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Is it possible to build muscle whilst losing fat?


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I'm fairly new to this, and I find myself somewhat adrift amongst the vast amount of information available regarding fitness. My (possibly stupid) question is, is it possible to simultaneously burn fat and build muscle? Or will the fat loss process inevitably impact muscle mass? 

 

I'm not looking to build substantial amounts of muscle, nor do I need to lose a dramatic amount of weight. My current stats are 21, 5' 10" and 77.5kg. I'm approaching my goals through a combination of intermittent fasting, calorie restriction, swimming and bodyweight circuits. Any advice or opinions would be welcomed.

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It is something you should strive to do but something that most likely will not happen with any significance.

But in trying to build muscle mass, you will prevent much of the loss of muscle mass that is inherent with weight loss.

Right, so I might not gain any muscle mass, but I might maintain it at current levels through exercise?

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Right, so I might not gain any muscle mass, but I might maintain it at current levels through exercise?

 

 

Correct-ish. If you incorporate heavy resistance training (barbells or bodyweight) into your training you can reduce the amount of muscle loss to the single digit percentage. Which means as the fat comes off the remaining muscle shows through. 

"Pull the bar like you're ripping the head off a god-damned lion" - Donny Shankle

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Correct-ish. If you incorporate heavy resistance training (barbells or bodyweight) into your training you can reduce the amount of muscle loss to the single digit percentage. Which means as the fat comes off the remaining muscle shows through.

I've heard people talking about 'bulking and cutting' which I gather involves putting on both muscle and fat before cutting the fat. Is this necessary for muscle gain, or could I lose fat and then build muscle from that point onwards through a controlled diet?

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I've heard people talking about 'bulking and cutting' which I gather involves putting on both muscle and fat before cutting the fat. Is this necessary for muscle gain, or could I lose fat and then build muscle from that point onwards through a controlled diet?

 

It's cyclical, meaning you do one, switch to the other, then back again. During "bulking", you eat at a caloric surplus while exercising in such a way (lifting weights or bodyweight workout progressions for example) that you gain muscle.  This inherently will make you gain some fat as well, you can't really gain purely muscle.  The larger your caloric surplus, the faster the muscle and fat gains, but typically the ratio of fat to muscle gained will grow.  So with a pretty large surplus of 1000 kcal a day, you can gain muscle very fast but you'll also gain a higher amount of fat weight per lb of muscle gained.  The nice part is you get strong fast, the bad part is you get fat fast and your "cut" or weight loss cycle will take longer because you have more fat to lose. Typically a 75/25 muscle to fat ratio is the best you can hope for, but a lot of times it ends up more like 50/50.

 

During "cutting" you eat at a caloric deficit in order to lose weight and exercise in such a way (lifting weights/body weight progressions) to maintain muscle, though maybe not as high volume or extreme as before.  You can also mix in more cardio work in order to burn more calories to lose faster or allow you to eat more and lose weight at the same rate. The goal here is to lose mostly fat and maintain most of your muscle.  Like we said above, the ratio of fat to muscle loss can be kept pretty darn high during this, as high as 9/1 or 10/1.

 

So, for example, say I go through a bulking phase where I gain 2 lb of muscle and 2 lb of fat for 4 lb total.  I then go through a cutting phase where I lose 4 lb, but with the 9/1 ratio, 3.6 lb is fat and .4 lb is muscle.  Overall after the 2 phases, I weight the same amount, but I have 1.6 lb more muscle and 1.6 lb less fat.  For a 160 lb person, this amount to a body fat % loss of 1%.  You then go back and forth between the two, gaining both muscle and fat weight then burning that unwanted fat gain off.

 

Waldo's a prime example of someone who does this cycling and has had a lot of success.

Massrandir, Barkûn, Swolórin, The Whey Pilgrim
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"No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. " ~ Socrates
"Friends don't let friends squat high." ~ Chad Wesley Smith
"It's a dangerous business, Brodo, squatting to the floor. You step into the rack, and if you don't keep your form, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." ~ Gainsdalf

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Echo;

 

To add to what Mr. D said, chances are that if you're asking this question, you're probably on the heavier side (which is totally fine, everyone starts somewhere!). As such, you should probably aim to cut first, and if you're really new to exercise, you'll find yourself getting stronger despite eating less. So don't fret the details. Figure out what you wanna do and jump in!

Why must I put a name on the foods I choose to eat and how I choose to eat them? Rather than tell people that I eat according to someone else's arbitrary rules, I'd rather just tell them, I eat healthy. And no, my diet does not have a name.My daily battle log!

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Echo;

 

To add to what Mr. D said, chances are that if you're asking this question, you're probably on the heavier side (which is totally fine, everyone starts somewhere!). As such, you should probably aim to cut first, and if you're really new to exercise, you'll find yourself getting stronger despite eating less. So don't fret the details. Figure out what you wanna do and jump in!

 

Yeah, a lot of overweight people can benefit from a moderate extended cut. It's actually one of the few times you might add a bit of muscle whilst losing fat as long as you can get rid of any insulin reistance problems.  This is because if there are no insulin resistance problems, high body fat people can typically mobilize a lot of fat if they have good insulin sensitivity or work on developing it (eat low carb, low GIeycemic index foods). Even though they are on a caloric deficit as far as intake goes, their body will have a surplus of energy from burning their fat since they have a bunch of it to burn.  As fat levels drop, this becomes harder to do because there is less to burn and the body wants to hold onto it. that's all a very simplified version of what's actually going on.

 

I have gone the other route the last year or so and not really worried about fat levels, trying to eat at maitenance and just lift heavy weights.  As such, I've only lost a little bit of bit of body fat and still struggle with body image issues, but it very slowly has gotten better as I've slowly traded some fat for muscle. I'm trying the whole cut thing now.

Massrandir, Barkûn, Swolórin, The Whey Pilgrim
500 / 330 / 625
Challenges: 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 31 32 34 35 36 39 41 42 45 46 47 48 49 Current Challenge
"No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. " ~ Socrates
"Friends don't let friends squat high." ~ Chad Wesley Smith
"It's a dangerous business, Brodo, squatting to the floor. You step into the rack, and if you don't keep your form, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." ~ Gainsdalf

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Hallo - I was quite overweight. When I got serious about losing - I did the "cutting" route. Eating at a deficit but still lifting really heavy weights (for me). The muscle gains were small and still I struggle with hitting PR's which lots of people can hit every week on a normal diet. BUT I have gained enough muscle where it shows - on my arms and legs. Although I'm at a steady "cut" you can still gain muscle - just won't be as extravagant as it would be if you were eating at a surplus.

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Hallo - I was quite overweight. When I got serious about losing - I did the "cutting" route. Eating at a deficit but still lifting really heavy weights (for me). The muscle gains were small and still I struggle with hitting PR's which lots of people can hit every week on a normal diet. BUT I have gained enough muscle where it shows - on my arms and legs. Although I'm at a steady "cut" you can still gain muscle - just won't be as extravagant as it would be if you were eating at a surplus.

 

I had the same experience.  I'm 4'11" was about 143lbs went down to 123lbs and I was eating 1300-1500kCals while weight lifting 2-3x a week, working as a cashier at Lowe's (lots of heavy lifting) 30hrs/week and working a sitting down/occasionally standing job 20hrs/week. After losing 20lbs (took about 3 or 4 months) I increased my caloric intake and felt better, but stopped losing weight. My caloric deficit was probably about 500-700 kCals. 

PaNtInApRoViNa

 

level 2 Halfling warrior

STR 4.5 | DEX 4.25 | STA 3.5 | CON 12.5 | WIS 3.75 | CHA 2


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To add on, I found an interesting study:

 

Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. Garthe, I., et al (2010).  Assuming you are continuing to do resistance training, the gist is you can GAIN lean muscle mass while LOSING body fat if you diet slowly, aiming to lose only 1 pound per week.  I don't exactly know what they mean by "elite athletes," but it suggests these are results that even people who aren't new to training can achieve.

 

As others have stated, eating right and working out will lead to initial changes in compositions regardless of what specifically you do.  From there, it's all about your goals!  The above study says if you're okay with slow progress, you can have your cake and eat it too (lose body fat and gain muscle - to a point, im sure).  On the other hand, if you want to grow massive arms and visible 6 pack abs, you're looking at a more "traditional" bulk/cut cycle.

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I agree with you Waldo, and I said as much in my post.  Eventually, you DO need to choose between adding muscle or doing your best to maintain while losing body fat.  The study doesn't contradict that claim, and I think it addresses the initial stage OP appears to be in.  It also agree with what you're saying, that initially you can accomplish both.  However, definitions of "noob" are broad.

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Look up Leangains; or lean bulk. You don't lose fat but the goalis to maintain the same amount of fat at all times. Some people try to maintain 10% or less. I've done a lean bulk before and gained about 3/4 of what I do on a normal bulk but it's much harder and takes a lot more attention to small details.

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