Can You Lift Weights On A Calorie Deficit?


Lifting weight while being in a calorie deficit can really speed up the process of getting lean. So in this article I will clarify can you lift weight on a calorie deficit?

You can lift weights while being on a calorie deficit because lifting weights stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and with enough amount of dietary proteins it can maintain lean body mass. The higher your lean body mass, the more calories you will burn throughout the day.

In other words, it will help you stay lean and get even better results. However, your progress will be dependent on the type of workout you do, and the amount of proteins you eat.

What Happens If I Lift Weights On A Calorie Deficit?

When you lift weights on a calorie deficit your body will enhance muscle protein synthesis and stimulate hypertrophy, despite eating fewer calories. Lifting weights will promote muscle growth and help you improve your body composition without losing muscle mass.

To keep your muscle mass on while being in a calorie deficit, apart from lifting weights, you need to have enough proteins (source).

Protein will ensure your body have sufficient amino acids to maintain (and even build) muscle, burn more calories and keep you more energized.

Several studies confirm that high-protein, hypocaloric diet, is enough to not only reduce body fat, but improve lean body mass (muscle).

Another benefit of lifting weights while cutting is energy. When you’re on a calorie deficit, you may experience lower energy levels. So lifting weights can actually help you get more done, have better stamina, better libido, and better mental clarity, despite lower calories.

Also lifting while being in a calorie deficit will lower your appetite. This is a huge bonus because you won’t be nagged by those uncomfortable food cravings throughout the day. They still will be, but not as much after your workout.

Related article: Can You Get Abs Without A Calorie Deficit?

Does Exercise Count Towards Calorie Deficit?

Exercise does count towards calorie deficit because it’s part of the main ways your body uses energy. Basal metabolic rate, physical activity (exercise), thermic effect of food, and non-exercise activity thermogenesis all are the ways that count towards calorie deficit.

Basal metabolic rate is the energy you burn for all the vital body processes. And it is happening, regardless if you’re doing anything. So you don’t have to even move your finger, but you will burn calories (source).

Physical activity is an additional movement you do that increases your heart rate and oxygen demand. Transport of oxygen throughout the body is expensive. So the more you move, the more your force your heart to pump the blood and oxygenate your muscles, the more energy you burn.

The thermic effect of food is the process of how your body breakdown, digests and absorbs all the nutrients from food. When you eat your meal, the body needs to perform several chemical and mechanical processes that will extract energy from the food you just had.

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is everything else you do during the day that is not counted as exercise, but you still moving. Typing on the keyboard, walking, squatting from the chair, movings objects from one place to another, etc.

Related article: Does Calorie Deficit Work Without Exercise?

Do You Have To Workout To Be In A Calorie Deficit?

You don’t have to work out to be in a calorie deficit. Your body uses energy for BMR (basal metabolic rate), NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), and TEF (thermic effect of food). Those processes can add up to over 70-90% of the total energy expenditure, depending on your activity level.

This means your body is burning plenty of calories without you stepping your foot on the treadmill or elliptical (source). It takes so much energy for all the vital functions like breathing, digestion, circulation, cognitive function, and more.

So creating a calorie deficit can be easily achieved by reducing the calories consumed, without even doing exercise. However, doing regular resistance training can help with keeping the BMR even higher. Because BMR is strictly dependent on the amount of your muscle mass.

It takes tons more calories to push the oxygenated blood through the muscle mass. So the more muscle mass you have, the more calories will be used.

Can You Put On Weight In A Calorie Deficit?

You can put on lean body weight while you’re in calorie deficit only when you’re doing resistance training with the addition of an adequate amount of daily proteins. You to stimulate muscle protein synthesis you need 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

In other words, you need to eat a lot of proteins every day and lift weights to really put on weight. And while being in a calorie deficit, this means that almost all of your calories need to come from proteins (source).

This is what many bodybuilders do to maintain a lean physique all year round. A lot of fitness models got their commission from shooting pictures. And if someone is ripped all year round this means they will get hired more often, comparing to someone who is only lean before the competition.

So to stay extra lean they must stay in a caloric deficit (or very close to it) and consume plenty of proteins round the clock.

So people do it. But it can get boring very quickly. That’s why this approach is doable, but not sustainable for everyone.

How To Do Weight Training While Calorie Deficit?

The easiest way to do weight training while being in a calorie deficit is by doing a full-body workout 3 times per week. On each training day, you start from compound exercises (squats, bench press, pull-ups, overhead press, deadlifts) for 3-4 sets each.

Then you can add some additional isolation exercises to attack specific muscles like biceps, triceps, abs, or glutes. Depending on your goals, you can spend extra time doing those isolation work. But that has to be done after the big lifts.

Doing compound exercises first save your energy for the most important lifts. And by doing all body in one workout you not only attack more muscle (burn more calories) but you also make sure you’re not leaving behind any muscle group.

Check out my article where I explain how to build glutes on calorie deficit

Related article: Can You Build Glutes In A Calorie Deficit?

In Conclusion

You can lift weights on a calorie deficit to not only have better results, but also to make the whole process much more sustainable.

The more you stay active, the less appetite you will get. So it will help you not only stay physically strong but also mentally strong, without draining your iron willpower.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Should I Lift Weights In Calorie Deficit?

You should lift weights in a calorie deficit because it will improve your body composition by preserving muscle mass and keeping your basal metabolic rate high. Basal metabolic rate is the number of calories you burn at rest. The more weights you lift, the more muscle mass you have.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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