Can You Maintain or Even Build Strength While Losing Body Fat?

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Yes, you can. But first have to avoid some of the common mistakes and misconceptions that can destroy your progress.

We got together with Barbell Bikini coach Jackie Perez, as well as Barbell Shredded coach and Crossfit Games athlete Mike McGoldrickto answer some of the most important nutrition and training questions affecting athletes.

Take plenty of notes. This is exactly what you need to hear to get the body you want, while also performing at your very best.

Check it out! I am super excited for the next launch of barbell bikini. Ladies, be sure to go to the link in my bio, for info and a free training guide! #Repost from @barbellshruggedpodcast with @repostapp — @mcgshrugged and @jackie585 are ready to help you lean up the best way we know how: by getting stronger. You’re not crazy. It’s true there are people who can and will get away with eating junk food frequently. They most likely train consistently and have a high metabolism. The more muscle your body has, the higher your metabolism will be. This is why to get lean we want to focus on getting you stronger instead of making you starve yourself (McG and Jackie even have some of our Barbell Shredded and Barbell Bikini athletes eat MORE food than they were before joining). As for consistency, the highest functioning people in the world (of all areas) typically have one thing in common: someone to guide them, motivate them and hold them accountable. Our Barbell Shredded and Bikini programs were designed so that it’s easy to be consistent. And if you join at the Rx or Pro level McG or Jackie will be there to help coach and support you on the way. Check out testimonials and all the details of the programs at:

A photo posted by Jackie (@jackie585) on

What’s the biggest challenge athletes face when it comes to eating for fat loss? As a coach, how have you addressed this issue?

Jackie: The biggest challenge I see is consistency with eating clean. Most people will have really good weeks, and then some really bad weeks. So, they don’t see many changes overall. It’s also common for athletes to not eat enough. When you don’t eat enough nutrient-dense food during training you’re more likely to make bad choices. When you get bored and hungry on the weekend you will start eating garbage. To avoid that you just need to prepare properly. As a coach I work with all my athletes to come up with a nutrition game plan for the week. We always have to work around busy schedules, so I try to get them to plan some realistic meals. A great first step is to prepare a bulk meal on a rest day that can be portioned and stored in the fridge. Keep these quick meals accessible and you’ll start making better food choices more frequently, which is the whole key to success. Just as a final point, keep some healthy, nutritious snacks packed when you leave the house. You don’t want to get caught off guard without a decent meal. When you get hungry, have that snack ready. Keeping your momentum is huge! The entire goal is to build new habits. In time eating well will become what you do automatically, like clockwork. But if you fail to take the time and prepare a little ahead of time, you will have a lot of trouble performing great while getting lean. 


McG: Making the right decisions and taking accountability, definitely. This purely comes down to having the food prepared. The guys who fuck up the most and don’t see progress or results typically fail to cook and prepare their food properly. It’s that simple. If you have the food prepared the decision to eat well is convenient and easy – All you have to do is eat. The first thing thing to understand is that it’s ok to screw up. As long you realize why, you’re fine. With that you can start to build a plan on how to avoid repeating that mistake. It might be as simple as throwing out the junk, again, cooking the good food ahead of time, and planning WHEN you’re going to have a well-deserved treat meal. Planning is everything.  

What about with training? What do your athletes struggle with the most when it comes to fat loss? 

Jackie:  The biggest challenge I see is trusting the program long enough to see results. Most people get frustrated quickly and start looking around for the next best thing, which is unfortunate. Success takes time, and skipping to the next best thing is, unfortunately, just like starting over. Another challenge is intensity. Many athletes think that they need to kill themselves in the gym every single day to see the gains they are looking for, but that’s unrealistic. You have to understand the importance of consistency with your training. Progressive strength and skill work are still just as important as the hard metcon’s. If you are struggling to make progress, this might be your problem. It’s not about how hard you can work. If you aren’t getting the  body you want, it could be that you haven’t taken the time to trust and stick to a proper, comprehensive, and balanced training program.

Want a training program designed specifically to help women get lean?
Check out Barbell Bikini.

McG: All of my athletes train. Unless they are lying to me, I don’t have a lot of guys who skip the gym. Too much work is the more common issue. But still, some will still struggle, and that just about always comes back to diet and trusting the program. It’s super intuitive to think that fat loss training needs to be filled with hours of intense cardio, literally running yourself into the ground every workout. Maybe you’ve back off your strength work to accommodate all the sweat, but this is all a big mistake. If you want to get shredded, you must eat well, rest hard, and train for strength!   

Bang! @nfsports_ @barbellshruggedpodcast @cfhitandrun @mobility_kits A video posted by Michael McGoldrick (@mcgshrugged) on


What is the biggest misconception about nutrition for fat loss? 

Jackie: There are a few that are very common. First, women think that they should be eating less, and that they should not be eating carbs. Also, they often believe that that they need to be on a “diet” to lose body fat, or else they won’t make progress. None of this is true. I use a formula with my athletes to determine exactly what they should be eating. The most common reaction is surprise – They are almost always shocked to see how much they should be eating. If you are holding on to body fat and struggle with energy levels in the gym this is probably your problem too. You need a lot of nutrient dense food in your diet, and that includes carbohydrate intake around the time of training for fuel and recovery. Once you create a habit of eating enough food consistently you’ll start to perform and look much better. Life can’t be lived on a diet or with too many restrictions. Instead, find a balance that works for you. If you enjoy some foods that might not be “healthy” for you, it’s fine. Have it as a treat in moderation or after training. That won’t interfere at all with your training rhythm and weight loss progress.

McG: When I first started monitoring the food intake of my athletes, they were eating like baby squirrels…I’m not joking about that. It’s not uncommon for me to see a 230-pound guy who doesn’t eat breakfast, has some deli meat, a banana, and some almonds for lunch, and then fast food or a low-quality meal with a diet coke for dinner. Usually when athletes record and properly log their food intake – when they see it on paper for themselves – it’s not too hard to inspire change. In this example, the remedy would be eating about twice as much food throughout the day, mainly more protein and fat. Now, I know that seems like bad advice for someone needing to lose a considerable amount of weight, but that first instinct to overly restrict calories is exactly why so many athletes fail. If you want to be a lean, strong, and high-powered machine, you must fuel your body appropriately.

NW4Need help creating your own winning nutrition program?
Check out Nutrition for Weightlifters.
What about training. What do athletes get wrong ?

Jackie: For women, the biggest training misconception for fat loss is that they need to do tons of cardio to lose fat. It’s hard, but not the most effective way to get really lean. High intensity resistance training is the best way to reduce body fat and keep the muscle your already have. The more quality work to put in with the barbell, the more calories you will burn at training and rest. It’s not complicated. If you want to look great in a bikini, you need to lift heavy, eat great, and rest hard. You don’t need to go anywhere near a treadmill or elliptical machine ever again.

McG: Yeah, it’s easy to think, “the more cardio I do, the more weight I’ll lose.” That’s true, I guess, but it’s not the most efficient thing you could do. Most people are going to benefit from ANY increase in activity level, and of course, the cultivation of great eating habits. But pushing the cardio is going to interfere with your ability to gain muscle. This is a big problem, because the more muscle you carry the more energy you expend. Long-slow cardio has its health and performance benefits, but to get shredded your conditioning focus should be on short bouts of high intensity intervals. Push a sled. Run some sprints, on your feet or with a cycle. Just keep it short and intense most of the time.

What are some specific things people can do to lose fat?

Jackie: I recommend coming up with a game plan. To do that you have to acknowledge exactly where and how you’ve failed in the past. You have to decide exactly what you want, and what you’re going to do everyday to get it. Write down some training goals. Be specific and set targets that are achievable, so you can build confidence as you go. Remember, you want to build strength! So make sure heavy barbell practice remains a part of your goal setting. For nutrition, come up with a reasonable strategy. Figure out what things are getting in the way and eliminate them. For example, if you love junk food or pizza (OMG!!!), then you/we have to find ways to work our cravings into our meal plan. If we keep it an occasional treat, then we won’t lose our rhythm. And better yet, we’ll never feel deprived.

McG: It’s easy to tell someone what they need, but it’s far more important to tell them what they don’t need. Start with a basic behavioral goal. For example, “I’m going to prepare a meal with 4 portions once a week.” This is a behavioral goal that you can certainly repeat successfully every week, and of course you’ll most likely prepare more than just 4 meals. But it’s the repetition of success and goal completion that’s far more valuable. A bad example of a goal might be, “I’m going to eat clean for the rest of the week.” That seems logical and ambitious, but what if something comes up? What if you don’t have access to any clean food? …You will have immediately failed. See the difference? It’s common for people to go all-in at the start of a program. But then again it’s just as common to see them burn out just weeks or days into training. Try to remember, you’re looking for solutions that are sustainable. You want extraordinary results that last.

What are some habits of your most successful athletes?

Jackie:  I’d say they are very good at recognizing problems and coming up with solutions. Most people know why they haven’t achieved results in the past. Once you acknowledge that you can come up with a plan to fix it, it’s simple. Remember, you haven’t failed, you just figured out what doesn’t work very well. Failure will keep happening, by the way. But as long as you keep seeking solutions and taking action you’ll be successful.

McG: My most successful clients are those that have accepted that they deserve a great program. Most guys hold themselves back because they still feel like their health and strength shouldn’t come first. But in my experience those that have great success allow themselves to enjoy participation in a program guilt free. And in return, they become better men overall because they are at ease. They get results. They build confidence that spills over into other areas of life. Always keep in mind, you deserve to take care of yourself. You should invest in finding a program that meets your needs and delivers on your goals.


Want a program specifically designed to help guys get lean?
Check out Barbell Shredded.

How do you help athletes stay motivated long-term?

Jackie: The key is keeping focus on your goals. We always focus on achieving goals, then immediately coming up with new ones just out of reach. Like I said, simple habits and little bursts of success are powerful when repeated. For women, leaning out will take time. That’s just the truth. But engagement and accountability on a daily basis are huge. If you were on your own, it would be very hard to keep up the long-term grind. But that’s the benefit of great coaching and community support. It’s much easier to be successful when you’re not on your own.

McG: This comes down to confidence. Some athletes just don’t believe that the results will actually follow the hard work, so they rarely put out their absolute full effort from the start. In this case, I usually start very simple with something I know will help them out. A simple, highly-effective task might be to eliminate dairy for a week, sleep without a phone in the bedroom, and etc. That small start is more than enough. We can build momentum and confidence from there and pick up steam. Don’t chase goals for the wrong reasons. External motivators and rewards are not enough to keep you interested forever. Dig deep and figure out exactly WHY you want to lose weight. Regardless of how bad you’ve screwed up in the past, start with positive change right now. That’s all that matters.

As a coach, is there anything else that might help athletes along in their journey?

Jackie: I think the best thing to keep in mind is that it’s ok to mess up. I like to share my experiences and struggles with fat loss. Sometimes just telling people that it’s completely normal to fall is enough to keep them going. Life and reality often get in the way of our fitness goals, and that’s fine. The best thing you can do is expect that, and just focus on being a little bit better every single day. You don’t need to be anywhere close to perfect to achieve your goals. The other thing I’d say is to implement new habits very slowly. Get used to new behaviors before you turn up the intensity and add more. Fat loss can be overwhelming at first, especially when you consider all the things you must do. Drink enough water, eat enough calories, eat more vegetables. This can all be overwhelming at first, but if you implement the behaviours slowly, in just a year these habits will be your new routine.

McG: The easier it is to make the right decision, the more successful you will be. Developing great habits helps with this. Here’s an example of a daily habit you can implement.Set an alarm that goes off 30-45 minutes before your bedtime each night. That’s right. You’ve used alarms to get up in the morning. But you should also use them as a cue to start settling down for sleep. When the alarm sounds finish up your work. Prepare your meals for the next day. Brush your teeth, shut down the electronics, and initiate a relaxing bedtime ritual to clear your mind. Baths. Meditation. Breathing drills. Reading fiction. Whatever clears and settles your mind is perfect.

If you could only give one piece of advice to someone who wants to get fit and lose body fat, what would it be and why?

Jackie: Stick to the program! The single most important thing you can do is commit and stick it out, even when you hit a rough patch. The temptation is to seek out something new, but remember, that’s just like starting over. It’s the biggest mistake you could make! Most people don’t stick to anything long enough to achieve amazing results. This is why they fail. Give yourself time. Don’t expect immediate results, and don’t obsess over progress. When it’s all done, you will see big changes.

McG: I think you should be selfish with your training time and your goals. Learn to say “no” politely to distractions. Help people understand how important this is to you. Your family and friends will respect you for it, and you might inspire them in the process. If you commit fully and put in the work, you will have an amazing outcome.

That much we can promise.



Want help getting lean AND strong?

8 Responses to “Can You Maintain or Even Build Strength While Losing Body Fat?”

  1. Dan

    I am in the process of dropping body fat now and I can day from experience that it is EXTREMELY hard to keep the strength along the way. You hear stories about people saying how they lost weight and got stronger at the same time, but I have a feeling those are newcomers to Crossfit or weight training. Everybody get stronger when you have never lifted before.

    My experience – On New Years Day my maxes were 510 on dl and 405 on back squat. I was also 280 lbs (at 6’4″). I am currently at 250 lbs and just retested those lifts. My DL has gone down to 465 and my back squat is now 390. That being said, I have also dropped 25 seconds off my 2K rowing time so there has been a good improvement on my cardio. I have not changed my workout regimen except for adding some additional cardio in the way of sandbag sprints and sled drags. My weight loss has been purely through nutritional changes, and I met with a dietitian to formulate a plan before I started.

    Long story to get to the questions, but here we go: At what strength levels can you expect to still be able to increase or maintain strength while losing weight? While my numbers may not be elite, they are certainly higher than most people. Can I honestly expect to even maintain high power lifting numbers while creating a caloric deficit? I have about 30 lbs to go, and while being skinnier is certainly awesome, so is deadlifting 500 lbs.

  2. Thursday, April 2

    […] Can You Maintain or Even Build Strength While Losing Body Fat? That is the question posed by the most recent blog post on Barbell Shrugged. Now, of course they are trying to sell a program to get you lean and muscular, but the facts still remain. It is possible, but it’s hard. […]

  3. CJ

    Bedtime alarm!! That little nugget will iron out me being lazy about getting food prepared for tomorrow.


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