What should you eat to build muscle while burning fat?
Today marks the end of the “Gain Muscle not Fat” Series.
Short recap of the last parts of this series:
Last week, we talked about the right training to build muscle while burning fat. Today, I am going to share my nutritional tips to increase fat loss while trying to build muscle. These tips are all based on the scientific facts I explained in earlier posts (see above), so make sure to read those first (they are not too long, I promise!)!
The 4 weeks challenge is going to start soon! I will be sending the training and nutrition plans to everyone on this list on Saturday – Sunday, so you can have a look before we start on Monday!
1. Carbohydrates as fuel
As carbohydrates are the main nutritional component to decrease fat loss and build muscle, we need to use them strategically as fuel.
Then, you will eat most of your carbohydrates in the morning and post-workout.
In the morning, your Insulin sensitivity is quite high, as you have been fasting all night. Have a healthy dose of complex carbohydrates along with fruits to start your day right.
Post-workout, carbohydrates don’t create a high Insulin spike. Especially after strength training and HIIT, your body’s fat burning processes will be activated and you can eat more carbs without hindering fat loss.
Your third carbohydrate meal will be right before your workout: No more than 30 min before. If you can’t eat anything so close before working out, you can drink your carbohydrates by preparing a protein shake with fruits. If you can work out without having a carbohydrate source before your workout, cut it out and have more carbs post-workout instead.
Just to be clear, when I refer to carbohydrates, I mean complex carbs like bread, pasta, oatmeal, as well as simple carbs, such as fruits. You are allowed and should (!) include vegetables at most meals, if you can eat some at each meal.
2. Reverse dieting
Instead of eating a caloric surplus, you will reverse your diet. Even if you have not been dieting and have been eating at maintenance level, reverse dieting will help you to put on muscle mass while burning fat. The reason you are able to burn fat while increasing calories is that you are increasing metabolism at the same time.
Thus, you will eat enough calories to build muscle but your metabolism will be so high that the additional calories are not going to be stored as fat.
If you would like to be very exact, you can track your macronutrients.
I recommend to keep Protein consistent at 1-1.2g/lb of bodyweight, fats around 0.4 g/lb of bodyweight or 25% of total calories. The rest is going to come from carbohydrates. The only instance you are going to increase is going to be carbs. I find that this way of reverse dieting is the easiest.
It can also be done without counting macronutrients.
If you were having 1 serving of carbohydrates for breakfast and 2 for post-workout, you can increase by 1/2 serving for 1 meal each week.
3. Cycle your diet
Remember the nutrition principle for fat loss? -> Caloric deficit
And the one for building muscle? -> Caloric surplus
How can we strive to achieve both?
By cycling our diet.
While reverse dieting, you are going to increase calories slowly over an extended period of time. However, this does not mean that you have to eat the same amount of food every day. This is the reason why I don’t exactly recommend following IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and macro-counting. When following a macro-plan, nutritionist give you certain numbers for protein, carbohydrates and fats you need to hit every day. However, our body is not a calculator. It will adapt quickly to the same amount of foods taken in day after day and change hormones released in response to eating.
In fact, it should be your goal to ultimately transition to intuitive eating, once you have reached your fitness goals. How can you be able to eat according to hunger when you are used to eat to hit certain numbers for your meals?
I recommend to cycle your diet according to your training and activity level. This will teach your body to use the high calories on intense training days to build muscle and increase fat loss on low-intensity training days and fewer calories.
- Nutrition on rest days: Decrease carbohydrates. Have a normal serving for breakfast and then only 1 serving of fruits and a lot of vegetables for the rest of the day. Increase your vegetable and fat intake instead. Only eat as much as you are hungry. It is okay if you end up eating far less calories than on training days. You will not lose muscle. Instead, your body will learn to use the extra fuel on training days to build muscle.
So, once to twice per week you are going to decrease carbohydrate intake.
- On training days: Eat according to your hunger, without going overboard. The goal is to reverse your diet but not to eat in a high caloric surplus. If you have eaten according to your meal plan but are still hungry (real hunger – not appetite or cravings!), increase food intake. Your metabolism is responding faster, which means you can increase calories faster too.
For more detailed information on this, make sure to subscribe to the 4 weeks challenge. I explain very thoroughly how to cycle your nutrition on different training days as well!
4. Take progress pictures
The goal with this plan is not weight loss or weight gain. In fact, we are trying to increase calories and muscle mass without a change on the scale. This way you will stay fairly lean but build a better physique and strength. Thus, it is important to take progress pictures. Otherwise, you will not be able to see changes in your body. We look into the mirror every single day and oftentimes miss signs if improvement.
5. Weigh yourself 1x/week
1-2x a week you are going to weigh yourself to make sure you are neither gaining, nor losing significant weight. I stress “significant” here because in the end, you might end up losing a little bit of weight along the way. If you have gained weight, you will adjust your meal plan.
6. What to do if you gained weight
If the number on the scale is increasing consistently, don’t panic. Your body might need a little bit more time to adjust to the higher caloric intake. Instead of increasing calories, you will stop and stay at the same calories as the week before, until your weight gain has stopped or you have even lost weight.
Many times, the weight gain is not fat but water, as the body is trying to adjust to food intake. Give yourself more time and only start increasing calories when your weight has returned back to normal again. Fluctuations of 1-2lbs are normal. Weight gain is anything above 2-4 lbs.
7. What to do if you lost weight
If you are increasing calories and training hard but still losing weight, it means your body is responding too well! You can furthermore increase calories, until your weight returns back to normal. Otherwise, you risk losing muscle mass and decreasing metabolism, which is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve.
Don’t overcomplicate this process. Don’t get caught up in numbers or panic if sometimes you don’t see any changes. Trust the science and your body’s ability to adapt to any given circumstance. Don’t you want to be able to eat a lot of good food, train smarter (not harder, or both) and achieve your fitness goals?
Have fun with your workouts and eat clean 80% of the time, with little treats along the way. Enjoy your food but teach your body to use it as fuel. This way, you will not only attain a healthy body image but your hormones will be balanced as well and food cravings, binge eating etc. will be issues of the past.
I hope you enjoyed this series on building muscle and burning fat. It took me 1 full month to read research papers for this and 2 additional weeks to write it all down. It was very fun and I learned a lot, I hope you did too!
The 4 weeks challenge is going to start February 22nd. I will send the nutrition and workout plans to all who have subscribed on Saturday – Sunday, February 20th/21st.
However, it is never too late to join, this challenge can be done any time and you can also continue doing it for 8 or 12 weeks!
In fact, I plan on continuing this program until May or beginning of June. Then, I will start a short 4-6 weeks prep for summer! If you guys will like this challenge, let me know if you would be interested in a summer bikini prep series too! It will be all about cutting/ losing weight without losing muscle mass and explain the science too (of course). I haven’t prepared anything for it yet, just an idea that popped into my head!