How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time
In the old-school world of fitness, you only focused on one goal at a time: either losing fat or gaining muscle. But what if you want to trim down and get stronger? Can you strive for both at the same time? While it can be super tricky, accomplishing both of these seemingly contradictory goals at the same time is doable. These tips will help you crack the code.
A major part of reaching both of these goals is diet.
“What I tell someone when they’re wanting to build muscle and lose weight at the same time is more or less what we’d be instructing anyone to do, consuming a well-balanced diet,” she says.
Pay attention to fat and protein intake: Too much fat or too little protein could interfere with your ability to build muscle. Sticking to a diet of high-fiber carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean proteins will help shed pounds. To hit the sweet spot, aim to fill about a quarter of the plate with carbs, a quarter with protein, and the other half with veggies. You can often get the fat you need from your lean proteins or by prepping your veggies in a healthy oil.
Keep in mind that your individual caloric needs will vary depending on your size, activity level, and how much weight you want to lose. If you want to get into hardcore specifics, talk to an R.D. to come up with a completely personalized eating plan.
When you work out hard and lift heavy, two things probably happen: You feel extra hungry and your body craves protein to refuel your muscles. But it’s easy to overdo it after a workout. Sure, eating a big, protein-filled meal after a sweat session may help you build muscle, but it definitely won’t help you lose fat.
“For women, I don’t think the message is ‘you need to eat a lot of protein to build muscle,’ it’s that you need to be eating adequate protein, which most people are doing already,” she says. If you’re eating more than a quarter of your calories from protein, or getting full before you’ve eaten your veggies and high-fiber carbs, you’re probably eating too much protein.
Forget the Scale… to an Extent
Warning: Step away from the scale. At first, when you’re losing fat and building muscle at the same time, the number on screen can be deceiving, staying the same even though you’re dropping body fat, says Lawson. That’s where things like progress pictures, measurements, and noting differences in how your clothes fit you can help you check in on your goals, he says.
Relying on weight loss or comparing your numbers to someone else’s isn’t always productive. It’s all relative, and it’s important to take your own body composition into account, says Gans. Maybe you’ve only lost five pounds, or none at all, but you’ve dropped two pant sizes. That’s a definite sign that you’re building muscle while losing fat, even if the needle on the scale won’t budge.
“The number on the scale is only a part of it and sometimes it can be misleading in that it doesn’t give the full picture of what’s going on in your body,” she says.
While you shouldn’t check the scale obsessively, you should eventually start seeing a downward trend in body weight if you’re continuing to lose fat.
Check in on Your Goals
The easiest time to build muscle and lose fat at the same time is the first six to 12 months of getting into a new workout routine, says Lawson. Women who are complete beginners to strength training, those with more body fat when they start, or those who have put a year or more into strength training but have taken some time off and are getting back into it often see the biggest results out of the gate. But after a while, it’s important to reassess your intentions.
“Think of fat loss like playing the flute and building muscle like riding a bike,” says Lawson. “Can you do both at once? Sure, for a little while, but if you want to make meaningful progress in one or the other, at some point you’ll have to prioritize which one you’re pursuing and dedicating more time and resources towards and stop trying to do two things at once.”