If learning how to lose fat and gain muscle was easy, everyone would be doing it. Unfortunately, this is not a simple concept, with the methods used to achieve either goal often working at odds with each other.
In the simplest terms; muscle gain generally requires a calorie surplus where you consume more calories than you burn each day, leaving your body with excess resources (protein, in particular) for building new muscle. Whereas fat loss requires a calorie deficit where you burn more calories in a day than you consume.
So no matter how often you pump iron with the best adjustable dumbbells (opens in a new tab)or how strongly you stick to sustainability calorie deficit (opens in a new tab)achieving muscle gain and fat loss simultaneously may still be out of reach.
There are, however, ways to strategically structure your exercise methods and eating habits to achieve this. To discover the circumstances in which losing fat and gaining muscle can be achieved in tandem, we turned to a registered dietitian and an obesity and nutrition specialist, Edibel Quintero (opens in a new tab) MD for the answers.
Edibel Quintero is a doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in his profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and postoperative rehabilitation.
Can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?
“Despite what most people believe, is possible to lose weight and gain muscle mass simultaneously,” Quintero told Live Science.
“Such a process is called body recomposition. In this case, the focus is not on the scale numbers (weight loss) but on the muscle-to-fat ratio, which is the best indicator of overall health and fitness.
A 2020 article in the Strength and Conditioning Journal (opens in a new tab) — analyzing previous studies on the ability of trained people to build muscle and lose fat at the same time — supports Quintero’s claims.
He concludes, “The literature has provided support that trained individuals may also experience body recomposition… Resistance training coupled with dietary strategies has been shown to increase this phenomenon.”
He adds, however, that “individuals’ training status, exercise interventions, and their baseline body composition can influence the extent of muscle gained and fat lost.”
In other words, your body fat percentage, muscle mass, and previous training experience can impact body recomposition success.
The study adds, “In addition, there appear to be confounding non-training/nutritional variables such as sleep, hormones, and metabolism that may significantly influence these adaptations.”
Is it difficult to lose fat and gain muscle?
Although it is possible to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously, it is not an easy or quick process.
“Trying to recompose your body can be a tough challenge because it’s not just a diet, it’s a way of life,” warns Quintero. “It takes patience, a lot of determination, effort and a lot of planning to get good results, which definitely takes time.
“For example, if you want to succeed in recomposing your body, you must not only learn to count calories (opens in a new tab) but also to arrange them strategically according to your physical activities.
If you need help in this department, our article on how to track your macros (opens in a new tab) is an excellent starting point.
How to lose fat and gain muscle
A study published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal (opens in a new tab) – simultaneously exploring fat loss and muscle gain – shows that there is no single method to achieve this, but rather a “very heterogeneous set of designs, methods and results”. Or, in other words, there is a wide range of ways to achieve this.
However, breaking down the existing literature on the subject, the 2020 study mentioned in the previous section identifies a number of actions consistently shown to support the process of body recomposition.
First, he advises to set up a progressive resistance or bodybuilding (opens in a new tab) diet with at least three sessions per week. The progressive element of this is essential to muscle growth, as using the principle of progressive overload (opens in a new tab) your body will make adaptations to enable it to withstand the increased strain – in this case, by increasing the size and strength of the muscles being worked.
These changes, however, will not be possible without the proper fuel. That’s why the second piece of advice from the study is to consume an adequate amount of protein (opens in a new tab) – an essential muscle-building macronutrient commonly found in animal products as well as plant sources such as nuts and legumes.
Get enough protein
A 2013 systematic review of research on dietary protein during calorie restriction in lean resistance-trained athletes, published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (opens in a new tab)states, “The protein requirements of resistance-trained and energy-limited athletes (such as those training for body recomposition) are likely 2.3-3.1 g/kg fat-free mass, increased depending on severity of calorie restriction and leanness.”
Or, in simpler terms, athletes who lift weights while in a calorie deficit will need to eat between 2.3g and 3.1g of protein per kilogram of fat-free mass to support body recomposition. Fat-free mass can be calculated by dividing your body weight by 100 and then multiplying that figure by 100 minus your body fat percentage – an approximate body fat percentage can be measured using a set of calipers. skin folds.
The use of protein supplements such as best protein powders (opens in a new tab) is another effective way to “increase daily dietary protein intake…(and) maximize muscle protein synthesis.”
Be sure to rest
The 2020 Body Recomposition Study also states, “Tracking the rate of progress and paying attention to performance and recovery can be important tools for appropriately adjusting training over time.
“…Prioritizing sleep quality and quantity may be an additional variable that can significantly impact changes in performance, recovery, and body composition.”
Quintero reinforced this advice. “It is necessary to strategically plan the number of calories consumed per day,” she says. “Including cardio and strength training in your routine is also crucial. Finally, as with any healthy lifestyle, quality sleep and a healthy, balanced diet, from which calories are obtained, are important.
Track your calorie intake and calorie intake
She also provided additional information on how to structure your diet and calorie intake based on your daily activity levels to optimize body recomposition.
Quintero said, “First, you need to figure out how many calories you need in a typical day when you’re not exercising (i.e. your metabolic (opens in a new tab) rate) – let’s call these calories a base.
“When doing cardio, you need to add a little more to the base calorie count above so the body can use it and fat for fuel, but not take energy from muscle.
“On days when you train for 30 minutes or more, eat more calories and focus on protein – this will give you the energy to exercise and build muscle without gaining weight.
“Finally, on non-exercise days, consume up to 10% less calories than baseline calories.”