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How Do I Gain Muscle Mass and Lose Weight at the Same Time?

By Marc Perry / October 26, 2018

No matter what goal you set, it’s important to have a solid plan. Whether you want to lose body fat, increase muscle, get in better shape, or achieve flat abs, the most efficient way to make your goals a reality is to have a plan.

This week’s Q&As will hopefully shed some light on some topics to help you make the most of 2013.

  1. How do I gain muscle mass and lose weight at the same time?
  2. What to eat before a morning workout?
  3. Are pistol squats a good exercise?
  4. How to gain mass in arms and calves?
  5. How to lose belly fat and get flat abs?

Question #1 | How do I gain muscle mass and lose weight at the same time?

Question: “I was reading about how it’s not a good idea to try to gain mass and lose body fat at the same time. I’m an athlete trying to achieve both for the season, but if I’m trying to lose weight then I’m not gaining muscle and if I’m gaining mass then I’m not getting in the shape I want for the season. What would you recommend that I do?”

Answer: If your main goal is to achieve both for the season, depending on when the season starts, I would recommend losing the fat first and then building the muscle. In fact, the leaner you are, the better your performance will be. You will be able to run faster, jump higher, etc. We have an article that is a worthwhile read here => How Body Fat Affects Athletic Performance. However, if you’re running against the clock, you can focus on losing fat while maximizing your window of opportunity to gain some muscle at the same time. Keep in mind, it will take more time for you to accomplish this because you have to consume fewer calories in order to lose body fat but you have to consume a surplus of calories in order to build muscle. It’s challenging, but it is possible. You have to have a really solid workout and nutrition program to make it happen. Here’s an article which discusses this idea in more depth – Can You Lose Fat and Build Muscle At the Same Time?

Kwesi (Kwesi Peters, CPT, Community Manager)

Question #2 | What to eat before a morning workout?

Question: “Hey, I know early morning workouts are best on an empty stomach, however when I do that, I feel really sick during my sessions. What the best thing to eat before an early morning workout?” – Rashida

Answer: Hey Rashida, I actually disagree that not eating before a workout is ideal. My opinion is to do whatever allows you to have the best workout and the most energy.

Check out these two articles that should be helpful for you:

1) Pre-Workout Meal: What to Eat Before A Workout

2) Does Cardio on an Empty Stomach Burn More Fat

Good luck!

Marc ( Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

Question #3 | Are pistol squats a good exercise?

Question: “Marc, I saw a video where you were doing squats with 2 legs with dumbbells, and was wondering if you’ve ever tried a pistol squat. Not only does it provide a great strength training workout for the legs without any weight, but any additional weight makes a much bigger difference than it does when using 2 legs. Also, have you ever tried the clutch flag exercise? It is not nearly as difficult as the better-known human flag, but it is still rather challenging and is much more accessible while still doing a great job of hitting the lateral chain.” – Robby

Answer: Hey Robby – In terms of leg exercises, the key one’s I do are barbell back squats, forward and reverse lunges with a barbell on my back, lateral lunges, step ups, and DB stiff legged deadlifts. I have done pistol squats but I find them a bit awkward and I’ve heard on multiple occasions people blowing out their knees doing it (tearing ACL etc.). If I do it, I usually will hold on to something like a TRX, which helps me control the angle of the squat a bit better which I think is safer. I’ve never seen the clutch flag exercise, so thanks for letting me know about it! I did the human flag at a conference a few months ago as a challenge without warming up (not the best idea in the world to say the least) and felt the repercussions on it in my left rotator cuff for a good while afterwards.

Marc ( Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

Question #4 | How to gain mass in arms and calves?

Question: “Hi, I need some advice. I have exercised off and on for the past 15 years but never got the body I wanted. This past summer, I took drastic measures and ate a 1800 calorie diet while working out six days per week doing weight training, intensive cardio, calisthenics, and yoga. I started at 170 lbs and 15% bodyfat and ended at 146 lbs and around 8.5% bodyfat. Now I eat clean but consume more calories and work out 5 days per week. I would like to gain about 2 inches on my arms and 2 inches on my calves. How much lean mass do I need to gain to accomplish this goal?” – Eric

Answer: 2 inches on your arms and 2 inches on your calves is quite an achievement. It has been theorized that to add an inch to your arm, you need to gain about 10-15 pounds of muscle throughout your body. As for calves, the calves specifically can be hard to grow as they tend to be highly genetically determined and will require more advanced techniques. Calves also tend to be more slow-twitch in nature, which means they can withstand more frequent workouts with more volume than other body parts, which you’ll have to do in order for them to grow. In other words, you would have to gain about 20 pounds to grow 2 inches on your arms, although you can specialize in working them for a while to help them grow a bit more, and you will have to train your calves at a more frequent rate, with a varying degree of rep ranges and weights in order for them to grow. Hope that helps.

John ( John Leyva, CSCS, CPT)

Question #5 | How to lose belly fat and get flat abs?

Question: “How to rid of waist and belly fat and get flat abs? I’d really appreciate some advice. Thanks in advance.” – Salim

Answer: If you have belly fat and want to get flat abs, you absolutely have to change your diet. No matter how much you exercise, you can’t out-train bad eating habits. The BuiltLean website offers a lot of great articles on nutrition for fat loss. A great place to start is “How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight”. If you want to get lean, you have to eat clean. Fill your meals and snacks with lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Reduce or eliminate processed and refined foods from your diet.

Once you’ve cleaned up your nutrition, you’re 80% of the way there. For a starting point with your workouts, check out the free Get Lean Guide or the 8 week BuiltLean Program. Each of them will give you ideas on how to build a workout program that get you the results you want. Good luck!

Kristin ( Kristin Rooke, CPT)


  • Richard says:

    Ignore the wrists comment - I just measured it and its 6.5inches. My apologises

  • Salman says:

    @Mark and other experts: I would appreciate your views on it.

    The following are the nutritional values of a 100 g saffola oats.

    Energy (Kcal) – 395.
    Carbohydrates – 67.5 g of which 0.6 sugar.
    Fat – 9 g.
    Protein – 11 g.
    Dietry fibre – 7.5 g.

    Are these healthy to eat daily in the breakfast? BTW each packet of oats is around 42 g.

    Thanks !!

  • Rinchen says:

    Hey Mark, I'm a 25 yr old woman and going by this link http://www.builtlean.com/2012/09/24/body-fat-percentage-men-women/ , I would be having 25% body fat and aiming to get in 17-22 range. I'm looking to generally reduce overall body fat so that what you see is a symmetrical body and of course i can enjoy wearing what I want to. I have had no trouble reducing so far and I've extensively gone through your articles. I am facing tricky times, though, right now and would like your help. I do not take any junk food and have disciplined my diet to whole grains, steamed white rice pulses, fresh garden veggies, fresh seasonal fruits, milk and eggs. Coffee and tea during the day too. I do not smoke or drink. I do HIIT for 30 min, squat/lunge 3 sets of 10 each with 2 kg and have started 5 kg since yest and then I end with abs workout (cycling). But I am not able to reduce my lower belly fat yet. I do ab cycles 3 sets of 20 each (slow/fast) and almost parallel to the floor but do not feel much pain. I don't know where am going wrong! HELP PLEASE.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Rinchen - I would recommend creating more precision in your nutrition program. Losing that last bit of fat is always the hardest. Here's a video which shows how to track your nutrition intake. It can help you make sure you are eating the right calorie level. I hope it's helpful for you: How to Track Your Nutrition Intake. Good luck!

      • B says:

        Since you're commenting on the the body fat chart, I'm thrown off by it. I am around 13%, but look more like 20% (male, 200 lbs; started out at almost 19% and 235+ lbs a year ago and looked more like 25%). Would be nice to see a comparison chart of different people at the same fat percentage but different levels of fitness and other body parts. I understand it has a lot to do with muscle size, fat distribution and how long you've been at it, but it still gets frustrating at times. My goal is to look like your 15% photo, but it looks like with my fat distribution that means I'll have to go down to 10% (my legs are significantly more defined).

      • Rinchen says:

        Thanks Marc! Will do! You're right, the flab sticking on till the end is the hardest to burn off!

  • Mitesh says:

    Hi Marc,

    I stumbled on to the Bulitlean website couple of days back and man, I am thankful I did! I have gone through lot of articles, subscribed the newsletter and guide. It has been a great experience so far.

    I have a question about Builtlean program. I currently work out 5 days a week (mostly weight training with HIIT cardio in between). I am 5'10" - 180 lb and in reasonable shape. I am really keen to get the last layer of stomache / waist fat (which I have been struggling to get rid of, for quite some time now). My question is - I have read that the Buitlean program is designed for working out 3 days a week. However, I prefer working out 5 times a week. So, will it have any negative impact if I follow Builtlean program for 3 days a week and workout on remaining 2 days on my own.


    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Mitesh - Super happy to hear you are enjoying the site! You absolutely can workout 5 days per week while on the BuiltLean Program, but I do not advise lifting any more than the 3 days prescribed. So just to be clear, it's a maximum of 3 lifting days per week. The other two days you can do HIIT, play a sport, boxing, yoga, basically activities other than intense lifting. The reason is that the body needs rest from intense metabolic types of exercises. In addition, if you are working out 5 days per week, you should pay special attention to getting enough sleep, stretching, and doing some foam rolling if possible to keep your muscles healthy. If you have any other questions, please let me know!

  • Mitesh says:

    Thanks a lot for your response Marc!

  • mike says:

    Hey Marc! first of all i would like to thanks all the builtlean staff and you for having an opportunity to find this site. all the articles here cleared all my confusions with regards to exercise, healthy lifestyle, etc. And i also applied it to myself and i get a fantastic results. For 4 months now, my weight started from 89kg and now I'm down to 72kg. That's why when my friends ask me how do i do it. i just refer them to your site. I have 2 questions that's bothering my mind lately. FIRST, I have read on your free guide that in the building muscle phase you have to eat more than you burn (calorie surplus)? is there an exact amount or percentage of calorie surplus you need for building muscle? like in fat loss phase 15 - 35% calorie deficit. SECOND, could you please give me an example of modified split routine or workout? hope for your reply.thanks! Godbless

  • Kate says:

    Hello! Your articles are great! I've been trying to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time by going to the gym and lifting for an hour and then doing 30 min of cardio right after. But after reading your articles it seems like I should focus more on losing weight first. After looking at the chart you provided in one of your articles I see that I have a body fat percentage of 20%. Just to give you some back round I'm 20 years old weigh 142lbs and my height is 5'8''. I really want to look lean for the summer! What body fat percentage should I aim for before I start lifting? and to get rid of the extra fat would I just do cardio every time I go to the gym or also lift?


    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Kate - What body fat percentage you shoot for is really up to you, but my guess is much below 15-17% for a woman can start to lead to hormonal changes (i.e. menstruation stops etc.). It sounds like you are at a great level of body fat right now. If you have a strong desire to get leaner (and at your age), I think 17% is a body fat level to shoot for that is still lean, but able to be maintained. That means you only need to lose 5 more pounds of fat without losing any muscle. I used the ideal body weight formula to figure it out => Ideal Body Weight Formula (113.6)/(1-0.17) = 137

      I don't recommend thinking about cardio for burning fat and weight lifting for building muscle. Think proper nutrition and strength training to help you keep muscle and bump up metabolism after your workout. Cardio can help burn a couple extra calories, but the lifting in my opinion is more important in a fat loss program...but they both are important!

  • Carlos says:

    Hi Marc,
    How do I gain mass on my forearms including the wrist? What is the fastest way? Regarding exercises.
    Thank you.

  • Randall says:

    Hey Marc, great website, I really enjoy the articles I get sent to my e-mail. Now onto my Q:
    As of 9.18.12, I was 127.2lbs, fat was 14.628lbs and 11.5% (gotten from body comp test done by rec at school) and 19 years old at the time of test. My six-pack is kind of visible, but not really. so I wanna get it defined and visible. What exercises would you recommend for someone who wants to drop some of their belly fat? And how much fat would need to be lost?

  • stavros says:

    I'm on a Ketogenic diet plan and was wondering if the reduction in protein will have a significant affect on my gaining muscle mass. I'm also training three times a week. Thanks