Can You Burn Fat And Build Muscle At The Same Time?
There seems to be a lot of confusion about whether or not this can actually be done. On top of that, who actually knows how to do it?
Well, it’s no wonder. Just take a look around the internet and you’ll find 101 different answers to this question. Some sites say you can build huge amounts of muscle while reducing fat and others say you can’t.
Others say you need to bulk up first and build a large muscle base after which, you can cut the body weight and fat to show the “new” muscle.
So, who’s right?
Where do I stand on this issue? Well, I find myself caught in the middle of this question. That is, it is sort of like a balancing act when it comes to building muscle and burning fat. You see, it all depends on what you want and where you currently stand with your training program. Now, there are a whole lot of you out there who want the best of both worlds – Including me, but can it be done?
However, I can’t possibly say that you can actually build the maximum amount of muscle while at the same time, losing the maximum amount body fat. I tried this and it doesn’t work. Well it worked when I first started training but that soon stopped.
Now, I mean, when a person is training hard and heavy, their body is relying on a huge supply of nutrients to fuel and build their bodies. In order to grow, you need to feed your body the correct amount of nutrients that is required for growth. You cannot grow by reducing your overall caloric intake that is needed to lose weight and burn fat.
However, with that being said, there is a very fine line between gaining muscle and gaining body fat. You see, in order to build your muscles, you need to get strong first. When you are training, your muscles start to get strong and when they start to get strong, they get bigger and bigger to meet the demands of more weight being stressed upon them. Once this happens, they need more and more nutrients to keep growing. This is the the cycle of building lean muscle tissue.
As you get stronger, your muscles will start to get larger and your body will actually demand that you feed them a certain amount of nutrients to sustain this new growth. If you don’t feed your body the nutrients that it demands, it will get weaker. Once it gets weaker, your muscles will start to get smaller and it will draw on other sources of energy.
The general line of thinking is this. To build muscle, you need to create what is called a calorie surplus. That is, you need to ingest more calories than your body is burning per day. Let’s say you need 2,500 calories on a daily basis, taking into account your exercise levels, to sustain your current body weight.
Now, if you want to add body weight and build the maximum amount of muscle, you will need to adjust your training schedule to exert new demands on your body but more importantly, ingest more calories to support these new demands. You will need additional calories on a daily basis to support new growth.
Now, if you want to burn fat, you have to create what is called a calorie deficit. That is, you must ingest less calories than your body is burning on a daily basis. Of course, your training regiment will have to change but to alter your body fat levels, you will need to cut down on calories to burn the maximum amount of body fat.
To build muscle, you need to get strong – This is a fact. Once you start getting stronger, your body will demand more nutrients to sustain these new strength and muscle levels. However, this is where the balancing act comes into play.
You know that in order to build muscle you need more and more nutrients to support new strength levels That means more and more food. Let me be very clear about this. You need clean, powerful, muscle building food to support this new growth. All increase in calories should come from clean, whole foods.
You see, muscle is a very active tissue and once they start working, they turn into mini metabolism machines that are constantly going. Once they start to get strong, they crave more and more nutrients to keep that machine going. And if you feed them the right nutrients and in the right order, they will keep on going.
However, this process depends on a variety of factors such as age, gender, training styles, and so forth. But, all things being equal, the process of building muscle stands the same which is:
• Get strong with hard and heavy weight training;
• Muscle gets larger to sustain strength levels;
• Body needs more nutrients to sustain new growth;
This is the basic process of growth. Now, this is very important for you to remember. The foods you choose to sustain new growth will have a direct impact as to how much fat you gain as compared to how much muscle you build. Yes, the foods you choose will be one of the deciding factors as to the kind of mass you want to gain. I’m a firm believer that calories are not all created equally. And this is where most people get confused when it comes to building the maximum amount of muscle while losing or maintaining current fat levels.
You want to eat just enough calories to help with the growth process. If you ingest more calories than your body can use to sustain new growth, some of it will go to fat. This is the trick. By gorging yourself with high fat foods, you will ultimately ingest too many calories to sustain new growth. However, if you eat clean, whole foods, your body will use up most of those calories for fuel and growth.
Yes, there are some sites on the internet will insist that all calories are created equally and the body doesn’t recognize one calorie from the next. I totally disagree with this statement. Eating 3,000 calories from cheeseburgers and haagan daaz is not the same as eating 3,000 calories from whole foods such as lean meat sources and complex, fibrous carbohydrates.
If you want to eat fatty, high calorie foods, you will gain a lot more fat than muscle. I think this is where most people get confused. When you get right down to it, it will come down to the foods that you choose that will be the deciding factor when trying to build the maximum amount of muscle while maintaining current body fat levels.
A diet high in quality nutrients will produce much better results than a diet high in fat and processed foods. Don’t believe me? Try cutting out all high fat foods and sugars from your diet and replace them with lean protein sources and complex carbohydrates. Do this for a week and see how it impacts your training. I can say with 100% certainty that you workouts will improve drastically and your body will take on a whole new look.
Now, there is an exception to this rule. It is during this period of growth that certain individuals can actually experience a certain level of body fat reduction while building muscle. However, before you get confused with this statement, let me explain. For beginners and those of you who are already out of shape, this is very possible.
That is, your body is in a state of growth from the weight training and your testosterone levels are increasing. Since your body is using up everything to build muscle, your fat levels are actually being reduced. For those of you who have been training for awhile, you can probably remember how fantastic those times were. You could eat just about anything and still build muscle without getting fat.
But, this happens only for a certain period of time before your body needs more and more food to sustain strength levels and where most people experience plateaus. By not feeding your body the necessary nutrients to grow, it will stop growing. That means no more strength gains and why a lot of you reading this page now, are not getting stronger and bigger.
The following point I’m about to make is very important. Building muscle and burning body fat is all dependant on:
- Somatotype (Your body type)
- Activity levels
A naturally heavier person is going to require a different amount of nutrients, weight training program, and cardiovascular regiment than someone who is naturally thin and lean. Body specific nutrition and training will take most of the guess work out of building muscle and burning fat.
I’ve written a more detailed article about this subject at:
Now, most sources on the internet and other fitness publications will say that you have to choose one or the other - Build muscle or lose fat. However, you have to be smart about this . Increasing caloric intake, doesn’t mean increasing your consumption of cheeseburgers and chili fries. You have to increase calories from high powered, clean whole foods.
This is what I suggest. You don’t want to consume so many calories that you become fat. You want to consume just enough calories that will support new growth but keep fat levels to a minimum. If you simply gorge yourself with food, it can be difficult to get rid of those extra pounds when it comes to stripping off body fat. I suggest you do the following:
1) Find your starting point;
Multiply your body weight by 18 to get your base starting caloric intake for adding mass. If you weight 165 pounds, multiply that by 18 to get 2,970 calories. This will be your base, daily caloric intake.
You will monitor your progress with a mirror, skin calipers, measuring tape, and weight scale. Remember, this is a starting point, since you want to monitor how your muscles are growing. If you find your adding too much body fat, cut down on your daily caloric intake by 500 and monitor on a weekly basis.
Keep in mind your body type. If you are a naturally heavier person, you will need to keep a very close eye on your calorie intake and possibly start with a lower calorie intake. You may need to cut body weight and fat in order to start seeing results.
If your a naturally thin person with a high metabolism, you may need to increase your calorie intake in order to start adding muscle mass.
2) Decide who much protein, carbohydrates, and fat you need;
You should be consuming at least 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That is, if you weight 165 pounds, you should be consuming anywhere between 165 grams to 198 grams of protein per day. You should also be consuming about 3 to 5 grams of quality complex carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Keep fat down to about 15% to 20% of your overall caloric intake.
For a complete description and breakdown of nutritional needs, see this page: Building muscle 101 diet page
You will also need to eat, at the minimum 5 to 6 meals per day. If you skip breakfast, this won’t work. If you wait 4 to 5 hours in between meals, this won’t work. If you skip a meal or two, this won’t work. You must, eat 5 to 6 meals per day, spaced 2 to 3 hours apart. No questions about this part.
3) Decide on what kinds of foods you want to eat;
Cut out all junk foods! This is a priority. Cut out all sugars and processed foods. Eat only high quality protein, carbohydrate and fat sources. Remember, you don’t want to add a lot of fat but you do want to grow muscle. I can guarantee all of you who are reading this page now that if you cut out all junk food and sugars, and replace them with whole foods such as lean protein sources, fibrous carbohydrates, and clean fats, your workouts will shoot through the roof and you’ll notice a difference in your appearance within a couple of weeks.
This is what I do every Sunday. I get out a piece of paper and a pen and I write down all the meals I plan to have for the following weak. Once I get down all of the ingredients, and head to the grocery store and pick up all the food I will need for the following week. I cannot stress how important this simple process is!! If you truly want to gain the most muscle while maintaining current body fat levels, you have to follow this step. I’m not going to lie to you, you must know exactly what your putting into your body at each meal. Sorry, no getting around this fact.
Try going to this page for menu examples:
Also, go to this page and download to your desktop, training diary’s, nutritional logs, and body evaluation logs. I use the same logs and they can come in very handy. Print out as many copies as you want and put them in a binder that you can bring to the gym with you or put them in your pack sack.
Remember, you will need to gauge your progress on a weekly basis. For this, I recommend you get a weight scale, tape measure, and maybe a skin fold caliper (to measure body fat). Take your measurements on a weekly basis and record them in the body evaluation log provided at the above noted address.
Alright, now you know that you can actually build the maximum amount of muscle while maintaining current fat levels. You also know that in order to do this, you need to keep close tabs on what you eat and the kinds of foods you choose. If you can do this, I can assure you that you will build the kind of muscle your looking for without getting really, really fat.
Now, the weight lifting part is another story. If your looking for great workout routines, try going to the following page:
Gain Muscle and Lose Fat At The Same Time!
You CAN gain muscle and lose fat at the same time and I will show you how. Common wisdom is that you have to gain some fat to gain muscle, its the whole bulking and cutting mentality. I’m here to tell you its wrong, at least for most people. Because of many peoples unrealistic expectations about adding muscle they come to the incorrect conclusion that you can’t gain muscle while losing fat.
The first important thing to note is that the calorie surplus to gain muscle is very, very small when compared to the calorie deficit required to lose fat.
To gain muscle and lose fat at same time. Now lets try to put the two together – losing fat and gaining muscle. Now, your first thought is probably that it can’t be done because to gain muscle, you have to eat 100 calories more per day and to lose fat, you have to eat 400 calories less per day. How can you eat less and eat more at the same time? The secret to this is that our assumption that you need to eat more to gain muscle is incorrect for most adults.
Lets look at what your body does with its calories, please look at my body on left side of the above diagram. A whopping 25% of your energy goes to your brain. 50% is housekeeping stuff to keep us alive – breathing, pumping blood, maintain body temperature, replacing dead cells, etc. Its only down here where it gets interesting. About 20% is actually spend DOING stuff – walking, lifting, moving and only about 5% is spent adding muscle. Don’t get hung up on the exact numbers, the important thing is that exercise and building muscle uses very little of the calories we consume.
Now look at the right side of the above diagram, the sources. To keep you alive, your body needs two things, plain energy to burn in the form of carbs or fat and then amino acids in the form of protein. Your body has an amazing series of emergency backup system to keep you alive should food be scarce. Your stomach is the gas tank for ordinary use. Your bodyfat is the backup up generator to be turned on when food is scarce. And your muscles are the emergency backup, your body wont turn on this nuclear power plant to cannibalize muscle unless its a DIRE emergency. Energy can come from any of the three systems but amino acids can only come from the stomach or the muscles.
Lets talk about this nuclear reactor here and how to stop if from turning on and burning up our muscles. Our bodies are really smart, they know muscle is really important and they wont burn it unless they absolutely have to. There are three occasions your body will fire up the nuke in the above diagram:
- It needs energy to stay alive that is not available in the stomach or fat stores (the barrel or the portable generator in the above diagram)
- It needs amino acids to stay alive that are not in the stomach (the barrel in the above diagram)
- Its afraid you are starving. If you cut calories more than 10% under TDEE, risk burning muscle.
- 40% of energy from protein eaten
- 50% of energy from fats and carbs eaten
- 10% of energy from stored bodyfat
So YES, you can gain muscle and lose fat and here’s how:
- Constant influx of protein. 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day taken 5-6 equal portions spaced evenly through out the day – otherwise your nuclear power plant will have to turn on between meals and burn muscle, you don’t want that.
- Consume enough calories to keep your body from thinking its starving but not so many calories that you gain fat, 10% under your TDEE is a good value to use. My calorie calculator will tell you exactly what that is for your type metabolism. Make sure to set your goal in step 6 to “10% calorie reduction”
- Proper nutrition, make every calorie count!
- eat unprocessed or minimally processed foods
- eat lots of fresh vegetables
- eat less than 30% of your calories from fat and eat only good fats like olives, nuts, and avocados
- eat whole grains and low G.I. carbs – no simple carbs like sugar, alcohol, or white flour
- eat omega-IIIs daily, flax or salmon are great sources
- Hardcore, consistent weight workouts. You can use my custom workout plan generator to design a workout plan appropriate for you.
- Daily cardio, 30-40min. Cardio will not burn muscle, it will help you gain muscle while losing fat at the same time.
Many beginners to fitness ask if they should lose their fat first or start lifting to gain muscle first, the answer is that they should do BOTH at the same time!!! Especially for beginners, it is very easy to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time!
Now lets talk about the exceptions to this, those who can’t gain muscle and lose fat:
- Losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time is very difficult for advanced bodybuilders. Many of them are close to their genetic limits so adding muscle is very difficult and slow for them even under the best of circumstances. Losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time is something that only beginning and intermediate bodybuilders can do. (By my somewhat arbitrary definition, an advanced bodybuilder is someone who can do 8 flawless, ultra slow-motion pullups and 20 flawless, ultra slow-motion pushups.)
- Skinny teens who can’t gain either fat or muscle even when they eat as much as they can.
- Advanced bodybuilders with low bodyfat (under 8%).Your body needs some fat so when you get to a certain point, your body will start choosing to burn muscle instead of fat if you have a caloric deficit. If you are 8% bodyfat and want to get down to 4-6% bodyfat you wont be able to add muscle while you do this, at best you can do is to maintain your muscle mass. With regular dieting, its tough to drop down to 4-6% without losing muscle mass but carb cycling seems to really help for this specific purpose.