The myth that you cannot build muscle and lose fat is just that – a myth. You lose fat by calorie deficit? And you gain muscle by eating more? Right…, so how does that possibly come together? Well, it comes across as an unachievable performance goal because most routines that attempt this fail to consider our top three, yet science-backed, tips for how to build muscle and lose fat.
So let’s grab some science, and bring on the top three tips to build muscle and lose fat…
1. Maintain Healthy Protein Levels in Your Diet
To build muscle, your body needs to synthesise more muscle protein than it breaks down – simply put, you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein. Protein also plays an important role in weight loss. Evidence suggests that eating protein can stimulate your metabolic rate and burn more calories in addition to reducing your appetite. Check out a study by researchers at Maastricht University that demonstrated even an increase in protein from 15 to 18 percent of calories reduced the amount of fat people regained after weight loss by 50 percent.
What is a healthy protein level? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training. Protein intake should be spaced throughout the day and after workouts.
2. Manage Your Calorie Intake
This is where it can get tricky. You need to own up to managing your calorie levels if you want to build muscle while burning fat. But keep in mind since you are attempting to do both, the results will not be as noticeable or as fast as if you were only doing one or the other. That is, if you were building muscle, and bulking, your calorie intake and workout routine would readily add mass, while in contrast, a calorie reduction with high weight training and cardio could lower fat quickly. But in this instance, we are working to walk between these goals.
The first thing you need to do is figure out your maintenance calories – that is, how many calories you burn on your rest/non-workout days. (This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate, BMR, and is the number of calories required to keep your body functioning at rest.) There are many ways you can determine this number, but an online calculator is likely the easiest option. Here is one from the Mayo Clinic that uses the Mifflin-St Jeor equation. But understand this number is not going to be your constant intake – it is the guide to figure out your intake. To balance fat loss and muscle building, use the following calorie intake levels, based on your maintenance calories:
- Weight training day: Increase your caloric intake by 5-15% with a focus on protein.
- Cardio day: Stick with your maintenance level calories
- Rest day: Decrease your caloric intake by 5-15%
You need to focus on this part of the effort – calorie management. This is where your program is made or broken. And before we move on, do not neglect to manage your macronutrient levels. We talk about this in our Performance Diet Tips.
3. Focus on Resistance Training In Your Workouts
Resistance training is the best method to build muscle and burn fat – if done properly. You can spend hours in the gym moving weight around, our you can maximize a workout with heavy, compound lifts. It’s not completely that simple – but, just about that simple. Compound movements burn more calories. The very fact that you have to use more muscles to stabilize the weight means that you stress and develop more muscle and burn more calories and fat as a result.
Focus on multiple sets of heavy compound lifts, with smaller isolation motions as finishing moves. This will enable you to keep your focus and energy on the primary lifts. You do not need to get fancy on this – just stick to the basic press and pull motions. You can find numerous online sites with workouts that focus on compound lifts – check them out.
Now keep in mind this is not about toning up, or physique training – as we tend to stay away from that with performance training. What our top three tips to build muscle and lose fat are for is just that – build muscle and lose fat. There are variations to what we call out above, and of course, every body is different – so you will have to see exactly how you respond to the training and diet management. But if you follow these general tips, you will find that losing fat while adding muscle is possible.