Can you burn fat and build muscle at the same time?
The simple answer is “yes” but the better answer is “it depends”. Ultimately you need to be asking better questions. Losing fat and building muscle are fairly simple processes whether you do them at the same time or separately. It all starts with being realistic about where you are, where you want to be, and when you want to be there.
"Working Man Muscle"
A working man’s guide to getting leaner, more muscular, and stronger (without fad diets and goofy workout routines).
Now is the time
The first step on the journey of getting leaner and more muscular is creating a plan to get there. There are several great programs that can educate you and guide you. Here our favorites for beginners.
Created by Craig Ballantyne, Turbulence Training is a circuit-training style workout program with several levels of intensity. You won’t be lifting really heavy weights on this program or even focusing on sets and reps all that much. Rather you’ll be working through full-body circuits of exercises designed to push you to your physical limits without breaking you. Minimal equipment is needed and the program is ideal for a home workout. Detailed video walkthroughs are provided for every workout.
Muscle Gaining Secrets 2.0
Created by Jason Ferruggia, Muscle Gaining Secrets 2.0 is a solid educational and instructional program for beginners and skinny guys. It gives simple, practical instruction and teaches you how to design a workout on your own. You’ll be doing more athletic upper / lower body workout splits combined with high intensity workout “finishers”. This program works better in a gym environment or at home if you have the right equipment. Also gain ongoing access (paid) to new workouts, videos, and the Renegade Coaching Community.
Body Transformation Blueprint
Created by Sean Nalewanyj (Nal for short), the Body Transformation Blueprint is a complete muscle building and fat loss guide based on simple, tried and true principles that just make sense. You’ll be doing traditional bodybuilding style workouts couple with “bulking” and “cutting” diet cycles to achieve the most efficient muscle gains and fat loss. You’ll want access to a gym and a variety of equipment for this program. In addition to a comprehensive guide and video instruction, you’ll also get access to personal email coaching.
Burning Fat Building Muscle
“Burning fat” is the term we use to describe the body’s ability to use stored fat for energy. Most of us gain fat slowly over time until one day we look in the mirror and don’t recognize ourselves. How did that happen?
There are a few reasons but mostly it’s because as we age our metabolisms slow, we become less active, and we over eat. To counteract this, in theory, we simply need to increase our activity and decrease how much we eat. But, as you’ve probably discovered, it’s not quite that easy.
Our bodies don’t want to give up fat and they don’t want to build too much muscle. We’re biologically wired for survival so our bodies hold on to fat – the richest and most easily stored calorie source – while minimizing or even decreasing muscle mass – which is difficult for our bodies to build and maintain. In other words, we have to give our bodies a very good reason to lose fat and gain muscle. Here is how you can do it:
1. Be a Beginner. If you haven’t been following an intelligently designed muscle building program for at least the last 6 months and have experienced significant muscle gains, then you’re probably a “beginner”. It’s much easier for people who haven’t gained a lot muscle already to gain it in the early stages of starting a muscle building program. Because of the quick muscle gains beginners experience, fat loss often also occurs because of a metabolic boost as well as a calorie deficit created by increased activity. This is not to say that more advanced weight lifters can’t burn fat and lose muscle simultaneously, it’s just not as easy. Most often advanced lifters get better results by cycling through muscle gain (bulking) and fat loss (cutting) phases.
2. Clean Up Your Diet. Eating a balance of protein, carbs, and fat is important but the quality of those macro nutrients is far more important. Get your protein from lean meats like grilled or baked (not fried) chicken, turkey, fish, and even lean ground beef. Eat nutrient dense whole carbs like fruit, vegetables, potatoes, and whole grains as opposed to sugary, processed, empty calorie carbs. Finally, for fats, focus on cooking with olive oil or coconut oil and eating nuts and avocados. In most cases getting enough fat isn’t a problem for people.
Lean Protein Examples
Grilled or Baked Chicken Breast
Grilled or Baked Chicken Tenderloin
Baked Turkey (like a Butterball)
Deli Sliced Turkey
Grilled, Baked, or Pan Seared Salmon
Lean Ground Beef (90/10)
Grilled or Pan Seared Sirloin Steak
Nutrient Dense Carb Examples
Whole Rolled Oats
Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Spinach, etc.
Apples, Bananas, Blueberries, etc.
Whole Grain Breads (in moderation)
“Good” Fat Examples
Almonds, Walnuts, Pistachios, etc.
Feta, Provolone, Parmesan Cheese
Trace Fats from Meats
3. Determine Your Maintenance Calories. Maintenance calories or TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) are the number of calories you need to eat to stay at your current weight assuming your current activity level stays the same. Finding your maintenance calories is a bit of a process as you can only accurately find them through keeping track of your calories, daily activities and if your weight is going up or down. The good news is you don’t have to be exact here.
There are some great online calculators to get you started (tdeecalculator.net). You need to find your maintenance calories based on your “Sedentary / No Exercise” activity level. What you’re trying to find is a baseline of calories needed to stay at your current weight assuming no exercise. This is key to building muscle and losing fat simultaneously.
If you use an online calculator to find your sedentary maintenance calories you may be surprised to find that the results require you to eat more than you’re currently eating. This is often the case if you have a slow metabolism. If that’s your situation you may find yourself gaining a little weight at first as you try to eat up to your suggested maintenance calories but in most cases that will stabilize, especially if you’ve accurately followed the “Clean Up Your Diet” step above. If you’re eating clean for a few weeks and you continue to gain weight while eating at your maintenance, simply reduce your calories by 200-300 per day until you stop gaining.
4. Plan Your Meals by the Macros. Meal planning is normally where people fail with any diet and exercise program. There are plenty of “done for you” plans out there but in most cases those plan fall way outside your normal shopping and cooking routine. You’re better off taking some time and planning meals based on the amount of protein, carbs, and fat you’re aiming to eat each day. It’s easiest to see how this is done by an example so let’s assume you’ve calculated your sedentary maintenance calories as 2,000. You just have to back into that number by calculating the number of calories you need from each macronutrient – 4 calories for protein and carbs and 9 calories for fat.
Start with protein. Many suggest eating 1g of protein per pound of ideal bodyweight. So if your goal weight is 170, you’d eat 170g of protein. Again, you don’t have to be this specific. For most people simply eating between 150-200g of protein a day is good enough to build muscle but for our example we’ll stick with 170. That would be 680 calories from protein (170 x 4).
Next calculate your fat. Getting 25-35% of your calories from fat is a good starting point so we’ll start with 30%. That means for a 2,000 calorie diet you’d need 600 calories to come from fat (2,000 x .30 = 600). You’d need to eat about 67g of fat a day to get 600 calories from fat (600 / 9 = 67). Last, just fill in the rest of your calories with carbs.
2,000 calories – 680 from protein – 600 from fat = 720 calories needed from carbs. You’d need 180g of carbs per day to get 720 calories (720 / 4 = 180). Here’s a summary:
2,000 calories total
-170g protein (680 cal)
-180g carbs (720 cal)
-67g fat (603 cal)
Once you have those numbers, then you’ll need to find the right clean whole food sources to reach those numbers. It does take a little work but the MyFitness Pal app by Under Armor makes it very easy. Do be careful when using this app because since many of the nutritional values are entered by users, much of the macro information is wrong. You’re better off creating your own foods based on food labels and searching online at sites like acaloriecounter.com. IF you’d rather just get some “done for you” meals there are no better than Sean Nal’s from his Body Transformation Blueprint. He has made these available for free online and you can download them here.
5. Create a Calorie Deficit through Weight and Cardio Training. If you’re eating enough clean whole food calories each day to reach your sedentary maintenance calorie level then any additional activity you perform will create a calorie deficit. Creating a calorie deficit is how we lose weight. That deficit can be created by eating less calories than your maintenance or it can be done through increased activity or both. Often people try to “go on a diet” by decreasing their calorie intake below their maintenance level and starting a workout program at the same time. Understand, you will lose weight if you do this but you’ll lose muscle and strength too. The way to build muscle and lose fat at the same time is to eat at your sedentary maintenance calorie level and then create a calorie deficit through increased activity, i.e. weight training and cardio. So while eating at your sedentary maintenance level you might jog a mile in the morning and then weight train with moderate intensity in the evening for 45 minutes. You would expect to create a calorie deficit of 300-400 calories. At that rate you should lose at least a pound of fat per week while maintaining or building muscle (assuming your macros are on point).
When bodybuilders go on a cutting cycle by creating a calorie deficit, they are planning to lose some muscle and strength along the way. They are banking on the fact that during the bulking cycle when they ate a calorie surplus they built so much muscle and strength that they could afford to lose a little while still staying competitive. This bulking and cutting cycle is great when your body fat is low and you have decent muscle mass but if you’re out of shape and ready to start getting seriously fit by burning fat and building muscle at the same time following the steps above will get you there!
BUILDING A HOME GYM
It doesn’t take much equipment to start building muscle and burning fat but in most cases at least some equipment will make your training time more efficient and productive. Building a home gym is easier today than it’s ever been but it’s tough to know what you really need. The six pieces below when used in conjunction with bodyweight exercises are all you need to build an amazing body!
Pull Up Bar
If you decided to only do bodyweight exercises you'd be making a great choice but you would still need a way to pull yourself up. That's why a pull up bar of some kind is essential and the first piece of equipment I recommend. The benefit of a wall or ceiling mounted pull up bar is stability. There are door mounted bars that just hang but I don't trust them. Go for the stability and quality of a mounted bar.
Kettlebells are the most versitle weights around. Lift them, press them, carry them or swing them. There's not much you can't do with kettlebells. This adjustable kettlebell (10-40 pounds) will give you the variety of weight you need for a variety of exercises. It would be best to buy two so you can do excercises like loaded carries.
One of the things people don't consider is that when they lose weight they automatically reduce the weight they're lifting - think about pull-ups, pushups, and squats. A weighted vest can counteract that effect. Plus weighted vests are excellent to wear during cardio workouts to drastically increase your calorie burn.
TRX Suspension Trainer
Absolutely the most versatile piece of equipment in existence, suspension trainers enable you to perform dozens of exercises (some that you couldn't perform any other way) and use your bodyweight as resistance. Used in conjunction with a weighted vest, you might be able to accomplish all of your fitness goals.
Another "piece" of equipment with a variety of uses, resistance bands allow you to warm up, stretch, and provide assistance with exercises like pull-ups and dips. They are excellent for use in recovering after an injury or to workout sore muscles as well.
Fitbit Alta HR
Not exactly "equipment" but the Fitbit Alta is a surprisingly accurate heart rate and activity tracker. In addition you can track your overall progress in a variety of ways including logging your workouts and the quality of your sleep - all important aspects of achieving your best health.
Burn & Build