If you’re like most guys, you wouldn’t mind packing on an extra 5-10lb of muscle to your frame. Maybe you are contemplating starting a muscle building program, or even actively using one. Before you start pounding more protein shakes and killing yourself with heavy weights, this article will help you seriously reevaluate your fitness goals.
If you are attempting to build muscle and you do not have a lean physique (See: Ideal Body Fat Percentage Chart if you are unsure), I strongly recommend you focus on losing fat without losing muscle before attempting to add some bulk to your frame. Keep in mind on average most guys substantially underestimate their body fat percentage by AT LEAST 5% body fat.
Here are 3 compelling reasons why you should lose fat first before building muscle. If you are expecting to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, check out this article “Should I lose fat and build muscle at the same time?”
Reason #1: Gaining Any More Fat Is A Slippery Slope
Gaining muscle without gaining fat is a very difficult proposition, even if you count every calorie you eat meticulously. If you don’t count calories, then it’s highly improbable. In order to gain muscle, our bodies need to be in an anabolic state, which is fed by an ample amount of protein, carbs, and calories. If you are attempting to build muscle, it is expected that you will add some fat. This is keenly understood by fitness models and bodybuilders who “bulk up” with both muscle and some fat during the off-season when attempting to build muscle.
Now let’s say you are 5’10” and 185lb with 15% body fat. You end up putting on 12lb of weight, with 6lb being muscle and 6lb being fat. Your new body fat is 18%, which is dangerously close to the 20% level you definitely don’t want. If you do get up to 20% body fat, you will need to lose around 20lb of pure fat without losing muscle to get down to a lean 10% body fat, which is when you’ll have the killer beach body.
I must disclose I have a bias against muscle building – I think most guys have more than enough natural muscle once they reach maturity and after putting in a few good years of quality lifting and eating. Following this line of thinking, most guys can have a seriously awesome physique if they just lose enough fat without losing muscle to get lean. Easier said than done of course, but it’s a lot easier than building muscle and a much faster way to get a beach body.
If you are at, or above 15% body fat (the chances are likely), I highly recommend focusing on losing fat first.
Reason #2: You Look Bigger When You Are Lean
If you are not lean, you have body fat that is hiding your hard earned muscle mass and even more important, hiding the shape of your muscles.
For example, your shoulder muscle is a round, teardrop shaped muscle that is involved in all pulling and pushing movements. If you have body fat over your shoulders, they will appear flat with little roundness. The more round your shoulders and the leaner they are, the more striking the shape will be. When you can see the actual muscle and it’s shape, it creates an illusion that they are bigger than they actually are. A chiseled physique generally will look bigger, fuller, and more impressive than a soft physique of a similar size.
In the photo of me to your right taken a couple of years ago, I have 155lb of lean body mass and I weighed around 167lb. When I went to the gym, people thought I was 190-200lb. Interestingly, I have the same amount of muscle as a guy who is 200lb with 22% body fat.
Why is this important if you are trying to build muscle? Well you may find when you lean out that you already have the muscle mass you want, you just couldn’t see it before.
Reason #3: You Will Know How Much Bigger You Want To Get
Let’s say you want to add 10-15lb of muscle to your frame, do you know how much volume 10-15lb of muscle has? Do you really have any idea of what those 10-15lb will look like on you assuming you answered “yes” to the previous question?
I’m not a big fan of using weight when it comes to building a certain amount of muscle. It’s useless unless you are an athlete and your sport such as football demands it.
The better way is to measure your body parts to see if there are any major areas of improvement. You may find for example that most of your body parts are at a solid level for your height, the only issue is that your chest measurement is a measly 38 inches. Now you know for sure that you can seriously improve your chest and back thickness. Trying to trust the mirror, or even photos is notoriously difficult.
You may learn after doing some body measurements that you can definitely get your thighs and calves an inch bigger. That change in muscle may only translate into a few pounds max. The idea is that you may not need to put on nearly as much muscle weight as you think you do.
I hope after reading this article the choice is very clear as to whether you should lose fat first, or build muscle. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.