The vast majority of men I meet (and some woman too) want to get more muscular while also achieving a leaner body. In other words, they want to build muscle and lose fat at the same time.
There are tons of “fitness experts” online who promise the holy grail of getting bigger and leaner by following their workout or nutrition program. Should you believe them?
This article will break down 3 primary questions to help you make the best decision for your own body and what approach to follow.
1. Is it scientifically possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same time?
It depends on on the meaning of “same time”. Could be yes, could be no.
Physiologically speaking, it’s not possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same exact moment in time because one process is catabolic (losing fat) and the other is anabolic (building muscle).
It is possible, however, to gain muscle and lose fat over let’s say the course of two months, or even over the course of a day.
2. Is it worth trying to lose fat and build muscle at the same time?
I think the answer is a resounding “No”.
I give you this answer after one of my private clients gained 10lb of muscle and lost 10lb of fat in only a month. While he certainly is an aberration, the key point is that we were not trying to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. We were focusing on fat loss without muscle loss by lifting heavy weights – which certainly had a positive impact on his hormones – and taking advantage of his anabolic window, which I will discuss in a second.
There is not one top fitness model, or natural bodybuilder who tries to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. For people whose livelihood depends on their ability to transform their bodies, they focus on a muscle building phase of 6-9 months, then fat loss phase of 2-3 months. I think that should tell you everything you need to know.
Losing fat and building muscle at the same time sounds extremely desirable, but it’s NOT an intelligent approach to maximize your results despite all the marketing you see that tells you otherwise.
Building muscle is anabolic, which requires you create a calorie surplus, while losing fat is catabolic and requires that you create a calorie deficit. Why attempt to do both at the same time for only mediocre results at best?
For over 5 years of my life, I spun my wheels trying to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. That’s a LONG time to spend 3-5 days in the gym for little to no results. I don’t want you to experience the same disappointment.
3. How do you lose fat and build muscle at the same time?
The short answer is “nutrient timing” can help you lose fat and build muscle over the course of a few months, but I still STRONGLY recommend having the primary goal of either losing fat, or building muscle NOT both equally. I also want to emphasize that pursuing a fat loss phase, or a muscle building phase is far superior to maximize your results.
Nutrient timing is determined by (1) when you eat, (2) how much you eat, and (3) what you eat that together affect how your body responds. There are different schools of thought regarding nutrient timing and some nutrient timing plans can get so tedious and complicated that you would have to quit your day job to follow them.
So which should approach should you focus on? Building muscle or losing fat?
If you have more than 15% body fat (25% body fat for woman), I would strongly recommend focusing on fat loss, with potentially some muscle gain if you’re lucky. The reverse is true for attempting to build muscle with some moderate fat loss. Here are 5 Ways to Measure Your Body Fat if you don’t know where to start and 3 Reasons to Lose Fat First Before Building Muscle.
One very easy to implement nutrient timing strategy for primarily fat loss is to reduce calorie intake for most of the week. Around your strength training workouts you can eat a high protein/moderate carb snack (let’s say 30g of protein, 30g of carbs) both 30 minutes before and after your workout to maximize the anabolic window when your muscles are most sensitive to sucking in protein.
I generally do not recommend this strategy for people looking to lose fat without losing muscle because it can slow down progress, but I have seen it work well.
In terms of your workout routine, workouts don’t need to be that much different for muscle building and fat loss. In fact, many people have lost fat and gained muscle using the 12-week BuiltLean Program. I think regardless of whether your primary goal is losing fat, or building muscle, I would lift weights that are heavy for you to handle. The light weight, high rep strategy is just not as effective.
I know I covered a lot of questions in this one article that I get ALL the time, but let me know if you have any other questions by leaving a comment below. I hope this article was informative for you!