Q: “What are your goals?”
A: “I want to build muscle and lose fat”
A: “I want to tone up” (Which means you want to lose fat and build muscle)
This is what the majority of people will answer when asked the above question.
Let’s not kid ourselves here! We all go to the gym and workout to look better naked. We can give every other reason out there but underneath it, we still would like to look better naked.
Building muscle and losing fat as quickly as possible is the best way to achieve this.
That’s why you will see plenty of fitness marketers advertising this special program that they’ve created that allows you to burn fat and build muscle at the same time! (Usually in just 14 or 28 days!)
They know what we want and they sell it to us.
So before we go buy this special program, let’s take a step back and see if this is even possible!
Is it possible?
Many people believe that you can’t build muscle and burn fat at the same time. They think it’s literally impossible.
Why do they say this?
The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system.
When we eat food, it’s digested and turned into energy.
To build muscle, you must store energy.
To lose fat, you must burn more energy than you are taking in.
So people will conclude from this, that it’s not possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time due to the different energy requirements.
You must be in a calorie surplus to gain muscle and in a calorie deficit to lose fat.
You have to remember your body is not one isolated system. The body’s fat and protein compartments work independently of each other.
Your body directs calories towards muscle and fat mass independently. So at any one time your body can be breaking down and building fat, as well as muscle mass.
So to conclude, YES it is possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time.
Losing fat while gaining muscle at the same time is known as body recomposition.
Body recomposition is common in the following situations;
- Beginners who are completely new to weight training.
- Someone who comes back to the gym after a long layoff.
- Lifters new to scientific training and nutrition approaches.
- New to taking steroids or an increased dose.
Beginners who are completely new to weight training.
When you first start working out, you are exposed to a new training stimulus that you have never felt before. This stimulus forces your body to rapidly adapt to try to get accustomed to it.
In the first few months of training you can see huge amount of progress in strength and muscle size while simultaneously losing fat.
This is often referred to as ‘newbie gains’ in the fitness world. Beginners can get away with using pretty poor training and nutrition methods and still make progress.
This newbie gains period will usually last 2-6 months and then the rate of progress will slow down as your body and nervous system becomes accustomed to training.
Also it’s important to note, with newbie gains you can lose them as quick as you found them if you stop working out! That’s why it’s important to make weight training a consistent habit unless you want to lose your gains!
Someone who comes back to the gym after a long layoff.
When you start working out again after a long layoff you will be exposed to some newbie gains also. Because your body has not felt that stimulus in such a long time, it’s put under pressure to adapt to it again.
You will experience a very quick increase in strength as your strength can decrease very quickly from not training. Muscle memory plays a role in the speed of this as your body remembers the muscle movement patterns allowing you to lift heavier weights and build strength quicker than if you had never learnt them before.
The gains will not last as long as when you were a complete beginner.
New to scientific training and nutrition approaches.
If you have been weight training for a while but never really followed a properly structured plan using science based principles, the first time you start to use these methods its common to see muscle gains and fat loss simultaneously.
By going from no real set training program to using one which focuses on the manipulation of variables like volume, frequency and intensity over time you will see an accelerated rate of growth.
If you pair this new training approach with changing your diet to a more scientific approach for the first time you can see great gains in muscle mass while losing fat at the same time.
By consistently doing things like;
- Tracking calories
- Increasing your protein intake
- Getting adequate sleep
- Staying hydrated
You give yourself great potential to have a great body recomposition.
This particular situation has happened to quite a few of my clients;
New to taking steroids or increasing the dose
When people first take steroids they will see a massive increase in muscle mass while getting leaner at the same time. This is because the main steroids people take like Testosterone and human growth hormone have both anabolic and fat burning properties.
When your body is first exposed to these or you increase the amount you take it will result in your burning fat and gaining muscle at the same time.
When you take steroids you have an elevated level of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) 24/7 which will give you a greater ability to build lean tissue even in a calorie deficit.
It is possible, but is it the best option?
Even though we now know that you can build muscle and lose fat at the same time, I wouldn’t recommend people do it.
Unless you are in one or more of the 4 situations outlined above, I don’t think it’s the best option for you.
Because trying to do both at the same time will lead you to not doing any of them efficiently and you could be missing out on gaining valuable pounds of muscle and not losing as much fat as you want.
It’s like being a jack of all trades and master of none.
Over 12 weeks you might try to do both and gain 1 pound of muscle and lose 1 pound of fat.
If you would have taken that 12 weeks and put yourself in a calorie surplus with just the goal of gaining muscle you could gain 12 pounds in that 12 weeks. Granted all this weight gain wouldn’t be muscle but if 5-6 pounds were muscle that’s still a lot more than just the 1 you gained above.
If you would have put yourself in a calorie deficit for that 12 weeks with the goal of losing fat and lost 12 pounds in that 12 weeks. Done right that would be predominantly fat you have lost and you would look a hell of a lot leaner.
By trying to do both you end up just spinning your wheels and kind of going nowhere.
By trying to do both things at the same time you will never get the full benefit or the maximum potential out of each.
By choosing one over the other you get to focus all your efforts on that one task instead of trying to split it up between the two.
By focusing on muscle gain;
– Increased calories.
– Increased energy.
– The above two will allow you to be able to handle more volume in the gym over time.
– By eating more food and having more energy for workouts you have a greater potential to get stronger.
– Increases in strength and volume will have a direct effect on muscle growth.
By focusing on fat loss;
– Decreased calories
– Decreased energy
– Decreases the potential for gaining strength. (Still can and does happen but the overall potential for strength gains is greater while focusing on muscle gain)
– Decreases the potential to handle more volume as you are consuming fewer calories and have less energy.
So when trying to do both at the same time it will slow down the process.
The better option
Gaining muscle is hard (except for the few genetically gifted people)
It takes a lot of time and dedication to build a significant amount of muscle.
This is why you should focus the majority of your training time to it in order to give yourself the best chance of putting on muscle.
A simple estimate is that 6 to 9 months of every training year should be spent in a calorie surplus with the goal of building muscle.
Fat loss phases can be interspersed in blocks throughout the year. The length of these phases will depend on the individual’s situation, like their current bodyfat level and how much fat they want to lose.
Below is a sample structure of a years worth of training;
|3 MONTHS||MASSING||Build muscle and gain strength.
|Gaining weight at an appropriate speed for your training experience.|
|1 MONTH||MINI CUT||Aggressive fat loss and maintain muscle mass.
|Lose any excess fat gained in previous 3 months to keep gaining.|
|4 MONTHS||MASSING||Build muscle and gain strength.
|Gaining weight at an appropriate speed for your training experience.|
|1 MONTH||MAINTENANCE||Recovery, maintain weight and prime body for fat loss.
|Prime the body for fat loss and gives time to adjust to lower calories before jumping into a deficit|
|2 MONTH||FAT LOSS||Fat loss and maintain muscle mass.
|Losing fat at an appropriate speed to retain muscle.|
|1 MONTH||REST/ TIME OFF||Recover, enjoy life and take time away from the gym.||Can be used throughout the year for holidays, events etc.…
I hope that you can take some of the above information and implement it into your own training in order to help you progress.
If you enjoyed it, please feel free to share with anyone that you think it could help.
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