It is commonly thought that you can’t build muscle and burn fat at the same time because these two goals are so much the opposite of one another. What you might hear or read is that to build muscle, you have to be in a calorie surplus. In other words, you are consuming more calories than you actually need. Likewise, to burn fat, you must be in a calorie deficit. This means consuming fewer calories than you are burning. However, people are capable of doing both at the same time, but its not easy. It requires a lot of discipline, and even pain, but you can have the best of both worlds.1
How to Build Muscle and Burn Fat at the Same Time
The first thing you have to understand is that the way in which you burn fat and build muscle differ. Sometimes they even conflict with each other. To burn fat, means being in a calorie deficit.2 This means eating fewer calories than your body is using. At the same time, building muscle is thought to require a calorie surplus.3 But how can you do both? The truth is, building muscle can still be done in calorie deficit, but it is a challenge.
Eating your way to bigger muscles and less fat
You have to consider that exercise alone will not help you lose weight and build muscle at the same time. Accomplishing both of these comes down to what you eat. That means selecting foods high in nutritional value that also keep you in your calorie deficit. Some say that weight loss is 10-20% exercise and the rest is diet.
When you eat something, your body can do 1 of 3 things. It can burn it for energy, build muscle with it or store it as fat. We need a certain number of calories just to maintain life, which we call our basal metabolic rate. If you eat too little food (even if you are dieting), your metabolic rate slows dramatically because your body thinks it is starving. That means you begin using muscle tissue for energy and store fat instead.
To get food that is low in calories while high in nutritional value, means more protein. Keep in mind too, that muscle is ultimately made of protein. Getting plenty allows your body to get the nutrients it needs while operating at a calorie deficit. Diets high in protein are strongly associated with weight loss and muscle gain.4,5 So, be sure to get 1g for every pound of bodyweight you are shooting for every day. More is fine too. For example, if you weigh 200lbs and you are hoping to get down to 170, you should eat 170 grams of protein daily.
To build muscle, you’ve got to lift
Obviously, building muscle requires lifting weights. But not just any lifting will do. You need to use relatively heavy weight to the point of failure. This is what is required to break down muscles such that they can be rebuilt. When your body rebuilds them, it makes them bigger and stronger. The key here is to ensure you are getting enough calories to support this process while fueling your body. This is challenging when you are operating on a calorie deficit at the same time, so be careful that your calorie deficit isn’t too extreme. Otherwise, you won’t build muscle because your body will be breaking it down for energy as quickly as you can build it. You can learn how to most effectively lift weights here.
To Build Muscle and Burn Fat Together is a Slow Process
Our world has become one in which instant gratification is the norm. But when it comes to your health, there’s no such thing. Losing weight and building muscle both require time, patience and persistence. It is not a fast process.
You might try to lose weight really fast, but you WILL sacrifice significant muscle by doing so. Remember, you have to operate on a calorie deficit, but not a big deficit. So, look to lose about 1-2lbs. weekly. Any more than that and you’re probably not eating enough and thus sacrificing muscle gains.
So, if you do it right, you can lose weight and build muscle at the same time. That means only a moderate calorie deficit and spending at least a few days a week in the gym. The food you do eat should be nutrient dense and include plenty of protein. Lastly, be patient and persistent. This isn’t going to happen overnight, but it will be worth it.