Can I build muscle and lose weight?
You CAN gain muscle and lose fat at the same time and I will show you how. Common wisdom is that you have to gain some fat to gain muscle, its the whole bulking and cutting mentality. I’m here to tell you its wrong, at least for most people. Because of many peoples unrealistic expectations about adding muscle they come to the incorrect conclusion that you can’t gain muscle while losing fat.
Gaining muscle. Most mature adults can gain a maximum of 15 pounds of muscle in a year but many can only gain 5lbs of muscle a year. That’s only 1.25 pounds of muscle gain per month maximum – pretty slow whether you are losing fat at the same time or not. In rough numbers, to gain that 1.25 pounds of muscle each month while maintaining your current bodyfat you should eat an additional 3125 calories more a month, that’s about 100 more calories a day – not much of a calorie surplus.
Losing fat. Now lets look at losing fat, its much faster than gaining muscle. You lose fat when you consume fewer calories than you burn off in a day (the TDEE). For an average person losing weight, they will eat about 400 calories a day less (12, 000 calories a month) than their TDEE to lose a pound of fat a week, or 52 pounds of fat in a year.
The first important thing to note is that the calorie surplus to gain muscle is very, very small when compared to the calorie deficit required to lose fat.
To gain muscle and lose fat at same time. Now lets try to put the two together – losing fat and gaining muscle. Now, your first thought is probably that it can’t be done because to gain muscle, you have to eat 100 calories more per day and to lose fat, you have to eat 400 calories less per day. How can you eat less and eat more at the same time? The secret to this is that our assumption that you need to eat more to gain muscle is incorrect for most adults.
Lets look at what your body does with its calories, please look at my body on left side of the above diagram. A whopping 25% of your energy goes to your brain. 50% is housekeeping stuff to keep us alive – breathing, pumping blood, maintain body temperature, replacing dead cells, etc. Its only down here where it gets interesting. About 20% is actually spend DOING stuff – walking, lifting, moving and only about 5% is spent adding muscle. Don’t get hung up on the exact numbers, the important thing is that exercise and building muscle uses very little of the calories we consume.
Now look at the right side of the above diagram, the sources. To keep you alive, your body needs two things, plain energy to burn in the form of carbs or fat and then amino acids in the form of protein. Your body has an amazing series of emergency backup system to keep you alive should food be scarce. Your stomach is the gas tank for ordinary use. Your bodyfat is the backup up generator to be turned on when food is scarce. And your muscles are the emergency backup, your body wont turn on this nuclear power plant to cannibalize muscle unless its a DIRE emergency. Energy can come from any of the three systems but amino acids can only come from the stomach or the muscles.
Lets talk about this nuclear reactor here and how to stop if from turning on and burning up our muscles. Our bodies are really smart, they know muscle is really important and they wont burn it unless they absolutely have to. There are three occasions your body will fire up the nuke in the above diagram:
- 40% of energy from protein eaten
- 50% of energy from fats and carbs eaten
- 10% of energy from stored bodyfat
So YES, you can gain muscle and lose fat and here’s how:
Many beginners to fitness ask if they should lose their fat first or start lifting to gain muscle first, the answer is that they should do BOTH at the same time!!! Especially for beginners, it is very easy to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time!