“Can you build muscle and lose body fat at the same time?”
This right here ladies and gentlemen is one of the oldest and most controversial questions to ever exist in the history of fitness and bodybuilding.
A large group of people would say that you can and then another extremely large group would say that you cannot.
I mean, after all:
One of the most common piece of advice that you will hear from online and offline fitness gurus is how in order to lose body weight you need to be in a caloric deficit (eat fewer calories than your body requires to maintain its weight) and in order to gain muscle mass you need to be in a caloric surplus (eat more calories than your bodies require to maintain its weight).
By following pure logic losing body fat and gaining muscle cannot co-exist as they require you to choose from options that are at the end of a spectrum – fewer or more daily calories.
Well, the truth is that our bodies are far more complex than just counting your daily calories.
If it were that simple then we would all be walking around with our model-like bodies, greek bodies even, the girls being lean as hell and the fellas being ripped to the bone.
There is a whole lot more going on at a microbiological level in our bodies that takes part in its ability to lose stored body fat as well as its ability to promote muscle hypotrophy.
So, how do you build muscle and lose fat at the same time?
When it comes to building muscle and losing body fat simultaneously it really comes down to one of the two elements – your nutrition.
The internet is packed with people who will tell you that your nutrition, your diet, carries more importance to your body’s transformation that you training regime.
Usually, I completely disagree with this notion and believe that the relationship between your diet and your workout is 50/50. They carry the same weight and both need to be taken seriously if you strive for great results.
In this case, however, the tables have turned and there is far more importance placed on your eating habits than there is on your workout regime. And instead of it being 50/50, it’s more of a 80/20 situation.
What drives muscle growth?
The first thing we need to do is answer this question – “what drive muscle growth?”. Is it the hardcore workouts that you have in the gym, is the lean protein that you consume, is it your rest? Well yes and no.
The primary reason why your body excels in muscle growth is because of your hormones. More specifically testosterone, human growth hormone (which we are going to refer to as HGH, or just GH), insulin and thyroid hormone. You should probably be able to recognize the majority of these names. We would primarily be focusing our attention to the big three – Testosterone, GH and Insulin.
Believe it or not these combinations of chemicals that are running through your body are responsible for muscle hypotrophy. Without them, there will be no growth! Your workout and your diet are merely supporting the key players – your hormones.
Testosterone – the one hormone that we’ve all heard of. It has always been associated with muscle growth and manliness. Testosterone is responsible for increasing protein synthesis (in other words it helps your increase your muscle mass development), improves body transformation [Converted]strength, improves speed and agility, improves bone density (extremely vital for anybody who engages in any type of sport), energy release, and even helps lose body fat.
There was a study that took place in Germany, where overweight men (at about the age of 48 years) were presented with supplementation, like vitamin D, to help them increase their testosterone production through the course of 12 months. Researchers noticed after the year had passed, the subjects had lost 6kg of stored body fat (approximately 13lbs).
Furthermore, low testosterone levels, or testosterone deficiency, is associated by doctors with obesity.
Take a look at 11 ways to increase testosterone naturally.
Insulin – a form of protein and is released by the pancreas whenever you consume carbohydrates. Unlike dietary protein that act as the physical building blocks of muscle, insulin is a functional protein, much like a growth hormone.
As insulin enters the blood stream it travels to various tissues, including the muscle tissue. Muscle fibers are lined with what is commonly known as insulin receptors, similar to a docking station. When the insulin molecule docks onto a muscle cell’s receptor, it signals it to open up its “gates” allowing for glucose, amino acids, and creating to enter the muscles.
Furthermore, when docked onto the muscle cells, insulin instigates biochemical reactions that increase protein synthesis. In addition, insulin also decreases muscle breakdown, which further enhances muscle growth.
Insulin also indirectly helps for muscle development by causing blood vessels to relax and dilate, thus allowing greater blood flow to muscle cells. By doing this, insulin can help get even more nutrients (like glucose and amino acids) to the muscles.
HGH – growth hormone is responsible for stimulating growth, cell reproduction, supports fat-burning and safeguards your muscles from any losses. In other words the more growth hormone you have running through you the better!
The time when your HGH is at its highest is at night time. The interesting part is that HGH and insulin have a complicated relationship, if I may say so. While there is insulin pumping in your veins there cannot be HGH. This is the main reason why professional fitness models and bodybuilders will tell you over and over again how you are not suppose to consume any carbs late at night, you know, except the fact that you will accumulate body fat.
Don’t forget the muscle hypotrophy formula: Muscle mass = protein synthesis – protein breakdown. In other words your aim is to reduce protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis. As you can probably tell all three hormones do exactly that – they decrease catabolism and promote anabolism. Thus creating an environment for your muscles to develop.
Maintaining healthy levels of these hormone is what will drive muscle mass growth and improve your body fat reduction.
This is all fine and dandy! Now we understand what drive muscle hypotrophy in the body, now what?
Now we’re at the complicated bit of the guide, losing body fat while maintaining and even gaining muscle mass.
The first thing that you need to consider at this part is what is your body fat percentage – here’s a rather simple body fat calculator that will give you relatively close digits.
The reason why you need to calculate your body fat is to know whether or not you will be able to lose fat while gaining muscle in the first place, looking back at this I should have probably started with this in the beginning of the post.
Here’s the issue here – if your body fat percentage is low (7-11) then you really cannot gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously. However, by following this guide you can still gain muscle and maintain your leanness and probably gain 1-2 percent of body fat. But you cannot lose body fat and elevate muscle growth.
At this stage, if you want to lose more body fat, you should be concerned with maintaining your muscle mass and not losing it.
This is all based on a sheer biological instinct of the body. Because you are at low body fat storages then that means that your body is in danger – by the laws of evolution that is. Let’s not forge that body fat is a secondary source of energy and your body wants to make sure that you have plenty of it, so if a you run out of carb sources, for whatever reason, it will have a back-up storage full with energy that it can consume.
Keep in mind that your muscle costs energy – the more muscle you have the more energy your body wastes for just existing.
Imagine a company that is having problems with its cashflow (cash in the bank). For some reason the company is loosing source of cash (more products are being bought on credit and there are a lot of credits that are overdo) but there are still a lot of enquiries going on and a lot of orders coming in. To satisfy the needs of its customers the company has to make sure that all orders are taken care of. The problem is that salaries, the facilities, product, all of the variable and fixed costs are paid by cash. So the companies decides to do the unthinkable – reduce its costs. It does that by laying off employees or sell some equipment that is not of vital importance so that it can raise its cash in the bank.
The whole idea is that the cash is your carbs and the employees and sold equipment are your muscle tissue. I hope that this weird-ass example made any sense.
But, what about your diet? I did mention that nutrition will play a key role for this post and yet I have not even once mentioned it. I decided that it would be a good idea to keep the most interesting part for last – the cherry on top if you will.
In order to gain more muscle mass you will need to up your calorie consumption. Wait!? How are you suppose to lose body fat if you are going to be eating more? Calm down, calm down, hear me out.
From the three macronutrients (carbs, protein and fats) you are going to primarily increase your carb intake. You need more energy for your workouts and you need more energy to make sure that you are constantly in an anabolic environment. There are, however, a couple of tips and tricks that will help you lose body fat (if you are at a higher body fat percentage or maintain leanness (if you are at low body fat percentages).