Can you add muscle and lose fat similtaneously?
Each week, I enjoy working with dedicated people in my classes and one-on-one personal training sessions. I love helping people solve the problem of fitness. This article is for people who are just getting started, and even those getting back into it, who wonder about the best way to get ready for summer. Should you focus on losing fat or building muscle? Can you do both?
First and foremost, let’s not worry about simultaneous muscle building and fat loss. The body is inefficient at performing both activities at the same time. The only times when both happen are:
1, You’re a newbie. When you are relatively weak and new to training, weight training is such a new stimulus to the body that muscle gain and fat loss happen quite quickly.
2, You are getting back into it. When coming back after a period of no weight training in which case the body is just regaining muscle tissue that has been previously built. Say you get the flu and can’t train for weeks, once you come back you will experience simultaneous accelerated muscle gain and fat loss.
Does this mean that it’s impossible to lose fat and gain muscle similtaneously? No, but the cost is quite high, and possibly unsustainable. A study at McMaster University put 40 men into two groups of 20 with a diet and exercise regime that lasted for four weeks. The men were given all of their meals by the researchers, which contained 40 per cent less calories than they required. By the end of these four weeks, all the young men could talk about was how hungry they were.
At the same time, half the group consumed a high protein intake. Half the group consumed a low protein intake, 2.4 g/kg of body weight protein for one group versus 1.2 g/kg of body weight protein for the other.
They were exercising six days a week. Four days of full body weight-lifting workouts and two days of hiit training.
Everybody got much stronger and much fitter over the four weeks. They lost weight as well. But it was grueling and researchers were unsure if the regimen was sustainable. The same results were found with similar studies involving women.
So what should you do? Focus on losing fat first.
Broadly speaking, most people want to look leaner for a sunny vacation or important event. Even though 18 to 24% is considered healthy by the American Council on Exercise men won’t see abs until below 10% body fat and women below 19%.
Don’t want to measure your body fat? I get that. Here is a visual way to tell your approximate body fat percentage.
How to lose fat quickly.
1. Track what you eat.
Nothing meaningful will happen without dietary changes. Food tracking is one of the best tools to help shift habits around food. There are many apps such as myfitnesspal that make it easy to log accurately. Why am I not suggesting something like paleo, or intermittent fasting? It has been my experience that diets start and stop because of a 'ready-fire-aim' approach. What I mean is that sometimes people have good intensions but lack the data that would inform them on which nutritional changes are best for them. While there are many amazing modern nutrition protocols, all of which I’ll focus in on in other articles, the best general recommendation is to track what you eat.
Don’t want to food track? There are many approaches but I’ve found changing one thing at a time works best. Start small and before you know it you'll be tackling mountains. Starting small is a key aspect of the 150*15 system used within my fitness community.
To start small, answer this question: What is a dietary change that you can do on your worst day?
I recommend focusing on losing fat with a combination of circuit style strength training that has short rest periods coupled with moderate to high intensity cardio training. Why? Because even if you're completely untrained this format will generate enough adaptation that the body becomes stronger, more shapely, and more lean. You will also see results more quickly because of the required calorie restriction that accompanies any fat loss goal.
How losing fat looks in practice.
1. Pay close attention to your diet. Decide whether you will start small, or track your food.
2. Each week, maintain a threshold of 150 total minutes of training (at a moderate to high intensity) using a variety of resistance and cardio training.
Making your fitness goal a reality can happen very quickly. While science is moving at rocket speed to uncover more about the body, each of us has habits that need to be broken or built. Your success rests on finding what habits are in the way and replacing them with habits that support your goal.
If you have questions about fat loss or becoming stronger please drop me a message. I'd love to help!