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.
Gaining muscle. Most mature adults can gain a maximum of 15 pounds of muscle in a year but many can only gain 5lbs of muscle a year. That’s only 1.25 pounds of muscle gain per month maximum – pretty slow whether you are losing fat at the same time or not. In rough numbers, to gain that 1.25 pounds of muscle each month while maintaining your current bodyfat you should eat an additional 3125 calories more a month, that’s about 100 more calories a day – not much of a calorie surplus.
Losing fat. Now lets look at losing fat, its much faster than gaining muscle. You lose fat when you consume fewer calories than you burn off in a day (the TDEE). For an average person losing weight, they will eat about 400 calories a day less (12,000 calories a month) than their TDEE to lose a pound of fat a week, or 52 pounds of fat in a year.
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.