I wrote this post at the end of 2011 to share whether I thought it was possible to simultaneously lose body fat AND gain muscle mass. Some people are of the mindset that these two cannot be accomplished at the same time, while others (hint,hint) couldn’t disagree more. This is definitely one of those times where what you think makes sense on paper doesn’t in the real world. And I’ve got over 20 years of experience to prove it! Enjoy!
So here we go again with yet another hotly debated fitness topic amongst trainers.
This week’s question – Can you gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met over the years who are confused on this topic – and it’s a question that comes up time and time again in magazines, on websites and in gyms across the world.
The conventional wisdom is that it isn’t possible to build up and slim down at the same time. After all supposedly the only way to lose body fat is by eating fewer calories than you burn. So how can you build muscle while in a calorie deficit? But while I know many people will say it isn’t possible, I’m going to go against the grain and say YES YOU CAN!
I think the big problem with this debate is that it’s made to seem black or white. Nothing is ever as simple as just eating less or eating more. I can tell you personally I HAVE lost fat and gained muscle at the same time in my twenty years of training. I can also tell you that achieving a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories (1 Pound of Fat) per week, either through diet, exercise, or both, doesn’t always lead to a pound of fat lost. Sometimes it does, sometimes you may lose nothing, and other times you’ll lose even more. So how is that possible? It’s simple – your body is far more resilient, complex, and adaptable then simple equations on paper would lead you to believe. And we’re talking about two different things here. On one hand we’re burning fat, on the other we’re training to gain muscle mass. The losses and gains can happen synergistically, but the modes by which they take place are totally independant. I’ll give you a case in point – The Biggest Loser. On that show contestants routinely drop 100′s of pounds of fat AND gain slabs of muscle, all while in a calorie deficit!
The key word here is adaptation. If you exercise, and especially if you engage in regular weight training as part of your program, you will grow new muscle tissue. It’s how your body responds to the stimulus you place on it. But here again I’ll throw a monkey wrench into the equation – I don’t think you necessarily need to be in a caloric deficit to lose fat! And conversely I don’t think you need to eat beyond your daily calorie requirements to gain muscle. As an example lets say you’re a bit overweight, and you decide to try a new eating and exercise plan. You start eating clean, natural foods that are low in sugar, with lots of vegetables and lean proteins. And you hit the gym with an appropriate exercise program. Do you really think you’ll need to watch every calorie and be under your daily requirements to shed fat? Or eat more to gain? Heck no! It’s not only how much you eat, but WHAT you eat that can influence body composition due to hormones within the body.
When you eat healthy and regularly exercise, your body’s entire operating system changes, and since you’ll most likely have a stable blood sugar level, you’ll be using more fat as fuel than before. Plus, you’ll be supplying your body with quality proteins, so you’ll have the necessary ingredients to maintain and build muscle mass. As I’ve said before, no one gains fat from eating veggies, meats, and fruits, unless of course they’re breaded, fried or drowned in syrup!
I have to tell you that this debate drives me nuts! I’ve seen so many “pros” tell people that they can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time, making the body seem as though it can’t multitask. That’s insane! The human body is the ultimate Master Multitasker, and under the right conditions is fully capable of losing fat and gaining muscle synergistically. Can I tell you exactly how this happens? Nope, as I don’t think it’s something that can be measured. But what I can do is share my personal experience and what I’ve seen others achieve throughout the years. When you ask your body to do something, and show it respect and care, it will oblige you.
Remember, your body is resilient, strong, highly adaptable and above all, smart. Don’t underestimate it!