“Can you build muscle and lose body fat at the same time?”
This right here ladies and gentlemen is one of the oldest and most controversial questions to ever exist in the history of fitness and bodybuilding.
A large group of people would say that you can and then another extremely large group would say that you cannot.
I mean, after all:
One of the most common piece of advice that you will hear from online and offline fitness gurus is how in order to lose body weight you need to be in a caloric deficit (eat fewer calories than your body requires to maintain its weight) and in order to gain muscle mass you need to be in a caloric surplus (eat more calories than your bodies require to maintain its weight).
By following pure logic losing body fat and gaining muscle cannot co-exist as they require you to choose from options that are at the end of a spectrum – fewer or more daily calories.
Well, the truth is that our bodies are far more complex than just counting your daily calories.
If it were that simple then we would all be walking around with our model-like bodies, greek bodies even, the girls being lean as hell and the fellas being ripped to the bone.
There is a whole lot more going on at a microbiological level in our bodies that takes part in its ability to lose stored body fat as well as its ability to promote muscle hypotrophy.
So, how do you build muscle and lose fat at the same time?
When it comes to building muscle and losing body fat simultaneously it really comes down to one of the two elements – your nutrition.
The internet is packed with people who will tell you that your nutrition, your diet, carries more importance to your body’s transformation that you training regime.
Usually, I completely disagree with this notion and believe that the relationship between your diet and your workout is 50/50. They carry the same weight and both need to be taken seriously if you strive for great results.
In this case, however, the tables have turned and there is far more importance placed on your eating habits than there is on your workout regime. And instead of it being 50/50, it’s more of a 80/20 situation.
What drives muscle growth?
The first thing we need to do is answer this question – “what drive muscle growth?”. Is it the hardcore workouts that you have in the gym, is the lean protein that you consume, is it your rest? Well yes and no.
The primary reason why your body excels in muscle growth is because of your hormones. More specifically testosterone, human growth hormone (which we are going to refer to as HGH, or just GH), insulin and thyroid hormone. You should probably be able to recognize the majority of these names. We would primarily be focusing our attention to the big three – Testosterone, GH and Insulin.
Believe it or not these combinations of chemicals that are running through your body are responsible for muscle hypotrophy. Without them, there will be no growth! Your workout and your diet are merely supporting the key players – your hormones.
Testosterone – the one hormone that we’ve all heard of. It has always been associated with muscle growth and manliness. Testosterone is responsible for increasing protein synthesis (in other words it helps your increase your muscle mass development), improves strength, improves speed and agility, improves bone density (extremely vital for anybody who engages in any type of sport), energy release, and even helps lose body fat.
There was a study that took place in Germany, where overweight men (at about the age of 48 years) were presented with supplementation, like vitamin D, to help them increase their testosterone production through the course of 12 months. Researchers noticed after the year had passed, the subjects had lost 6kg of stored body fat (approximately 13lbs).
Furthermore, low testosterone levels, or testosterone deficiency, is associated by doctors with obesity.
Take a look at 11 ways to increase testosterone naturally.
Insulin – a form of protein and is released by the pancreas whenever you consume carbohydrates. Unlike dietary protein that act as the physical building blocks of muscle, insulin is a functional protein, much like a growth hormone.
As insulin enters the blood stream it travels to various tissues, including the muscle tissue. Muscle fibers are lined with what is commonly known as insulin receptors, similar to a docking station. When the insulin molecule docks onto a muscle cell’s receptor, it signals it to open up its “gates” allowing for glucose, amino acids, and creating to enter the muscles.
Furthermore, when docked onto the muscle cells, insulin instigates biochemical reactions that increase protein synthesis. In addition, insulin also decreases muscle breakdown, which further enhances muscle growth.
Insulin also indirectly helps for muscle development by causing blood vessels to relax and dilate, thus allowing greater blood flow to muscle cells. By doing this, insulin can help get even more nutrients (like glucose and amino acids) to the muscles.
HGH – growth hormone is responsible for stimulating growth, cell reproduction, supports fat-burning and safeguards your muscles from any losses. In other words the more growth hormone you have running through you the better!
The time when your HGH is at its highest is at night time. The interesting part is that HGH and insulin have a complicated relationship, if I may say so. While there is insulin pumping in your veins there cannot be HGH. This is the main reason why professional fitness models and bodybuilders will tell you over and over again how you are not suppose to consume any carbs late at night, you know, except the fact that you will accumulate body fat.
Don’t forget the muscle hypotrophy formula: Muscle mass = protein synthesis – protein breakdown. In other words your aim is to reduce protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis. As you can probably tell all three hormones do exactly that – they decrease catabolism and promote anabolism. Thus creating an environment for your muscles to develop.
Maintaining healthy levels of these hormone is what will drive muscle mass growth and improve your body fat reduction.
This is all fine and dandy! Now we understand what drive muscle hypotrophy in the body, now what?
Now we’re at the complicated bit of the guide, losing body fat while maintaining and even gaining muscle mass.
The first thing that you need to consider at this part is what is your body fat percentage – here’s a rather simple body fat calculator that will give you relatively close digits.
The reason why you need to calculate your body fat is to know whether or not you will be able to lose fat while gaining muscle in the first place, looking back at this I should have probably started with this in the beginning of the post.
Here’s the issue here – if your body fat percentage is low (7-11) then you really cannot gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously. However, by following this guide you can still gain muscle and maintain your leanness and probably gain 1-2 percent of body fat. But you cannot lose body fat and elevate muscle growth.
At this stage, if you want to lose more body fat, you should be concerned with maintaining your muscle mass and not losing it.
This is all based on a sheer biological instinct of the body. Because you are at low body fat storages then that means that your body is in danger – by the laws of evolution that is. Let’s not forge that body fat is a secondary source of energy and your body wants to make sure that you have plenty of it, so if a you run out of carb sources, for whatever reason, it will have a back-up storage full with energy that it can consume.
Keep in mind that your muscle costs energy – the more muscle you have the more energy your body wastes for just existing.
Imagine a company that is having problems with its cashflow (cash in the bank). For some reason the company is loosing source of cash (more products are being bought on credit and there are a lot of credits that are overdo) but there are still a lot of enquiries going on and a lot of orders coming in. To satisfy the needs of its customers the company has to make sure that all orders are taken care of. The problem is that salaries, the facilities, product, all of the variable and fixed costs are paid by cash. So the companies decides to do the unthinkable – reduce its costs. It does that by laying off employees or sell some equipment that is not of vital importance so that it can raise its cash in the bank.
The whole idea is that the cash is your carbs and the employees and sold equipment are your muscle tissue. I hope that this weird-ass example made any sense.
But, what about your diet? I did mention that nutrition will play a key role for this post and yet I have not even once mentioned it. I decided that it would be a good idea to keep the most interesting part for last – the cherry on top if you will.
In order to gain more muscle mass you will need to up your calorie consumption. Wait!? How are you suppose to lose body fat if you are going to be eating more? Calm down, calm down, hear me out.
From the three macronutrients (carbs, protein and fats) you are going to primarily increase your carb intake. You need more energy for your workouts and you need more energy to make sure that you are constantly in an anabolic environment. There are, however, a couple of tips and tricks that will help you lose body fat (if you are at a higher body fat percentage or maintain leanness (if you are at low body fat percentages).
5 Dietary Tips And Tricks That Will Help You Gain Muscle And Lose Fat At The Same Time
Muscles grow during your rest days, but you shouldn’t chow down on the same quantity of carbohydrates as you do on your training days since the demand for carbs can fall considerably when your body is a static or inactive state. This is often where people screw up – the continue to maintain a high-carb intake on their off-days. The end result, as you can probably guess, is increased accumulation of body fat.
I blame calorie calculators for this conundrum. Online calorie calculators pretty much tell you how much calories are you suppose to consume without any recognition to the above mentioned factors.
A lot of people get confused and believe that they need to be on these high carb days all the time.
On your training days you get to eat more carbs overall – about 2 grams per pound of your bodyweight. At resting days that should fall at about 1 gram per pound of you body weight.
Hypothetically speaking, if you weighed 160 lbs (73kg) then that means that you’re suppose to consume 320g of carbs on your training days and 160 during your resting days.
This way you are making sure that you are providing your body with the necessary macronutrient that will help you sustain a powerful workout and you make sure that it will not cause any body fat accumulation around that waist area of yours.
One of the reasons why your body stores calories as body fat is because you are consuming too much of your macros in specific meals. You are not giving your body enough time to fully digest everything, which is why the left-over calories are stored for later use as body fat.
You know how when you order a large pizza for yourself (because pizza is the best example to give in an article about weight loss and muscle growth) and you notice that the pizza’s really good and that it’s a (hypothetically) a pretty good source for macronutrients, but sadly enough you are already full and there’s half a pizza left. So what you do is you put it in the fridge so you can eat it tomorrow or whenever as leftovers.
That’s pretty much what your body does.
It’s important to accurately divide your meals evenly throughout the day so that you don’t have any surpluses in fats, protein or carbs (especially on your resting days). Your body has a fixed amount of calories that it requires every hour or so and once you start going over those needs you start gaining body fat.
So if you calculate how many macronutrients you need to eat on your resting day, which are 180g of carbs, 75g fats, 180g of protein (30% fats, 35% carbs and 35% protein – keep in mind this is for your resting day!) and if you are planning on having 6 meals (I usually recommend either 5 or 7 meals depending on your busyness) then that means that you need to divide your carbs by 5 (remember, night time, which is your sixth meal, is the time when you’re not suppose to consume any carbs, because of your HGH, or if you are going to consume make sure that it’s from a good green source like broccoli and that it’s not in high quantities!) which is 36g of carbs per meal, 30g of protein and 12.5g fats per meal.
Of course you’re not suppose to follow this at a hundred percent, you can add or take away numbers from those digits, but make sure that there are no huge differences (for example one meal you consume 15g of carbs then you eat 60, then you eat 10g protein and then 55g). Large fluctuations like that will lead to deprived muscle development and elevated body fat storage.
There are specific times of the day when your meals need to contain more carbohydrates and fewer carbohydrates. As I’ve already mentioned, you need to make sure that you limit or eliminate your carb consumption late at night or if you are going to consume make sure it’s 3 hours before you go to bed.
During your training days when you digest more carbs than usual you need to make sure that you eat more carbs fore your training and after. Steve Cook, from his modern physique article, states that you need to consume 25% of your total carb intake before and after your workout (so pre-workout meal and post-workout meal).
Looking at a hypothetical example again, if you need to consume 370 carbs then that means that you will eat about 92g of carbs before and 92g of carbs after your workout. That’s pretty much 50% of your carbs gone for your workout.
The idea here is that as you consume all of those carbs before your workout you’ll use them to power-up your workout. Thus you are giving your body a purpose to use those carbohydrates as energy. Of course, this does depend on the intensity of your workouts. If you eat 90g of carbs and go to the gym to just do isolated exercises on machines, then you’re not really using them to their full potential.
After your workout your muscles are depleted of glycogen and thus you need to refill them.
Also, remember how insulin helps to literally feed your muscles with nutrition? Post-workout is the time when your muscles act as sponges. They absorb far more amino acids (protein) and far more carbs than any other time throughout the day.
There are even some supplement companies (like Bulkpowders) that provide you with a bit of know-how and recommend that instead of one scoop of protein you take two (more amino acids).
The higher levels of insulin will create an anabolic environment for your muscles by packing them up with valuable micronutrients and macronutrients that will help for your muscles to recover and grow in size.
There are foods out there that have specific chemical structures that aid us burn more fat. A really good example, for instance, is grapefruit.
There was a study carried out by the Scripps Clinic in San Diego, where it was recorded that individuals who ate half a grapefruit or drank 8 oz (225ml) of grapefruit juice about two or three times a day, where able to drop 4 pounds of body fat over the course of 12 weeks. There were even reported cases of people who lost more than 10lbs without even being on a diet.
These results are regarded to the fruit’s ability to reduce insulin levels (low glycemic index) and a chemical in grapefruit referred to as naringin, which prevents lipids (fats) from being stored as body fat by the body.
Take a look at “The 30 best fat-burning foods” for more foods that you can integrate in your diet. Usually the more you have, the better!
When I say supplements I don’t mean any of those weight loss or miracle/bullsh*t pills that will do you more harm than good.
There is a specific list of supplements that are recorded to aid the human body in its quest of body fat reduction:
Whey protein – whey protein is not only good for helping you recover quicker and gain muscle mass, but it is also a helpful supplement that will give you a slight push towards losing more pounds of body fat.
- Whey protein is rich in Leucine – this amino acid plays a key role in protein synthesis, which is a process that burns a few or more calories. Furthermore it stimulates fatty acid oxidation.
- Whey satiates your appetite – there are studies that show that whey protein may actually satiate your appetite then other types of protein. Milk proteins contain glycomacropeptide – a peptide that stimulates cholecystokinin (CCK) – an intestinal hormone that is released in the organism after eating and signals satiety.
- Studies prove that supplemental whey helps people drop body fat storages: In a study that was carried out by the University of Oklahoma, scientists told both of the examined groups not to alter their diets. One group (group A) was given a nutrition supplement that contained whey protein once per day for the duration of two weeks and then twice a day for the remaining eight weeks of the study. Both groups engaged in resistance and endurance training for 10 weeks. After the term had passed, both groups decreased fat mass but group A showed a significantly greater decrease (-9.3%) versus -4.6% of group B. Group A also showed significant gains in muscle mass and impressive decreases in total LDL (bad) cholesterol.
L-Carnitine – Carnitine exists in two forms, D-carnitine and L-carnitine. The L-form is found in nature. On labels, you will see it named as L-Carnitine, L-tartrate, or Propionyl-L-carnitine. The D-form is biologically inactive and isn’t sold as a supplement.
Carnitine exists in two forms, D-carnitine and L-carnitine. The L-form is the one found in nature and is biologically active. On labels, you’ll see it listed as L-carnitine, L-carnitine L-tartrate, or Propionyl-L-carnitine. They’re all similar, and similarly effective. The D form, on the other hand, is biologically inactive and isn’t sold as a supplement.
The main purpose of L-carnitine is that it helps the body transport fat, mainly long-chain fatty acids, into the mitochondria of cells. After which they are oxidized (used as fuel) to generate adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short. L-carnitine does all of this no matter if your body is static or engaged in exercising. Research does conclude, however, that L-carnitine is most effective during intense exercise.
A recent study in Scotland concluded that along with its fat-transporting capabilities, L-carnitine also enhances insulin’s actions on muscle fiber cells. This means that L-carnitine can help keep low blood glucose levels low, even when following a carb-rich meal, while also helping in glycogen repletion. This is why L-carnitine is a really good post-workout supplement, as well as a pre-workout supplement.
As you can see your diet and supplementation will determine your success in the process of simultaneous muscle growth and fat loss. However, I did mention that your workout regime is still of importance, insignificant when compared to your nutrition, but nevertheless still there.
When constructing your workout what you need to make sure is that you are increasing the intensity of it. The reason why you would want to exactly that is because of two main reasons: to increase your metabolic rate and to keep it elevated for hours after you’ve left the gym.
Exercises that are classified as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, where you train with maximum effort for a fixed period and then you rest for a short amount of time, are shown to have a “skyrocket” effect on your metabolism and it would maintain elevated for hours after you’ve dropped the weights – can reach as high as 24 hours after finishing.
Integrating exercises that have a multi-joint activation property (compound exercises) is a good place to start. The more muscles that are being activated at the same time will not only increase your hormone production but will also elevate your metabolism for hours and thus help you burn body fat.
Take a look at “The 7 best exercises that will help you reduce belly fat”
Building muscle mass and reducing stored body fat is possible. What you need to focus your attention on is boosting your hormone production (primarily that of testosterone, human growth hormone, and insulin) as well as implementing the above listed diet techniques to your everyday life.
As I mentioned above you current body fat percentage will play a key role in determining whether it would feasible for you to do both fat loss and muscle growth at the same time. If you are at low digit (mainly 7-11%) then what you need to aim for is gaining muscle with as little as body fat storage as possible, maintaining your leanness. If you are higher digits, however, (15-20%) then you can through the above given tips reduce fat storages and improve muscle hypotrophy.
I should probably mention that even though losing muscle and gaining fat simultaneously is feasible, it does not work the same for everybody. Every person has a different genetic structure (DNA) that dictates how well will they do in pretty much everything when compared to others.
What this means is that while you may easily be able to increase muscle hypotrophy while at the same time reduce stored fat, others may find it a bit harder to achieve.