“How can I gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?” That’s right up there with “How do I get six pack abs” as one of the most frequently asked fitness questions of all time. The problem is, when you ask it, you get all kinds of conflicting answers – even from experts who are supposed to know these things. So what’s the deal? Is it really possible to lose fat and build muscle simultaneously?
Short answer: Yes, you can gain muscle and lose fat at the “same time.”
Long answer: It’s difficult and it’s complicated. Allow me to explain….
First we have the issue of whether you really lose fat and gain muscle at the “same time.”
Well, yes, if your definition of the “same time” is say, a month or 12 weeks. But in that case, you’re probably not gaining muscle at the “same time” literally speaking, as in, right now this very moment you are reading this, or 7 days a week, 24 hours a day for months in a row.
The best explanation for what’s really happening is that you alternate between periods of caloric surplus (anabolism) and caloric deficit (catabolism) and the net result is a gain in muscle and a loss in body fat.
You see, if you stay in a calorie surplus, it’s the body’s natural tendency for body fat and lean body mass to go up together. And if you stay in a calorie deficit, it’s your body’s natural tendency for body fat and lean body mass to go down together.
There may be exceptions, but the general rule is that it is very difficult to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time – the mechanisms are mostly antagonistic to one another. When it does happen, it’s almost always the result of “unusual conditions” – I call them X factors.
The 4 X-Factors
The first X-factor is “training age” . Ever hear of “newbie gains?” The less trained your body is and the further you are from your genetic potential, the easier it is to gain muscle. The reverse is also true – an advanced bodybuilder with 20 years experience would be thrilled just to gain a few pounds of solid dry muscle in a year!
The second x factor is muscle memory. It’s easier to regain muscle you’ve lost than it is to gain new muscle in the first place (ergo, the fat out of shape semi retired bodybuilder who starts training again and blows up and gets ripped “overnight”).
The third X factor is genetics (or somatotype). Ever heard of the “genetic freak?” That’s the dude who sprouts muscle like weeds even when he’s on the “50-50 diet” (50% McDonald’s and 50% pizza)… and he never gets fat. (That dude chose the right parents!)
The fourth X factor is drugs. It would stun (or sadden) you if you knew how many people take performance and physique-enhancing drugs. I’m not just talking about pro bodybuilders, I’m talking about “Joe six pack” in the gym – not to mention those fitness models you idolize in the magazines. How did they get large muscle gains with concurrent fat loss? Chemicals.
I’m not a gambling man, but I’ll place a wager on this any day: I’ll bet that in 99% of the cases of large muscle gains with concurrent large fat losses, one or more of these x factors were present.
That’s not all! There are actually 5 more X factors related to your body composition and diet status (the X2 factors). But I’ll have to talk about those later.
So you’re not a beginner, you don’t take roids, you’re not a genetic freak and you have no muscle memory to take advantage of. Are you S.O.L? Well, I do want you to be realistic about your goals, but…
There IS a way for the average person to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
The Secret: You have to change your “temporal perspective!”
Traditionally nutritionists and fitness pros have only looked at calorie balance in terms of 24 hour periods. At midnight, you could tally up the calories like a shopkeeper closing out his register, and if the balance were positive, you’d say you were in a surplus for the day. If the balance were negative, you’d say you were in a deficit for the day.
But it’s entirely possible that you might pass through periods of “within-day” surplus where you were in a highly anabolic state (for example, you eat the biggest, highest carb meal of the day after your workout), and you were in a deficit the rest of the day.
If you did intense weight training, and you timed your nutrient intake appropriately, Isn’t it possible that you could gain a small amount of muscle during those anabolic hours, while losing fat the rest of the day? Granted it might only be grams or ounces – but what if you kept that up for a week? A month? Three months?
As you pan out and look at the bigger picture, what if most days of the week you were in a deficit for the entire day, and on some days you were in a surplus? If so, then isn’t it possible that over the course of the week, you’d have a small net gain of muscle and loss of body fat a a result of the caloric fluctuation?
These within-day and within-week phases are called microcycles and mesocycles. If you also had a primary goal with a longer term focus of several months, say 12 weeks or 16 weeks, that would be a macrocycle.
What I’ve just described is nutritional periodization. Some people call it cyclical dieting. it’s where you manipulate your calories (primarily by fluctuating carbohydrate intake, hence “carb cycling”) in order to intentionally zig zag your way through periods of surplus and deficit and create specific hormonal responses.
The end result: muscle gain and fat loss during the same time period!
I know that someone out there is having a hissy fit because I’ve only talked about calories: deficits and surpluses. Rightfully so. Calories matter but there’s more to it than calories – most importantly, hormones and “nutrient partitioning.”
If you’re in a calorie deficit you are going to pull energy from your body.The question is: From WHERE? If your hormones are out of whack and you’re eating crap, you could lose more muscle than fat in a deficit and gain almost pure fat, not muscle, in a surplus!
But WHAT IF you could manipulate within day energy balance, use nutritional periodization AND control your hormones with food and lifestyle strategies?
AHA! NOW you can see how concurrent muscle gain and fat loss are starting to look possible!
Make no mistake – concurrent muscle gain and fat loss is a difficult goal to achieve. The good news: difficult does not mean impossible. Or as George Santayana said, “The difficult is that which can be done immediately, the impossible, that which takes a little longer.”
For more information go to www.burnthefat.com
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author ofBurn the Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has writtenover 140 articles and has been featured in Iron Man Magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development,Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for Global-Fitness.com and the nutrition editor for Femalemuscle.com and his articles are featured regularly on literally dozens of other websites.