What’s the Best Way to Build Muscle and Lose Fat?

Can you lose fat and build muscle at the same time? If so, how do weight loss and muscle gain happen together? Get-Fit Guy has fat-burning, muscle-building workout.

Ben Greenfield,
July 1, 2013
Episode #144

What’s the Best Way to Build Muscle and Lose Fat?

When it comes to the sweet spot for getting a better body, one of the top strategies for getting impressive results fast is to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.

I covered this topic previously in the episode How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time, but there’s been some new research since then, so today you’re going to learn exactly how many calories you should eat when you’re trying to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Plus, I’ll give you the best fat-loss, muscle-building workouts to try..

Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?

As we discussed in my first episode on this topic, it certainly seems counterintuitive that you can have the body in a “loss” state and a “gain” state at the same time. But it turns out that if you do the right things, this is actually possible. The strategies you need to use are:

  1. Combining calorie restriction with weight training

  2. Giving yourself specific days of the week to “re-feed” with higher calorie intake (also known as “calorie cycling”)

  3. Avoiding excessive aerobic cardio, which breaks down the muscle you’re trying to build and can give you a “skinny-fat” look (learn more about that in my episode How to Avoid Being Skinny-Fat)

How Many Calories Should You Eat For Fat Loss and Muscle Gain?

So how fast should you lose fat if you’re trying to simultaneously gain muscle? This question was addressed in a recent study. In this study, changes in body composition, strength, and power were measured during a weekly body-weight loss of 0.7% per week (a slow reduction fat loss program) vs. a body-weight loss of 1.4% (a fast reduction fat loss program).

In the slow reduction group, total calorie intake was reduced by about 20%, but in the fast reduction group, calorie intake was reduced by about 30%. While both groups were able to lose fat, the only group that was able to both lose fat and gain muscle at the same time was the slow reduction group. So it turns out that if you undercut your calories too much on a fat-loss, muscle-gain diet, then you won’t be able to do the muscle-gain part. So if you’re currently eating 2,000 calories per day, you could safely reduce your calories by 20%, which would be 400 calories – putting you at 1,600 calories per day. If you eat less than that, you won’t be able to gain muscle.

But that’s not all. The study results also showed that the ideal rate of weight loss in a fat-loss muscle-gain program was 0.7% per week. So if you weigh 150 pounds, then 0.7% of 150 is .007 multiplied by 150, and comes out to a weight loss of 1.05 pounds per week. This may seem like a slow rate of weight loss, but remember – at the same time that you’re losing fat, you’re gaining muscle!

Should You Diet Or Exercise for Fat Loss and Muscle Gain?

Another recent review looked at the most effective techniques used by bodybuilders who were getting ready for a bodybuilding show. As an ex-competitive bodybuilder, I can attest to the fact that in those final weeks leading up to the pressure of posing on stage, there is an enormous emphasis on maintaining all the muscle you’ve worked so hard to build, while simultaneously losing as much fat as possible.

It turns out that bodybuilders who combined excessive aerobic exercise with calorie restriction were able to successfully lose fat leading up to their competition, but they actually lost more muscle compared to bodybuilders who instead focused on calorie restriction, without doing much aerobic cardio. This makes sense since high amounts of aerobic cardio is “catabolic,” meaning that it can break down muscle very easily. This is actually one of the strategies I used to transform myself from a 210 pound bodybuilder into a 175 pound triathlete – I combined high amounts of cardio with calorie restriction to actually eat up my muscle. As you can probably imagine, if I were trying to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, this strategy would have been a pretty bad idea!

A Fat Loss/Muscle Gain Plan

So what does a good fat loss and muscle gain plan look like? It’s actually fairly simple: Lift heavy enough weights to build muscle while at the same time avoiding lots of cardio, eating about 20% fewer calories than you’re used to eating, and shooting for a rate of weight loss of about 0.7% per week.

So for example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you could perform 5 sets of 5 repetitions of:

  1. Squat

  2. Overhead Press

  3. Deadlift

  4. Pull-Up

  5. Bench Press

On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, you could do 20-30 minutes of high-intensity interval cardio, such as 10 sets of 30 seconds of hard bicycling efforts, with each effort separated by full recovery. You would use Sunday as a full recovery day.

On each day, you’d want to eat enough protein to be able to build muscle, while avoiding excessive amounts of sugar, starch, fried foods, and vegetable oils. So for example, you could have my world-famous green smoothie for breakfast, a large salad with nuts, avocadoes and olives for lunch, fish and roasted vegetables with wild rice for dinner, and a protein shake with a healthy protein powder and coconut or almond milk in the morning or afternoon after your workout. Of course, I recommend that you have one day on which you eat slightly more calories than usual – and for me, that means a bit of dark chocolate and red wine in the evening, or even one of my favorite indulgences – coconut ice cream! As long as you’re exercising and lifting weights, you can get away with this type of cheat every once in a while on a muscle gain and fat loss program.

If you have more questions about how to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, post them in the Comments section of head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy. See you there!

Body Builder image from Shutterstock