The quest to lose fat while gaining muscle is a common one. We all want things to be simplified, streamlined, and efficient. I mean, who doesn’t want to lose excess fat while also gaining the muscle that makes you look leaner and stronger, right? Can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?
Some would argue that it can’t be done. Some say that because of the Law of Thermodynamics (you need to burn energy to lose fat and store energy to build muscle) these two things cannot happen at the same time. Others, like me, know that in fact, it can be done, because not only have we done it ourselves, but we’ve helped clients do it too.
Losing fat while gaining muscle is totally possible under certain conditions that have a lot to do with what you eat and the type of exercise you do. Let’s break down the specific conditions needed to enable you to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time by maximizing your lifestyle and routine.
Can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?
Training must be two-pronged
Being a cardio bunny alone will not bring the desired fat loss and muscle gain you want. Spending hours on a treadmill or elliptical will help you burn calories, but without a comprehensive strength training program, you will not be able to build adequate muscle or get that “toned” look so many of us want. The cardio-only approach will leave you with the ‘skinny fat’ effect, meaning the numbers on the scale might drop but your appearance will remain somewhat unchanged. Body recomposition comes from intentional strength training coupled with moderate cardio activity. You’ve got to have both.
Train according to your goal
What are your long-term goals? Do you want to complete a marathon? Are you seeking to be a fitness competitor? Perhaps you want to have the energy to chase your kids (or grandkids) around the yard or even look better naked? All goals are valid and in order to see results, but prioritizing strength training for muscle growth (while still incorporating moderate cardio exercise) is key. You can’t skip out on this part of training, and you need to challenge your muscles to see change. Circuits and bootcamp-style training won’t likely get you there. You need a simple strength-based fitness program to see results.
Diet is important too
Exercise is definitely an integral part of all this, but know that true fat loss happens primarily in the kitchen. This is why I love macro-ish nutrition. By knowing your macros (the amount of protein, fat, carbohydrate your body needs for progress) you can ensure you are fueling your body for fat loss and muscle gain. Typically, in order to do this, I’d recommend incorporating protein in every meal and most snacks. For most women, in order to get the lean look of someone who actually works out, you will good quality protein in your diet as well as carbs and fat. I recommend lean body mass (weight in pounds – body fat %) X 0.7 -1.0 in grams for protein.
A few words of encouragement
Keep in mind that weight loss, fat loss, and muscle gain are not linear processes. You will not see steady drops on the scale week after week after week until your goal is reached. Some weeks you will see drops, other weeks you’ll see spikes. Even when you’re doing all the ‘right’ things. When you’re losing fat and gaining muscle, understand that there are times when these two things will not happen at the same exact rate so you will likely not see a straight line down.
Also remember, you can lose fat without losing weight, so don’t get too hung up on the scale either. I encourage my clients to keep track of scale and non-scale victories (NSVs). NSVs include looser jeans, increased strength, better sleep at night, fewer cravings, more energy, brighter skin and eyes, a general feeling of increased health, and more. Those NSVs can add up significantly! Don’t base all of your progress (or self-worth) on the scale.
A couple more tips to lose fat and gain muscle
Lastly, drink water and listen to your body. It is also important if you want to lose fat and gain muscle. Water is necessary for adequate fat burning and muscle building. Staying hydrated also improves digestion keeping the bloat and water retention down. When your body is telling you that you’re thirsty, drink. Similarly, when your body is telling you to rest, rest. Another important factor to consider if you want to lose fat and gain muscle. More is not always better! If you’re overtraining (doing too much exercise at too high an intensity for you) fat loss can stall and other body systems can begin to break down. This can all contribute to both immediate changes on the scale and also longer-term health issues such as hormonal imbalances and more.
So, can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?
In all, you can lose fat while building lean muscle. It simply requires the right proportions of food intake, exercise output, and the prioritization of your goals over the short and long term. You can achieve a lean, muscular look while reducing your body fat. Your body is in your hands and with the right mindset and the right tools you can create the composition and ‘look’ you desire.