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

...Rather than simply going on a low-calorie, high-protein diet and lifting weights, you can get much better results if you cycle your caloric intake.

No, this does not mean that you eat while you’re on a bicycle. What it means is that you fluctuate (or cycle) between a period of low caloric intake and weight lifting, and a period of high caloric intake and weight lifting. Although you can lose a significant amount of fat with this strategy, it will allow you to build muscle more quickly than simply dieting.

So how do you use this muscle-building, fat-burning strategy? There are two options. The first option is to eat a low calorie diet, 500-1000 calories lower than your metabolic rate, and make sure you’re consuming adequate protein (read more about how much protein to eat in the article Do Muscle Building Supplements Really Work?) Do this 5-6 days a week. Then 1-2 days a week, eat a higher amount of calories, preferably 500-1000 calories more than what you’re burning. That is called a re-feed day, and you can learn more about it in the Get-Fit Guy newsletter.

The second option, which can be much tougher to adhere to, is to eat the same low calorie diet while weight lifting for 3-5 weeks, then spend 1-2 weeks incorporating a higher calorie intake. I can tell you from personal experience that spending 3-5 weeks on a low calorie diet can be mentally and physically challenging!

A Sample Workout to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle

Of course, none of the calorie cycling or re-feeding methods outlined above will work unless you’re weight training. So what is the best workout to lose fat and build muscle? The key is to not over-do it, since you’ll already be at a slight caloric deficit. For example, three days per week, you can lift weights for 30-40 minutes, and then on a fourth, re-feeding day, you can exercise harder, and lift weights for 60-90 minutes. If you’re adopting the weekly protocol instead, you can go 3-5 weeks lifting weights for 30-40 minutes every other day, and then during your higher calorie intake weeks, lift weights longer and harder, such as 60-90 minutes every other day.

Here is a sample program for the 30-40 minute weight lifting session and the 60-90 minute weight lifting session.

30-40 minute session:

Complete the following as a circuit, 3-4x through, with 10-12 repetitions for each exercise. Read How To Start Weight Training if you’re unsure of these movements or instructions, and use this website to see exercise videos.

  1. Dumbbell Chest Press

  2. Pull-Up or Pull-Down

  3. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  4. Seated Row or One Arm Row

  5. Squat

  6. Deadlift

  7. Incline Crunch

60-90 minute session:

Do the same circuit above, but complete the exercises one-by-one, performing 4-5 sets of 8-10 repetitions before moving on to the next exercise.

You’ll get good aerobic benefit out of your weight training, but if you want to include cardio, just perform a brief, intense 10 minute cardio bout before each weight training session. If you are at a calorie deficit, doing much more aerobic training than that may actually inhibit muscle gain.

Finally, remember that the only way to truly know if you’re losing fat and building muscle is to take your body fat percentage. I’ll be explaining more about that in next week’s article.

In the meantime, I’m curious how much muscle you’ve gained and weight you’ve lost in your program, so head over to the Get-Fit Guy Facebook page and share your experiences!

Woman with Dumbells image from Shutterstock


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.

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