Yes, You Can Build Muscle-Lose Fat at the Same Time
by Scott Abbett
When I was just a youngster in my twenties, I desperately wanted to gain muscle mass. Like many guys at that age, I longed to have big arms, wide shoulders, powerful and sweeping thighs, and a V-shape that tapered down to a small waist.
Unfortunately, that's not how I looked. When I glance at old pictures, it appears that I was fooling myself into believing I looked less like the Pillsbury Doughboy than I really did. What was wrong? I pumped iron, downed high quantities of protein, ingested carbs during the so-called "two-hour window" after my workout. And most importantly in my mind; I kept my calorie intake high because all the available information said I needed to "bulk up" – to eat many more calories than I was burning so I could gain that desired muscle mass.
Now in my forties, I'm easily gaining natural muscle that I longed for twenty years ago. Not only that, I'm doing it while staying lean. Just recently, I decided to lean down even further – getting my body fat down in the mid-single digits. I was actually gaining strength and muscle while doing it.
How can that be? We're told over and over that in order to gain muscle size, we need to eat a lot. Oh... and if you have a "fast metabolism" (i.e. blessed with really low body fat), they'll tell you to turn yourself into a gorging pig because that's the magic bullet for "getting big"... right? Well, that will get you "big", but not with the kind of size that helps you land dates on Saturday night.
The fast metabolism people are being told to eat a lot more calories than they burn so they can gain muscle. They are assured by their muscle building gurus that they'll go to a different phase after they've gained the muscle; a phase in which they'll burn the fat.
Those with unwanted body fat are being told they'll need to focus on losing the fat before they can gain any appreciable muscle. It's said that the restrictive diet they'll need to adhere to will prevent them from gaining muscle size.
So here's a quiz question: If the skinny person can't gain muscle without eating a lot of excess calories and the fat person got fat by eating excess calories, how is the former fat person ever going to gain muscle without gaining back fat and how is the skinny person going to lose fat once he's "bulked up" without ending up skinny again? Maybe someone's feeding us something other than food.
The answer: Fat and muscle are completely different tissues sitting side-by-side on the body. Don't confuse the method by which one is gained or lost with how the other one is. If you're slender and you shovel down truckloads of extra calories while inadvertently missing the ideal muscle breakdown/recuperation ratio, you'll just end up fat.
Here's a question for the "fast metabolism group". Have you ever followed the advice of bodybuilding experts and didn't gain the muscle you expected? You know the advice I'm talking about; eat A LOT of food, train "HEAVY" (relative term – how about "make heavy weights into light ones"?), use big compound exercises, try to sit on your ass as much as possible, and uh... set your alarm to go off in the middle of your sleep so you can chug some 2AM whey protein. Ugh... I don't know about you, but you'll never pull me out of a good night's sleep just to force down some chalky powder.
Would you like to know what doing tons of compound exercises, forced reps, three, four and five-day splits and eating a lot of calories did for me? It turned me from a slim guy into a fat guy. When it was time to lose the fat, the muscle gains were disappointing. Anyone who's been to my website can attest; whatever muscle was lying dormant under my body fat – it didn't amount to much.
So the big question: How did I recently gain strength and muscle size while getting super lean?
I did it by eating slightly more protein than usual. I used 45 minutes of low-intensity cardio work to burn fat as soon as I got up in the morning. Above all, I made sure my muscles continued to be trained and recuperated at the ideal ratio and in my unorthodox manner. That's what's more important than adhering to some precise caloric regimen.
I'll never again listen to anyone who claims you can only do one or the other; you CAN gain muscle and lose fat (or remain lean) simultaneously.