There are two likely objectives you’ll have when it comes to getting in shape and building your dream body - building muscle mass, or losing body fat.
But a lot of the time, we really want to do both. You look at yourself in the mirror, and while that belly fat doesn’t look good, you also feel like you need to pack on muscle in a few areas.
Is it possible to do both - lose fat and gain muscle - at the same time?
The short answer is yes, but it’s not the easiest thing to do. You’ll need to understand the mechanisms by which fat loss and muscle gain happen, and craft your training and nutrition programs accordingly.
Read on and we’ll explain all you need to know.
How to Increase Muscle Mass
The first thing we should talk about is how building muscle works.
We induce muscle growth by putting the muscles under sufficient stress to cause small tears and damage to muscle fibers.
With enough rest, and the right fuel, the body repairs these damaged muscle fibers, to be stronger than they were before.
You repeat, increasing your workload, along with the amount of fuel you put into your body, and gradually build bigger and stronger muscles.
With this in mind, there are four key things you need for muscle growth:
First, you need to train. Whatever muscles you want to grow need to be worked. If you want bigger biceps, you need to do bicep curls, or something else that puts the biceps under stress.
The second key is recovery. This is often overlooked. Recovery is when the muscle growth process really happens. You break them down in training, and you need to give the body sufficient time and resources to build itself back up again.
Then there’s nutrition. Your body needs the right ingredients to rebuild damaged muscle fibers. Think of the raw materials you’d use to rebuild a brick wall.
This involves getting enough energy (calories), and certain nutrients, most important being protein. Protein is basically the building block for muscle, so getting enough protein is vital for muscle growth.
Finally, there’s sleep. Sleep is when your body produces a lot of compounds (such as growth hormone) that are essential for muscle growth.
You can train, rest up and eat well, but if you also don’t sleep well, you’ll probably lack sufficient growth hormone levels to achieve optimal muscle growth.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
So how much protein do we actually need each day?
We all need protein. It’s important for gaining muscle, yes, but it’s also an essential part of the fat loss process. Even if you don’t work out, and don’t have any aesthetic goals, protein is vital in supporting many regular bodily functions.
The amount of protein you need each day depends on various factors, such as your weight, gender, activity level, and your goals - ie. losing fat, gaining muscle, or maintaining your current build.
The minimum level you want to hit is between 0.8-1.2g per kg of bodyweight.
If you’re trying to lose fat, aim for 1.3-2.0g per kg. While for building muscle, you’ll want to get 1.6-2.2g per kg.
Use this protein calculator to figure out what your daily protein needs are, and try to hit this number each day.
How to Lose Body Fat
The recipe for losing fat is a little different to that of building muscle.
It mostly comes down to calories. You want to be at a caloric deficit - meaning you’re taking in less calories (via your diet) than your body is using.
For example, if your diet adds up to 3000 calories each day, and your body burns over 3000 calories per day, you should lose weight.
So to lose fat, you focus on decreasing calorie intake, increasing activity levels, or both.
The US Department of Health and Human Services says the average adult man burns 2,000-3,000 calories per day, while the average adult woman burns 1,600-2,400. Some of this is burned passively (just through regular bodily functions), and the rest comes down to your activity level.
Certain types of exercise are better or worse than others at burning calories and body fat. Combining aerobic exercise with resistance training (i.e. lifting weights), for example, has been shown to be more effective.
But you don’t need to get too complicated devising the perfect workout routine. Just focus on burning calories.
Similarly, you can reduce your calorie intake by eating less, or eating foods with fewer calories. Certain foods (such as high-protein foods) help you burn fat at a faster rate. But ultimately you want to be keeping your overall calorie count low.
How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time
On the surface, it might seem like muscle growth and fat loss are two competing goals. You need to eat more to gain muscle, but eat less to lose body fat.
However, you can do both. It’s unlikely to be as efficient as if you one aim for one goal, but you can definitely come up with a workout and lifestyle routine that builds muscle and cuts fat simultaneously. Here are some tips to do it.
Calculate Your Daily Calories
First, you’ll want to understand where you stand in terms of calories. Figure out how many calories you’re getting each day from your diet, along with a rough idea of how many you burn (use the data from the US Department of Health above as a guide).
Once you know this, you can start working on a caloric deficit.
Keep Protein High and Calories Low
You’ll need to limit calorie intake in order to lose body fat. At the same time, you want to keep your protein intake high.
We’ve established that protein is vital for muscle growth. It’s also beneficial for fat loss (as long as overall calories are low).
To do this, fill your diet with protein-dense foods, with high protein content and low calories. A low-calorie protein shake, such as our refreshing and fruity whey protein isolate, is great for this.
A big calorie deficit one day a week isn’t going to do much for your goals. Neither is one day of heavy lifting a week.
It’s most important that it’s sustainable. If you go too hard, too fast, you risk training or dieting at a pace that you can’t keep up.
Gradually increase your training load, or decrease your caloric intake, instead. Set small daily or weekly goals to work towards.
You also shouldn’t drop your calories too low to achieve a caloric deficit, as you still need to give your body enough energy to function and recover from workouts.
If you’re going to make big changes to your diet, it’s also advisable to speak with a nutritionist beforehand, to ensure what you’re doing is healthy.
Finally, while you can achieve fat loss through diet alone, the best way to both lose fat and build muscle is to train hard.
You’ll be able to eat more, with a higher caloric output. And training is essential for increasing muscle mass.
Training more will also make you burn fat more efficiently than working on your diet alone, as it increases your metabolism, which is the rate at which your body passively burns calories.
That’s why you might find yourself burning fat simply by lifting weights, without a concerted effort to achieve a caloric deficit.
A lean body, low in fat and high in muscle is what most of us crave. And it’s not out of reach. You can achieve muscle growth and fat loss simultaneously, as long as you structure your workout and nutrition the same way.
For the best results, make sure you train hard and often, and get a lot of protein. Even if that’s all you do, you’ll be on the right path towards getting the best of both worlds.