Many people want to lose weight, and a great majority of those people would also like to add some muscle too. Popular opinion says that you cannot lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Instead, you have to focus on one goal at a time. This is far from being true, and I’m going to prove to you that it’s possible, and show you how it’s done.
Before we get to the “secret” formula, let’s first make you a believer in the concept. Below are just a few studies that prove it’s possible.
In our first study, we take take a look at the effects of a hypocaloric diet, increased protein intake, and resistance training on body composition. Over 12 weeks, the subjects had an average body fat loss of 8% while gaining 4kg of muscle .
In a study examining the effects of resistance training on postmenopausal women, 16 weeks of training increased fat-free mass and resting metabolic rate while decreasing body fat percentage .
In overweight young males, 12 weeks of high-intensity interval training resulted in significant reductions in total, abdominal, trunk, and visceral fat and significant increases in fat free mass .
In a randomized controlled trial of older adults with type 2 diabetes, high-intensity progressive resistance training resulted in increased lean mass and decreased trunk fat mass .
Active women over the age of 60 engaged in weight training. Compared to control groups, the weight trainers’ percent body fat decreased significantly, while lean tissue mass increased .
In a study examining the effects of resistance training on competitive, collegiate women tennis players, periodized training resulted in significant decreases in body fat and increases in fat-free mass after 4, 6, and 9 months of training .
As you can see, not only is it possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, but it’s possible for people across all age groups, health status, and athletic levels. That being said, it will likely be easier to accomplish this task if you’re a beginner strength trainer, and more difficult if you are an advanced weight lifter, but not impossible, if you follow the steps below.
Getting Your Calories Right
The biggest determining factor in your success is going to come from your calorie intake. Have it too high and you’ll gain muscle, but you’ll likely add body fat too. Set your calories too low and you’ll do a good job of reducing your body fat, but your lean body mass will unlikely increase at all.
The key to to building muscle while burning fat is to set your calories at or very near maintenance levels. Doing this means you will see less fluctuations in body weight, but a greater change in body composition.
You will need to monitor your progress other ways besides the scale, as your weight will move very little. Instead, focus on your progress in the gym, the way your clothes fit, the way you look in the mirror, and your body fat percentage changes.
Hitting Your Macros
Your macros, otherwise known as the amount of fat, carbs, and protein you eat will be the next most influential determinant in your success. Protein will be the most important, and should be set between .6-.6 gram per pound of body weight. Studies have shown even higher levels to be preventative against muscle loss in a hypocaloric environment, but from my own experience and others’, this should be more than sufficient to accomplish your goals.
You will need to fill the remainder of your calories with healthy fats and carbohydrates. The amount of each will depend on the individual’s activity levels and taste preferences.
The more active you are, the more carbohydrates you will eat. Many athletes eat upwards of 50% or more of their calories from carbohydrates, as they provide them with the necessary high-intensity fuel to support strength training and HIIT.
In addition, if your taste buds prefer fat to carbohydrates, then eating more carbs won’t be as satisfying, which will lead to long-term adherence issues. Let the ratio of fat and carbs fall into place naturally. The differences in results are negligible so long as performance isn’t suffering.
Engaging in the Right Kind of Exercise
As you likely already know, it’s next to impossible to build muscle if you don’t engage in some sort of strength training. Without the necessary stimulus to your muscles, they aren’t going to grow.
The studies listed at the beginning of this article show the most effective exercise protocols for losing fat and building muscle are resistance exercise and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Doing one or the other or both will provide your muscles with the stimulus to adapt and grow. Without these exercise protocols you can expect to lose lean body mass. It’s one of the reasons why strength training is recommended as part of a fitness program regardless of your goals. Strength training compliments nearly any health, fitness, and performance goal.
There you have it – the formula for simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain. Implement all 3 core principles: proper calories, correct macronutrients, and stimulating exercise, and you’ll be well on your way to success.