To Lose Body Fat You Must Create An Energy Deficit

For a natural bodybuilder to look good on stage, it is a requirement that they are lean.  And in order to get lean for the stage your diet must be in order.

In my last article I talked about the importance of consistent training in regard to natural bodybuilding.  Training will build the foundation of your physique. But you will not be able to see the results of that foundation if your body fat is too high.

You can train all you want, but if you are not creating an energy deficit, you will not lose body fat.  There is no diet, supplement, or workout that will get you to lose body fat if you are not using more energy than you bring in.

How To Lose Body Fat And Create An Energy Deficit

There are two primary methods that a bodybuilder can use to create an energy deficit.  One revolves around your diet, and one revolves around your training.  Spoiler alert, it’s easier to do option 1 versus option 2.

1) Lose Body Fat By Reducing Your Calories

how to lose the body fat

Creating a caloric deficit by reducing the total amount of food you consume on a daily basis is the most basic and practical way to create an energy deficit.

Let’s hypothetically say you are a figure competitor, who is 5’5 130lbs in the offseason.  Let’s also say you are maintaining this weight by eating 1750 calories a day in conjunction with your regular training.  A reduction in calories, with the same exact activity levels, will result in reductions in body fat.

Calorie reduction is not a difficult process.  If you are already in the habit of weighing your food, you would simply weigh less food on the food scale.

6 ounces of chicken thighs could become 3 to 4 ounces.  200 grams of rice could become 100 grams.  And 50 grams of peanuts could become 28 grams.  These reductions add up over the course of the day/week/month.  And before you know it, you look in the mirror and you are noticeably leaner.

To gauge your progress, you should take progress photos while in your mandatory/symmetry poses to see the visual changes in your physique.  You should also weigh yourself at least once per week.  In most cases, if you are consistently training hard and eating correctly, losing 0.5 to 1.5 pounds of weight per week is a great indicator that the vast majority of the weight that you are losing is body fat.

Some of the weight could also be muscle mass, as muscle is hard to maintain as you get deeper into the diet.  But we’ll cover that topic on another day.

Now, I’m a big fan of using caloric reduction in conjunction with conditioning or cardio to help with reducing body fat.  But the easier way to create the energy deficit is to reduce your food intake, because it’s much harder to burn 200 calories through training than it is to reduce it with lower calories.

2) Lose Body Fat By Increasing Your Activity

how to lose the body fat

Another way to increase the amount of energy you use is to increase your daily activity levels.

In the earlier days of bodybuilding, especially during the Bronze (all-natural), Silver (mostly natural), and Golden era (no longer natural), bodybuilders did not prioritize cardio.  Bodybuilders would lift weights and then reduce the amount of food they were eating to get leaner for a contest.

Cardio was not a major component of training programs in these eras.  Some bodybuilders had physical jobs, but it was not common practice to do specific cardio.  What bodybuilders did to increase their heartrates to get their hearts pumping in most cases was to reduce the rest times during their lifting workouts by using supersets.  Check out the example below:

Basic Golden Era Offseason Bodybuilder Upper Body Workout Example
Bench Press 5 x 5
Barbell Rows 5 x 5
Overhead Press 5 x 5
Barbell Curls 5 x 5
* 3-5 minute rest between sets

Basic Golden Era Pre-Contest Bodybuilder Upper Body Workout Example
Bench Press SS Pull-Ups 5 x 10
Incline Barbell Press SS Barbell Rows 5 x 10
EZ Bar Curls SS EZ Bar Skullcrushers 5 x 10
Lateral Raises SS Rear Delt Flys 3 x 10
* 15-30 second rest between exercises and 2-3 minutes rest in between sets.

Note:  You don’t have to do supersets to get lean as getting lean is a matter of creating an energy deficit.

As bodybuilding continued to change, bodybuilders started to perform cardio (low intensity steady state or LISS) in addition to their lifting in order to get even leaner.  This was typically done in a low to moderate intensity manner such as walking or even riding a bike post-lifting.

Some examples of low to moderate intensity cardio would be:
* Walking (low)
* Jumping Rope (moderate)
* Bike Riding (moderate)

In current times a small minority of bodybuilders (mainly naturals) also started to do high intensity interval training (HIIT) which can also be simply referred to as conditioning.  Conditioning workouts are significantly shorter in duration than LISS workouts.  Conditioning is also tougher than low-intensity cardio workouts as your heartrate gets up pretty high and your mental toughness gets challenged.

Another benefit of conditioning workouts is that they have the capability to build muscle mass along with stimulating fat loss.  Some examples of conditioning would be:

* Sprinting
* Prowler sprints or walks
* Bodyweight exercise circuits
* Barbell or dumbbell complexes

Most bodybuilders to this day prefer to use LISS to lose body fat.  LISS has its place, as I, myself like to walk.  But HIIT offers some things that LISS does not which are the ability to build muscle and mental toughening.

As with all conditioning/cardio if you overdo it, you will then begin to run the high risk of losing muscle mass.  Daily 3 hour long cardio workouts or trying to do 45-minute HIIT sessions daily, will absolutely have a detrimental effect on your physique.  The most important thing is the dosage.

Despite this fact, most natural bodybuilders will still do too much cardio, and then still do it to the point of diminishing returns.  It’s not uncommon to hear about competitors using 2-3 hours of low intensity cardio a day to get ready for a show.

Not only is this unnecessary, but it will eventually cause bigger than normal losses in muscle mass. I’ve experienced this loss of muscle mass in 2022, during my final month of prep as it’s an inevitable part of the process.  But the goal is to mitigate the losses.

You won’t mitigate them by becoming a cardio bunny.


You must be in an energy deficit to lose body fat.

To burn more calories, you can and should probably add some conditioning or cardio to your regimen.  The correct dosage will speed up your progress and make you significantly healthier in the process.

There is no special diet, workout, or supplement that will get you to the top of Lean Mountain.  You’ve got to practice dietary discipline on a daily basis in order to get lean.

I’ll holla at you next time.
The People’s Trainer,

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[…] When it comes to losing body fat or gaining muscle mass, the most critical part of the equation is your energy input vs. your energy output. […]



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