There's an argument in the fitness world that you can either lose fat or gain muscle.
They just can't be done at the same time.
To that I say: "Hogwash!"
We have countless success stories from our online coaching clients who were able to do both at the same time:
Let us help you gain muscle while losing fat! Learn more:
And that's what we're going to cover in today's guide!
Plus I have tons of cute LEGO photos and silly gifs along the way, which is always a good time.
Can You Lose Fat And Gain Muscle At The Same Time? (The controversy)
Before we get too far, let's talk about why losing fat and building muscle at the same time can be problematic.
The conflict arises over the following:
- Lose fat, your body must be in a calorie deficit. This deficit forces your body to use pre-existing fat reserves for fuel.
- build musclesYour body needs to be in a calorie surplus. This excess provides the energy your body needs to repair and build larger muscles.
Given this, it seems impossible to lose fat (calorie deficit) while building muscle (calorie excess).
However, if we go a few steps deeper into science, it is possible!
Appreciate that Nuance hereLet's go into some specifics about fat loss Extraction Muscles separated, and then we'll combine them.
HOW DO YOU LOSE FAT?
There is an easy answer and a slightly less easy answer when it comes to losing body fat.
The simple answer: "Consume fewer calories than you consume or burn off."
Eight words, and one or two of them could probably be thrown away.
When your body needs more calories than you eat, you are in a "calorie deficit". Your body doesn't have enough calories to get around, so it will break down parts of itself for energy needs.
How many calories do I need and burn every day?
(Here you can calculate your daily calorie requirement).
The hope is that your body is mainly drawing from its fat stores, but depending on how you exercise, it will also lose muscle. (1)
Again, if you eat a calorie deficit, your body will get energy from both its fat stores and the muscles it has.
Obviously, from a physical and health standpoint, we'd prefer your body not to lose muscle when you're in a calorie deficit, and instead really focus on using reserves of fat instead. (2)
I make this point for a reason: In spite of the colloquial language, your fitness goal should not be all “weight loss”.
Who cares what the scales say?
Instead, the goal is to reduce body fat while maintaining the muscle you have (or even building more muscle).
This leads to a better physique and a healthier body.
This is why there is a huge industry out there that is concerned with tracking body fat percentage.
When you reduce your total fat on your body OR increase your muscle mass, you get a lower percentage of body fat (it's just a simple ratio of fat to everything else).
With lower body fat percentages, “tinted arms” and “6-pack abs” are related.
We're going to talk about tips on how to keep and grow muscle while you are below in a calorie deficit. For now, remember that you need fewer calories "in" than calories "out" for weight loss to occur either from fat stores or from muscle.
You may be wondering, "Steve, what's easier to do? Burn more calories or consume fewer?"
Numbers help tell the story: While this is a gross oversimplification, we'll use the "generally accepted" starting point of "3,500 calories is roughly a pound of fat." (3)
If you want to lose a pound or a pound of body fat in a week (a worthy, sustainable goal for some), you have to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories a day: either by
- Consume 500 fewer calories
- Burn 500 more calories
- A combination of both
Which half is easier to influence?
Here are both halves of that equation. 500 calories correspond to:
- The number of calories found in one big gulp of mountain dew.
- An estimate of the calories it will take to run five miles.
When it comes to maintaining a calorie deficit, diet really matters.
It is significantly more effective and time-efficient to consume 500 fewer calories than it is to burn 500 extra calories.
As Time Magazine controversially pointed out – with tons of studies cited – "exercise alone doesn't make you thin." Adding more calories is too easy and takes too much work to effectively affect calorie expenditure.
That brings us to our slightly less straightforward answer on how to lose body fat:
You have to watch what you eat and do it in a sustainable way.
Here at Nerd Fitness, we strongly believe that 80-90% of the fat loss equation is due to diet (see rule 4).
Here's another idea we're focusing on: EAT MORE REAL FOOD.
Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts are good examples of real foods.
These foods are very nutrient dense and often low in calories compared to their processed counterparts. Which means you can get full without overeating.
Have you ever seen the difference between 200 calories of broccoli and 200 calories of a bagel? WiseGEEK does a great job of displaying this, so we're borrowing a few of their photos.
200 calories broccoli:
200 calories of a bagel:
That is why REAL Food is the answer to creating a sustainable calorie deficit.
Most people can easily eat a whole bagel. Broccoli plates with all the fiber are much harder to overeat.
We set it all out in our beginner's guide to healthy eating. It provides tips on how to gradually develop habits that will lead you to a "REAL" way to eat, including proper portion sizes, batch cooking tips, and a Winnie the Pooh cameo.
With all of this, we advise you to take it slow so that new healthy eating habits remain permanent.
Something you can do for the rest of your life.
We work closely with our coaching clients on this strategy: small nutritionally Adjustments they like to make. So some of them could lose 50-100 pounds!
Your own nerd fitness coach will find you a nutritional strategy that works for you. Learn more:
Let me explain again, what you eat is going to be 80% -90% of the equation to lose body fat.
The other 10-20%? Exercise.
Of course it's practice.
Which is a pretty good introduction to …
HOW DO YOU GAIN MUSCLE?
If you want to build muscle, you need to lift heavy things and eat so that your body has enough calories and protein to build those muscles.
That makes logical sense.
In our beginner's guide to building muscle and strength, I'll summarize it as follows:
- Lifting heavy things
- Eat a diet based on your goals
- Take a rest so your body can recover
Let's talk about each one quickly.
1) Lift heavy things. I will always take part in Team Strength Training. If you want to build muscle, you have to lift heavy things.
If you lift an object (or your own body weight) enough times, your muscles will reach the point of failure. This causes your muscles to tear and collapse.
When your muscle rebuilds after a workout, it's bigger and stronger than before. Then you do it again.
As long as you eat enough to rebuild your muscles, you will get stronger!
Not sure where to start weight training? No problem! You can download our free guide Strength Training 101: Everything You Need To Know If you join the Rebellion (our free community):
Download our comprehensive guide
- Everything you need to know to get strong.
- Exercise routines for body weight AND strength training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
2) Eat a diet based on your goals. Since your muscles need to be rebuilt after a workout, the calories have to come from somewhere. I'll talk a lot about proper nutrition (using a Harry Potter analogy) in the next section so I don't spend too much time on it here.
Just know that eating the right amount of food is a big part of building muscle.
3) rest. Your body rebuilds itself when you sleep, so make sure you get plenty of rest every night. I speak 7-8+ hours. This will help ensure your body has the time it needs to get stronger.
If you're strength training and only getting 6 hours of sleep a night or less, you are really doing yourself a disservice. Go to bed!
This is the brief gist of building strength: challenge your muscles, eat well, and rest.
Let's get down to our second point: "Eat a diet based on your goals. “It becomes very important as you both lose body fat and gain muscle.
To do that right, grab your owl and let's chat about Hogwarts.
How To Lose Fat While Gaining Muscle (The Science)
To answer the question of how to lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time, let me introduce an analogy from the world of Harry Potter.
Remember the "sorting hat": The sorting hat's job was to determine which of the four houses children will call home.
It's almost like a traffic manager: "Harry, you will go to Gryffindor! Draco, you will go to Slytherin!"
Your body works very similarly: every day it receives new calories (when you eat) and has to decide what to do with them!
They eat a chicken parm sub with fries and a 20-ounce soda. Your body then needs to know where to direct all of those calories.
To keep things simple, there are three options. These calories are sorted into one of three houses:
A. Burn for fuel.
B. Build muscle again.
C. Store as fat.
The moment you eat, your body sorts most of those calories into "Burn for Fuel".
There are a number of calories your body needs each day: To keep your liver working, your heart pumping, your brain working, your body temperature regulated, and so on – it burns a fair amount of calories just to keep the lights on.
This is your "daily total energy consumption", which you can calculate yourself with our TDEE calculator.
There is also "B. Rebuild as Muscle" and "C. Save as Fat", to which I devoted entire sections above.
This is where the problems come in: when you eat too many calories and your body no longer needs to fuel itself, it takes in those extra calories and stores them as fat.
However, our goal is the opposite of that.
We want to keep the muscle we have (or let it grow) while we get rid of the fat!
So let's imagine a scenario where we bring all of this together through vigorous weight training AND reducing our caloric intake:
- You exercise strength regularly and your muscles break down and need to be rebuilt.
- You are not consuming enough calories to build muscle and fuel yourself. There isn't enough to go to the Burn for Fuel and Rebuild Muscle homes.
Is your body turning off right now?
Your body has prepared for this by storing excess calories in the “Store as Fat” house over the years.
This means your body can pull from "store as fat" to make sure all the work is still getting done, including your daily functions as a human and rebuilding the muscles that you tore apart.
In other words, if you have fat reserves (and all of us), you don't have to be in "excess calories" to build muscle again. The calories stored in your fat cells act as this needed energy.
There is also evidence that muscles can grow even with a calorie deficit.
Means bigger muscles with a smaller belt size. (4)
However, if you want to skip all experimentation and trial and error, you can have a nerd fitness coach do all the heavy lifting for you (not really, you still have to work out).
Your nerd fitness coach will create an individual plan to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. Find out more here!
TIPS TO LOSE BODY FAT WHILE GAINING MUSCLE
Let's put all of this together and come up with some actionable steps to lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time.
1) Maintain a calorie deficit while eating enough protein. You need your body to burn more calories than you are consuming and to provide your body with enough protein to rebuild its muscles.
The only way to lose body fat is during a calorie deficit.
Remember the Sorting Hat analogy: when you overeat, your excess calories are sent to the "Store as Fat" house. We want to move out of this house instead. So eat less than you burn consistently.
I have 3 resources for you:
- Beginner's Guide to Healthy Eating. If you want tips and tricks for developing habits based on REAL food, this guide will help you get there.
- "Determine the perfect diet for you. "I'm talking about the benefits of creating a mental model for diet like intermittent fasting, paleo, or keto (or paleolithic ketogen) to make it easy to choose all of the foods you need to make."
- Count calories: This means learning your total daily energy expenditure and tracking your other calories (or weighing your food) through an app.
You don't have to follow a given blueprint like "low carb". You can create your own diet (which I do too). Find out all about it here.
2) weight training. If you could sell a pill that could be prescribed to every single person on earth to make them healthier, it would look like a strength training routine in a bottle.
It's one of the best things that you can do for your body. (5)
And really, when you're after building muscle, you need to do some lifting! Either weights or your own body weight.
You have to challenge your muscles to make them stronger. As we discuss in our article about the correct number of reps and sets, there are several ways to do this.
You can lift lighter weights for high repetitions.
Or lift really heavy with fewer repetitions.
The important thing: Pick a strategy and get started.
Here are 3 ways forward:
- Start with a beginner bodyweight workout.
- Follow one of our 5 strength training routines for beginners.
- Go through our 6 level gym workouts.
To recap: When you exercise hard and eat a calorie deficit, your body draws from its fat stores to refuel itself and possibly also to build muscle. This is a double punch from AWESOME.
3) prioritize protein. Aside from being a calorie deficit and lifting weights (or yourself), eating enough protein is one of the key components to both losing body fat and building muscle.
Protein is the number one nutrient for new tissue creation.(6)
So if you are cutting out calories to create a calorie deficit, you are not cutting them out from protein sources.
Studies have shown that participants can build muscle even with a calorie deficit. as long as they eat enough protein(7)
It's important enough that I say it again:
If you don't want your body to cannibalize its muscles while you're in a calorie deficit, You need to eat a lot of protein(8th)
How Much Protein?
As we highlight in our guide to protein, roughly 1 gram per pound of your weight with a maximum of 250 grams. (9) Or two grams per kilogram if you are in the metric system. This means:
- If you weigh 136 kg, you are eating 250 grams of protein.
- If you weigh 113 kg, you are eating 250 grams of protein.
- If you weigh 91 kg, you are eating 200 g of protein.
- If you weigh 82 kg, you are eating 180 g of protein.
The essentials: don't skip any protein. It should be on your plate with every meal (we'll show you exactly how much it costs in the next section).
If these general recommendations are a burden and you want to know exactly what to do, we can help!
I remind you of nerd fitness coaching where we help clients lose body fat, build muscle and improve their lives. We offer bespoke and specific recommendations based on your body and lifestyle, as well as changes in accountability and mindset to ensure that your new habits are maintained.
Let a nerd fitness coach design you a muscle building and fat loss plan!
WHAT SHOULD I EAT TO LOSE FAT AND GAIN MUSCLE?
Remember that in order to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, there must be two points in your eating strategy:
- Keep a calorie deficit.
- Prioritize protein so you can build muscle even when you are in deficit.
You may think: "That's all well and good, Steve, but what does it actually look like?”
It looks like that!
Taken from our guide to healthy eating. what I really want you to read
The plate consists of the following elements:
- 1-2 servings of protein (¼ plate)
- 2 servings of vegetables (½ plate)
- 1 serving of potatoes, rice or pasta. (1/4 of the plate)
- 1 serving of fat (the size of your thumb)
- 1 calorie-free or low-calorie drink (water, diet soda, tea)
If you stick to our healthy plate strategy above, you will focus on "REAL foods" that will help you maintain a calorie deficit over time.
Let's dive into protein for a moment, because it is the crucial element in building muscle.
Protein can come from any number of sources, including:
- Meat (steak, bison, pork).
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck).
- Eggs! (10)
- Fish and shellfish (salmon, tuna, shrimp).
- Legumes (black beans, chickpeas).
Not a meat eater? Read our massive herbal guide!
A serving of protein is roughly the size and thickness of your palm.
* The 4 ounce serving is for an undercooked piece of meat. Cooking reduces about 25% of the weight and reduces it to about 3 ounces.
If you're curious, here's how much protein is in one serving of food:
- 113 g portion of chicken contains approx. 30 g protein.
- 113 g of salmon contain 23 g of protein
- 113 g of steak contain 28 g of protein.
While the above healthy plate is important, I want you to pay extra attention to your protein intake as we are trying to build muscle.
If you're struggling to meet your protein intake goals, our protein supplements guide has some tips and tricks to boost your intake, including some awesome smoothie recipes.
This is the exact strategy I used to lose 22 pounds and hit single digit body fat while building muscle:
- Super heavy lifting.
- Eat lots of protein.
- Reduce your intake of carbohydrates and fat.
If you are NOT losing weight it means you are still eating too many calories. Keep your protein intake high and reduce your fat and carbohydrate intake.
I describe this in more detail in our article "Why can't I lose weight?" conduct.
Eventually you will reach a state where you simply do not have enough fat to help "build muscle". At this point, you can no longer stay with a calorie deficit. You need to switch to a slight “excess calorie” to build more muscle.
That means you need to eat more.
It is questionable when this will actually happen and we are all different. Achieving 8% body fat for men and 16% body fat for women is a good place to start.
I talk about this at length in our How To Build Muscle guide.
It describes ways you can increase your calories for muscle building, from eating plenty of paleo foods to drinking enough milk to make Santa Claus jealous.
I encourage you to read it when you have a plateau in size.
I want to emphasize that if you are lifting heavy and not building muscle, Diet is probably the culprit.
It was my problem for years and I've seen it on countless Nerd Fitness readers who have trouble building muscles.
If you're looking for an expert who can tell you exactly when to eat more or less, check out our 1-on-1 online coaching program.
Let your nerd fitness coach calculate exactly how much you need to eat to reach your goals. Learn more!
HOW TO SAY IF EVERYTHING WORKS (keep losing fat while building muscle)
Whenever you are trying to improve something, it is important to keep track of it. This also applies to body composition.
Most people do this by jumping on the scales. This may be "OK", but it will only tell part of the story.
As I explained earlier, muscle weighs more than fat. So if you are losing body fat and building muscle at the same time, you can actually weigh the same. Or even more!
Although you weigh more, you could potentially have a better physique.
Because of this, I want to encourage you not only to jump on the scales, but also to take progress photos.
Take pictures of the front and the side in your mirror, wear underwear or a swimsuit. Take new photos every week and write down the number on the scale under the same scenario. Two types of persecution allow us to get the full picture.
Sometimes the scale lies!
When you eat, exercise, and prioritize protein because of a calorie deficit, see what happens.
You may lose some fat and gain muscle.
If not, keep track of each category:
Data can help tell the story.
… I thought of detailed notes.
But an Android would also be helpful.
If you don't see the results you want, notes and records can often help us make adjustments.
Test your assumptions when things don't seem to be on the right track. Here is our guide to tracking fitness progress so you can learn more.
The tips listed above can help you lose fat while building muscle. However, if you want to go a little further, you can …
1) If you want a step-by-step guide If you know how to lose weight, eat better, and get stronger, read our killer 1-to-1 coaching program::
Our coaching program changes lives. Find out more here!
# 2) If you want an accurate blueprint to get in shape, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app will help you exercise more, eat healthier, and (literally) improve your life.
Try your free trial here:
# 3) Take part in the rebellion! We have a free email newsletter that we send out twice a week, full of tips and tricks to help you get healthy, get strong, and have fun with it.
I'll also send you tons of free guides that can help you improve your life:
Download our free weight loss guide
THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 levels to change your life
- Follow our 10 step nutritional system at your own pace
- What you need to know about weight loss and eating healthy
- 3 simple rules that we follow every day to achieve the goal
Okay, I think that makes it up for this guide.
Did I forgot something? Do you have any tips and tricks when it comes to losing body fat and building muscle?
Share it with us!
PS: Be sure to read the rest of the articles in our How To Lose Weight 101 series!
All photo sources are right here: Venting, Ekaterina Minaeva © 123RF.com, czgur © 123RF.com, morethanl8ve © 123RF.com, Константин Колосов © 123RF.com, Maxim Maksutov © 123RF.com, Julianna Funk © 123RF.com, jump