How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?

lose fat and gain muscle

Many people think that it’s not possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Other parts of people are saying that it is possible though. There are so many disputes about this in Bodybuilding and Fitness area, but the truth is that they both are partly right.

It is possible to lose fat and gain muscle, the thing is that you need to follow some rules and it is not working for everyone. Also, number of scientific studies, has been proven: it is possible, but there is a BUT.

Who can lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?

So, let’s ask the opinion of one of the leading experts in the fitness industry – Lyle McDonald. In his article “Gaining Muscle While Losing Fat,” he notes the ability to achieve body recomposition is possible for newcomers, especially those who have solid fat reserves. 

Lyle says, when people are just starting to deal with weight lifting, they are quickly increasing their strength and muscle mass. It’s explained by simple logic – newbies who haven’t worked out before having untapped potential for increasing strength and muscle mass.

The situation can be compared with two glasses of water of the same volume.  One of which is empty (these are beginners), and the second one is almost full (experienced athletes). Comparing to a full glass, a lot more water will fit into an empty one (it has more potential to hold more water). 

So, the second type of people who can lose fat and gain muscle, are people who had a long break in their working out routine. Also, during the break in working out, people are losing not only strength but also part of the muscle tissue is lost. As an extra, the percentage of body fat increases during the break. The result, people who wasn’t training for a while took a few steps back and made glass more empty than it was before.

Who can't lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?

  • Experienced athletes with a small per cent of fat
  • People who almost used there genetic potential

If you are in some of this criteria, it’s better for you just to stick to classic schemes of bulking and cutting. Body of experienced gym members are already used to workouts. So, if you are working out daily for a long time it might be a problem to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.

  1. Your body is adapted to stress you are providing for it in the gym.
  2. To burn fat you need calories deficit
  3. To build muscle you need calories surplus

So, as you see point 2 and 3 are paradoxical. If you will have calories deficit, your muscle will not be able to recover and grow bigger. Also, if you have a surplus, your muscle will recover, but the body will not be able to burn fat stored in your body.

lose fat and gain muscle

How to lose fat and gain muscle?

First what you need to understand is, that if you will do it correctly muscle gain will be slower than in doing it in the traditional bulking scheme. 

Calories deficit diet is must be:

Deficit should be around 10-20%, for example:

  • 1.0 – 1.2 g of protein per pound of your weight (2.0-2.4 g per 1 kg)
  • 1.0 g of carbohydrates per pound of your weight (2.0 g per 1 kg)
  • 0.25 – 0.3 g of fats per pound of your weight (0.5 g per 1 kg)

Once you decide on nutrients, you need to make an accurate list of products that will fit the calories numbers we need.

If the diet is built correctly, you will lose about 1 – 2  lbs (0.4 – 0.9 kilograms) of fat every week. But also you should not have feelings of hunger and you need to feel that you have enough energy in gym. 

Concentrate on hard exercises: 

Perform basic exercises (press, squat, deadlift, army press) in the range from 6 to 10 reps in slow tempo. Also, per workout you need to do about 9-12 working sets.

Make intensive cardio: 

You can try HIIT cardio, it allows you to burn more fat per minute than the usual cardio (1).

Sleep enough: 

Lack of sleep prevents both weight gain (2) and fat burning (3). Just remember that your body is regenerating while you are sleeping.

Take supplements:

It is not mandatory thing, but it is worth to help yourself with supplements.

Here are the supplements you can take to improve the effect:

Creatine increases strength and helps build muscle mass, even with a calorie deficit. Check our post about best creatine supplements.

Whey protein: It is a challenge to eat proper amount of protein. So, whey protein can be a good supporter to close this window. Check our post about best whey protein powders.

Fat burners extra help with calorie deficiency does not hurt. Check our post about best fat burners for men and women.

lose fat and gain muscle

Studies proving that to lose fat and gain muscle for newbies is possible

To begin, we will review research that confirms that newbies (especially with a large amount of excess weight) can simultaneously gain muscles and get rid of fat.

Test 1

Back in 1993, experts from the University of Nebraska volunteered to find out whether muscle hypertrophy is possible in conditions of energy deficiency.

So, for 3 months, scientists monitored 14 obese men. Participants were divided into 2 groups of 7 people: the first was’t working out, and the second was. Also, to compare the results before and after the experiment, all participants took a biopsy from the wide lateral muscle of the thigh.

Results: after 90 days, both groups lost about 35 lb (16 kg) of weight, of which about 76% was fat mass. However, compared with the group that didn’t workout, the second group had a wider lateral cross-sectional area.

Conclusion: for obese newbies, along with significant weight loss and a decrease in the percentage of fat, weight training during calorie deficit can lead to muscle growth.

Test 2
In 2000, an experiment was conducted by Boston specialists. Their goal was to study the effect of combining low-calorie diets with an increased amount of protein and strength training on people with overweight.
38 overweight people took part in In a 12-week study, and they were divided into different 3 groups:
  • In group 1, had only 20% calories deficit. 
  • Second group 2, combined the same low-calorie diet with strength training and high protein intake about 0.7-0.8g/lb (1.5 g / kg mass) using protein supplement – casein hydrolyzate.
  • Group 3 adhered to the same plan as the second, but instead of casein they consumed whey protein hydrolyzate.

Results: after 12 weeks, participants from all 3 groups lost on average about 5.7 lb (2.5 kg) of weight.

  • In group 1, the percentage of body fat on average decreased from 27% to 25% (-2% difference).
  • Second group 2 (diet + workout + casein) percentage of fat reduced on average from 26% to 18% (8% difference).
  • Group 3 (diet + workout + whey protein)  percentage of body fat reduced from 27% to 23% (the difference was 4%).

As for muscle tissue, in the first group it remained unchanged, while the casein-consuming group gained an average of 8 lb (about 4 kg) of muscles. Also the group that consumed whey protein gained about 4.4 lb (2 kg ) of muscles.

Conclusion: so, from this study, we can once again conclude that beginners with overweight are able to gain muscle, especially if they consume enough protein. 

Test 3

The last, but not least test about losing fat and gain muscle for beginners. Let us review one of the latest studies, which was presented in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The purpose of the experiment was: to identify how increased protein intake with a strong calorie deficit and in combination with strength training will affect body composition. 

The study lasted 4 weeks. So, 40 overweight men were divided into 2 different groups of 20 people. The first consumed 1.2 g of protein, and the second one 2.4 g of protein per 1 kg of weight. In addition, all participants significantly reduced calorie intake, about 40% deficit.

Every week, all subjects trained as follows:
– 2 days – circuit strength training with 3 sets and 10 reps with the last set, performed to failure,
– 2 cardio training of moderate and high intensity,
– 1 test workout on a bicycle ergometer
– 1 circuit plyometric workout using your own body weight.
Immediately after training, participants consumed a portion of the whey protein.

Results: participants with the high protein intake gained an average of 1.2 kg of muscle mass in 4 weeks. While participants from the group where men consumed 2 times less protein almost didn’t gain muscle at all. In addition, the group that consumed 2.4 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight lost an average of 4.8 kg of fat mass, while the second group lost 3.5 kg.

So, what about more experienced athletes? Will it work for them?

In his book The Ultimate Diet 2.0, McDonald notes that as soon as people move from the novice category to more advanced, it’s extremely difficult for them to achieve body recomposition.

However, the expert notes that if a person adheres to a small energy deficit in combination with intensive strength training. It is possible that with tiny steps he can still lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Also, Lyle emphasizes that at some point experienced trainees reach the point of developing muscle mass or reducing the percentage of fat in the body, and it makes losing fat and gain muscle unequivocally impossible.

Researches with experienced athletes

Test 1

In 2012, a group of scientists (Paoli et al.) made an experiment, the purpose of which was to test how keto diet (low carbohydrate) will affect the performance indicators of training for professional athletes.

8 professional artistic gymnasts weighing about 70 kg took part in the study lasting for 1 month. During the experiment, the athletes maintained their usual training volume, devoting about 30 hours a week to training. The diet consisted of products such as beef, veal, poultry, fish, ham, eggs, parmesan. Athletes also ate raw and cooked green vegetables, which were consumed without restriction.

Participants consumed a lot of protein: at a rate of about 2.8 grams per 1 kg of body weight. Also, athletes daily took herbal extracts, and also 1 capsule of a multivitamin.

Results: at the end of the experiment, the weight of athletes on average decreased from 69.6 kg to 68 kg. Fat mass decreased from an average of 5.3 kg to 3.4 kg. Accordingly, the percentage of fat decreased from 7.6% to 5%, and muscle mass slightly, but still increased – on average 0.3 kg.

Conclusion: scientists have concluded that athletes who follow keto diet can improve body composition without adversely affecting such a dietary approach to training performance. It is worth noting that the study lasted only 30 days. Also, the main drawback of this experiment was a small number of people.

Test 2

This test was attended by professional athletes. In this case, the scientists set out to study how small (on average minus 469 kcal/day) or big (minus 791 kcal) energy deficit in combination with strength training will affect body composition, strength and power in professional athletes.

At the end of the experiment, both groups of participants significantly reduced the percentage of body fat. While a group with moderate calorie deficit increased muscle mass by 1.7-2.5%. Also for a group with a severe deficit, the number of muscles remained almost the same as before research.

Conclusion: So, as we see, with experienced athletes everything is much more difficult. Also, we see the fact that to increase muscle mass is really difficult when you have calories deficit.

Bottom line:

In general, we can conclude that lose fat and gain muscle mass is possible for beginners and for people who have taken a long break in working out.

As for more experienced athletes, the question here is rather open than closed. It’s impossible to say 100% that they can lose fat and gain muscle the same time. But, the assertion that it’s impossible to recompose the body to experienced trainees is not quite are correct.

Those who most likely cannot lose fat and gain muscle are people who have reached their genetical ceiling in muscle growth and also has a low percentage of body fat. 

So, in this material we only presented the available scientific data and opinions of recognised experts. We did’t want just unreasonably try to undermine established opinion that experienced athletes cannot gain muscles and burn fat together. But we have to mention, that classical bulking and cutting approach is more effective.

Vitalij Kacanovskij

Vitalij Kacanovskij

I am a personal trainer, expert in dietology and ex men's physique participant. I am in love with everything related to fitness. I will try to provide the best possible information into my Blog and for this website visitors!

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