Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

Will Fat Burners Burn Muscle In A Cutting Phase? (The Truth)

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 2, 2022

As a personal trainer, one of the most common questions I get from clients and readers who are trying to bulk up is whether the fat burners I recommend will also burn muscle mass.

It's a valid concern for many bodybuilders who experience a certain amount of muscle loss in a cutting phase.

But to fully understand the benefits and possible downsides of a fat burner supplement, I decided to get together with the team at Total Shape and a dietitian to do some detailed research into this.

Here's what we found.

Quick Summary

  • The dietary changes required to trigger fat loss can often result in some loss of muscle mass.
  • When you add a cutting workout routine and some fat burners, this can have even more of an impact on muscle tissue.
  • By taking a carefully planned approach with some other supplements, you can limit the overall effect on lost muscle tissue.

Will You Lose Muscle On Fat Burners?

Close up image of supplement pills

No, you won't lose muscle on fat burners because of the supplements.

However, you will lose muscle during a cutting phase when your calorie intake and training intensity change [1].

And it all very much depends on how good you are at planning a cutting phase to limit this effect.

See, when you're trying to lose fat cells, you have to significantly limit your overall calorie intake to force your body into sourcing energy from fat [2].

But the body will also source energy by breaking down some muscle tissue.

The difficulty lies in balancing these effects with the length of a cutting phase, the right dietary macros, and your training routine [3].

"Cutting calories will help you lose weight. But dieting alone can strip away muscle along with body fat. Research suggests that as much as 25 percent of weight lost by dieters is from muscle. And that's not a good thing."

- Leslie Beck, Health and fitness columnist at theglobeandmail.com.

How Do I Burn Fat Without Losing Muscle?

A strong man holding a dumbbell

You burn fat without losing muscle by restricting your calorie intake while at the same time still eating plenty of protein and doing resistance training.

This is something that I have gained a lot of experience with as a strength coach working with hundreds of bodybuilders.

You will need to cut back on carbs but don't do this drastically. Studies have shown that a slow rate of fat loss works better for preserving muscle tissue [4].

While you reduce your carb intake, start eating more protein to trigger more fat loss [5]. The protein will also help to preserve muscle tissue.

And finally, keep up with resistance training with a few extra reps per set.

The last thing you want to do is just switch to cardio for a week, as that probably won't do much to maintain the mass you've built up.

Are There Certain Types Of Burners That Are Better For Muscles?

Yes, thermogenic fat burners tend to be better for muscles, as they trigger metabolic responses that burn more calories and fat [6].

You should also check for some fat burners that contain some BCAAs. These are less common, and you might need to consider taking a separate BCAA supplement.

BCAAs play a key role in muscle protein synthesis, and if you're not getting enough through animal products during cutting, then taking a supplement can help [7].

Related article: Thermogenics vs Fat Burners

FAQs

Why Do Bodybuilders Take Fat Burners?

Bodybuilders take fat burners to help them with a cutting phase and reduce body fat. A side effect of going through a bulking phase with a calorie surplus is that you'll accumulate more fat reserves.

And fat burners can help to shorten the cutting phase.

What Happens When You Stop Taking Fat Burners?

When you stop taking fat burners, your body won't burn as many calories as before. Natural fat burners trigger thermogenesis which raises your core body temperature by burning fat reserves for energy.

Avoid Muscle Loss During A Weight Loss Phase

Cutting and weight loss, in general, can have quite a large effect on muscle mass.

Ramp up your protein intake and eat a few fewer carbs for a slight calorie deficit. You'll also need to keep up your resistance training at high intensity to avoid muscle wasting.

And when choosing your cutting supplements, I advise you to opt for one of the next supplements:

These will help you burn extra calories by raising your body heat, which better preserves your muscle mass and gives you the energy to exercise, which further preserves the muscle.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5161655/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18025815/
  3. https://lifesum.com/nutrition-explained/the-effect-of-protein-intake-on-muscle-maintenance-during-weight-loss
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24864135/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7539343/
  6. https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-1-5
  7. https://examine.com/supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids/

Was this article helpful?

About The Author