How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat as a Woman | LIVESTRONG.COM

How to build muscles and lose fat?

Lose Weight / January 24, 2019

This is kind of a complicated answer based on context and outcomes.


1) What's your starting point, and where would you like to end up?

2) What constitutes "weight" in your eyes?

Many people confuse "weight loss" with the more appropriately titled "fat loss, " when wording questions like this. Weight is the force of gravity acting on an object, which is different from the term 'mass.'

Also, people often say things like 'muscle weighs more than fat' when in fact, it doesn't.

What weighs more, a pound of bricks or a pound of feathers?

The answer of course, is that they weigh the same.

A pound of muscle and a pound of fat also weigh the same.

Muscle is just more dense than fat, meaning 1 pound of muscle occupies less space or volume than 1 pound of fat, which is really what most people mean.

Therefore, in 'weight loss' situations it is actually ideal to refer to the process as:

Body Recomposition

Meaning, the desire to reduce body fat while increasing lean tissue mass (which is more metabolic in nature).

Yes it is possible to lose scale weight and gain muscle, but it largely depends on your starting point and the context.

You can lose fat mass and gain lean mass and not have your actual weight on a scale change at all, but you would likely be of better overall health depending on your body fat % (see below).

You could also lose fat mass and gain lean mass, and see your weight on a scale go up (and still possibly improve your overall health). This event would likely be tied to someone with an already fairly low percentage of body fat (bodybuilders, fitness models, some athletes, etc...) or someone in the initial stages (first 2 months) of a fat loss program that includes resistance training.

You can also lose fat mass and lean mass near equally, and still lose scale weight overall. You might often see this with endurance athletes where having a slightly lower than average but slightly higher than minimum fat storage are required for performance.

Finally you could also lose fat mass and gain lean mass, while seeing your actual weight on a scale go considerably down as your over-all body size takes up less volume and in all likelihood it is more difficult to gain enough muscle mass to counterbalance a lot of fat loss depending on the starting point.

As a point of reference though, you can also lose weight without gaining any muscle and without losing any fat. For instance dehydration will force you to lose weight (and shrink the cells of some subcutaneous fat) which is often what happens to people who go on quick diet and exercise solutions (you know the 6 week shred types?).

There are many different possible outcomes.

Weight Loss with Muscle Gain

Most people looking to lose weight (i.e. you're 20-50 lbs overweight roughly, have a high BMI or your Body Fat % is near or above average [see below]) would be better served by focusing their exercise attention on gaining muscle mass which will increase their metabolism and aid in the reduction of fat mass (or adipose tissue for the politically correct), which eventually results in weight loss from a traditional scale view-point.

An increase in muscle mass, also generally makes it easier to maintain your weight once you've achieved the desired look/lifestyle.

It's been my experience that weight training, resistance training, strength training, or whatever you want to call it, is most frequently the superior method for fat-loss, depending on the starting point and desired end-point.

Let me explain:

Most people that I work with in a traditional 'weight loss' environment come to me wanting to lose weight, but really what they mean is that they want to lose fat mass.

Exercise physiologists typically sub-divide weight into two classes:

  1. Lean Mass - Muscle/Bone/Minerals/Water/etc...
  2. Fat Mass - Adipose Tissue, Visceral and Subcutaneous Fat

Everybody needs a certain level of fatty tissue for things like insulation, healthy cell function, body temperature maintenance, nutrient absorption and transport (Vitamins like A, E and K are all Fat-Soluable), and a slew of other bodily functions and structures.

Generally speaking it is normal for you to have at least:

  1. 2-4% Body Fat Percentage as a requirement if you're Male
  2. 12-14% Body Fat Percentage as a requirement if you're Female

The average (give or take, depending on the study you check) for most people though is:
  1. About 18% for Males
  2. About 25% for Females

Over 25% for Men is considered overweight, while over 32% for Women is considered overweight.

A Math Example:

As an example, lets use a female who starts with 30% Body Fat and weighs 200 lbs on a scale.

She is then roughly 140 lbs of lean mass and 60 lbs of fat mass.

At the end of 6 months of a good eating and exercise strategy she is 20% body fat percentage and 180 lbs.

She's now at 36 lbs of fat mass, and 144 lbs of lean mass. She's lost 24 lbs of fat, but gained 4 lbs of lean mass (possibly muscle, possibly an increase in bone density, or a combination of both or other lean tissue changes), but has only lost 20 lbs when you look on the scale.

This shows the importance (in my eyes) of utilizing body fat % calculations above and beyond just scale weight, when going on a nutrition and exercise program.

You might also find that girth measurements are equally important as they can show someone taking up less volume, even though their scale weight might not change much. That would also be indicative of body recomposition and a gain of lean tissue with a loss of fat tissue.

Anyways, you can see that it's complicated, but I hope that clears some things up based on some different frames of reference.

I'd like to add that although possible. This isn't linear and doesn't always apply as cleanly as the above example. A large reason why bodybuilders utilize build and cut phases of programming is because it's easier, especially when you already have a lot of muscle to focus on gaining muscle exclusively (while minimizing fat gains), then on losing fat exclusively (while minimizing muscle loss).