to walking for 30-45 minutes / day (as permitted by RFL).

I have another question about DXA scans, but, that belongs in a separate thread.

Thanks for all the help!


Content in the book is spot on, can't really say I care for his writing style though.

Gant Grimes
08-12-2010, 06:27 AM
I'm not opening my own CF, I was planning to join a nearby CF box on Monday, but, you've got me re-thinking things.

I hope so.

Brad Gibbs
08-12-2010, 10:41 AM
Content in the book is spot on, can't really say I care for his writing style though.

I agree about the writing style -- it's a bit rambling and the number of "Quite in fact"s is rather off-putting / distracting. But, if it gets the job done...

Brad Gibbs
08-12-2010, 11:13 AM
If you got a question related to your situation, ask away.

*** NOTE: I cross-posted this to the Rapid Fat Loss forum on Lyle McDonald's site. I feel like the quality of the responses and the knowledge on this forum is better, despite the fact that the other site is a better fit for the subject matter ***

I had a DEXA scan on July 21. I knew I wasn't in great shape and I needed to do something about it. That was supposed to be the before picture -- but it became more of a wake-up call / reality check.

I was told by the operator who performed the DEXA (now DXA?) scan that body fat percentage readings by DEXA are significantly higher than readings produced by calipers or impedance (at least impedance measurement on a home scale).

She said that she's only seen three sub-10% readings in her 6 years, and one of them was a guy with a rare wasting disease who couldn't keep weight on. She said most competitive athletes (cyclists, marathoners and tri-athletes) she sees are 10-15%. Most "fit" people (her term, not sure what it means) are 15-20% and average is low- to mid-twenties. Does this ring true with anyone else?

My reading was 27.2%. She assured me that that's on the high side of normal. I'm trying to confirm that by looking at various sources in books and around the Internet.

I've seen posts on the Body Recomposition forums stating that DEXA does result in higher numbers than other methods, but also that it's the most accurate.

On page 31 of RFL, there's a chart that puts people in category 1, 2 or 3, based on body fat percentages. So, my question (finally) is: Does my 27.2% DEXA body fat put me in Category 3? Or, should some kind of adjustment be made because that measurement was attained using DEXA? I've tried using the Accu Measure, but I can't get anything close to repeatable results. My body scale (Withings) is a cool idea, but, I can make it go up or down 3% within 15 minutes, without drinking, eating or voiding (weighing my self immediately after voiding, first thing in the morning vs. 15 minutes later). And, it only measures the lower body. So, I don't feel like I can rely on that, either. It gives me readings between 20% and 23%.

Also, as a follow-on, can anyone point me to some table of averages for body fat percentages measured by DEXA? Since it's an opt-in program (that isn't inexpensive), there's some self-selection process there and I think the tendency is for leaner-than-average people to have the test. As a result, the official data is skewed toward a thinner population. I'm hoping to find some relative comparison between a DEXA result and the general populace so I can accurately assess just how bad the before picture is.

Based on information I've seen around the web, I think I'm aiming for 10-14% fat. I'm approaching 38 and I have no plans to enter any powerlifting or bodybuilding competitions -- I just want to be healthier and feel more comfortable in my own skin. So, I'm trying to get a sense of whether I need to lose 13%+ (27% - 14%) to enter that comfortable range, or some amount less than that. Without knowing what I've seen, I know there's no way any of you can answer that, but, that's where I'm coming from.

Thanks for any input.


Steve Shafley
08-12-2010, 12:06 PM
The issue is that over on Lyle's support site, there's only a small number of people who really know what they are doing, i.e. Lyle, and the rest are all looking for help too.

Steve Shafley
08-12-2010, 12:08 PM
Obviously DXA sucks.

Get a pair of calipers. Track your skinfolds in a few places. That and measuring the circumference of your body in strategic places will tell you if you are getting bigger or smaller.

Just track the skinfolds, no need to bust out the formula.

Also, the best thing for your purpose is your eye or the eye of someone else. You are looking for a cosmetic appearance that is pleasing to you and others. Using the right metrics (i.e. visual aesthetics) is more important than having some arbitrary numbers.

Derek Weaver
08-12-2010, 12:28 PM
I'm not overly familiar with bodyfat testing methods these days, but if I remember right, DEXA (DXA?) measures all of the fat you've got. Not just the subcutaenous fat?

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, because I'm curious, but too lazy to look it up right now.

I'd suggest pictures and/or someone else's eye. Dysmorphia is powerful.

Brad Gibbs
08-12-2010, 01:15 PM
You're right, Derek, DEXA measures all fat in the body (along with muscle and bone), not just subcutaneous fat. If body calipers don't at least make an attempt to roll internal fat estimates into their numbers, that would explain at least some of the variation in the results between the two.

Here's a quick explanation from the site of the place i went to:


I don't think DEXA sucks at all, so, I'm not sure I get that comment. It is confusing, though, since body fat percentage seems to be a measure people who are very precise about these things treat as authoritative and quantitative, but, there's so much variation -- between the inaccuracies of each method and the varying results one person can get from each -- it seems like a rather poor measure lacking a true standard (although much better than BMI). Again, people who are otherwise very precise about how many grams of protein to eat, etc. seem to ignore the body fat measurement method used to arrive at the conclusions they've drawn.

I do take photos, but, again, I'm trying to plan how much fat I need to lose and how long I'll need to be on an extremely reduced calorie diet. My wife says I've clearly made some progress, but, then again, she would... As for my own judgment, if I'd been honest with myself all along, I never would have let things go this far.

Brad Gibbs
08-12-2010, 01:26 PM
Okay, so, I get the 'obviously DEXA sucks' comment now... It sucks bc it gave me the more displeasing result...

Not sure why it took me so long to get that.

Donald Lee
08-12-2010, 03:40 PM

Go to Lyle's site and read his stuff on body composition and measuring it. He talks about all the methods and lets you decide which one to use.

This site also has calculations for different number of caliper sites and for the tape measure method:


The Flexible Dieting book goes very well with RFL, but it may not be worth the money for you. Much of the info in the Flexible Dieting book is in RFL, and the rest is available on his site.

Craig Brown
08-12-2010, 04:00 PM

What has worked for me is getting my strength up first. Then the diet you are looking at will work fine. Something like Dan John's complexes are good work that if you do them fairly heavy will help bring back your muscle mass, as will super basics- dead hang chins, push ups, dips, heavy step ups & lunges. Lots of options. I'd ditch all the endurance work, just never seems to go well for me with either of your goals. Lyles stuff is solid, though I do great on a very fat heavy lacto-paleo. 'Panu' kinda thing, not Cordain.



Brad Gibbs
08-12-2010, 05:02 PM
I read Lyle's body composition measurement articles from his site. He does go into extensive detail about the differences in terms of relative ease, reliability and cost, but, I don't remember reading anything about DEXA producing results substantially different than calipers or BIA in either of those articles.

The linear software site you linked looks promising. I'll have to practice taking measurements or teach my wife to do it.

Also, Craig, thanks for the lacto-paleo idea. I've never heard of it. Something else to read up on. Truth be told, the high fat DEXA scan scared me a little. It's really unhealthy. I thought about putting on some muscle first and then leveraging the extra calories that muscle would burn to get lean, but, I finally decided I need to lose some fat first to get down to a more heart-healthy level. Again, I'm not sure if I need to make some adjustment between my DEXA scan results and the numbers posted on the linear software site, but, my 27% DEXA result puts me in the obese category. Gaining muscle will almost inevitably lead to even more fat.

I'll probably try to drop 15 pounds or so of fat, then gain 5-10 pounds of muscle, then drop another few pounds of fat, then gain the rest of the muscle.

Donald Lee
08-12-2010, 05:58 PM
Losing fat is a hassle. Generally, you want to get down to some acceptable range before bulking. If you diet right, you will lose very little muscle. Even if you bulk right, you will probably gain about a lb of fat for every lb of muscle. If long-term dieting is your thing, you can bulk first; I'd rather do it in more manageable bits.

Also, muscle does not burn much calories. A lb of resting muscle burns about 6 Calories/day. A lb of fat burns about 3 Calories/day. Stoking your metabolic fire by gaining muscle, whether through intervals or by gaining muscle mass, is a myth.

Frank Needham
08-13-2010, 12:42 PM
One of the most simple qualitative means of determing ones state of fatness is to stand in front of the mirror naked, cup your hand over your package, and jump up and down a few times while observing what jiggles and wiggles. Obviously, if it jiggles, it is fat and has got to go if you are after a low bf comp. Just wait till your wife sees you doing that one.

Roy Sharp
08-13-2010, 09:36 PM
Pretty much every method of bodyfat measurement sucks - DEXA included (James Kreiger recently did a 4-part series explaining why, beginning here: http://weightology.net/weightologyweekly/?page_id=146)

Strangely enough, he neglected to mention the "nekkid package jump method" tho.