Can I lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously is a question we get asked all the time. Simply put, the answer is yes! There is a misconception out there that you can only do one or the other at any given time, but in fact you can do both at once or at the very least you can maintain the muscle mass you have. This can be achieved with two key components, living in a caloric deficit and weight training. The caveat is, not everyone can do it.
Who can do this?
People that can achieve fat loss and hypertrophy or muscle gain at the same time are typically either a beginner, returning from a hiatus away from training and/or people who have a significant amount of body fat to lose.
There is a thought pattern out there that believes that we can not be catabolic (breaking down) and anabolic (building up) at the same time, so let's dig a little deeper as to how this can happen.
First, let's look at the process of muscle building. When we lift weights and train properly, we break down muscle by creating microtears in the muscle. This broken down muscle then rebuilds bigger and stronger with proper hydration and nutrition in the proceeding hours and days. Right there, is the process of breaking down and building up.
Now, let’s look at fat loss in its most simple form. Our body, at rest, needs a certain amount of calories per day to function properly. This is our resting metabolic rate. Let’s say, on average, that is 2000 calories. When we don't consume 2000 calories per day to function, our body will pull from resources we already have within our body. When we do this consistently and long enough, body fat stores will be the resource the body uses as its first available energy source. This means, when we train and break muscle down, our bodies will use stored fat as energy in the muscle building process without having to consume extra calories. The thing is, however, the less body fat you have, the less stores you have and the less you will be able to build muscle.
Is that it?
Hell no that's not it. There are more effective ways to go about losing body fat and building muscle at the same time than others. If you weigh 140 lbs and have 15% body fat, then lifting heavy and lifting often is the way to go, but if you are 250 lbs and 30% body and the goal is to lose fat and build muscle there needs to be a different approach. This approach involves sensitizing your body to insulin. By staying in a higher heart rate zone (70-80% of your max heart rate) for longer means we will use more sugars to get through the session. Once we have used up our sugars in the body as energy, the body switches to fat. This is where we can kick in some conditioning or metabolic techniques to kick on the fat burning process. (Heart rate zone of 80-90%). If you have a lower amount of body fat and want to build muscle, dropping your rate and going to a more moderate heart rate zone (60-70%) is more beneficial.
Nutritional Considerations and Conclusion
With all the above information in mind, if you are going to eat carbs, after your session is the best time to consume them. On the days you are inactive, lower your carbs so your body uses stored fat for the recovery process or building the muscle we’ve been breaking down and remember, not all calories are equal.
So, the answer to the question of can you lose body fat and build muscle at the same time, the answer is still yes, but there are considerations to be taken into account. Yes we need to be in a calorie deficit. Yes, we need to have excess stored fat and yes, we need to train a certain way for best results.