If you’re like most guys, you wouldn’t mind packing on an extra 5 to 10 pounds of muscle to your body. Maybe you are contemplating starting a muscle building program, or even actively using one.
Before you start pounding more protein shakes and pushing 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 body (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 body. Keep in mind on average most guys substantially underestimate their body fat percentage by AT LEAST 5%.
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 very difficult, 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 12 pounds of weight, with 6 pounds being muscle and 6 pounds being fat. Your new body fat is 18%, which is 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 20 pounds 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 above 15% body fat, I highly recommend focusing on losing fat first.
Reason #2: You Look Bigger When You Are Lean
If you are not lean, then you have body fat that is hiding your hard earned muscle mass. Even more importantly, the fat is 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 few years ago, I have 155 pounds of lean body mass and I weighed around 167 pounds. When I went to the gym, people thought I was 190 to 200 pounds. Interestingly, I have the same amount of muscle as a guy who is 200 pounds 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 to 15 pounds of muscle to your frame, do you know how much volume 10 to 15 pounds of muscle has? Do you really have any idea of what those 10 to 15 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.
ok, i’m on board! how do i do it? (lose fat first) 🙂
@Suraj – Well my whole BuiltLean site is about that question, but the first place to start is by reading my free “Get Lean Guide.
Just wanted to shoot you a quick question about cutting fat and adding muscle. For the ectomorphs out there that have a hard time gaining and a very easy time losing I was curious as to what body fat percentage you should go up to before you decide to cut again. For example I’ve gone from 6’1 130 lbs when I started college to 175 lbs three years after graduating college, so overall I’m pretty happy with my results and have maintained about 10% bodyfat the entire time. However, it has grown much harder now to put on muscle, which I’m sure is due mostly to time training and so on, but I am starting to feel that I have to accept that I need to put on some body fat in order to contine to make gains and that maintaining 10% body fat while gaining is not going to get me the results I’m looking for.
My overall goal is to get to 190 at 10% body fat, so to get to the point, would going up in weight to about 210 lbs and then cutting be more effective than going up to about 14 or 15% body fat and then cutting not to allow my body to become too accepting of holding onto bodyfat. I know that cutting is very easy for my body type and am just looking for the most effective way to get up to 190. Thanks
@Kevin – i think getting to 190lb at 10% body fat is a very aggressive goal. Anything is possible, but I simply wouldn’t even advise wanting to put that much muscle on your frame. My guess is your body doesn’t even want it. There is something to be said to adding too much muscle, which as actually not a good thing for your body in my opinion. I went through a phase where I got up to around 185lb and I was eating 4,000 calories a day and lifting like crazy. Yes, I had a lot of muscle, but it was not very healthy for my body. My bodies natural weight, where it really wants to be is around 165-170lb.
So 190lb at 10% body fat implies 171lb of LBM, which is a HUGE amount of LBM. Haven’t seen that much muscle on a guy unless they were a stocky football player, or genetically gifted. Keep in mind 10% body fat is pretty low. If you could get to even 160lb LBM, which is now at 154lb, that would make quite a difference. In addition, one of the major points of the article is to think about muscle not in terms of muscle weight, but in terms of cross sectional area. That’s the MUCH smarter and effective way to think about it!
To answer your other question about adding bulk, yes, adding some fat is ok at 10% body fat, just want to be careful, that’s all. Then you can cut down. Ideally, you don’t want to be bulking and cutting all the time, just one, or two bulks, and then keep whatever amount of muscle you want. Not a huge fan of eating excess calories and lifting heavy weights all the time, I did it for years.
I’m Injured and I’m not doing workout for May be 1-2 month and I gain pretty amount of fat when I go gym and eat In a maintainece calorie so,can I lose my fat or not?
Another great advise for people like me. One question – In this article, you mentioned about ” losing fat without losing muscle ” more than one time. How should I try to achieve this ?
Thanks so much and keep articles like this coming 🙂
@Ashu – Check out my free “Get Lean Guide” is the short answer. The entire builtlean website is focused on answering that question. Ultimately, create a calorie deficit, eat ample protein, lift weights and voila, you should get leaner. Of course, implementation wise, there’s a lot more to it than that.
This is good article, very informative. But can you write about exercise that effective to train weak muscle in my leg? I had accident and my leg was broken. The muscle getting weak and need your help to write about this. It’s will very helpful.
I think your doctor, or physical therapist is the best person to answer that question. I don’t know anything about the type of break etc. and it’s frankly outside my scope of practice!
Is 149.1 lbs of lean body mass decent for a man with a 6’2″ frame. I’m at 17.6% bodyfat with 30 lbs of fat
Yes, that LBM is about the average I would say for a guy who is 6’2” who has lifted for a couple years.
Hey Marc i am 6’4. 197lbs..I seen on the bmi I was 24%..? I am lean and toned but do have overly wide hips…and there is some fat there.. I do not know if this is because the hips are o wide,,thanks
@Travis – I would recommend pinching the fat and deciding how much fat is there. It’s very normal to have some fat around your love handles, which can happen even if you are lean. It has to do with your body fat distribution that is genetically predetermined and less as to how wide your hips are.
This is all very informative. I have two questions that I hope you can answer. By way of background, I’m 5’11-6’0 and about 177 pounds with between 11.5-12% body fat.
First, I’ve been on a rigorous strength and fat loss regime for 9 weeks, and I’ve seen very good results. However, I went from 16% bf to 11.5-12 bf, and I seem to be stuck. I am curious if you have any tips for breaking through a barrier like this in your workout regime. I am trying to get to 7-8% body fat, and I have another 6 weeks left in the regime. My problem is that I am second guessing my workouts and diets now, and I want to know what the best options are for me at this point.
Second, I am curious to know what you do once you reach the end of a workout regime. I have been active for years, but this is the first time I have taken a workout regime seriously. I feel like my upper body, especially my arms, could get a lot stronger and muscular. I want to take your advice against bulking, but I am not sure what regimes are good for developing muscle mass without necessarily going through the bulking phase.
Thanks for the help.
@HD – Congrats on your success so far. Your results look solid.
After changing your body fat percentage from the high teens to the low teens, hitting a plateau is almost expected from my experience. In fact, plateaus effect just about everyone as they try to lose body fat. I define a plateau as not losing fat, building muscle, or gaining/losing weight for a period of 2 weeks. I plan on writing an in depth article about breaking through fat loss plateaus, but in short, there are a few things you can do to help lose that last layer of fat:
1) Reevaluate how many calories you are burning/consuming – As you lose fat and you get leaner, your overall metabolism will decrease because your body has less body mass to support. This is completely normal and is to be expected. In other words, if you are currently eating let’s say 2200 calories, you may have to drop down to 1800 for continued fat loss. This article will give you a sense of how many calories you are burning – Calculate Your Calorie Burn.
2) Add more intensity to your exercise program – You may want to first take down the volume of exercise down a little for a couple weeks to gain your bearings, but then whatever you have been doing, take it up a notch either in terms of volume, or intensity. Your program is obviously working, it’s just that our bodies are very stubborn and adapt to stimuli very easily.
3) Calorie spike – If you’ve been eating a calorie deficit for an extending period of time, your metabolism can drop significantly. To help reset your metabolism, eating a few days of higher calories can help.
Be sure you are drinking enough water and getting enough sleep, which can easily effect your results. As I mentioned, hitting a plateau is expected. The clients and customers I’ve had who get the best results often times hit 2, or even 3 plateaus as they are transforming their bodies, for as long as 3 week each, so persistence always wins. Just keep on pushing forward, and you’ll get to where you want to be. If your plateau persists for more than a month, then it’s time to try something completely different.
For the answer to your second question, I could write a book on it, but in the meantime, i just added this article so that you can appreciate the difference between maintenance vs. body change, which is very important. Once you are done with the all out battle to lose fat, you will want to maintain an active, fit lifestyle to maintain your results. Good luck!
Hey Marc, I’m 15, a male, and I am 5 feet 3 inches tall is 122.4 pounds too much wait for me ?
Am i fat/overweight? If I am how much should I weigh? and I do push ups, squats, bicycles, and pull ups make you get rid of fat? Does muscle burn fat?
For a week and 2 days I have been doing push ups, sit ups, squats and pull up.
Before I was 118 but I was 5’2 but in April I became 5’3 and now am 122.4 ? Is that where the 4 pounds came from?
On last Sunday I started working out, will this stunt my growth?
Thanks your site is amazing and can you do a pull up video on how to do pull ups properly and how to get from one pull up to 20 pull ups?
@Seb – Definitely plan on doing some pull up videos so thanks for the reminder. Regarding you ideal body weight, you should definitely discuss that with your doctor. For more info, you can check out this article – Ideal Body Weight. Lifting should not stunt your growth, especially if you are doing only body weight exercises. The 4 pounds likely came from an increase in your body mass (bones, blood, muscle etc.) because you are an inch taller.
Excuse me Mr.Perry! This may come across as a random question but how long did it take you to receive your C.S.C.S credentials? I am planning to apply for them after graduating college because currently I want to double major in Exercise Science and Chemical Engineering. Furthermore, how is the C.S.C.S in terms of rigor? Thanks!
@Jose Santana – I studied very hard for 2-3 weeks for the CSCS, but because I was a college athlete, it made it much easier for me to get comfortable with the material very quickly. I was also an ACE-CPT so there was a lot of overlap. If I wasn’t a CPT and wasn’t a college athlete, it would have taken likely 2 months of studying. There are some chapters in the book that are very difficult and can take an inordinate amount of time to learn, but most of the contents is very doable. Good luck!
After reading several of your articles I’m really understanding the science of getting lean alot better. My question is focused more towards the mental aspect. After playing hockey in college my weight has increased significantly (6′ 195lbs current). I’m having a hard time giving myself that extra push to stick with my workout routines. I have a great amount of desire to get lean like i was a couple of years ago but just can’t get past that mental commitment, ( no wonder I’m single). What advice do you have that will drive that dedication and commitment back into my skull. Is there a mindset I need to learn that becomes second nature? Thanks for the time
Hey Devin – I suggest you check out some of the motivational articles under the motivation category (top right of this site there is a box which has the categories tab). With that said, I think this article is particularly helpful – Stay more motivated to exercise. Use a few of these techniques. Just take action, commit to let’s say 3 workouts per week and stick to it.
I am starting loosing body fat now. But i dont know fat percentage in my body. can you please help me to measure that. I know that there is extra fat in belly and chest thats it.
Let me know how can I take valuable advise directly to you. As I am sitting In India so please guide me.
Krishna – check out this article – 5 Ways to Measure Body Fat Percentage.
Thanks for your response Marc. I guess I still feel like the skinny guy even after putting on a decent amount of weight. By no means do I want to huge, but at the same time I wouldn’t mind a few lbs of muscle or as you said to increase the cross sectional area. I’ll try getting up to 160 LBM and see how that looks.
Just out of curiosity, why don’t you enjoy lifting heavy weights anymore? I know risk of injury can be greater if form is lacking, but I have found much more enjoyment watching my one rep max go up as opposed to doing the common weightlifting split routines. Thanks.
@Kevin – Well I guess it depends on what I mean by lifting “heavy”. When I said it in the article, I mean lifting like 1-3 rep max where your eyes are about to pop out of your head type of heavy. I’ve done that lifting and i think it’s completely unnecessary, the risk reward is VERY unfavorable, and frankly unless you are a competitive athlete, serves very little purpose. You can get fit and strong without lifting under 6 reps, even not lifting under 10! With that said, I love lifting around the 6-8 rep range and also really struggling to failure with relatively heavy weights, I just don’t try to kill myself with the 1-3 rep range any more with big compound lifts like bench etc.
I read your free “Get lean guide” Its very motivating!
SO i am on a healthy meal plan (With 2 other friends) and I personally like to run.
Is that a good way to loose fat without losing muscle? I do it in the morning before work and after work. Since work has me sitting the entire day in front of a computer!
@Roberto – Running can certainly help you burn some calories and fat, but I would strongly recommend doing some resistance training with either weights, or at the very least body weight exercises. The other issue is that running is not the ideal fat loss method (but again, it can work) because of aerobic adaptation, which means the more you run, the less calories you burn at a given exercise intensity because your body adapts. Regarding keeping your muscle, there’s a saying that “If you don’t use it, you lose it!”. So if you are not using your upper body, it’s quite possible you will loose some muscle as you are leaning out, which I’m assuming you don’t want. There are tons of articles on strength training and circuit workouts on BuiltLean.com, just use the search bar on the top right hand side, or check out the categories.
Okay so, im 15years, 5’7″, 144lbs. My BMI is 22.6 so im guessing its normal? I’m not intrested in bulking up, or building much muscle at all. My idea would be to have a decent toned body. Do you have any edvice for me? I dont want to vist thr gym either. I have the Insanity W. orkout Dvds… I do some of that along with pull ups, leg lifts, crunchs ect, just something to work my abdominal muscles. And then a run for an hour…i dont like to really lift weights, my diet is rather well, I would asume. But I would LOVE your advise in what I can do to achive a decent toned body (im not picky), what I should change and keep. Well much thanks to you Marc.
I really like reading your articles…and i was wondering if you could suggest me how i need to go about getting a toned body
I am 32 yrs old
height – 5″7 – 171cm
weight – 84 kgs – 185 lbs
Body Type- Pear Shaped ( All my Fat accumulated on my Stomach).
Fat Index- 28%
Please advice what should i do to get to my target weight of 150 lbs and 12% Fat.
Also How i make sure i dont loose musle while going for my target,
many thanks in adv
@Rohit – The best place to start is by reading my free Get Lean Guide, which gives you the basics of losing fat without losing muscle.
Thanks for the info, Ive just subscribed. I’m 43, 180cms and am about 29% body fat, according to my scales.
I’ve been fasting on water only for 7 days and have dropped from 93 kgs to 87kgs in 7 days. When I come off the fast, I’ll be having juices, salads and eating light meals.
Do you have any recommendations around this?
@Michael – Nope, I don’t have any recommendations because the nutrition strategy you are using I don’t believe is healthy. Here at BuiltLean, the goal is to get a lean, strong, and fit body by eating whole, natural, and unprocessed foods, not through severe starvation.
No problem for the pull-up remainder, you said you would do one in one of your videos.
Can you read the message that I sent you on You Tube (PolishBob96), the message that is about my workout and can you tell me if it is a good workout and will this workout make me stronger and build muscle and if it is bad what should I add or get rid?
For pull ups do I need a pull up bar or can you do pull ups on my stairs?
Should I add dips, jumpes, running, or using a erg machine( rowing machine to my workout)?
Is there anything that I can do to help this web site grow, I wrote about your website on my you tube account, you can check it out if you want to or when you have the time.
Thanks for your awesome web-site!
Thank you for making a video on how to do a push up properly and how fast that I should do them, I finally know how to do them correctly!
Thanks for replying to my message since you are so busy!
One last thing ” If you are in the gym every day trying to build muscle, you may already have the body you envision, you just need to lose the fat.”
What exercise should that person do to get rid of the fat without losing or getting rid of the muscle/ body that person envisioned?
1. How long should a person do this, and when do we know that all of the fat is gone we don’t have to focus on getting rid of the fat and when all of the fat is gone do we have to do any workouts on getting rid of fat or just focus on building muscle again?
For example: mountain climbers or running
How much muscle should I put on?
Sorry for all these long message, and sorry If I am being annoying by writing so much and asking so many questions.
For nutrition you are saying to eat only all- natural food or organic food and how much water should I drink a day ?
I agree – when I started out as a beginner, I mistakenly thought it’d be a good idea to try and lose weight and build muscle at the same time. I eventually wised up, focused on fat loss, then switched to improving my strength once I hit my target. It’s not nearly as frustrating to add some fat with the muscle now than it was when I was heavier.
Thanks for sharing Donny. I find losing fat vs. building muscle is one of those things guys just have to learn on their own, because most are too stubborn and impatient (as I was for many years) to accept it’s not a smart strategy to do both at the same time.
Hi. I started at losing weight at 260lbs 34% body fat on Jan 1 2012. Yesterday I just got it checked and I’m at 209 18.8% . I have hit a couple of plateaus during this adventure however I been stuck at this weight for over two weeks. I increased my exercise routing and eat about 1400 – 1500 cals per day. Not sure what else I can do. I’m very lean everywhere except for my belly they guy who did the measurements thought it was a little odd how lean I was everywhere except for my belly. Any suggestions?
@Brandon – I’m about to write a pretty lengthy article about how to bust through weight loss plateaus, but in short, I think a 1500-1600 intake is too low. I would ramp it back up to 1800-2000. Make sure you are drinking enough water and getting enough sleep, which can affect your ability to lose fat. I also wouldn’t consider 2 weeks as a plateau, only 3 weeks. Typically after 3 weeks, the weight starts coming off again. Keep in mind things like water retention and some muscle gain can significantly affect the scale. For example, I had a client who was away for a week and gained 3 lb when he got back. He couldn’t believe it. I told him he was simply dehydrated because he was on a plane for a long time and his body was retaining water. The next day he was 3lb lighter. Regarding your stomach fat, that’s genetic. It’s not unusual at all and I see ALL the time. As you continue losing fat without losing muscle, eventually the fat will come off! In sum, be patient and keep on pushing. If you feel you are at your wits end, take a week for maintenance where you eat 2500 calories per day. You should not put on any weight, but it will allow you to get mentally prepared to make a strong charge.
Hey Marc great article! I was reading an article of yours that talked about getting ripped. You mentioned the carbohydrates as being a key variable. Lately I have been utilizing an Atkins type diet, high fat, high protein, low carb approach. How do you feel about that? I read that your body can burn fats in place of carbs and it won’t raise your blood sugar. Currently I am 176 lbs with 156 lbs of lbm. I have just started this approach with the diet to lose the last bit of fat to get ripped, ( already a devout gym rat doing HIIT three times a week with weights 2-3 times a week). Ultimately my goal is 156 lbm with 166 total weight for 6 percent body fat. One thing in your get ripped article that you didn’t mention is the type of carbs to eat? I am afraid even with high protein and high fat, with little to no carbs I may burn muscle! Can substitute broccoli for mashed potatoes, post workout to get the glycogen back? Your thoughts would be great. Thank you!
@Nicholas – I think your goals make a lot of sense and you are well on your way to 6% body fat. I just wrote a long post on carbohydrate basics. In short, we all respond differently to carbs, some people store them in muscle/liver and use them very efficiently, whereas others don’t. I don’t like cutting carbs too much personally, because I get noticeably weaker, my muscles appear “flat” and I don’t get a great pump in the gym. There are different camps of people, some support very low carb, others moderate. I’m in the moderate camp unless all else fails. I personally wouldn’t go under 100 grams of carbs, possibly not even under 150 grams. You can always add in a higher carb day as well on a tougher workout day to help your body recover. I think as long as you have the right calorie level and you are patient, the fat will come off. You don’t want to lose any more than 1lb per week, hopefully that’s all fat.
Hello Marc, please i need your help! I am a 25 years old man, i suffered obesity since i was a kid. I was 310 lbs when i was 19 (5’8 tall), now after 5 years of cardio and heavy weight lifting i am 220lb , i have a good amount of muscles and i lift heavy (i gained more than 30lbs of pure muscles based on a body composition test); however, i still have fats that i cant loose , also i feel my body lost hope in having that solid look as i still have some fats around biceps, chest, legs…. Some are advicing me to get into HGH and steroids to burn more fats and get the solid look but am still not convinced. Am not okay wiz my body look though i hve muscles but still cnt go beadh, wear sleeveless shirt, etc, plz advice, Thanks a lot
@Mike – First, congrats on your major body transformation.
I think the fundamentals of nutrition are very important. Here are a few articles and recommendations for you:
How Many Calories Should You Eat To Lose Weight?
How To Count Calories To Lose Fat (3 Methods)
You also may consider my BuiltLean Program for a structured approach to getting the body you want.
So no lifting weights or any resistance exercise while losing fat right? Just cardio and dieting? At least that is what I gleaned from reading this.
@mike – that’s almost the exact opposite advice of what I would recommend. I’m not sure how you gleaned that from this article, unless you had the pre-existing notion that cardio burns fat and strength training only is helpful for building muscle, not losing fat. As I write in my Get Lean Guide (which if you haven’t read yet I would recommend reading it immediately), strength training not only helps you burn calories after your workout, but also helps you retain your muscle mass as you lose only fat.
Hey, Im 16 years old, nearly 17 on the 1st July, and im around 6ft 3in and im around 28% body fat, I have wide hip bones, its not fat just the pelvis is really big and I have a really big fat ass and I always workout and eat right, I have naturally strong legs, and I was wondering if you could help me with my bum fat problems.
@Jashan Singh – your general fat/muscle distribution is largely genetic. With that said, you can focus on losing fat without losing muscle to get rid of fat in your problem areas. Check out my free Get Lean Guide for more info.
I have a question regarding “clean eating.” I’m sure your familiar with the theory that you can eat all you want as long as is not processed (or processed very little) and basically natural. So the only way I seen my six-pack was by counting calories but overtime it gets frustrating keeping track of calories with work and worst of all having the guilt that your eating more calories than you should. So I’m 19 years old and I decided to try this approach of clean eating with some basic rules 1) eat protein and fiber with every meal and 2) eat slowly and stop eating once I’m satisfied. For breakfast for example I eat a bowl of of shredded wheat with 1% milk. That keeps me satisfied up until lunch when I eat 5 whole scrambled eggs in olive oil and some mushrooms on the side. I leave to work and take a bag full of my choice of nuts whether it be almonds, pecans, or walnuts to snack on. So when hunger hits I eat a few nuts drink some water and the hunger stops and when the hunger comes again I do that up until I get home from work. Once I come I eat plain oatmeal with 1% milk and peanut butter and some sort of lean meat after the oatmeal. Basically when I count calories I see results but sometimes my body demands more calories so I decided to just listen to my body and to my surprise I look leaner, feel better, and don’t count calories. However my concern is that although I look leaner and almost see my abs I gained weight (it worries me man my jeans don’t fit no more). I only been eating clean for two weeks along with some dead lifts.y concern is since I see in the mirror that I’m leaner and have more definition in my legs but how is it possible that I gained so much muscle in two weeks so much so that my jeans don’t fit no more. I’m very confused I look leaner, weigh more, my jeans don’t fit, and I find it really unlikely that I put so much muscle so much that my jeans won’t fit. Does it mean this approach does not work or since I’m still 19 am I still growin I’m confused.
@Fred- if you have been lifting heavy weights using deadlifts before, it is quite possible all those healthy fats you are consuming in combination with heavy lifting can increase your testosterone, which can they lead to more muscle/less fat. I’ve seen some pretty dramatic transformations with guys who lifted legs heavy and did full body lifts. It’s not typical to lose fat and build muscle over a given time period, but it does happen, especially with guys around your age who are new to lifting.
To be sure, you should take your body fat percentage with a caliper like this one every couple weeks – Accu-Measure Body Fat Caliper. If you are pinching less fat and your weight is going up, then you are definitely building muscle. No worries.
Hey Marc, first off thanks for all the great topics and articles. A ton of valuable info!
I have a few questions regarding the topic of losing fat first then building muscle after. I’m currently 22, 5’8 and 161 pounds with a body fat % of 16. By genetics, I only really gain weight around my gut area.
I’ve been going to the gym 6 days a week recently, and I’m just not sure what my goals should be to get me more lean and defined. Should I be trying to get down to 150lbs, then building muscle after? And if so, how much weight in muscle should I be looking to aim for?
Sorry if these have been answered already!
@Robert – I think that’s really a question for you to answer. My suggestion as the article states is get a little bit leaner and see what you think. Your LBM is 135lb, which for your height is reasonable. 140lb would also be good, so that’s something you may want to work on, but it depends on your genetics and what you are going for.
I just got your booklet and fully read it …. my question is , if there is any food substitution for meals ?
for instance , I don’t like fish , can I have lean beef instead ?
have you got any article or chart for meal substitution ?
@Reza – Thanks for your comment. I think the meal substitution article idea is brilliant. Definitely need to add it to my list. You can use any source of lean meat such as chicken, turkey etc. or even beef. I would recommend if possible that you get organic beef. It’s definitely worth the price.
Im curious with the 1 pound weight loss per week, I was 260 pounds when I started to eat healthy and hit gym 3-4 times a week, I started losing 4-5 per week at first, its slowed to 2-3 at present with me being around 207-210, Ive lost 3/4 of an inch on my arms and alot more on my legs, not sure of BF, what weight would you say is ideal for me? Im 6″1 to 2, 21 years old, average to stocky build, would like to be lean, is it a good idea for me to try to put mass on while losing fat or just go for fat loss? Im unsure of what exercises are best for fat loss Ive been told sprints and heavy weights? Also where Ive lost the weight quite rapidly Im worried about loose or sagging skin, is there anyway to tone loose skin from weight loss? I apologise for the lengthy post just curious about alot of things. Thanks in advance.
@Haydn – check out this post for what weight is ideal for you – Ideal Body Weight Formula. My guess is getting leaner while still maintaining your strength is not a bad option. It sounds like you should check out my Get Lean Guide for more information of workout philosophy and exercise selection. This comment would become very long if I tried to address everything.
How exactly should I go about finding my body fat percentage? Does that require going to a doctor or something? Also, what is the best way to determine the total amount of calories i burn a day? Lastly, If my ultimate goal is to get a more defined, cut body, and I think I’m at around 14, 15 % body fat at 130lb and not too much muscle right now, is it wise to create a caloric surplus and lift to add more muscle first or just cut calories and keep lifting from the get-go?
@Nick – I should have included a link to this in the article, but check this out 5 Ways to Measure Body Fat Percentage. If your height is above 5’6″, it sounds like starting a resistance training program and eating more calories may be helpful for you to add some muscle to your frame while also increasing your bone density. 130lb is pretty light, but there is nothing to say that it is unhealthy unless your doctor tells you that you are underweight.
ive read the built lean guide but need to read it again.
Ive done a lot of reading about protein intake and lots of people, research says 1.5 to 2.00grams of protein per pound of body weight is needed to build muscle. Some say 1.5 per kilo of body weight. What are your thoughts.
Also how beneficial is it to have a meal immediatley after working out? Most advice seems to be have a protein shake with about 30 to 50 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbs post work out. What is your thoughts on this?
My stats 38 yrs old 5 10″, neck 15 inches, waist 35 inches, hip 40 inches, bicep 15 inches, chest 42 inches. 167lbs body weight. Body fat 19.3 by on line navy body fat calculator. What should be a realsitic LBM count to aim for?
I worked out a lot in my twenties but has been on and off in my 30’s. In my twenties i was very strong and happy at 163 ilbs and 14% body fat. I wish i new then what i know about diet, i would have been in even better shape.
I am 17 years old, 5’10.5″ and 160 lbs. I intend to work on my shoulders, chest and thighs, please give me a good training program so that I know where to begin. I have started 5 kgs weight lifting and brisk walk for half an hour daily.
Zaryab – I’m partial to my BuiltLean Program as I spent years developing it. If I had a program I could recommend, i wouldn’t have created one myself! With that said, if you are only trying to get your chest, shoulders and thighs bigger and nothing else, it sounds like you are into bodybuilding. That’s what bodybuilders do – they try to work on specific muscle groups. BuiltLean is not really the site for you if you are looking into a bodybuilding program, as I think most are pretty darn inefficient. For your thighs, you can’t lose with squats and lunges, for your chest, barbell bench press and incline dumbbell press, and for your shoulders DB military press and side laterals are some awesome exercises to focus on. Just be careful to warm up your shoulders as barbell bench press in particular can cause shoulder injuries. Good luck!
Thanks man. I appreciate your honesty and your tips.
Marc, so I’m done building muscle now and now I want to burn the fat off by doing compound exercises, high interval training, and a proper diet. But my problem is that since I started building muscle I began to eat healthy fats which increase my testosterone, along with milk, shredded wheat, and basically more red meat. I have more definition and can lift more weight and feel better basically. However I know that milk and wheat are pretty much a staple in a body builders diet but these food have been linked to acne. I never had acne until I started putting on muscle. I hear higher levels of testostorone increase acne. I’m one of those people that believe your food is your medicine and don’t believe I’m a dirty person for this to be happening to me. Milk has also been linked to colon cancer therefore making me question the status of milk as a health food. So will eating steamed veggies for every meal with grilled chicken or fish help in loosing fat. (remember I’m trying to burn fat and get rid of this curse!!!) and fruits with almonds for snacks. And beans mixed with brown rice every now and then when my body begins to crave carbohydrates. I just don’t know what to do I traded one problem for another. I never thought I’d be depressed over this. Any thoughts
@Fredo – The good news is that you built muscle, which is outstanding. It’s very difficult to build muscle. In addition, losing fat without losing muscle is pretty straightforward and I have yet to see any of my clients lose muscle during a fat loss program unless they got down to under 10% body fat. As long as you keep your strength levels roughly the same, eat enough protein, and don’t go much below a 35% calorie deficit, you should be fine. I also think cutting out milk and grains, which can be hyperallergenic will not make any impact on your ability to maintain strength and muscle mass. In sum, I wouldn’t be depressed at all, I would be happy you are about to cut out foods you don’t need in your diet that are causing you problems! Also, no reason you can’t have plenty of healthy fats if you want like almond butter, olive oil etc.
Im 15 yo male and im very confused about building muscle and cutting.. I really really would want cut my fat away and want get leaner, but then i dont know would it be smart if i dont have enough muscle to cut. I’ve trained total over year, but last 3 months i trained properly and ive got some muscle gains + also fat. Fat appears to be in my stomach/lowerback area and when i have a bit wider hips than normally + narrow shoulders it looks very stupid and theres one reason too why i would want cut instead bulk more.. well hard to describe my body without a picture, im 5.8feet tall and weigh around 166 lbs..
@Marcelo – My thinking is you never know what you will look like when you cut until you cut. Worse comes to worse, you’ll have less fat on your body and the same amount of muscle, so think the downside is quite limited.
I’m a 5″3, 24-year old college student and I have been stuck at 20% body fat for going on 6 months. I weigh 120 lbs.I quit smoking 2 years ago and immediately started working out, in hopes of not gaining weight. I have tried everything from changing up my workout routine to counting calories to taking classes. I don’t know what I am doing wrong. Is 20% body fat bad for my height/age?
Any insight would be great! Thanks for your time!
@Kristi – 20% body fat for your age is actually very good – See: Ideal Body Fat Percentage Chart: How Lean Should You Be? Around 15-17% body fat is what female fitness models have in terms of body fat percentage. Much lower than 14-15% body fat for a women may lead to hormonal issues. In order to get lower than 20%, it takes more precision with your diet plan, which is exactly what fitness models and natural bodybuilders do. for more, check out this article – How To Get Ripped & Cut: Definitive Guide. Do want to mention again, sounds like you are at a great level that is worth maintaining.
I really enjoy reading your article, thank you for sharing some tips. i’m really looking forward to read more of your articles related to weight loss.
I’m 5’9 and weigh 150lbs
Is it necessary for me to lose weight or should I get into a workout routine straight?
@Jerry – That’s totally up to you and how you perceive how you look and feel.
Wow 5’9 @ 150 lbs is VERY good! Perhaps too good. Hard to believe you are overweight.
I’m 6’5 200, I do have a little bit of belly/back fat that I’d like to lose, but I am an extremely picky eater, I don’t think I will be the best at diets as I eat mainly 5 different types of foods. What kind of foods can you recommend me to eat if I’d like to lose weight, also what are the best exercises to do? If you could provide specifics for both foods & exercises that would be helpful. Thanks.
@Kdurant35 – by the sound of your questions, I would recommend first reading my Get Lean Guide. I would also check out this article – Top 10 Fat Loss Foods. Regarding exercises, the important thing is to think of exercises in terms of movement patterns. Read the answer to Question #2 on this post – Q&A Weekly Roundup. There are no magic exercises that help you lose fat. It’s primarily a nutritional challenge. I would think of exercise from an aesthetic prespective as a way to help you keep your muscle first and foremost and as a very, very far second burn calories and increase your metabolism.
Very informative. thanks. i too find weights useless for that exact reason. my question is do you work out everyday since your probably only doing calisthenics and cardio ??
@EmcGruff – I do not workout every day, I workout 3-4 days per week for around 30-45 minutes each session. Usually I workout 3x per week. I think that’s all you need assuming you have solid workouts and are eating well.
Thank you for your response! Right now, I am using an Escali scale to measure my body fat. Which, from what I have read, doesn’t seem very reliable. So, I’m making an appointment with my gym to have my body fat accuratey measured. I also wanted to mention that I might be having trouble because of the fact that I started lifting weights before I lost any fat. Should I focus on doing a lot of cardio first to get my body fat down and then lift weights? Also, do you recommend any supplements? I enjoy reading your articles & responses. Thank you for your time!
@Kristi – I would argue full body strength training is superior to traditional cardio to help you lose fat and you have the added benefit that it helps you retain your muscle mass. It is a common misconception that lifting weights, or resistance training is not helpful for burning fat, or losing weight. The exact opposite is true. Yes, lifting weights like a bodybuilder may not burn many calories, but doing full body workouts using large muscle groups and multi-joint exercises is extremely effective.
There are numerous studies that point to the superiority of strength training for fat loss. That’s not to say cardio cannot be helpful, but you simply don’t need it. For more on this subject, check out this post – Get Cardiovascular Benefits Without Doing Cardio.
Regarding supplements, I would only consider getting a bioavailable multi-vitamin, or greens supplement. That’s all you may need if you don’t have a well balanced diet.
While I recommend this to a lot of commenters, if you have not done so already, I would check out my Get Lean Guide, which I think is a solid overview of the most efficient ways to get leaner. There are also a series of articles you get upon signing up that should be helpful for you.
First of all I want to thank you for the wealth of information you provide…props to you man.
I have an issue i wish you can advise me on:
Weight: fluctuates between175-180lbs a day
Body fat – 13.5%(electronic measure), 14% (fat caliper)
Height – 6ft 2
Past- Never lifted weights before or played sports
My goal is to reach [email protected]% with supplementation limited to whey protein and multivitamin
I want to maximize my muscle growth and plan to adhere to 6 balanced meals daily and workout 3 days a week, each lasting 45 hour and cardio 3 times a week lasting 20 mins.I official start august 1st.
Is my goal too demanding? Do you think I should drop my body fat to say 10-12% from now until august 1st and then target muscle building? Or do you think my workout strategy will suffice to do both as a newbie? I heard that newbies can lose fat and build muscle at the same time, not sure how true this is.
I welcome your comments.
@jake – I think your goal is achievable, but definitely aggressive. I would highly recommend NOT starting with 6 workouts per week. 3 light workouts per week is plenty, then start adding more intensity and frequency over time. The last thing you want to do is burn yourself out or get injured because your body is not used to exercise. Your body needs to adapt to the stimuli over time.
Ive lost 60 pound, I had stretch marks, will I have loose skin and is there anyway to tighten it if I will have. What is the best workout plan for fat loss and muscle maintenance.
@Haydn – I like to think my BuiltLean Program is pretty darn good for fat loss and maintenance, but I’m slightly biased of course 🙂
Regarding excess skin, check out this article – http://weightloss.about.com/od/obesityhealth/a/blexcessskin.htm.
@Haydn – One more thing to mention – whether or not you will have loose skin is based on a few factors (1) genetics, (2) age, and (3) pace of fat loss. If you are young and have supple skin, then loose skin is less likely. In addition, if you lose weight very quickly, the chances of having loose skin increase. The one element you can control is the pace of fat loss, which should be roughly 0.5%-1.0% of your bodyweight per week. Slow and steady wins the race.
Am 5.5 Inches and 93 Kgs want to loose fat and look leaner. Please advise whether I should lift heavy weights or light weights with more reps. Am confused and not aware how to reach my goal. Have back pain issue, desperate to loose weight. Please help
First and foremost, since you’re currently dealing with low back pain, I would recommend adding some specific exercises to relieve low back pain. These exercises focus on building your core strength and stability, and increasing the flexibility of specific muscles that contribute to back pain.
Next, if you’re interested in losing weight, the first thing you should focus on is your nutrition. Nutrition has the biggest effect on your weight. In order to lose weight, you MUST eat fewer calories than you burn. One simple way to accomplish that is to cut out processed and packaged foods, and focus on eating a primarily whole foods diet. Fill your plate with vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats and carbs in moderation. These foods tend to be more nutrient dense, lower in calories, and more satiating than processed and packaged foods.
When it comes to exercise, we’ve found strength circuits to be the most effective method to maintain lean muscle and burn fat. Doing strength circuits while eating at a caloric deficit will tell your body to keep your lean muscle while you’re losing weight. That’s how you achieve that “lean and strong” look.
If you’re interested in following a program that’s designed specifically for fat loss, you should check out the BuiltLean Transformation program. BuiltLean Transformation includes a workout and nutrition program that can help you efficiently lose fat and get lean.
Hope that helps! If you have more questions, feel free to ask.
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
Man, I hate recording what I eat and counting calories. Eat to live, not live to eat, the focus should be on eating whole foods, the right fats, essential amino acids, and sufficient carbs to power you through a high intensity session. I mean, most of us are overeating any way. I think its more important to trust what your body tells you about eating, not calculating calories, proteins, fats, carbs, like we’re some sort of a machine. Do gorillas count carbs?
You make some great points, Bern. We agree that when it comes to nutrition, whole foods are best. You want to fill your meals with vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats & carbs in moderation. These foods are more nutrient dense, satiating, and lower in calories than processed and packaged foods. Eating a mostly whole foods diet is one of the most important steps to developing a lean & healthy body.
But the truth is, if you have more specific goals – like achieving a specific body fat percentage, or building lean muscle mass – it might be helpful to know how many calories you’re eating on a daily basis. That’s because losing body fat requires you to eat a deficit of calories, and building muscle requires an excess of calories.
Now, we don’t recommend lifelong calorie counting (although, if that works for you and doesn’t stress you out, there’s nothing wrong with it). Tracking your food for a few days could inform you about how much you’re eating on average, and help you make smart decisions about how to decrease (or increase) your calorie intake so you can achieve your goals.
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
So I am 5 foot, 121 lbs. I’m not naturally a very lean woman. I went on a low carb diet before and easily went down to 113 lbs. I want to build a bigger rear end but I know that you have to eat more and gain some fat in order to build muscle. But for me, I really don’t want to gain more fat and would have to go up in my clothes size just to get a bigger rear end. Would it make sense for me to lose a few pounds and then to focus on adding in more carbs slowly to build muscle, or would that not work and I’m just stuck? My husband is very lucky – he can eat a lot of carbs and just gain muscle because he is already naturally very lean, and when I told him that I wanted to build a bigger butt he said no because I’m going to end up gaining weight in the process because you do have to eat a lot, so he is right about that. I gain weight easy, but when I do just eat a low carb diet I am pretty lean. Hopefully you can help me please. I’d hate that my only option is to just get lean and have lean muscle when I really want to build a bigger butt because I don’t have much of one.
Your goal is not uncommon, Kim. A lot of women want to build their glute muscles while staying relatively lean. I would recommend sticking to your current diet, and adding weight lifting exercises that emphasize your legs and glutes. Make sure that you’re doing barbell squats, deadlifts, lunges, single leg deadlifts, glute bridges, step ups, etc. These exercises target your glutes, and can help you increase your muscle mass so you have more of a butt. Make sure that you’re eating protein with every meal to help with muscle repair and recovery. I hope that helps! If you have more questions, or would like more advice, feel free to reach out to [email protected].
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
This is very interesting. To my knowledge I’m not overweight and I don’t want to lose weight. 6’2″ 175 lbs. I don’t however have a lean look and would like to. My concern would be with your program if I lose fat without any muscle replacement will I become underweight? At 6’2″ I would think if I lose fat weight and am in the 160’s that wouldn’t be a healthy weight. First try at the accu measure approach and I’d be 21% BF
Hey Ryan, I don’t believe you will be underweight if you get into the 160’s at 6’2″ especially if you don’t have a large body frame. As I mentioned in my How to Get Ripped article, one of the top 3 reasons why guys don’t get ripped and lean is because they are hung up on their weight. If you do drop down even as low as 160 pounds, your BMI will be over 20, which is considered normal weight. How I see it, there’s not much downside to losing fat without losing muscle
Hello. I first want to say this website is amazing. I appreciate very much all the time spent creating so many interesting, informative and useful articles- I cannot thank you enough. Nowadays it is one of the few websites I and genuinely trust. Thank you.
I am a young woman 5’7” 124 lbs, BMI 19.5 . I am at about 20% body fat. I am willing to get that final leaness and get to 16-17% body fat,(to get a nice beach body)and to especially reduce the layer of subcutaneous fat on my stomach, in order to get ab definition. What is the best way to approach this goal ? Lower calorie intake, more protein, cardio, HIIT, weight lifting…
I exercise 4 times/week combining resistance/weight lift and cardio workouts.
Thankyou once again !
At which body fat level should i stop losing body fat and start gaining muscle?
Great question! I recommend checking out this ideal body fat percentage chart to figure out what level of body fat you want to achieve. Once you reach your ideal level, then start to build muscle. Does that make sense? Hope that helps!
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
I’m at about 12-13% (52y.o,. 5’9″, 171) but I’ll never see abs like the pictures :). Dropped from 350 to where I am now in the space of 2-2.5 years and the skin isn’t going to bounce back.I wear it like a badge of honor (that and insurance won’t cover the surgery.
That’s awesome, Jeff! Congrats on your transformation! It sounds to me like you have a pretty inspiring story, and that you have a great perspective and attitude as well. Keep up the good work!
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
I try but sometimes it gets really frustrating. I’m a stress eater and if I have rough days I have binged. Granola/trail mix is like kryptonite to me. Then I have to fight the urge to punish myself and overcompensate (try to out work the binge). I don’t think you can out-train a consistently bad diet but I think consistent training can soften the blow of the occasional slip-up.
I really enjoy reading your article, thank you for sharing some tips. i’m really looking forward to read more of your articles related to weight loss please help me i really need.
Glad to hear you’re enjoying BuiltLean’s articles, Mahdi! We definitely have a lot of new articles and videos on fat loss coming in the near future. In the meantime, if you’re interested in following a workout and nutrition program that tells you exactly what to eat and how to exercise to lose fat and get lean, I highly recommend checking out the newest BuiltLean Transformation Program. This program is designed using the latest strategies in effective and efficient fat loss. Definitely check that out if you want to get lean and strong.
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
I have been following you for awhile now and appreciate your valuable information and guidance. My question relates to age. For older men (60+), what adjustments, if any, should be made to your recommendations regarding nutrition and exercise regimen
My journey started at 58 after getting a Fitbit and losing 40 pounds in 3 months. Unfortunately, I lost quite a bit of muscle along the way. Not that I have ever sported that much muscle to begin with. I began weight training for the first time in my life and for 5 months kept it up both with a personal trainer and on my own. Although I have added some definition and some marginal gains, I still have some fat around the midsection. That last bit is simply is not going away I have come to the conclusion after 6 months that I need to reverse my diet and eat a hundred or so calories above maintenance level in order to put on muscle. My thinking is that I need much more muscle to before cutting again so I will have a bigger engine if you will to burn calories. I’m about a month into that process and have added about 7 pounds and I am seeing muscle gains as well. This year when I cut I will continue to lift weights and workout and hopefully push to those lower body fat levels without looking like a skeleton. Am I wrong?
Hey Dean – I don’t think it’s wrong necessarily, but it is important for you to understand how many calories 1 pound of muscle burns per day – which is around 6 to 10 calories. So adding 5 pounds of muscle is an extra 50 calories per day, or 350 a week, or about 1/10 of a pound of fat. You can learn more in this article => How Many Calories Does 1 Pound of Muscle Burn?. While building muscle can be helpful, ultimately, it’s the combination of regular resistance training and eating a calorie deficit that allows you to lose fat without losing muscle. Congrats on your weight loss and hope this is helpful!
Thank you Marc,
Excellent information. I should have mentioned that before starting resistance training in June I was down to 152 and I’m 6 feet tall. After 5 months of training 3 and later 4 days a week and I was only at 155 lbs. I was running caloric deficits of 500 a day and I was also mountain biking 4-5 days a week. Plus 30 minute morning walks daily. So, I was not giving my body a chance to grow stronger. But also was not losing that last bit of fat. Anyway, I’m at 162 lbs now and I am going to try bulking a little and see what happens.
Thanks again for the feedback. I really enjoy your website and emails.
Thank you Marc !
actually i am from Afghanistan is it possible for me to use from your appreciable
program thank you again Marc.
Glad you’re enjoying the site, M! Yes, you can use the BuiltLean Program anywhere in the world. The entire Transformation program is available online, and includes workout & nutrition PDFs so that you can print them out for your reference. Hope that answers your question! If you’re wondering about anything else, definitely let me know.
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
I hope you are had a wonderful day!
fist of all i would like to congratulate the coming new year to Marc, Kristin and all our friends which are enjoying the appreciable site and also i would like to thanks you for the help and accompany i have got the answer thank very much again Marc and Kristin
More than happy to help, Mahdi! Happy Holidays, and I hope you have a great start to the New Year.
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor
Hi Marc. I have one question. Is it possible to lose fat without losing any muscle with no lifting? I am a 26 year male with 173 cm height and 70 Kg weight with 25 % body fat. Is it possible for me to lose fat without muscle loss with solely concentrating on my diet. I used to lift (reduced my bf from 40 to 27 through lifting and diet), but I have had a injury a short while ago and won’t be able to lift for 3 to 4 months. So I am wondering that is it possible to lose fat without muscle without any lifting?
Hey Amit, most likely you will lose some muscle if you don’t to any exercise. If you don’t use it, you lose it. How much is hard to say, but I do think losing body fat and focusing on foods and let’s say doing a walking program is a great start. You can always build back up some muscle. Good luck!
I am nineteen in college and I’m confused on exactly what to do with exercise and diet now, I do have muscle, and I’m very strong, but my stomach has some fat and I’m unsure if I should go into a clean bulk while I’m somewhat “big” for lack of a better term, or if I should lose that completely and head into a bulk after for muscle gain, what should I do Marc?
Hey Dan, if your goal is to look lean and muscular, I would follow the advice of the article, which is lose fat without losing muscle, keep your strength, then you can build more muscle after that.