If I were a betting man, I’d say were using the Google Machine to find out if there was a workout plan to build muscle and lose fat. Which is cool, because I have one of ya.
If this is your first time through Aesthetic Physiques, I’m Dave.
And like you, I was always Googling the same thing because I wanted to speed up results. Why do one thing when I can do both at the same time, right?
I like to call this the Holy Grail goal because it has all aspects of looking better naked, abs and vascularity. Chicks dig vascularity. And yes, I am fully aware of how male chauvinistic that sounds.
Buutttt, there is a fierce debate in the fitness world around how to build muscle and lose fat in a workout and if it’s even possible. And it’s more heated than a Lebron vs. Jordan G.O.A.T. discussion.
In this article we’ll explore both sides of this argument but most importantly, you’ll find out how to build muscle and lose fat in a workout.
Well I guess you know what side of the fence I’m on…nice poker face Dave.
THE BUILD MUSCLE AND LOSE FAT WORKOUT PLAN
Every hour of every day, your body is toeing the line between being anabolic (building up) and catabolic (breaking down).
Depending on what you want to do you’ll need to tip the scales one way or the other. To be more anabolic and build muscles you need to increase protein synthesis (which is why protein is so important for building muscle).
When you lift weights you damage the muscle fibers, and this signals the body to increase protein synthesis to repair the damage.
And since you are built for survival your body will want to adapt to better deal with the activity that caused the muscle damage. To do this, your muscles get bigger and stronger. This is why progressive overload is so important for building muscle and strength.
To add onto that, over time, as you get better at lifting weights, your body becomes more adapted to building muscle and your gainz slow down as you near your genetic potential.
Newbies on the other hand are a completely different animal. When you first start weight lifting (or training properly) your body is hyper responsive to the new stress (remember that whole survival adaptation thing?) This allows you to pack on muscle quickly which is good news if your goal is body recomposition.
If you’re in that “newbie gainz” area you can safely see 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of lean muscle mass gained each month without juicing. Freakin’ sweet, right?
And for those guys that are more advanced in the gym you’re looking at gaining as little as .2 to .5 pounds a month.
So if you have years of proper training it’s better to go after bulking and cutting cycles. This way you can maximize on your one focus.
On the other hand to be more catabolic and burn fat, you need to reduce calories.
By reducing calories you are slowing down the muscle building process. A calorie deficit slows down hormone production and protein synthesis rates. And therein lies the conundrum.
Since it’s hard, should you even try? Well…that’s for you to decide. If you want to go for it, here’s the body recomposition recipe…
THE BODY RECOMPOSITION RECIPE
The first leg of our stool is the workout.
For a natty lifter, beating your muscles into submission once a week isn’t the best way to build muscle. Think about the end of a chest day. You’ve already done hundreds of reps for your chest and you come to cable flyes to finish yourself off. Are you using the same weight you can when you’re fresh? Prob not. Your muscles are taxed. Which means you’ll be using less weight, prob for less reps which all results in less muscle building.
Stimulation and Frequency
A natty lifters best friend is stimulation and frequency. You need to stimulate the muscle to increase protein synthesis and you need to do that multiple times over a week. Yes, that means hitting arms 2-3 times a week.
By spreading that volume over 2-3 sessions you’ll be able to use heavier weights, for better reps and more muscle building potential. Plus you allow your muscles to rest which is where the real growth happens.
This will put you in a more anabolic rather than a catabolic state.
Focus on Heavy Lifting
I won’t go to in depth here because I already tackled the weight selection at nauseam here.
But you want to be in the 60-88% of your 1 rep max for muscle growth. Yes this is a verryyy broad range. A majority of your workout should land you in the 4-15 rep range. This builds strength and increases muscle size. Because let’s be honest here, you don’t want to be lean and have the strength of a 10 yr old. You want to rep the part of a jacked dude.
Focus on Quality Reps
Your goal is to have quality reps. That means slow controlled movements and hitting your all your reps for that exercise.
Think of it like this, each method/technique for lifting weights has a certain amount of gainz you can achieve. Once you hit that point, your bucket is filled with that method. There will be some point that straight sets of 10 reps won’t yield the result it once did. That’s when you fill your gainz bucket by moving to a more advanced technique.
Let’s do an out-of-gym example. How would you feel if right after you got your driving licence, I gave you the keys to an Indy car and said “Go win the Indy 500”.
You’d shit in your pants.
Yeah, initially it would sound cool going 200+ mph around a track, but having just learned how to drive, you’d hopefully realize you just aren’t ready for that yet.
And why would you, Indy car driving is an advanced way of driving.
So are things like drops sets, occlusion training (restricting blood flow to the muscle and working that muscle), cluster sets and other fancy reps. Save all the fancy stuff for when you’ve filled your bucket on the basics.
Focus on Progressive Overload
Using quality reps, you’ll want to add progressive overload to them. Your goal is to increase what you’re doing and not using the same reps and weight forever. That’s a great recipe to stay the same.
You’ll want to introduce progressive overload. I recommend the 5 up/1 down method.
It looks like this:
Each week add 5% more weight and drop a rep. Every 4th week, bring the reps back up to the starting point and use the Week 2 weight. That’s one cycle.
Week 1: 200 lbs for 6 reps
Week 2: 210 lbs for 5 reps
Week 3: 220 lbs for 4 reps
Week 4: 210 lbs for 6 reps
Week 5: 220 lbs for 5 reps
Week 6: 230 for for 4 reps
But at a certain point, you won’t be able to lift for the desired reps. If that happens, try dis:
Drop the weight to the previous cycle’s starting point, drop the reps by 2 and throw in a pause. Continue cycle.
Fo’ example, let’s say you can only hit 230 for 4 reps in Cycle 2 above. So the following week, use 210 x 6 reps and throw in a pause at the transition point of the movement. For the bench press, that would be when the bar is at your chest.
Pauses kill momentum and force you to build strength in the weakest point. Like a chain, you are only as good as your weakest link.
The following week increase the weight by 5% and keep the reps and pause the same. The following week, keep the weight and increase the rep by 1. Once you finish that 3 week cycle, go back to the cycle you got stuck at.
Cardio is a tricky thing to navigate when trying to lose fat.
Most people get fat loss in the brain and slog away on the treadmill until they chaffe. Which is a great plan if you want to look like a marathon runner.
The key is to toe the line between effective cardio and doing too much so it’ll hurt your muscle building.
Which raises another delima. Your body’s ability to adapt to cardio.
Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine dances? Good because that’s kinda how it is starting off cardio. There’s lots of excess movement. Your legs feel heavy. And your lungs are burning something fierce. This burns a ton of calories.
The next time you do cardio, there’s more efficiency. You move in a more precise manner. Your lungs have adapted to be able to better use oxygen. And the capillaries in your legs have adjusted to move oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. More efficiency = less calories burned.
A 15-minute run done week one will burn more calories than the same 15 minute run week two. That 15 minute run on week two will burn more calories than on week three. As you do the same cardio week in and week out, your body becomes more and more efficient at it.
To get the same calorie burn in week three as you did in week one, you’d have to either run faster for the same amount of time or run for a longer duration at the same speed.
I dunno about you but the less time on the treadmill the better. So here is how you should tackle cardio:
From the start of the diet to the first weight plateau: Move more throughout the day – aim for 8-10k steps. Your iPhone has a pedometer built right in so you don’t need to drop fancy money on a step tracker you’ll lose in a week. Check out the Health app that came on your phone.
To the next weight plateau : Perform a different cardio exercise per workout – i.e. Monday is incline walking, Wednesday is kettlebell swings Friday is walking with no incline.
Then eventually you’ll plateau again, so to the next plateau: Perform some HIIT. Start with one day HIIT, one incline walking and one kettlebell swing. Then two HIIT and one kettlebell swing. And you guessed it, three HIIT.
The constant variation slows the body’s ability to adapt to one specific cardio type forcing you to do more. Variation is the spice of cardio. Plus it makes it more palatable.
Aim for 10 minutes at first and slowly ramp up to 30 if you can squeeze it in. For kettlebell swings aim for 75 in one set and then bump up the weight.
Here’s a HIIT elliptical workout I like to do:
Warm up at a comfortable pace for 1 min.
At the 1 minute mark, sprint as fast as you can for 20 secs.
Go back to the comfortable pace for 1 minute. At the 2:20 mark sprint for another 20 seconds.
Rinse and repeat with 20 secs of sprints with 60 secs of comfortable pace.
Start with as many rounds as you can do without your heart exploding and each week increase by 1 until you hit 10 sprints.
Since I’m always counting how many sprints I’ve done on my fingers, here are the time points to sprint:
Of all the components of body recomposition, nutrition is by far the most misunderstood but arguably the most important. Welcome to the second leg of our body recomposition stool, How to eat.
Fat loss is all about burning more calories than you eat. Nothing new there.
So let’s look at the other end of the spectrum, bulking. Traditional bulking is all about taking in more calories than you burn. If you eat too much, your body won’t need to tap into your body fat and depending on how much you eat, you could gain too.
Again, not the route we are looking for. Which leaves us in no-man’s-land.
How do you eat more and less than you need at one time? It sounds like some messed up Philosophy problem that has no right answer, doesn’t it?
But there’s actually a few ways to do that. Eating at maintenance and cycling calories.
At maintenance, you’re hormones are working with you rather than against you which makes the whole fat loss process easier. And you’ll have energy which allows for better workouts so you build more.
But how can I lose fat if I’m not eating in a deficit? And I thought you just said I need to eat more than I need to gain muscle?
I did and it still holds true. When you eat at maintenance you are on the line of surplus and deficit.
So on days where you hit the gym and are really active you will be more in the deficit because it requires more calories to be active. So how do you get in a surplus? With that spare tire of energy. Yep, ya beer belly.
Since your body is built for survival it takes what it needs. If you’re killing it in the gym, your body is going to need extra calories to help build muscle. Since it’s only getting so much from food, it will use your bodyfat for the rest.
This allows for a slow and steady rate of fat loss which is what you want since it will spare (and even grow) muscles.
So what’s maintenance then?
All these ranges are using bodyweight in pounds, because we are ‘Murica and we do not conform to a superior measurement system.
Maintenance Calories Bodyweight x 12-14
Verrryyy general, right?
If you want a tighter window, use the Katch McArdle equation. The real trick is to not use your ego for the calculations. Use what you really do.
Do you have a desk job or sit for most of the day? Aim for the lower end. Ladies, always aim for the lower end.
If you’re hitting the gym 5-7 days a week and are on your feet most of the day go with the higher end of either equation.
Daily Protein Intake Bodyweight x 1 – 1.2
If you’re already fairly lean, use bodyweight. But if you are more than 30% body fat use lean body mass to calculate protein.
Why is protein so high?
Protein is muscle sparing so on super active days where you burn a shit ton of calories you’ll be preserving muscle and burning fat.
Protein is very satiating.
Higher protein allows you to optimize protein synthesis). When you have a high rate of protein synthesis, you recovery better and build more.
Daily Fat Intake = Daily Calories x 0.25
Fats are important for hormone function, but should be limited. Once you get enough to support your hormones it very easy to store the extra as body fat. Since you are not in a caloric deficit it makes it easier to do just that.
If you were in an aggressive deficit this would obviously change but ya not so keep an eye on extra fats.
Daily Carb Intake = What’s Left!
Carbs are your body’s preferred energy source and in a pinch can be used to rebuild muscle. Now this doesn’t mean you can go H.A.M. by eating sugar and crap.
Fill your carb intake with mostly fruits, veggies, and other high fiber foods. If you can fit in less than healthy sources like sugar and processed foods then go for it. But keep these limited.
The final leg of the body recomposition stool, and most neglected, is sleep. To illustrate how important it is, I’m going to attack your manhood.
Don’t worry, I won’t dick punch you. I’m going to show you what happens to your testosterone levels.
We can all agree that to build muscle testosterone helps, right? That’s one of the big draws of steroids. The other benefit is increase in fat loss. Low levels of testosterone in men can impair muscle growth and promote fat gain. Kinda the opposite of what you are trying to do.
So what does that have to do with sleep? Everything.
There was a study done to look at the effect sleep has on testosterone in young males right out of college. Remember those days? Boners non-stop and you’d pretty much stick said boner in anything.
The participants slept for 10 hours to get the “rested condition”. This was followed up by 8 nights of 5 hours of sleep aka a normal night condition. Testosterone and cortisol were measured every 15-30 minutes after waking at the end of each condition.
The results? In just 8 days, testosterone levels dropped by 10-15%. A normal decrease in testosterone based on age is 1-2% a year. So after just 8 days these young stallions went from 24 to 39 in testosterone years.
So ya, sleep is kind of important. I’ve already wrote about how to get moar and better sleep so I won’t rehash that here.
Moral of the story, aim for about 8 hours a night. It’s tough but that’s why most guys don’t walk around jacked with abs. Make it happen.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the scale would actually tell you what’s going on under the hood? The problem with body recomposition is the scale prob isn’t going to move or if it does, it’s not going to move a helluva lot.
Like I’ve mentioned here progress pics, measurements and tracking your workout are going to be the way to go.
Every week take measurements of your belly (go over the belly button), shoulders (the widest part) and maybe your chest too (across your nipples). This way if your shoulders and chest are getting bigger you know you’re gaining muscle and if the belly measurements go down you know you are losing fat.
WRAP IT UP B
Body recomposition is a thing. You can do it but it takes consistency with sleep, working out and nutrition. All three phases need to be on point.
If you can’t stick to it and let’s be honest it’s freakin’ tough, I recommend just catching one rabbit rather than chasing two. Start with fat loss at a 20% deficit then once you lean out enough, increase calories to maintenance and aim to bulk up. With this approach you’ll see changes in the scale and mirror which adds to the motivation.