I am often approached by clients wanting to lose fat and get stronger or build muscle.
This has made me investigate how congruent are the two goals of fat loss and muscle gain.
If you want to build muscle, you’re going to have to lift weights and eat in a way that your body has enough calories and protein to build that muscle.
Muscle growth can occur only if muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown; there must be a positive muscle protein balance.
Hence many would say that you need to be in a calorie surplus. So you would need to be eating more calories than you burn off.
Then you need to focus on ‘progressive overload. This means that over time, you’ll gradually increase the volume you lift, the number of repetitions you perform, and a combination of both.
To lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit. This happens when your body needs more calories than the amount you are eating
Your body doesn’t have enough calories to go around, so it’ll start breaking down parts of itself for energy requirements.
Your body will pull from both its fat stores AND existing muscle for energy.
Being in a calorie deficit is opposite to being in a calorie surplus.
So there seems to be a clash between nutrition for gaining muscle and nutrition for fat loss.
Can these two goals be congruent ?
There is evidence that muscle can be grown while in a caloric deficit
Recent research shows that if you have fat stores you do not need to be in a “caloric surplus” to rebuild muscle. Your body has plenty of stored fat that it can use for energy that can also support building muscle, daily activity and light exercise.
Your body operates systematically when it takes in calories. It needs to decide what to do with them!
To keep things simple, it has three choices
- Burn for Fuel.
- Build Muscle.
- Store as Fat.
Your body uses most of the calories as Burn for Fuel
There’s a number of calories your body needs each day just existing: to keep your liver functioning, your heart pumping, your brain operating, to regulate your body temperature, and so on. It burns a good chunk of calories just keeping the body working
When you overeat calories and your body doesn’t need any more to fuel itself, it takes those extra calories and stores them as fat.
However, if we want to lose fat and build muscle our goal is the OPPOSITE of this.
We want to keep the muscle we have (or grow it) while getting rid of the fat! You need your body to burn more calories than you consume, and also provide your body with enough protein to rebuild its muscle.
How can this happen?
NOTE: The only way to shed body fat is during a caloric deficit
- Sustain a caloric deficit while eating enough protein. Reduce carb and fat intake. Your body will pull from its fat stores to both fuel itself and potentially also build muscle
- Lift heavy weights
- Prioritise protein. Outside of being in a caloric deficit and lifting weights (or yourself),eating enough protein is one of the key components of both losing body fat and building muscle.
>>> Protein is the number one nutrient for creating new tissue.
If you are NOT losing fat, it means you are still eating too many calories.
Eventually, you’ll reach a status where there just isn’t enough fat on you to help with “Build Muscle.” At this stage, you can no longer stay with a caloric deficit. You’ll need to flip to a slight caloric surplus.
Calorie Cycling is a method that can be used to lose fat while building muscle but is very complex and I am not going to go into it in detail
It is a method of dieting that involves planned increases and decreases in calorie intake throughout the week, typically by eating more or less carbohydrate
It can make it easier to get and stay extremely lean and gain muscle and strength with minimal fat gain, but it doesn’t have any special fat-burning or muscle-building advantages.
For calorie cycling to work, you also need to set and track your calories correctly and follow a calorie cycling meal plan
Rachel Law is a personal fitness trainer based in New Malden, Surrey. Qualifications: ActivIQ Level 3 Personal Training; Burrell Education Pregnancy Exercise Prescription; Burrell Education Advanced Pregnancy Wellness Practitioner; Burrell Education Advanced Post Natal Exercise Prescription; Burrell Education 3rd Age Women Optimal Health and Nutrition; Burrell Education Peri Natal Athlete; Burrell Education Pelvic Flow and Freedom; Olympic Weight Lifting; Premier Global Kettlebells; FIE Level Assessment and Mentoring