You heard this story for a thousand times: first, lose all the weight and build muscle afterward. And I bet you asked yourself a thousand times “Can I lose fat AND build muscle at the same time?“. And whenever you tried to Google the question, you came across millions of different stories. We'll break it really simple here.
You CAN make a program for yourself, based on protein nutrition and planned systematic workout, where you WILL lose fat and build muscle at the same time!
And if you think that's a big one, no probs, it's even easier to make a plan for losing fat and PRESERVING muscles. Let's take a look at what you actually need to do in order to achieve this.
Do overweight people have muscles?
Absolutely! Many people out there have some weird ideas about how overweight people look from inside. If someone is overweight, that doesn't mean they have bones and fat glued on them!
Imagine a person who weighs about 150 pounds. (S)He has a normal percentage of muscles and fat, pretty much average body type and, just for fun, let's name her/him Taylor. Taylor has a 2000 calories intake every day, balanced with a good percentage of protein, carbs, and fat. She/he doesn't exercise.
What will happen if we give a 100-pound backpack to Taylor, to carry it every single day, 24-7? Think about it for a second!
If you have some extra weight on you, your body will develop more muscles in order to carry it! Overweight people carry their fat 24-7 and they have some real muscles underneath to carry all that weight!
That 100-pound backpack will be really heavy for Taylor in the beginning. But after some time, it will become an every-day thing, and Taylor will not even notice it's there like overweight people usually don't.
How to lose fat WITHOUT losing muscle?
This is a more complex part. You first have to understand that losing weight and losing fat is not the same thing.
Targeting fat, you partially target the weight, but losing weight means losing fat, muscle, water, and everything we are made of, which represents our weight in general.
Losing fat actually means losing that floppy mass around our bellies, legs, arms, and even under our chins!
When you are in a caloric deficit you have a huge chance of losing the muscles with the fat you're melting. This is because your organism is entering the “survival” mode.
To make it simple: it doesn't want to lose the fat because he likes the warm feeling rather than being strong. We will talk more about this later. Let's review these 3 steps that can help you a lot with preserving muscle.
1. Correct nutrition is 80%
Dieting is not always the best choice. Choosing the right diet can be really complicated, so I do recommend educating yourself first. Learn about proteins, fats, minerals, etc. and make your own diet. Remember you have a goal to lose fat and preserve a muscle! Saying that your diet should:
- Include enough protein. This is what your muscle eat. It will not eat carbs or fat, your muscle behaves like a king in the body. It wants only the best of the best! The best way to add some protein to your diet without going over your daily caloric intake is to use protein powder.
- Have reduced carbs (Ketogenic diet can be helpful here).
- Carefully planned calories. You don't want to be in a big caloric deficit. If you are cutting, and want to preserve muscle, a 500 calorie deficit is a maximum! Anything below that will result in your organism consuming muscles in survival mode. Cut about 200-300 calories, and you should be fine.
- Have properly balanced minerals. You can easily drop off the track if you are not balancing your potassium/sodium level. Make sure to track those down too, and if you need help with them, you can check it out here.
- Water intake is very important also. Make sure that you are drinking enough water, but not too much. If you are one of those who believe their water intake is just fine because they drink a pre-workouts, juices, etc. you are wrong. Nothing beats water, and nothing can replace it.
That should be it when we are talking about nutrition. I know, it's not the easiest thing to pay attention to, and it will take some time, but you will get used to it. There is also a lot of cool applications like MyFitnessPal that can help you with that.
2. A systematic workout is 20%
You might think it's only 20% but, it really is. And it's VERY important. Being a rookie in the gym with this plan will not work for you. You have to educate yourself once again.
I know, I know, but I've tried to do this, and I know what I'm talking about! You can't imagine how these things can be complicated if you don't know anything about it.
I saw my first results when I learned more about working out. Actually, I hired a private coach to train me, but not just to lose weight and build muscle, but to teach me how to do it on my own.
After I learned everything I was in the position where I:
- knew how my body responds to work-out
- figured out how to hit a certain group of muscles (and this one is different for everybody)
- had a clear picture of exactly what I need
- Figured which supplements for weight loss work best for me.
Learning these 4 things gave me an opportunity to make my own program that works best for me. And this is what I'm talking about: If I give it to you, it won't work as it works for me! Your body and mine are not the same!
The best advice regarding the systematical workout is: don't exclude anything but don't overdo anything.
For example, if you exclude the cardio, you will likely slow down the process. Do a weight lift training 3-5 times a week, include 20-minute cardio after every training, give your body a rest and don't spend 3 hours in the gym (one hour is you need really!).
Where I come from, old people use to say: “Even mud is healthy if you are moderate“. So make a plan, do strength workouts 2-3 times a week, do 20-minute cardio after each training, make a system, and follow it. When it comes to following the system…
3. Consistency is the secret ingredient
When you enter these waters, there is no going back. If you go back, you will end up getting all the weight back, and toss your blood sweat, and tears down the river. Be consistent. Figure out what drives you and find motivation.
If you are consistent you will be thankful when everything is done, because you shortened the way by 50%! Make sure you have all tools set before you start. When you start the process, take no days off. Trust me on this one, it's totally worth it!
What supplements should I use in this process?
That's totally up to you. I personally LOVE supplementing my nutrition and see no bad things in it. The main thing here is that you end up eating healthy.
However, bear in mind that shitty products will give you shitty results. Add a few bucks for quality products and you will see the benefits in a matter of second.
Supplementation is actually the last thing to include. It's really more important to make a workout program, a good diet, calculating macros, and track it.
You check out our article on the best supplements for weight loss and muscle gain. After reading that, you will know exactly what you need.
I'm losing weight. But is that fat only, or muscle with fat?
The only true way to actually see this is to take all the muscle and put it on the scale, and then take all the fat and put it to scale. You will need a knife, painkillers, and at least a 1% chance to stay alive.
Besides that, there is no actual way to know. There ARE some good body fat scales, but none of those numbers are actually correct because all of them have their own system of scaling.
However, if you decide to spend some money on it I advise going with Tanita scales. They are a bit expensive but they show pretty much accurate numbers. After the Tanita, you can check out Bod Pod, DEXA or Omron, they are also alright.
If you, however, don't want to spend a lot of money on such a scale I recommend going with this body composition scale by Omron on Amazon.
This incredible body fat scale is FDA Approved and you can sync it with your phone. The best thing – it's really inexpensive compared to other popular brands like Tanita which are considered leaders in the body composition scale industry.
The main point is that you don't actually need real numbers for figuring it out.
You just need the orientation. For example, if you step on the scale for the first time, make sure that until you step on it next time your body fat percentage is lower than the first time, and muscle percentage is the same or higher.
Another option is to buy a simple measure tape. Take the dimensions of your:
- Chest (right under the armpit)
- Breasts (if you are a woman, and without a bra)
- Stomach (right over the belly button)
- and thigh (the highest point).
… and write them down. After 7 days, take them again. If you step on the scale, you will probably see the same number, but the numbers on the measuring tape will be different.
Knowing that a pound of fat and a pound of muscle is not the same size, that is also a good way to know that you are burning fat and not muscle.
Things you need to know when losing fat and building muscle at the same time
Okay, time for some real talk.
#1 – This is not easy. Losing fat and building muscle at the same time can be a very difficult process. Why is it so difficult?
#2 – Because it is slow. And by slow, I mean slow like a fat-turtle-with-a-serious-hangover slow. Like really slow. Don't expect to see classic weight dropdowns after you break the plateau. You will probably have the fat dropdowns because it's natural, but you will not see it on the scale. Why? Well because you are gaining muscle silly! If you drop 5 pounds of fat and gain 3 pounds of muscle, you will see only 2 pounds drop down. And admit it, when you are cutting, it's not the same to see 2 and 5 pounds of the difference!
#3 – It's exhausting. Tracking calories, staying on track, working out, looking at slooooow progress, it's really exhausting.
#4 – It's a great way to lose weight generally. Your skin will be more thankful for a slow process, and it's much better for your health than regular cutting.
#5 – It's very easy to mess things up. If you are not careful and not tracking like you are supposed to, you will likely become Sisyphus. You will work your butts off, but there will be no results. If you experience that, change something immediately. However, if you enjoy sweating and not getting anywhere, keep up the good work!
Make a protein diet that best suits your needs. Do weight lift training 3-5 times a week. Drink plenty of water. Track calories and macros. Get some supplements for easier management. Track numbers from scales and measuring tape. Stay motivated and consistent. Don't expect fast results. Don't stress about it. Enjoy the process. Simple, right?!
Founder at Extreme Loser