How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat Simultaneously

Probably one of the biggest questions that lifters ask is whether it’s possible to build muscle while losing fat at the same time.

You really can’t blame them for wondering this, considering it’s preached to us that to build muscle, you must eat more food, which implies being in a calorie surplus.

This is an important point considering it is virtually impossible to lose fat if you are consuming more calories than you burn.

So given this, how then could you build muscle while losing fat at the same time?

Well, you do so by eating less.

Now, before you scoff at the notion of building muscle through eating less food, allow me to explain the requirements that must be met in order to achieve this feat of body recomposition.

 

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO

1) Calorie Deficit

First of all, you must be in a calorie deficit (consume fewer calories than you burn) in order to lose fat.

Luckily for us, the body can still build muscle in a calorie deficit.

While a calorie surplus is highly more effective than a deficit for muscle-building, it is not mandatory.

Therefore, if you put your body in a slight deficit and adhere to the following two points, your body will lose fat, while building muscle.

How?

Muscle growth is very energy-expensive. In other words, a calorie surplus is recommended for muscle growth because it provides the body with an adequate amount of energy to carry out the task.

Having said this, the body can still grow muscle in the absence of a surplus by utilizing body fat for energy. This is how simultaneous muscle growth and fat loss occurs.

 

2) High Protein Intake

The second change you must make when embarking on body recomposition is an increase in protein intake.

It has been posited that when your body is in a calorie deficit, it’s requirement for protein increases.

While the maximum requirement for protein in a calorie surplus is about 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight, this number likely becomes greater when we talk about calorie deficits (study, study).

From this great paper on protein requirements during calorie restriction, Helms & colleagues recommend a range of 1 – 1.4 g/lb of fat-free mass.

Contrary to this hypothesis, Menno Henselmans states that you do not need to increase your protein intake to this extent, and that 0.8 g/lb of bodyweight is all you need, regardless of whether you’re in a surplus or a deficit.

While the evidence on who is right is still unclear, I would suggest a safe range to be 0.8 – 1.3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight when in a calorie deficit.

It is important to note that the leaner you are while embarking on a calorie restricted diet, the more protein you will need than someone with more body fat (more on this later).

The bottom line is that while anything over 0.8 g of protein per pound is usually overkill for muscle growth when in a calorie surplus, this amount should be a bare minimum for lean individuals looking to gain muscle in a deficit.

 

3) Strength Training

The final key to achieving body recomposition will obviously be strength training.

Strength training is highly potent at stimulating protein synthesis (muscle growth).

While it is certainly necessary to train when in a calorie surplus if muscle growth is the goal, this becomes even more crucial when in a deficit (study).

Therefore, you should do everything in your power to maintain a high-volume strength training regimen to gain muscle mass – even during calorie restriction.

 

What About Cardio?

As I already discussed here, cardio is not necessary for fat loss if your diet is on point.

But if you really must, you would be better off performing high intensity interval training 2 – 3 times per week rather than steady state cardio.

This is simply because H.I.I.T. has been shown to have a positive effect on muscle mass, whereas steady state cardio tends to produce a negative effect.

 

FINAL POINTS

It is important to note that if your goal is to maximize muscle growth, then this article is not for you.

While it is certainly achievable to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously, the reality is that the rate of muscle growth will not be anywhere close to what it would be had you been in a calorie surplus.

Secondly, a large finding from the research shows that obese individuals have a much easier time gaining muscle during calorie restriction than lean individuals.

For instance, this study showed that lean individuals lost 2 – 3 fold more energy from protein oxidation as opposed to their obese counterparts.

Furthermore, this study showed that even a 40% reduction in calories resulted in an increase of muscle mass in overweight subjects.

Therefore, it is clear that the more body fat you have to start with, the easier it will be to lose fat while gaining muscle in a deficit.

This is why it’s recommended that leaner individuals stick to the high end of the spectrum for protein consumption, while overweight individuals may not have to be this strict.

On top of this, leaner individuals should keep their calorie deficit as light as possible, while overweight individuals can be far more aggressive with their deficit.

Now, this is not to say that it’s impossible for anyone who is already shredded to achieve body recomposition.

As this study showed, a group of elite level gymnasts who began at 7.6% body fat were able to drop to 5% body fat while gaining about a pound of lean body mass in the process.

It should also be mentioned that they trained 30 hours a week, while being restricted to 1971 calories per day, with protein being ~ 200 grams a day.

While this is a pretty extreme example, it just goes to show that even the most conditioned of athletes can achieve simultaneous fat loss and muscle growth, given the proper measures are adhered to.

 

Conclusion

Building muscle while losing fat is not impossible.

While it may not be easy, if you are meticulous about your training and diet, it is certainly achievable, even if you are already in shape.

All that’s required is a light reduction in calories, a very high protein intake (0.8 – 1.3 g/lb of bodyweight), along with an intense strength training regimen.

See you next time.