“How can I build muscle without gaining fat?”
This is by far the most asked question related to muscle building. Putting on lean muscle mass has so many benefits, the improved physique is only the icing of the cake. However, who would want to gain fat in that process?
Make sure to read the first parts at first:
Part 1: Fat loss explained
Part 2: Does exercise increase fat loss?
Part 3: Nutrition and fat loss
Today’s article is meant to wrap things up and have a look at what the latest research has to say regarding the issue we face: How can we build muscle AND lose fat at the same time?
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Before we look at the findings of sports medicine studies, let’s talk about the basics.
To build muscle, your body needs a surplus of calories.
Your body does not strive to build muscle. As much as you would like to put on lean muscle mass, it costs a lot of energy to do that for your body. Your body’s only concern is to survive. Thus, it will try to decrease your calorie expenditure as much as it can. It does not know about the conditions we live in – that we have access to food whenever we like and there is no risk of starvation.
To “motivate” your body to build that expensive muscle mass, you need to eat more than you burn.
To build muscle, your body needs the right stimulus
If you start eating more than you burn but only do cardio for your workouts, you will gain mostly fat. Cardio does not build muscle. It is great for heart health and increasing general fitness but to build muscle, you need to lift weights.
Thus, to build muscle, you need to start weight training.
This does not mean that you need to lift heavy barbells right now. Body weight training is also weight training. Anything that requires your muscles to work full-time to complete the movement and feels heavy to you is considered as strength training.
To lose fat, you need to consume less calories than you burn
As I explained in Part 2, exercise is not as effective for pure fat loss as nutrition is. As long as you are in a caloric deficit, fat burning will be activated, no matter what kind of exercise you do. This means that burning fat requires the exact opposite of what building muscle does.
However, to burn the highest amount of fat as possible, certain exercise forms can help us to further increase the hormones responsible for fat loss.
To lose fat, you need to include strength training and HIT
At this point, building muscle and burning fat have something in common.
The acute effects of strength training on fat loss have not been researched enough yet. However, we can assume that it’s benefits are similar to those of High intensity training. Both training styles are anaerobic in nature (don’t require oxygen) and create an increase in metabolism for hours after your workout. This does not only contribute to building muscle but also to burning more fat over an extended period of time.
Carbohydrates decrease fat burning
As I explained in Part 3, carbohydrates result in the release of Insulin. This is the hormone that decreases lipolysis, fat burning and can lead to stored fat. Thus, it makes sense to watch your portion sizes of carbohydrates if you want to burn fat.
Put it all together
If you look at the basics of nutrition and training to burn fat and build muscle, you will find that it is a very complex process, and you are right!
It will take a lot of time and patience to achieve fat loss while building muscle.
Also, progress will not be linear at all times. Your body is neither a machine, nor a calculator and there will be times when you may hit a plateau. Remember that Insulin, Ghrelin, Leptin and all other hormones regulating hunger and fat burn/ protein synthesis have other tasks in our body as well. Our body is trying to adapt constantly to our environment. Women, for instance, might experience increased soreness during their period, as well as water retention.
The key is not to give up and stay consistent.
That is the most important tip I can give you, apart from the nutrition and training techniques I am going to share in the next article.
Take Home Message
Unfortunately, there are no finished studies on this specific topic. Building muscle and burning fat at the same time requires the individual to fully understand the physiological processes in the body. Which is why I have started this series! I want you to understand the basics of how our body works and be able to use that knowledge to achieve your personal fitness/health goals.
In the next two articles, we will combine the findings of the research done on fat loss and building muscle and come up with a training and nutrition plan to reach our goals.
I decided to start the challenge
Monday, February 22nd.
I have my last exam on Friday, 19th and have to work at the clinic all day Saturday and Sunday. I can’t wait for holidays to start, so I have finally time to write something for the blog (all articles since january have been pre-written during christmas holidays) and work on another BIG project, you are going to love it 🙂