Build Muscle & Lose Fat at the Same Time
How can it be done?
A strong, impressive physical body is one that has significant muscle development, that muscle being attractively proportioned, and a lower body fat percentage.
Thus, the standard objectives for athletes looking to improve their physique are to lose fat and build muscle.
Naturally then, we will focus on both at once.
“Replacing” fat with muscle, a way many athletes think of the process, is called “body recomposition” in the scientific literature.
Can it be done? How realistic is it? Is it optimal?
These are some basic questions we will ask and answer in this article.
Fundamentals of Body Recomposition
Now, we are clear on the objectives: build muscle and lose fat.
How do we maximize each?
Well, we maximize muscle growth by optimizing protein, training, and sleep.
We maximize fat loss by stimulating muscle growth and achieving an energy deficit.
By definition, an energy deficit results in weight loss.
Thus, if we maximize muscle growth, we will maximize the weight lost as fat.
If you understand the above four sentences I would bet you are already ahead of 80% of coaches and 95% of the general population.
There are many other methods to build muscle and decrease fat, some more or less controversial, but we will keep it simple for now.
With most athletes, I am able to achieve body recomposition easily because:
They have suboptimal protein intake
Their training quality is low
Their training program is subpar
Their sleep quality is low
If we fix these 4 things and nothing else we dramatically accelerate progress.
When first beginning to train, athletes realize notable increases in muscle and decreases in fat with basically any program they do for about 3-6 months.
With a well designed program, another 3-6 months of recomposition can be achieved.
Unfortunately, they often become attached to their training style, not realizing the body eventually adapts and progress halts due to the Law of Diminishing Returns - or injury and regression occur due to repetitive strain and lack of structural balance.
It becomes harder to build muscle as you progress because the stress demands continue to increase.
You have to constantly and progressively overload the tissue, with respect for the law of diminishing returns.
A properly designed program that varies exercise selections and adaptations at a frequency which allows the body to adapt to specific demands but also prevents repetitive strain and circumvents the law of diminishing returns can push progress for another 3-6 months, but eventually you will hit a wall.
How do we break through?
Body Composition Periodization
One way to significantly stimulate muscle growth is to achieve an energy surplus.
And vice versa, with fat loss, one way to significantly accelerate fat loss is to achieve an energy deficit.
In order to proceed past the novice level you will have to focus on gaining or losing weight, often called “bulking” or “cutting”.
This is problematic for many athletes who are afraid of putting on some fat to build muscle, or who fear getting “smaller” in order to reduce body fat.
They will start to gain weight add then start to see some fat gain and pull back. Then they will lose weight but start to get smaller and go back to gaining weight.
These athletes never realize their training potential or build the physique they desire.
This cycle either repeats forever or they blame genetics, and many turn to performance enhancement drugs.
Some athletes can’t bare to see the weight on the scale going up or down. A truly impressive physique will be overweight by BMI measures but the body fat percentage will be below 12% (18% for females).
For example, many of my athletes are “overweight” but have six pack abs.
A properly designed bulking phase will result in the majority of weight gained being muscle, and vice versa for a cutting phase.
I see many novice athletes gain 20-30 pounds in a year, and at least 20 pounds of it is muscle. You must be patient when you gain weight and use strategies to maximize muscle gain and minimize fat gain. You can also use specific training strategies to bring up certain muscles and you desire, but first you need muscle in general.
That can continue for another year, albeit the results may be slightly lower. Leaning out must also be a patient process, but it can result in a solid 30 pounds of weight loss in a year, with again, at least 20 pounds coming from pure fat.
You can see how, after several cycles of this, you can build quite an impressive physique.
To be fair, it is not always so simple.
Personally, I have a mental flow chart I follow for athletes to determine whether they should bulk or cut. We may need to develop strength, rehabilitate an injury, or improve structural balance before we can maximize muscle growth. They may need to resolve a health condition or address ailments before they can maximize fat loss.
If you want to build an impressive physique and progress past a novice level, you will have to commit to long-term periods of gaining and losing weight.
When properly designed, cycling in this way will result in a remarkable physical body over several years of commitment.
If you have questions or would like to know whether to “bulk” or “cut”, or more strategies for maximizing your progress, you know where to find me!
Daniel J Furtado, CPT, LMT, Owner of Honor Strength
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