There’s always this one person who will continue to rant on about a special program that allows him to build muscle and lose fat. Well let me break it down for you quite simply. The only people who can build muscle and lose fat at the same time are: 1. Absolute Beginners, 2. Enhanced Athletes (yes, I mean people who take steroids) and 3. De-trained individuals.
For the rest of us, who continue to train, it’s always optimal to pick out one goal. Muscle Building or Fat loss. Choose your poison and continue with it until you achieve it.
What is Muscle Building?
Muscle Building is quite simple in its definition, i.e. you gain weight in terms of lean muscle mass. To do this, not only does one have to train correctly but also consume the right foods and supplements. Building anything requires an excess of materials and in this case you need calories. Some need a little, some need few; depending on their genetics but one thing is certain, is that you need to be above maintenance. So if my maintenance calories are 2000, then I will gain weight at 2500 calories. Whether that is fat or muscle, depends on your protein intake and training frequency.
To build muscle ensure that you are in a caloric surplus and working out at least 4-5 days a week. In addition to this ensure that your body, as a general rule of thumb, is getting 1gram per pound of lean body mass as protein. Opt for leaner cuts of meat like chicken breast and turkey and do not forget to supplement with whey protein and glutamine, if needed.
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What is Fat Loss?
Fat loss is the other side of the coin whereby you are trying to preserve your lean body mass and reducing weight, ideally in terms of bodyfat. To think you will only lose bodyfat is a far fetched idea and some muscle loss will occur. This can however be reduced by supplementing with BCAA’s and keeping your protein higher still. For fat loss it is optimal to aim to lose 0.5 kg per week and again that would differ, based on your maintenance calories, for individuals.
Fat isn’t predisposed in one area and so do not even think that you can only reduce fat from a particular body part. For some it might start at belly fat and for others it will be last to go off. Optimal fat loss occurs with the right amount of weight training and cardio but use this to only increase your caloric deficit, not create it. A fat burner can also help here as can a multivitamin because you would not be getting them from your diet.
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Why can’t they be done together?
Imagine trying to drive with an empty fuel tank. That’s exactly what would happen if you reduced calories and aimed for muscle building. You would just starve and lose muscle mass ironically because you have no fuel to work with. On the other hand now imagine a car running without a bumper or lights. Sounds ridiculous right? That’s what happens increased calories and aimed at fat loss. Well you wouldn’t lose fat. You would actually gain fat since you have an excess of calories.
Calorie counting, as annoying as it is, is the only way to sustained muscle gain and effective fat loss. The simple law of thermodynamics apply here. Calories in vs. calories out. Knowing that you can only build muscle while you have an addition of calories and you can only burn fat while your body is in a reduction of calories. How can you do both? You can’t because they are opposite goals in their very nature.
How can beginners and detrained invididuals build muscle and lose fat at the same time?
Beginners by definition are individuals who have never been experienced to hypertrophy, meaning they do not have enough muscle for definition and/or size. This being said, the smallest resistance will effect them, meaning not only can beginners build muscle but training will actually help them lose fat at the same time. To do this, one must not have gone to the gym. This is what you should do:
- Calculate your maintenance calories. There are plenty of calculators on the internet that do so. Or ask us here
- Eat 100-200 calories below your maintenance
- Workout 3-4 days a week, full body 5×5 program
- Eat in a 40-40-20 ratio meaning your calories should be divided into 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fats. Opt for healthier choices like chicken breast, sweet potato, broccoli, olive oil etc.
With detrained individuals the same concept applies. Their muscles have atrophied and because of muscle memory, you will gain your muscle and can thus lose fat by being in a caloric deficit. Enhanced individuals can pretty much gain muscle while being at 5% bodyfat but then experience the side effects of anabolic steroids. This is a route I would not advise.
Choosing the best route for you
Choosing whether you want to build muscle or lose fat is quite simple actually. Firstly you would need to look at your body type and body fat. Analyze and get a thorough body composition done. If you are above 20% bodyfat, I would advise you cut first, and hence opt for fat loss. If you are an ectomorph or under 20% bodyfat, muscle building is the right option for you.
As you now know, the food and supplementation are equally important by now so if you want to build muscle, remember to keep your protein and carbs high with moderate fats. Try to get in most of your carbs post workout for maximum gaining. For fat loss, indulge in a high protein, low carb and moderate fat diet and use the mirror as a benchmark, not the scale!