How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time

Learn how to lose fat and build muscle at the same time and get a sample workout to do just that.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #39

Get-Fit Guy Ben Greenfield on How to Burn the Most Fat

Just admit it. It would be pretty nice if you could walk into a gym and a do a workout that burns fat and builds muscle at the same time. There’s nothing like the best of both worlds! But is it really possible to lose that extra flab around your waistline, and get firm, toned muscles at the same time? And if so, how do you do it without defying the laws of physics? In this article, you’ll learn whether it is possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, and if so, how?

Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle At The Same Time?

Technically, it seems impossible to build muscle and lose fat. Here is why: Your body needs about 2,500 calories to build one pound of muscle. So if you wanted to make one pound of muscle in seven days, you could eat an extra 350 calories every day. Assuming you are weight training, those extra calories can easily be converted into muscle. But you also need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat. So if you wanted to lose one pound of fat in seven days, each day you would need to eat 500 fewer calories than you were burning so that your body would use your storage fat for energy instead of the calories you were eating. Unless you have a very cool, physics-defying trick up your sleeve, it’s impossible to eat an extra 350 calories a day to build muscle and also eat 500 fewer calories a day to lose fat! So at first glance, it should be impossible to both build muscle and lose fat.

What Do Fat Burning and Muscle Building Studies Tell Us?

In a situation like this, the best place to turn is science, which can tell us whether something that seems to be impossible may actually be possible.

One study from California State University tracked a group of healthy men for eight weeks. The men ate a lot of food--over 4000 calories a day--and did weight training four days a week for 60-90 minutes. The men gained an average of six pounds of muscle, but also gained ½ pound of fat. In another study, men also trained with weights several times a week, but this time, they ate just a little over 2000 calories a day. This group gained 2.5 pounds of muscle and lost over 7 pounds of fat!

What About Fat Burning and Muscle Building Studies with Women?

How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle At the Same Time

A similar set of studies were done on women. Women who performed weight training workouts for eight weeks, but didn’t diet, added 2.4 pounds of muscle, but didn’t lose much fat. In the same study, a group of women who dieted added a pound of muscle over the same time frame, but lost a significant amount of fat.

So far, we’ve learned that you can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, but you need to be willing to gain muscle at a significantly lower rate than you would if you weren’t trying to lose fat at the same time.

The Most Interesting Finding

But perhaps most interesting is a study of fourteen women who were on a significantly small, 800 calorie, high protein diet. Seven of the women lifted weights for 30-40 minutes three days a week, and the other seven women dieted but did not weigh train. Both groups of women lost 33 pounds, but the group that weight lifted actually increased their lean muscle mass by 6 percent, whereas the women that did not lift weights lost muscle along with the fat.

So now we’ve learned that if you want to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, you can even do it when you’re dieting, but you have to lift weights!

How Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time

Now, there is one missing key that will make if far easier to lose fat and build muscle at the same time...


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.