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How to cut muscle when already lean?

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Level 4 Valued Member
Hope you folks can give me some ideas. If this is an area you know something about, I would appreciate you taking the time to read this.

I am looking to cut about 10lb of muscle, appreciate that at my age or any age that seems a bit daft. But I have running goals that I cannot achieve at my current weight. I would like to do this in a safe way. And I would like to maintain/increase my strength of course.

stats: age 47, height 5'9.5", weight 164lb, 7% BF
I have tried:
1. chronic energy deficit. results: 5.3% BF, 160lb
2. intermittent fasting with moderate ED. result: 5.7% BF, 160lb
3. weekly 1 day fast with 4-5 days ultra low protein (<40g/day). results: 5.0% BF, 156lb
All of these were with full abstinence from any resistance training, lots of aerobic running, 5-8 hours per week, plus just one short session of 5-8 second alactic hill sprints per week. So I guess you could say it was A+A.

The best results in terms of dropping some lean mass were from the weekly 24hr fasts surrounded by low protein days but that was hard on the system and seems too dangerous to me. After 6 weeks of this even though there were some muscle losses I think it ultimately took a tool on my aerobic fitness. It was quite challenging to adhere to a good quality diet because the hunger led me to crazy cravings and the refeeds were not pretty at times. So I ended up with positive energy balance a couple of days per week but eating junk in the process. It limited the volume and type of training I was physically able to do. It was also hard to track progress due to massive fluctuations in water weight with losses of glycogen, sodium, fiber, refeeds, etc.

Right now I am figuring out what to try next. My diet is pretty consistent now, as clean as I think it needs to be, lots of protein and healthy fats from nuts, chicken, fish, and non starchy veg, fruit. No processed foods. Some alcohol at weekends. My daily cheat is some jam on bread :-0
I'm currently at 164lb 6-7% BF. I am doing lots of RT (I have regained the small amount of muscle that I had lost) and a mix of running aerobic, glycolitic and alactic. My weight is fluctuating very little day to day right now.

Some out of the box ideas I've had include doing resistance training while fasted and continuing with a low protein intake for a few days, or high-protein low-carb while doing lots of running. I am hoping some of you would have experience or expertise that might show me the way.


Level 4 Valued Member
Thanks for the replies.

Competitive masters track runner. 400/800m working on dropping my race times, having had some success already.

A study showed that the top runners in this category run with BMI 19.5-20.5, I'm at 23.5. Stillman running tables concur with the study. Evidence at track meets also concurs. I am like the hulk! I am looking to drive down my times and increase my endurance, a stronger 1500m would help. I have no interest in getting down to as low a weight as the study, but at least BMI 21/22 would give me a fighting chance.

Long term I plan to continue racing and lifting, I mean if I am still around in my 80's and 90'. I see plenty of old guys doing both that are in good shape and competing so I plan to be one of those. I won't regret this, provided there is no damage done other than loss of "excess" muscle. I wasn't as muscular in my 20's, so I don't think this is my natural shape, I only started lifting in my 30's and packed on weight with plenty BF plus muscle, dropped 40-45lb off about 5 years ago, dropping the last bit is tricky.


Level 6 Valued Member
Sorry , not following you.....

Are you sure you have such low levels of bodyfat? That is given your bmi?

You want to cut muscle but eat high protein?
You want to lose 10 lb of muscle?
With already - if accurate - extremely low bodyfat?
Seeking performance gains is one thing. Seeking health improvements another. Both are doable, of course.
I have no idea how you should go about what you are proposing without in person professional management....if your bf levels are so low, that is.
My own opinion, based on what you've presented, is not to lose any of that muscle, as others have said.
I sprint, 60, 100 and 200 and 55 next week. Such are the diverse body shapes of middle aged sprinters, I look more like a long sprinter than short, 168 lbs, probs 12-15% (plastic caliper doubts). Some 400 and 800 runners look more like short sprinters....keep and maintain muscle. If anything, train strength only, no hypertrophy focus....
What are your times? At or around or under 60 secs for a 400.... if over that, you need more speed and power and running technique...if under, to maintain or improve is the same answer and focused training.....keep that muscle, do not lose strength. To run a fast 800, that's where you need to be. You want gold, get a coach if you're in that potential category.
Plenty ways to get better. ...technique, technique and practice.


Level 4 Valued Member
Thanks @ali
Didn’t quite follow you about next week, are you moving into the +55
age category?

I run under 60 for 400 with some change when in shape. I don’t think I will ever get to low 50’s but I think I can get to the equivalent for 8 or 15 with a lighter load on board. Yes I want gold, if Frank Horwill was my coach for 8/15 the first thing he’d tell me to do is lose about 15-20lb.

In a foot race, as you know, it all comes down to mass specific force applied in the right direction at the right time into the ground with the right posture, movement and stiffness to project the body over the race distance in the shortest possible I am working on technique, endurance, strength & speed, not hypertrophy. The mass-specific part is as important as the others.

I don’t necessarily want to eat high protein, I’m just looking for ways to lose some muscle. Losing 10lb of muscle is not necessarily the goal, the goal is faster times, and edging towards the “ideal” BMI is something I want to try, I may find I get slower, or 4lb is the optimal amount to lose, or might find my times continue to drop as my weight drops and then I’d have to make a decision as to when to stop, but I am not in those situations, I’m stuck at a plateau so maybe I’ll never know.

From where I am now, it’s a struggle to lose even 1lb of muscle, I can drop the fat much easier. The BF% is based off DEXA scan and calipers, it may be a couple of points higher but I am quite vascular and look ripped so definitely very lean and muscular relative to my BMI, then again so are the elites, they’re just lighter overall.

So let’s say the goal is to drop 1lb of muscle, how do I do that so I can try racing at that weight?


Level 6 Valued Member
After reading your 2. nd post , what's your main race, 400 or 800? Pick one to focus on and depending on the timeframe for race day, add some practice for the other event.
Let your body adapt to what it needs and the demands you ask of it.
It's a challenging distance for anyone, let alone us middle aged types. As we know, heavy duty glycolytic work is hard so just keep that contained to your 400 practice.
We lose 1% of speed per year, based on master sprint numbers. If you want to run fast in whatever distance and you want to improve and be competitive, speed is number one priority. You can make aerobic improvements relatively easy as we age and is easy to add any easy aerobic activity for recovery but your focus, speed, is so energy sapping that I'd forget any idea of eating for muscle loss. 400 speed training should take care of giving you the body to run fast 400.
Go the other way for 800 and have a 400 for secondary focus but why do that? Haha.


Level 4 Valued Member
Some food for thought in your posts @ali, thank you. Yep, the 400/800 zone is a tough gig. 8 has been my focus but if I trained primarily for 4 for a while and it turned out I am better at that then I suppose there are worse outcomes. But I think I'd be better at the 8 off training for the 4.

I'd still like to be "in control" of my body composition and be able to course correct if if anyone has any ideas I'd love to read them.


Level 6 Valued Member
, are you moving into the +55
age category

Yeah, another year old but first year in my age grouping for some age advantage!
You're in great shape, good times and seeking next level performance. Can you get a coach? Sports nutritionist?
It's difficult for us masters because a lot of sprint programmes are based on youth and coaches coach that demographic, generally speaking.
You are sitting right on an awkward juncture with 400 sprints and 800 middle distance that a specialist coach will make the difference.
And the same for nutrition. You clearly know yourself well and have achieved high competitive levels....what I would do if I were you and I'm not is not to fuss over too much.. are in a fantastic place now, use it to your advantage.
Some dedicated speed, max velocity sprinting and speed endurance will get you there. And go for it. Nothing sub max...well be careful obviously...and build more speed. If you can hit a 25 in a 200, it will give you a low 50 in a 400.
A middle distance endurance approach maybe different and whilst appropriate for younger types and endurance types of all ages not for us....speed is.
Check out the stay fast, you need to train fast.
So, I'd favour a focus on speed for a lightening 400, add a peppering of endurance for 800 and go for it on the day.
Diet is tricky. I'd leave it exactly where it is...a tiny deficit perhaps. Specific 400 training should do the trick, if not re-evaluate again.
Absolutely agree with you , force bodyweight ratio is a factor and a tricky balancing act for the fine details. A lighter you maybe a faster you.. .theoretically. I wouldn't adjust both though, just one. Diet or speed first? Your call....I vote speed.

See you at the Worlds! Good luck!

(masters are great fun, wish I took it up when I was young!)
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Level 6 Valued Member
I have no personal experience with engineered muscle loss but have discussed it in years past with boxers and wrestlers who at low levels of bodyfat were nonetheless attempting to drop weight classes. I would recommend you approach some coaches in those sports rather than rely on my recollection but there was a protocol involving high volume resistance exercise (bodyweight it would have been as hardly anyone weight trained in those days) while consuming only fruit and vegetables (ie ultra low fat/protein)


Level 4 Valued Member
@ali, thanks again for your thoughtful post. I'm certainly with you on the focus on speed. 25.x 200 is a good target for me. On the bodyweight I have also been thinking about the long term and like you say 5-10 years from now I may find myself naturally leaner and faster anyway and can consider developing the aerobic side for 1500 then. So I won't be doing anything drastic. Hope your races go well this week and preps all going according to plan. I won't be in Poland, I wasn't planning on doing much indoors this year, this is just my second year racing track so I'm winding up for the summer. Best of luck to you there. What are your times for 60/200? Are you in the mix for medals?

@LukeV, like you suggested I was thinking I might find an old school boxing coach who knew what to do, not much wrestling where I'm from. I'll do a bit of digging. The protocol you've suggested is not one I had tried but it is the kind of thing I had given thought to so I will definitely give it a go in a few weeks, just to see what happens, just so I know if I am able to engineer whatever recomposition is required - sorry @ali, but it would only be a short experiment, I'm not going to drop off 10lb of muscle ;-).


Level 6 Valued Member
@FastFirst you I've been competing for a couple years at formal national master athletic events here in UK and in regional handicapped 110m sprint festivals. I have competed in a local (but high level) annual sprint event for about 5 years that attracts a lot of sprinters from the masters scene. My times have improved, this year getting a bronze, time 8.31 in the nationals. Should have been faster, dicky start and a fumble. For a bronze it is on the slower side - the likely bronze was disqualified after a false start! Pleased with the time though and bit of a bonus for bronze. My ideal is a sub 8 and there or thereabouts would potentially get a final place at the worlds or euros depending on how the heats panned out.
So more speed, a better start and a better psychological state required - it is very intimidating sprinting against seasoned pros and world class sprinters and clocking up some race experience helps with that.
The 200 : I got through my heat - 27.45 - but totally died in the final. The winner - 26 something - was a former commonwealth GB 400m sprinter, so nothing to be ashamed of! I'd never run on a banked indoor track before so quite pleased with that too - especially so as I never really trained for it.
Not going to Poland either, deadline has passed. Probably not Toronto 2020 either, so we'll see after that. I'd like to go to a world meet though just to enter but it would make sense that my times should be ballpark competitive. The Euros are in Venice in September - if this summer season goes well I may tag it on. Never any reason not to go to Venice after all!
Having a break now for some A&A snatch recovery for the next couple months!
Good luck too with the training....

Alex Jordan

First Post
By performing hard cardio, you’ll heighten your metabolic rate and burn even more calories. This means that you’ll lose weight faster and can also make up for days where you’ve over-eaten and need to burn extra.
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