What are your current fitness goals? You might want torun your fastest half marathon,Begin a strength training program,lose weight,muscle building, or something else entirely. Two of these goals often go hand in hand: you can lose fat and build muscle at the same time.
This combination goal is not easy, but according to experts it is absolutely feasible. It's also more beneficial and sustainable for your body to lose fat and build muscle in the long run.
"It's called body recomposition, and it's probably the most work I do with clients," said Phil Catudal, NASM-CPT. The first thing to know, he says, is that winning the lose fat, build muscle game requires a serious level of persistence and understanding. (Consistency is up to you, but all the details are right here so you can see results in as little as a month for some people.)
Meet the experts: Phil Catudal, NASM-CPT and Nutrition Expert.Erin Oprea, Certified Personal and Celebrity Trainerand founder ofPretty muscle training app.Dina Khader, RD, CDN, is a qualified nutritionist and integrative nutritionist.
The strategy Catudal emphasizes in clients looking to lose fat and build muscle at the same time involves focusing on protein and calorie intake. Catudal recalls one client who defeated that goal by "squatting 100-pound barbells with chains on her hips and looking super badass."
A quick note: Before making any major changes to your diet or eating plan, you should speak with a licensed nutritionist or doctor. However, there are some general guidelines and information for healthy adults that are considered best practices by fitness and nutrition professionals.
Read on for a beginner's guide to losing fat and gaining muscle with this advice from top health and fitness professionals.
First off, can you actually build muscle while burning fat?
Absolut and.weightliftingAndHIIT-Trainingare the key to muscle building and fat loss. "Don't be afraid of strength training"Erin Oprea, Certified Personal and Celebrity Trainerand founder ofPretty muscle training app, she reminds her clients. It's actually an important part of achieving fat loss and muscle gain at the same time.
"Weights help you build more muscle mass and thatWeights also help you burn more calories", saysDina Khader, RD, CDN. How? Muscle burns calories, but body fat doesn't. "People think, 'I don't want to build muscle because I don't want to get big,' but that's not true. Lifting weights helps you burn fat more efficiently," says Khader.
There are a few different workout plans that the experts recommend for body recomposition. Catudal recommends 45-minute strength and weight training exercises (machines, free weights, etc.) three to four days per week, with 60-second rest periods between exercises.
HIIT-Trainingare also a home run to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. "HIIT is the most efficient way to burn fat," says Catudal. "You will burn as many calories in a 15-minute workout as you would jog in an hour." Oprea's contact point is aTabata-Trainingeach round lasts 4 minutes. You do 20 seconds of full intensity, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times.
Lifting weights helps you burn more fat more efficiently.
In terms of recovery, of course, your post-workout carbs and protein will provide some of it, but Khader also recommends some natural remedies. "If your muscles get sore from working out, if you have a lot of soreness or inflammation, you're not going to burn fat or build muscle as easily," says Khader. Instead, the body focuses on taking care of the inflammation. Therefore, she recommends weekly useEpsom salt bathsto help relax and provide extra rest for those muscles. Take your time between harder workoutsactive recreation activitieswill also help speed up the healing process.
How should I eat to lose fat and build muscle?
First, aim for calorie neutrality while increasing your activity level. This means, according to Catudal, that you keep your calorie intake right at what your body needs, and sometimes just a little bit higher. Losing (or metabolizing) fat while building muscle is a smart nutritional strategy.
The average calorie intake for women ranges from 1,600 to 2,400 calories, depending on age, weight, height, and activity level. If you want a more specific analysis, Khader recommends having your nutritionist perform a bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), a highly accurate test of body fat and muscle mass conducted via electrodes to determine how many calories your body needs.
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But let's say your body needs 1,800 calories. According to Catudal's plan, you'll stick with that 1,800 calories on days you're not exercising. Then increase that by 200-300 calories on workout days, which is within the range recommended by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
By doing this, you are feeding your body enough nutrition to function at 100 percent. But since you will also increase yoursweight trainingAndHIIT-TrainingWhen you restore your calories, you'll restore more muscle than fat, says Catudal. Also, the fat you have will be burned for extra energy needed during those tough workouts.
Remember,Calories give your body the energy it needs to function, but can also be stored as fat. To prevent this, you have two options: reduce your calorie intake or increase your physical activity. If you are trying to lose fatAndIf you're building muscle at the same time, you're going to want to do both.
"You have to go hand in hand so that you don't lose muscle mass when you lose weight," says Khader. "You shouldn't go below 1,200 calories a day because that's when you start to lose muscle too."
FYI: Striving for calorie neutrality is different than when your goal is weight loss. "When people are trying to lose body fat or weight, the typical rule of thumb is 500-calorie deficit", said Catudal.
FYI: You can lose fat and gain muscle *without* counting calories.
If you don't want to focus too much on calories, Oprea says that's definitely an option too. "I never want my clients to obsess about their calorie intake," she says. “Personally, I don't count calories and numbers, but I do focus on portion size and making sure you're getting one every time you eatComplex carbohydratesand a protein."
The trainer also makes sure to limit her strengths to the morning hours. “I do strength early in the day because those are your energy sources. You eat them, get that fuel in your body, and burn them up," she says.
Pro Tip:Unlike weight loss, where you focus on numbers, body recomposition focuses on distribution. So, "don't obsess over the scale," reminds Oprea. Your fat volume decreases as you build muscle. But muscle is denser than fat, which means it takes up less space. So it's the same weight, it just looks different.
Protein should be an important part of your diet.
And you probably need to increase the amount on your plate *greatly* if you're trying to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
Why? "If you're not getting enough protein from heavy weight training, you're not recovering enough from your workout to perform well, which means you're not building as much muscle or burning as much fat," says Catudal. The trainer suggests that about 30 percent or more of your calories should come from protein.
Let's go back to this 1,800 calorie diet example. If you want to consume 30 percent of that from protein, multiply that number by 0.30 to get 540, then divide by four (4 calories equals 1g of protein), which gives you 135g. Most people who aim to get 30 percent of their calories from protein will have a protein intake of 100-150 grams per day, notes Catudal.
Most people who aim to get 30 percent of their calories from protein will have a protein intake of 100-150 grams per day, says Catudal.
Why is protein so important? Increasing the amount of protein in your diet will help you lose more fat, so aStudy published inJournal of Nutrition. Of the 24 female participants, half followed a standard carbohydrate-based diet and half followed a low-carb, high-protein diet (30 percent) and showed significant results in fat loss and muscle mass after 10 weeks. Each group ate 1,700 calories per day. After 10 weeks, the researchers found that the women in both groups had lost an average of 16 pounds, but that the standard diet group lost 10.4 pounds of that weight in body fat and 3 pounds in muscle mass, while the higher protein group lost lost an average of 12.3 pounds of body fat and just 1.7 pounds of muscle mass.
And you're going to want to sprinkle those proteins throughout the day. “Having protein at every meal is key. Eat carbs before and after your workout,” says Catudal. It helps to replenish energy for training and energy after replenishment. You should also consume protein after a workout to rebuild your muscles. Oprea recommends consuming your post-workout protein 30 minutes to an hour after your workout.
And as long as they existlots of proteins to choose from, Khader prefers plant-based proteins (think pea or sprouted rice proteins) because they don't stress the kidneys. If you like meat and fish, Khader recommends lean meats like chicken and turkey. Other great sources of protein from the experts include wild fish, salmon and beans. If you plan to cook red meat, like beef, do it occasionally, allowing for fat consistency — Oprea recommends once a week.
Need vegan protein ideas? Check out this video:
Catudal and Oprea have similar recs, but Oprea loves to add some as wellOwnerand for customers worried about boredom, she recommends focusing on spices. Your secret sauce?Amino acids from coconut. "It tastes similar to teriyaki sauce, but you don't get all the salt therewill leave you swollen."
Consume post-workout protein between 30 minutes and an hour after your workout, Oprea recommends.
Before you rush to the nearest grocery store to stock up on all that protein, there are a few to avoid when shopping, says Khader. Soy comes first. Ai am proteinwill affect thatthyroid, She says. And regular consumption can make you sluggish and make it harder to lose weight. Another thing to avoid: nuts. "People think they're good sources of protein, but they're too high in fat," says Khader.
Sleep and hydration are also key to seeing results.
All three experts could not stress this point enough. "When people sleep poorly, they don't burn fat as efficiently and it's much harder to build muscle," says Khader. The nutritionist also pointed out that people who don't get enough sleep are always hungry, which means they run the risk of consuming more than the amount of calories they really need.
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And there are several studies that back this up. Participants with short sleepers had elevated levels of certain hormones related to appetite regulation, and increased BMI was proportional to less sleep, according to a study published in theScience Public Librarywhich examines 1,024 peoplesleeping habits.
And of course the other factor,Hydration is also and always super important, in body recomposition and in everyday life. "You can't build muscle if your body hasn't recovered from the day before in normal life," says Catudal. “Staying hydrated and sleeping are so critical to basic human functioning. If you're doing all those things and not drinking water or sleeping four hours a night, it's either not going to work at all, or it's going to work so much slower than when your body is in good shape." And who doesn't want to see results?
In terms of timing, experts agree that if you've been consistent, you should start seeing results within four weeks. Within a few months, other people will notice. And in six months you will see drastic changes. "It's not easy, but it's worth it," says Oprea.
Alexis Jones is Associate Editor at Women's Health, where she writes across multiple industriesWomensHealthmag.com, including life, health, sex and love, relationships and fitness, while also contributing to the print magazine. She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University, lives in Brooklyn and proudly loathes avocados.
Jennifer Nied is a fitness editor atwomen healthand has over 10 years of experience in health and wellness journalism. She's always exploring with her husband, daughter and dog - sweaty workouts and gear, hiking, snowboarding, running and more.
If you can sustain a lifting program and eat a caloric deficit, your body will be able to pull from its fat stores to both fuel itself and potentially build muscle mass. Prioritizing foods rich in protein is a key component to both losing body fat and building muscle at the same time.How can I lose fat and gain muscle at the same time 3 simple steps? ›
- Step 1 (Set Up Nutrition) Eat just slightly below maintenance calories (~5-20% deficit, or ~100-500 calories below maintenance). ...
- Step 2 (Switch Up Training) ...
- Step 3 (Optimize)
On average, you can build noticeable muscle in as little as 6-8 weeks with consistent training. Noticeable fat loss can take as long as 6-12 weeks on the slow range, or 4 weeks on a faster protocol.What is the fastest way to lose fat and gain muscle? ›
Compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, lunges, pull-ups and pushups, and not only are they the most efficient way to build muscle and lose body fat, but they are great for building core strength too.Do you lose fat or muscle first? ›
What happens to body fat when you exercise? Your muscles first burn through stored glycogen for energy. “After about 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise, your body starts burning mainly fat,” says Dr. Burguera.Should I lose fat or gain muscle first? ›
People with high body fat percentages or anyone who's been bulking for 12-16 weeks should focus on losing fat before building muscle. People who are skinny fat, new to strength training, or those who want to prioritize their performance in the gym over their appearance should consider bulking before losing weight.