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 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!
Hi, Marc. I’ve been reading your eye-opener articles. I haven’t found any site which is as clear and direct as yours… ever. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.
@Alexander – Thanks a lot for the kind words. I’m working hard on making BuiltLean.com into an even better resource. I’m looking forward to adding A LOT more articles and videos in the coming months.
Really enjoying your site. As someone who is a little over a year into my new found “healthier/fit” life and also someone who loves to research my interests to exhaustion, there certainly has been no lack of information online…plenty of contradictory information all over the place! Your content seems to the point and without a lot of fluff and lofty promises like so many others. Keep the posts coming, especially the videos.
@Noah – Thanks so much for the comment and congrats on following a healthier lifestyle. I have a TON more videos I plan on adding in the coming months so I appreciate the encouragement.
I like your blog, specially your approached and method to gain the maximum result of diet and building muscle. I would definitely go back for your future post.
@Mel Rabang – Thanks Mel, I appreciate it.
@Mark – Been doing cardio 5 times a week fasted (or with just a protein shake prior) and working out 3 times a week but not really seeing any fat loss and I am eating 1400-1800 calories average a day (my maintenance is 2550-ish). What the heck am I doing wrong? Great article by the way! Thanks!
@Eric – Thanks Eric. What is your height, weight, and approximate body fat percentage? Can you briefly describe your weight lifting routine? That info will better help me answer your question.
Hi Marc, I am female, 5’2″ and weigh 110. I do a 4-day split 5 days a week. So I do 1 workout 2x in a week. I lift as heavy as I can….reps between 6-10. I recover Sat/Sun. I do 3 HIIT workouts/week (20-30 minutes) after my weights. I eat 5-6 x/day. Lean protein…veggies…rarely fruit…post recovery shake with 20 carbs juice & BCAAs. I use only good quality EFAs (Udos or fish oil). I drink loads of fresh spring water. I have been doing this for 14 weeks. Have barely lowered my body fat? What’s up with what I’m doing? I can’t figure it out!
@Lisa – Wow, your eating and exercise routine sounds like that of a hardcore fitness model! The only thing I can think of is the following:
1) You may not be nailing the calorie level. As you get more advanced, it get’s tougher to lose those last extra few pounds of fat. I would check out this article if you have not yet: https://www.builtlean.com/2011/01/18/how-many-calories-should-you-eat-to-lose-weight/. You should also read the nutrition part of this article: https://www.builtlean.com/2011/05/11/how-to-get-ripped-and-cut/. Finally, this article describes a nutrition philosophy used by serious physique competitors and it’s personally how I think about food (second half of article): https://www.builtlean.com/2010/09/07/the-new-5-food-groups-to-get-lean-healthy/
2) There is a fine balance between working out really hard and working out too much. Rest is an important aspect of an exercise regimen, so if there are some days when you feel strangely tired, or fatigued, that may be a sign of over-training. Overtraining can mess up hormones and increase cortisol. But if you feel energetic and recuperated, I don’t think overtraining is an issue then.
3) Have you been tracking body fat percentage? I use skin fold calipers. You weight may not change if you are slowly building some muscle and losing fat, which certainly can happen.
Hope this is helpful. Your workout routine and eating regimen are quite impressive, so keep up the good work!
Hi Marc, this is such a very informative article and thank you for sharing this. I’ll be in a conference for a week in a five star hotel with international delegates and the food will be served in buffet with a variety of international cuisines such as Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, European, Mediterranean and American cuisines . Since am more concentrated on fat loss may i ask your recommendation on what should be my focus on food intake during/every meal on the entire week? Given that i can’t bring a weighing scale during the meal..hehehe..do you have any particular cuisines to recommend where i can focus on?
@Buh – Wow, sounds like you have your pick of some great food. I encourage you to check out a more advanced article I wrote, which gives you insight into how i personally think about food in terms of maximizing fat loss that may be able to work well for you too. Towards the bottom of the article are the (new) 5 food groups to get lean and healthy: https://www.builtlean.com/2010/09/07/the-new-5-food-groups-to-get-lean-healthy/. the idea is that you can think of your food intake in terms of the 5 food groups I list, so it doesn’t matter what type of cuisine as long as you have a proper balance of these 5 food groups. It’s a long discussion, but a relatively low/moderate fat, low starch, high fibrous, low sugar, high protein diet can work wonders! Of course you should see what works for you, but that’s my take.
Hi Marc, the article really clears up my mind..i’ll take all of them in consideration in getting the food in the buffet table!! More power Marc!!!
Great info, all the way. I’m having trouble moving forward to keep on getting the results I’ve been having for about 8 weeks. I’m focusing on Fat Loss first, I’m 5’10”, I was 238lbs, I lost 35-37 lbs, I’m currently at 202 and at 24.5% body fat EST. Over the 8 weeks I’ve incorporate as much as I can to continue confusing my body to lose more fat. I’ve been on a Hi Protein/Mod Carb/Mod Fat, Low GI, Low Caloric Diet which helped me lose a lot at first, then I start Cycling 3xWk (16 miles ea @ Hi Rate), then Weight Lifting (been going higher every 2wks or so, trying to get sore once a wk at least, THEN I started Fasting 1 the twice a wk for 24 hrs intervals (water/no calorie drinks) AND did workouts before and after the fast, sometimes almost 29 hrs then I would eat-after a heavy weight lift and/or cycle. I also did crunches, switching it up to move my whole body (stack aerobics). And I’m plateauing last and this week as well. I want to get down about 185-195, and then go for Muscle building. What else can I do? Or should do? Or cut and switch because I’m doing all of these 5 things and my body isn’t losing any more fat. My weight lifting routine is 4-6 muscle groups, 3 sets and reps go up/down because I keep on adding more weight. Dumbbell for shoulders, back, triceps and Barbell for Biceps and chest (do more push-ups for chest). And I know I’m going higher because when I add it up, the overall lifted keeps going up. What do you recommend? How can the Builtlean program help? Thank You.
@Julian – Thanks for the comment. First, congrats on putting so much effort into your health and also the results you’ve gotten so far. Impressive. I have a few comments for you:
1) Patience – I understand you are frustrated because the scale hasn’t moved in a couple weeks, but think about your body change as a marathon, not a sprint. Almost every VERY successful client I’ve ever had has hit a plateau once, or twice for a couple weeks, before achieving incredible results. Just keep on pushing and NEVER give up.
2) Your Stats – You obviously can create whatever type of goals you want, but I would make them specific. Your LBM (lean body mass, everything in your body besides fat) right now is 152lb. If you get down to 185lb without losing any muscle, your body fat percentage would be 18%. Definitely a solid number, but in my opinion not low enough to recommend going on a muscle building program. I’ve talked about this a lot, but I think guys get carried away with the weight number. If you get down to 175lb, you are going to be lean, fit, and look fantastic. I was just in the gym the other day and this guy came up to me and complimented my physique. He asked if I weighed 200lb. When I told him I weighed 165lb, his jaw dropped! I’m 5’10” as well. When you get lean, your muscles appear bigger. Anyways, my point is continue focusing on losing fat without losing muscle!
3) BuiltLean Program – It sounds like you are winging it right now in terms of your exercise/nutrition program. That’s definitely fine because you are working hard. The leaner you get, however, winging it may not be enough. Using a clearly defined plan takes the guesswork out of changing your body. Right now, it sounds like you may be making yourself crazy! I created my BuiltLean Program so you don’t have to think about what to do, you just follow the program. 99% of people who follow it get results they want, or even better. I’m happy to answer any questions you have as you complete it.
For a little more reading as a follow up to these comments, check out:
Ideal Body Weight Formula
Keep up the good work.
Impressing words Marc that make a lot of sense. I agree with you that we can’t do both things at the same time (gaining muscle and losing weight) but rather build muscles first then lose weight especially for skinny guys like me. Keep on writing man…
@G.Williams – Thanks. Appreciate it. Trying to save people from making the same mistakes I made for years.
I found your website today and I’m finding your articles very helpful. I am in the middle of a weight loss program. I started out at 330 and I’m down to 280. From my body fat percentage, it appears I need to get to about 230 to be healthy. My weight loss is slowing down which is pretty predictable. I want to increase my metabolism and for the last two weeks I have been working on my upper body with some dumbbells. I am a mesomorph and am already seeing results in muscle gain. So I’m somewhat conflicted by your article. I understand the concept of needing to consume more calories to build muscle. When working with weights, are there differences in how you want to increase your metabolism as opposed to gaining muscle? Because I still have a lot of fat to burn off, will my body go to those reserves for the energy I need when I’m not consuming enough calories? Thanks in advance for your advice.
@Chris – Congrats on your weight loss success. Great job. Here are the answers to your questions:
“When working with weights, are there differences in how you want to increase your metabolism as opposed to gaining muscle?”
There are different types of strength training workouts. Some can promote muscle growth more than others, so called “hypertrophy” workouts and others are more “metabolic” to help increase your metabolism to a greater degree. With that said, strength training in general should at least help maintain your metabolism, or prevent it from dropping because muscle will likely be preserved. My suggestion is to do full body circuit training to get strength and cardiovascular benefits to help also raise your metabolism. Muscle building to a very large degree is dependent on creating that calorie surplus.
“Because I still have a lot of fat to burn off, will my body go to those reserves for the energy I need when I’m not consuming enough calories?”
Your body will use fat, muscle, or glycogen as energy. With ample protein intake and strength training, it’s unlikely the body will use your muscle as fuel. What’s left for energy is glycogen stored in your muscles/liver and body fat. Strength training depletes glycogen levels to help promote fat burning. Of course, creating that calorie deficit is really the key!
Hi Marc, I recently found your website and got some of the excellent articles here. The question you addressed in this article is of great importance to me because over the last year or so, I lost almost 40 pounds and now I am down to 165 lbs at the age of 28 and height of 5’10”. My gym instructor did the calipers test and I found that my body fat is approximately around 16%. Now, I do want to gain more muscle mass and be leaner but at the same time I don’t want to re-gain any more weight and fat that I lost. I was doing a lot of cardio earlier and since last month or two, I am concentrating more towards strength training. I am also thinking of including some HIIT training in my schedule. Could you give me some pointers if I am heading in the right direction ? Also, any other pointers/advice would be really appreciated 🙂
@Ashu – Thanks for the comment and sorry for the late reply. I was on vacation with my family in Park City, Utah for the holidays.
First, congrats on losing 40lb. That is very, very impressive. I would strongly suggest you focus on getting a little leaner first and reach a level you are happy with, then focus on muscle gain. The challenge with muscle gain is you may gain some fat, but if you are already very lean, it won’t matter as much. In addition, if you do gain a little fat while building muscle, it’s easier to retain the muscle and lose only fat. Finally, you may realize you only want to make small tweaks to your build once you get leaner because you may be happy with how your physique looks and feels. Keep in mind losing fat is primarily a nutritional challenge.
For losing fat without losing muscle and getting very lean, you can check out this article: How to Get Ripped & Cut
Hey Marc – thanks for all the great tips as well as replying to my previous comment. I have a couple more questions. Is it possible to lose muscle if you work it too much in one day even if you are to rest for 2-3 days?
Also, Right now I’m 5’10” 196 lb. 21.1% BFat (up from yesterday quite a bit). I burn about 3000 calories per day including exercise, and eat 1600-2000 calories (all depends).
Like you said, I need re-evaluate my nutrition & plans. I’ve dropped 40 lb. and 10% Bfat but I’m at a “plateau” … in your last reply to me you recommended possibly 1800 calories but I was curious what you have to say about specifics: Carbs? Protein? Fat? Sat. Fat? … I monitor everything on Calorie Count (About).
My short term goal is to be 180 lb. 14% Bfat in 2 months!
My long term goal … NO LIMITS MAN GET BULKED UP AND RIPPED! 😉 he he
Thanks for your advice! Blessings!
Not sure if you’re still answering questions, but I’d like your input on something. As a neuro major, I understand the physiology and such. I’m spiking my calories two days/week (sometimes separate from each other or back/back) and keeping calories/saturated fat restricted throughout the week. Lifting 6 days a week and as a poor college student, the dieting is hard to plan but I’m doing whey a.m., whey post-workout, casein+L-Glut. before bed, and creatine 30-45 min prior to lifting ~4 days/week. Eating small prior to workout but focused on carbs, and larger meals low carb+protein post-workout and breakfast. Is this realistic and not a waste of time to finally get rid of stubborn fat around waist while also maintaining and slightly adding lean muscle? I plan on bigger muscle gains through fall/winter but would like to add a bit of muscle while gradually getting the seemingly last layer of fat from my abs. Sorry for the ridiculousness and length, but am looking for an experienced and knowledgable person’s input.
(I’ve also upped cardio/HIIT post-weights, ~ 20HIIT ~45cardio, with cardio emphasis in a.m. on empty stomach)
@Nick – It looks like you are following every single bodybuilding recommendation ever made! Calories/carb cycling, post/pre workout nutrition, supplementation, macro-nutrient breakdown, cardio on an empty stomach…the whole 9 yards! My stance is to keep things simple and only add in complexity as you get very comfortable with the basics. For example, your calorie intake is likely the single most important metric that will determine your success. Do you have it nailed? If not, all the fancy tricks in the book will not work. For an article to help crystallize the get ripped process into it’s most important parts, check this out: https://www.builtlean.com/2011/05/11/how-to-get-ripped-and-cut/. By the way, as I tried to clearly explain in the preceding article, I would have a primary goal of either fat loss, or muscle gain, not both at the same time. Good luck reaching your ideal physique!
I wrote to you a couple of days and I was asking you how to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time but I just read this excellent article.
I am a male 44 years old, 67 inches tall and weight 150lbs, I eat healthy and exercise 5 to 6 days a week, body% is 16.83 some abs showing up, about 80 percent cut, if I have a surplus in calories wouldn’t I gain fat on my middle section, I don’t want that, so how can I do that? I want to gain about 10lbs more.
Thanks for your time and your articles.
@Carlos – Gaining muscle without gaining fat is really tough. I would take advantage of your ababolic window post workout by eating ample protein (maybe a protein shake right after the workout), then a large post workout meal another 2-3 hours later. On the days you are not lifting/exercising, you can eat maintenance number of calories instead of a surplus. The thing is that in a given week, you really need to create a calorie surplus. In addition, you should be focusing very hard on increasing strength. I would also be very patient as building quality muscle can take a long time!
Thanks! I appreciate your response. My doubt and lack of experience isn’t the greatest sounding board for assurance. I just wondered if I could get the title for the article you tried posting? Always up for more reading material.
@nick – For some reason it looks like the article I was suggesting didn’t come through in the last comment. My bad. Here’s the link: How to Get Ripped.
well seems like a have a slightly differnt goal. I want to enlarge my butt by using two method. Building muscle(lifting heavy) and also adding fat to my butt. Can one add fat to the butt and so butt exercises while eating enough food to help grow the butt muscle. The fat i am wanting to add to my butt is not actually from loads of eating or taking fat drug. Is from topical application of cream that add fat to the butt. So am wondering if the butt exercise will burn the fat that i gain from the topical application. Am slim and do not have enough fat on my flat butt and in other for my butt not to look muscular that is why am adding the topical cream. Pls advice me on what to do. Also i plan on taking maca supplement along side.
@Judith – I find it hard to believe a topical cream can add fat to a particular part of your body. I’ve never heard of that before. In terms of your concern about getting your glutes (butt) muscles bigger and those muscle burning off a particular area of fat, that’s not how the body works. We can’t decide what part of the body fat comes off of, it’s genetically predetermined. But yes, you certainly can develop your glute muscles so they appear larger. Heavy squats, walking lunges etc. can help a lot.
Thank you so much for your guidance, one more questions is how many calories should I shoot for on my workout days?
@Carlos – When I said “maintenance calories”, I mean eat roughly the number of calories you burn in a given day including exercise. Here’s an article which teaches you more about calorie burn: How To Calculate Your Calorie Burn. Try using the Katch & McCardle Method. If you burn roughly 2500 calories per day, then you should eat roughly 2500 calories per day. On your workout days, i would recommend 500 calories more than you burn, so in this case it would be 3000 calories. Depending on weight gain, you may need to up your calorie intake on both workout and non workout days. Good luck!
I am sorry for bugging you so much… I understood the what you just said, I think I need more help!!! This is my situation right now, I have lost weight doing a lot of exercise including hiit, my six pack is almost visible but I think I lost some muscle from my entire body, I think I wasn’t eating right, and one thing that I noticed is that I lost it on my face too, I know if I keep doing the hiit I will get a six pack real soon but I am going to look like a zombie, so you’ve told me to concentrate in resistance workout and eat a lot of protein, should I do cardio and hiit and how many times per week? Could you please give me a better direction? I would like to get a six pack but also I want to gain mass, about 160lbs, how many calories should I shoot for every day? I will really appreciate!!!
These are my stats
BF= W 31.5″ N 14.5 H 67″ I think it is about 14.53%
Thank you very much!
@Carlos – It seems as if we are going in circles with our conversation. I get A LOT of comments and questions on this site, so if you would like to set up a 30-minute coaching call (for a fee) to discuss your regimen in more depth, I’m happy to do that. You can fill out the contact form on my site with the subject “coaching call”.
Hi Marc, one more thing… I am burning about 2104 calories per day using the equation you gave us. Thank you
mr marc your explanation was really good and understandable.. now my questioon are : in my case i started goign to the gym( wasnt the first) the first days of january and i my weight was 201 lb..and yesterday february 4th was 178 with a body fat of 18 % what i do at the gym is only run for 20 mins and 5 more minuts of any other cardio machine. i go 6 days a weel only for. then my diet i think is really strict at all and i only have one cheat day whereever i can. then should i start lifting weight now or should i keep just doign cardio what do u recommend me since u give good advices. my goal is to lose all the fat and get lean but not being big just a regualr and simetric size.. thank you very much for taking your time with your help i will be waiting for your response.. have a nice day.
@Anthony – I would start some type of resistance training as soon as possible either with weights, or body weight. Your body will not hold on to your muscle if you are not using it as you lose weight. Also, congrats on your success so far.
Right now I am about 155 pounds and 5’7, My workout routine includes running every other day around 5 miles, and then the next day and every other day for that I am weight lifting most muscle groups. I am wondering if this routine is any good and what I can do to maximize results of getting ripped?
@Andrew – Without knowing the nitty gritty details, which would only be possible with a very thorough analysis beyond the scope of the comment section of this website, I would say the basic exercise framework you are using sounds reasonable and effective. Keep in mind that getting ripped is 80-90% nutrition. You could have the best exercise program in the world and gain 0lb of muscle and lose 0lb of fat because of improper nutrition. Enough said, right! I’m going to be adding a ton more articles going forward, so be sure to subscribe to my BuiltLean Newsletter.
First time visiter. Love the content in your website. I am 171cms, 84kgs with 25% body fat. Have been gymming hard for the past 2 weeks. My goal is to loose 15-18kg weight and bring my body fat down to 10% or less.
I understand that not everyone can loose weight and gain muscle at the same time. But how much weight training should I do, if my primary goal is to lose weight and not lose muscle mass in the process. Should I concentrate on increasing the weights or the number of reps. If I should increase the number of reps, is there a maximum weight that I shud be limit myself to?
@Kart – Thanks for the kind words about the site. I’m looking forward to creating A LOT more helpful content for everyone in the future. Very excited about it!
I want to answer your question with what I’ve found to work for people who want to lose fat without losing muscle. Interestingly enough, exercise is VERY important, but at some point the law of diminishing returns applies. What I mean is let’s say you workout out 3x per week and eat very well, will working out 6x per week double the amount of fat loss? Very likely not. In fact, the amount of fat loss may only increase by 5-10%, which is almost insignificant given the time and effort.
With that said, what I’ve found is that 2-3x per week is enough strength training to keep your muscle, promote hormone balance, and burn some extra calories. You can certainly do other types of workouts and activities in addition to strength training, but the 2-3x per week is a great sweet spot for most people. If you choose 2x per week, do choose 2 full body workouts, or an upper/lower body split.
The most important part of losing fat is really nailing the nutrition; eating whole, unprocessed foods and most importantly, controlling your calorie intake. I always say you can lose much more fat on an ok exercise program with great nutrition than a great exercise program with ok nutrition.
I’m about 160, and a 16 YO male, and I understand that one cannot accomplish both at the same time, but is there a way to lose body fat and create a calorie deficit without letting your body take away from muscles… in other words, can i burn fat, and maintain muscle at the same time?
@Keith Cannon – That’s what this entire website is all about! Check out my free 20-page Get Lean Guide, which is the best place to start.
I am following your full body workout, alternating between pair exercises and I notice that you have the first pair as 1A: Ball Squats and 2A: Forward Lunge… are these not the same type of exercise? Lower Body? And also you have the third pair as 3A: Seated DB Shoulders Press and 3A: Knee Crunches, is it not supposed to be 3B for Knee Crunches or was it a mistake?
@Oscar – Ball Squats and Forward Lunges are not the same exercise. One is a squat, which is hip dominant and the other is a single leg exercise that is quad dominant. They do work the same muscle groups generally speaking, which is by design. One of my favorite strategies for working out legs is by doing exercises back to back with little, or now rest, which can create a hormonal response and hits the muscles hard. Legs typically don’t need the extra rest versus other muscles like your chest for example. Most people have a lot more type 1 muscle fibers in their legs. Should be 3A and 3B, that is a mistake!
So what type of super set is 1A, 1B? Upper and Lower Body Workout?
@Oscar – If I understand your question correctly, 1A and 1B is technically a compound set, which means you are doing back to back exercises that hit the same muscle group, but can also be referred to as a superset hitting the same muscle group, so they are both lower body exercises.
Thanks Marc, but I am still confused because on your 20 page Get Lean Guide you have an example of the full body workout and you have it as:
1A – 1B: Lower-Lower
2A – 2B: Push-Pull
3A – 3B: Compound-Core
So if I do 1A-1B as a set, I am not doing what you said on the video, to incorporate pull-push, lower-upper and compound-core. So if I am correct to get better results I have to use this as the base for all my workouts, right? So is it possible that the Lean Guide is no right?
hi Marc, just wondering if you could give me some tips on lossing fatt and weight traning, im 23yrs old my height is 6ft1 and 110kg, i would like to be around about 80kg i go cardio 5 times a week for 1hr mixing with light weight training, do you think what i am doing is right? or do i need to stop weight lifting and foucs on lossing my fat first? then weight train when i reach a level where i am happy with my fat loss? i only startd going gym about a month ago i see a difference in ma upper body but my belly is still a propblem.. hope to hear from you soon… thankz jon
@jon – Please check out my free Get Lean Guide for all the answers to your questions.
Are you available for online/web/phone coaching? I live in long island city, not to far from your gym in murray hill. I’ve been lifting weights/excercising for years, but i’m tired of spinning my wheels and would finally like to get some results. Thanks.
@Eddie – I apologize for my late response. I fell behind with comments, which is tough with increasing traffic. I do offer fitness consultations and can shoot you over more information. Just fill out the contact form here and I will email you the details.
I’ve been watching my calorie intake and increasing my workout intensity along with weights for the last 3 months. I’ve barely lost 10 lbs, but everyone tells me that I look like I’ve lost over 20lbs. My hips, thighs, stomach and butt is significantltly smaller. I’ve also gotten more stronger cardiovascularly, and strengthwise. I’m doing exercises I could never dream of being to do before like muay thai kick boxing, rock climbing, hand stands, speed ladder drills for 45 mins, and all sorts of plyometric exercises. I love lifting weights too.
I took my time to build up to them.
So i’m confused by the article saying you can’t lose fat and gain muscle.
I workout about 2.5 hrs 4x per wk at the gym. I am very concious about recovery too, i know to do stretches and massages to loosen up tight sore muscles. I eat between 1600-2000 a day. It’s kinda of frustrating to not see the scale moving much sometimes not at all from one week to the next, even though my body does look very different. I’m about 50 lbs overweight. So am I losing fat or gaining muscle? My lose it app shows I’m averaging about 1600-2000 calories below what I could eat based on diet and exercise per week.
@Karie – I’m really happy to hear you are getting great results. I never said in this article you cannot build muscle and lose fat over a few months. In fact, I gave the example where one of my clients gained 10lb of muscle and lost 10lb of fat in one month! The point I was making is that it’s unusual and that you should focus on one, or the other, not both at the same time. It’s like trying to run forwards, and backwards. When people stop losing fat, it’s usually a nutritional issue. Couple things to consider (1) drink enough water, (2) foods should be whole, natural, and unprocessed – if you eat any empty calories, cut them out! (3) choose your carbs very wisely (4) eat ample protein and (5) you may be calculating your calories incorrectly, so ideally you would prepare the foods you eat and finally, many women who are overweight go down to 1400 calories and do well. Those are some things to consider, hope they work out!
I am a 39 year old female who just started working out January 1, 2012. I started at 154lbs (I am 5’5). I have decided that my goal in 1 year is to compete in either a bikini or figure competition. I have a trainer 3 times a week and I work out an additional 3 days a week. I am down almost 20lbs and we have begun lots of free weights along with my cardio. I am only taking in around 1500 calories a day and have been since January 1, 2012. Since I am now wanting to gain muscle should I increase those calories? I still would like to lose fat also as my bmi is 23 (started at 30) according to the machine and I want to get down further, like at least 15 or so So I am confused as to whether I should eat more or stay where I am at for now. Please help!!!!
@Christy – well the first thing is you should not even consider BMI as any measurement of progress whatsoever because body fat is not taken into account. I wrote an article about it here tha tI highly recommend you read – Ideal Body Weight Formula. I do think 2000 calories does not sound unreasonable for a woman who wants to add muscle. Some of these ladies even go up to 3000 calories when trying to add muscle! It also sounds like a nutrition/figure coach to help you out. Getting into figure/bikini is the real deal, so I wish you the best of luck!
I have been putting a lot of thought into my diet – workout routines – cardio time so I can finally lose fat and keep some muscle. I have reduced my calorie intake to 2400 (1000 less) which will create a calorie deficit and at the same time created a 3 day weight training with 30 min cardio at the end of each session.
My macro nutrient is split 50/30/20 and for this matter I’m following the Reality Diet which emphasizes about high fiber diet.
Too early to talk about results, but I have faith this combination will finally get me some results.
29 yr / 5’8″ / 210 lb (not too proud)
Good luck Cesar! Sounds like you are very motivated towards reaching your goals and you are approaching it with precision and tenacity.
Hi, I’m trying to build muscle for football, but lose body fat at the same time. any ideas how many carbs i should be eating and when? I am 6 foot 3 and 194 pounds, not sure of my body fat %.
@M – I don’t think you should try to build muscle and lose fat at the same as per the article. Would choose one, or the other.
I disagree. If I injure a muscle, which weight lifting is, the body will repair it if it has the proper materials on hand and the energy to do it. The material is amino acids, or protein. The energy is calories, from food or stored fat. When given a choice the body will burn body fat before body protein. When given a choice the body will fix muscle and use fat as the fuel in the absence of caloric intake. The only time the body will use body protein to fix muscle injury is when there is a lack of dietary protein and lack of ditary fat (calories.) If you life weights and eat sufficient protein (amino acids) but keep you calorie balance negative the body will use body fat to fuel the enterprise. You build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Clearly at some point — when the fat tank starts getting low — that will not work. But until then the muscles go up and the fat goes down. In fact, that is exactly what I am doing now: Lifting on a high protein diet but a daily dietary deficit. The muscles are building and the fat is going away.
Your argument that mucle gain requires excess calories is inaccurate. Muscle gain requires plentiful protein (amino acids.) The calories needed to fuel that enterprise can come from body fat, at least up to a point. Once the body fat is low then I would agree building muscle would require a source of energy other than body fat, called eating.
Very interesting analysis, thanks for sharing. I’m going to have to dig deeper in the veracity of the comments and get back to you by writing an article about it. It’s definitely worthy of a separate article.
@Eelbrood – Your basic premise is correct – breaking down muscle and then rebuilding it mainly requires high enough protein needs and can indeed be done in a caloric deficit – but really only if the person is a novice (0-12 months of strength training) or has been lifting with poor exercise selection for years (only bicep curls, tricep extensions, leg extensions and has never done heavier squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, etc). What you’re proposing is actually excellent for fat loss, while keeping muscle, but if a person is more advanced, then there’s no way they would be able to train hard enough to create the muscle damage needed to induce muscle growth on a regular basis. In addition to that, since muscle is metabolically active, in order to gain muscle, you can’t lose muscle, and although bodyfat stores will be used primarily, muscle will still be broken down over the long term in a caloric deficit. Therefore with training and enough protein, you can maintain muscle, but it’s definitely not optimal to grow muscle as all three macros are needed – Protein to provide the raw materials for the muscle, fat to optimize hormone production and carbs which have a very strong anti-catabolic effect for muscle. And as stated in some of Marc’s articles, although you will actually look bigger with less fat while maintaining the muscle you have, it’s rare that someone with enough training years 1-2+ can grow muscle optimally in a sustained caloric deficit.
So Eelbrood, will it be the same formula if one wants to burn fat? Eat enough protein but still a deficit in calories right? and you will be building muscle and burning fat right?
Mark, I am trying to make sure that I am on the right track with my workout. The area that I am struggling with is my caloric needs. I have been working out heavily for the past three months (interval cardio, and heavy lifting mixed for five days a week 45 minutes each day). I am 6′ 4″ and I currently weigh 185 Lbs with 19% body fat and I am 28 years old. When I started 3 months ago I weighed 210 and I am unsure of my body fat at that time.
I keep a very accurate food journal and over the past 3 months I have been averaging about 1600 calories per day, 50% from protein, 30% carbs, and 20% from fats. I eat no simple carbs at all and limit my saturated fat intake to below 10g per day (most of that coming from eggs.) Last week I dropped 4 lbs in a 7 day period and I started to get worried that I was doing the wrong thing. 4lbs seemed like quite a bit so I revisited my calorie intake numbers.
After looking at a few different online calorie calculators I found some that said I could be eating as much as 3400 calories a day. That is double what I was eating and I was not sure how accurate that would be for my fat loss goal of getting down to 11% body fat. I do not really want to drop any more weight but I do want to drop more body fat. I feel like with my height, anything less than 185 lbs would be too light. What are your thoughts on how many calories I should be eating and what my ideal weight should be for my height? If I do need to up my caloric intake to say around 2500-3000, what do you think of adding in one or two “weight gainer” shakes per day? Otherwise, I am not sure how to add that many calories to my diet when I was getting full off of 1600. Thanks for your help.
@Eric – Apologize for the VERY late response. I’ve been having trouble managing comments and somehow skipped over your question.
At your height and weight, somewhere around 2200-2400 should be fine to help you lose fat. I do agree losing 4lb in a week is concerning, because it’s highly unlikely it was all fat. Let’s hope it was 1lb of fat and 3lb of water. In terms of getting ripped, you must lose fat without losing muscle, so your weight will go down – and that’s if you want results. As I’ve said what seems like a million times by now, trying to keep the same body weight and get lean is a recipe for NO results and spinning your wheels. For more info, check out my article – How to Get Ripped and also How Many calories should you eat to lose weight.
Marc, what do you think of weight gainer shakes that are high in calories as a supplement to getting 2200-2400 calories per day? Obviously gainers are used to add more muscle but what if I were to use half the quantity, could that be used as a meal supplement when I am at work and need a 10am or 3pm meal?
@Eric – 2200-2400 calories isn’t that many calories. If you wanted to eat 4,000 calories in order to build muscle mass, then a weight gainer shake may be necessary.
Most weight gainer shakes on the market have a lot of junk in them. I would recommend making your own weight gainer shake with something simple like crushed ice, a couple pieces of fruit, and some fat like peanut or almond butter, and 1-2 scoops of whey protein. The amount of fat you put into it can change the calorie level quite substantially. Shakes can certainly be used as a snack, and in some cases a meal replacement, but ideally, whole foods are superior because they provide better nutrient delivery along with the thermic effect of food (eating foods burns more calories) which is helpful if you are trying to lose fat. If you absolutely can’t make a shake in the morning and carry it to work, or make it at work, then a ready-to-drink shake could work (like by MyoPlex), but again, do think packing a snack, or a meal with whole foods is the ideal option.
What is the best calculator online to determine caloric burning on a daily basis?
@Oscar – A calorie burn calculator that uses the Katch & McArdle method. I plan on creating one for BuiltLean, but until then, here’s an article which has the equation for you – How to Calculate Your Calorie Burn.
I am 312lbs, 6’2″ 33 years old. I am by no means a weak man I do however have a gut and excess body fat. I use to be very fit, before the wife and kids came into the picture. I have started hitting the gym every day again and I am following my old way of eating when I used to body build, high protine, low carbs etc. Even now I can do 30lbs single dumbells with no problem. My concern now after reading this article of yours is that I need to work more on my fat loss first. What do you recommend? I have only been doing it for a few weeks and I have already lost 15 pounds and see a great deal of difference in my muscle gain. Should I stay on theis path? I am worried that if I try and switch gears that I will loose a lot of the muscle I have already gained. Thank you in advance for any thought you may have for me.
I think as long as you are lifting and eating ample protein, it’s highly unlikely you will lose muscle unless you get very aggressive with your calories. I did a Q&A with men’s fitness where i answered a similar questions as your’s. Here’s the excerpt, whereas the full article is here:
At what point am I potentially in jeopardy of losing muscle instead of body fat?
“The answer depends on a number of factors including your (1) macronutrient intake – amount of protein, carbs, and fat, (2) total calorie intake, (3) total calorie burn, and (4) your genetics. From my experience, I’ve never had a client lose muscle as long as he ate roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, created less than a 35% calorie deficit of his estimated calorie burn, did not eat under 100 grams of carbs and strength trained. If any of those four conditions are not met, there is a possibility you will lose muscle. It’s tough to find specific research because genetics play an important role. For example, some people can do very well on low carb diets, whereas others may lose hard-earned muscle. Regarding the total calorie burn level, ideally use the Katch & McArdle method, or the shorthand method of 14 x your body weight, which assumes you are exercising moderately 3x per week and you have a sedentary job.”
Hope that’s helpful! One more thing, as long as you keep your strength levels up, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Losing weight/fat is always psychologically difficult because you think you are losing muscle, but it’s rarely the case assuming you are following the aforementioned.
HI Marc, I LOVE your website and share it on Facebook and via email regularly. Thank you for your great, important work.
My question is about OVERTRAINING. It’s mentioned in some articles, but I think it’s worthy of its own article. Specifically, I’d like to know:
What are the signs of overtraining?
Example: I do the run/walk interval you recommend and now my pulse doesn’t get as high as it did originally? Should I just go faster or do interval training another way (run up stairs, walk down; or bike)?
What’s the difference (if any) between overtraining and hitting a plateau? I believe we’re supposed to ‘switch up’ our workouts every 4-6 weeks to keep our bodies (and minds!) from getting complacent; correct?
@Liza – Thanks for sharing my website! I really appreciate it.
Our contributor Stephen Bergeron should be writing an article this month about overtraining, so we’ll likely publish it late this month, or early next month.
Here are the answers to your questions:
What are the signs of overtraining?
Example: I do the run/walk interval you recommend and now my pulse doesn’t get as high as it did originally? Should I just go faster or do interval training another way (run up stairs, walk down; or bike)?
As you get in better shape, it’s harder to keep your heart rate higher as you exercise, which is a good thing – so the heart rate is lower for a given exercise intensity. At the same time, a decreased heart rate can be a sign of overtraining, but you’ll know it (see answer to next question). You can increase the intensity of the intervals if you like, but it’s up to you. To increase intensity, you can do more intervals (wouldn’t go much above 10), and/or increase the intensity (length, time, or speed) of the “work” part of the interval, or decrease the rest of the interval. There are a lot of variables you can adjust to make it harder if you want. Just don’t burn yourself out!
What’s the difference (if any) between overtraining and hitting a plateau? I believe we’re supposed to ‘switch up’ our workouts every 4-6 weeks to keep our bodies (and minds!) from getting complacent; correct?
Hitting a plateau means your strength/cardio/performance levels are not improving, whereas overtraining is an entirely different phenomenon. Some signs of overtraining are – unable to sleep, overly fatigued, sluggish, your joints/bones/limbs hurt. It’s very unpleasant and happens if you are lifting and exercising very intensely every day. It’s not easy to overtrain unless you are working out A LOT (2 hours per day+) and very intensely.
Hope this helps and thanks again for sharing the site!
Hey Marc, I just got done with my twelve week bulking phase. During that time I was consuming around 4412 calories, 508 grams of carbs, 379 grams of protein, 105 grams of fat, 64 grams of fiber, and 122 oz. of water per day, all consumed within six meals. I am now on to my cutting phase and have a great workout, but I need some direction on how to change my diet. I want to make sure I am comsuming the proper amount so I can get max. results, as i have come to find out the nutritional side of building a better body is key to your success. Any advice?
Things you might need to know:
-Before 12 week bulking phase I was 180 pounds.
-After 12 weeks I gained 10 pounds, making me 190 pounds.
-Height is 6’3”
@Jordan – Congrats on your success during your bulking phase. Bulking is way harder than cutting, that’s for sure. I did a Q&A with Men’s fitness the other day and someone asked me about how not to lose muscle when doing cardio. Check it out:
Question: At what point am I potentially in jeopardy of losing muscle instead of body fat?
Answer: “The answer depends on a number of factors including your (1) macronutrient intake – amount of protein, carbs, and fat, (2) total calorie intake, (3) total calorie burn, and (4) your genetics. From my experience, I’ve never had a client lose muscle as long as he ate roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, created less than a 35% calorie deficit of his estimated calorie burn, did not eat under 100 grams of carbs and strength trained. If any of those four conditions are not met, there is a possibility you will lose muscle. It’s tough to find specific research because genetics play an important role. For example, some people can do very well on low carb diets, whereas others may lose hard-earned muscle. Regarding the total calorie burn level, ideally use the Katch & McArdle method, or the shorthand method of 14 x your body weight, which assumes you are exercising moderately 3x per week and you have a sedentary job.”
I think if you follow the advice in the preceding paragraph, you’ll get to where you want to be without losing any muscle. If you want an entire nutrition program, you can check out my BuiltLean Program which has tons of meal and snack ideas and pre-made menus.
Marc, I never did see a response to my comment from back on May 3rd. I was curious if you had a chance to look it over?
Hey Eric, just answered your question, thanks for the follow up.
Thanks Marc I read the post you put up so I will give it a try and let you know how it goes. Thanks again.
i am 78 kg of body weight and 5feet 6 inches of hight … I have great body structure and good legs also but little bit fats on my abdominal … So please sugest me how can i loose lower midle body fat by maintaining my muscle maff as usual…?
Rajan – fat on the lower abs is generally tough to lose, but it sounds like you are already pretty lean and just looking to get to even leaner. Getting rid of the lower abdominal fat has more to do with really nailing your nutrition than anything else, but I don’t think sacrificing your strength training for more cardio will help very much. If anything, continue to emphasize the strength training and add on some High Intensity Interval Training – https://www.builtlean.com/2010/06/04/high-intensity-interval-training-hiit-best-cardio-to-burn-fat/ . The combination along with more precision with your nutrition regimen can help you lose the last few pounds of fat you need. Here’s an article about tracking your nutrition – https://www.builtlean.com/2011/10/11/how-to-count-calories-to-lose-fat-weight/. Good luck!
Sir, i’m Deep i’m 18 years old my height is 5.7 inch my weight is 57 kg i want to gain my muscle and not want to gain fat please tell which protein will help me for that Amino acid supplement or Whey protein or any other protein and i want to grow my height i do workout daily. So please tell me your suggestions. Thanks
@Deep – Check out the 5th question/answer in this article, which I think summarizes well what muscle building is about. I do plan on writing a longer “how to build muscle” type of post soon. For whey protein, check out this article – whey protein.
Hello Marc, so “normally” we cannot build muscle and lose fat at the same time, but can we “normally” 1) increase strength and lose fat at the same time? and 2) increase endurance and lose fat at the same time?
A related question is that because metabolism is dependent on lean muscle mass, if we cannot build muscle and lose fat at the same time, so we cannot increase metabolism and lose fat at the same time, correct?
I’m asking because I’m wondering whether I should actually try to build muscle before trying to lose fat (I’ve read your post about 3 reasons to lose fat before building muscle, I’m a grown up but I have almost never lifted any weight in my entire life, so I don’t think I have many muscle). I think it might be more beneficial to have more muscle and more strength and endurance so I can have increased metabolism and can work harder in workouts so that they may be more efficient. By the way I am a Chinese, 5’7″, 150lb, I’m waiting for my fat monitor to ship but I guess my body fat is about 20%
@Peter – you certainly can increase strength and lose fat at the same time, but that is much more likely to happen for someone who is a beginner. For someone more advanced, the goal is simply not to lose strength as you lose fat. You can also increase your aerobic capacity/endurance as you lose fat. Generally, your metabolism will decrease as you lose fat because your body mass is decreasing, but your total daily calorie burn from activity can increase if you are working our sufficiently.
One you thing you can try is the calorie cycling concept while lifting weights for a couple months and see what happens to your weight/body composition.
I’ve been weight training for over 2 years now after 4 years of ‘wasted’ slow cardio. I am a 31 year old woman weighing at 115 pounds, 18% body fat and seems I have hit a plateau again. I’ve done HIIT in the past but since appointing a personal trainer I have not done so. I have read so much last few years and incorporated MRT recently but I just can
Sorry…I clicked on wrong button… I just can’t seem to get leaner and gain muscle. I have love handles that won’t shift even though I am able to achieve a very toned stomach, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t have as much time as I used to have to workout anymore due to kids, university and work. What do you suggest I do? Also, I have lost the derrière region for some reason and even by pushing 120kg on the leg press or lifting 60kg squats, it just won’t ‘plump up’. I eat 5 small meals a day and a protein shake after workouts. Porridge for breakfast, veggie omelette and salad for lunch, chicken breast and veg for dinner and snack with fruits and nuts in between. I also have a cheat day once a week to control leptin levels and hormones etc…your website is so informative and helpful, I just had to ask. Thank you for your time and effort.
@Atiquah – Thanks for the kind comment regarding my site. I’ll try to rapid fire answers as you had a lot of questions. Body fat distribution in terms of your love handles and your lean stomach is genetic. We all have our “problem” areas and they differ from person to person. So the fact you have a toned stomach and love handles is not unusual. Side, forward, and reverse lunges are ideal for improving glute strength and getting the rear end bigger. Also, when you squat, make sure you to go parallel (see: how deep should i squat?). Sounds like you are on the right track, just keep up the good work. Also, I would strongly recommend focusing on losing fat, or building muscle, not both at the same time (see: Can You Lose Fat and Build Muscle At The Same Time?.
Personally I think the best way to lose weight and build muscle is to look at your goals. Are you trying to A) lose weight to have a more muscular look or are you trying to B) build lean muscle to add to your frame?
If your goal is…
A) Then you should focus on a weight loss diet and routine, for your body will naturally build muscle as you lose weight.
B) Then you should embrace more quality protein in your diet and focus own resistant exercise training.
Whatever your goal is I’m confident that the ‘Get Lean Guide‘ will help you achieve your goals.
@Barnett – Thanks for the Get Lean Guide reference. Also totally agree with your comment.