DietProgramsTraining

Training for muscle growth while losing body fat at the same time

By October 5, 2010 12 Comments

This is a highly controversial topic which seems to pop-up on the radar more often than man-boobs show up at the beach.

Is it possible for muscle growth while losing body fat at the same time?

Some would argue it isn’t, but au contraire mon frere, it IS possible. It just requires very precise training, rest and nutrient timing.

Not only is it possible (based on my own experience), but written authors such as Tom Venuto have been preaching this very concept for a while now with books such as Burn The Fat.

Freaky muscle

Don’t worry, you won’t end up looking like this guy

Are we talking freaky-big, mass-monster gains?

No. I’m not talking about humungous ball-shrinking, steroid taking kinda muscle gain. Just average joe with ‘Hollywood body inclination’ kinda muscle gain.

Here I’ll show you the type of training and diet I’m currently implementing which has given me an increase in muscle size and density whilst gradually etched away my winter mid-section.

The 5 key factors

Without a doubt, you need to concentrate on several areas in order to achieve this feat.

If you can’t grasp of all of these things concurrently, you’re probably better off attacking either fat loss or muscle gain independantly.

Diet

First of all, you need to shift the bulk of your carbohydrate intake to around the time that you train. Have a small protein-based meal with some added carbs and fats (such as coconut oil or flax) an hour out from training, then follow that up immediately after your workout with a high protein meal mixed with some insulin-spiking carbs (read: sugar, honey or anything else which ants are generally attracted to).

Limit your carb intake at other times if you can, and avoid eating 2 hours before bed time for maximum GH release whilst you sleep.

Note: Don’t limit your carbs too much. This isn’t a low-carb nutrition plan by any means. You need them for muscle growth, energy in the gym and to give your muscles a ‘fuller’ appearance.

Intermittent fasting

At the moment, I’m using Eat-Stop-Eat 1 day a week on the day I don’t train. This cuts into my weekly caloric intake significantly, and uses my body fat for fuel.

I’m cautious of muscle-sparing during this kind of regimen, so I’ve been actively trying to avoid fasting any more than this.

Note: Again, you don’t HAVE to implement this diet strategy, but it can be a very effective fat-loss weapon to have in your arsenal.

Training

To add muscle size and reduce fat, you NEED to up the intensity when you train. This means, shorten your rest periods to a maximum of 60 seconds between sets (optimally keep them to 45 seconds).

Why you ask? This will keep your heart-rate up allowing you to burn fat whilst you hammer your muscles into oblivion.

I’m currently using Visual Impact as my training bible and am finding it a kick-ass weapon with these 2 goals in mind.

Note: For more on Visual Impact, I’ve written a review on it here. No you don’t HAVE to use it to achieve similar results—I’ve just found it one of the better ones out there.

How often should you train?

Make no mistake, this style of training is INTENSE and requires a medium to advanced level of experience. In terms of the number of days you should be training, I’d say no less than 3 days, and then use your own common sense from there. If you decide to train twice a day, 6 days a week, this is fine. It’s not fine if you’re body becomes overtrained and says to you:

“Hey douchebag, I’m jack of the twice a day training. You aren’t on the juice, and you’re not wearing jeans and flip-flops to the gym today. Prepare for an injury and a 6 month gym hiatus.”

Note: I’m currently doing 4 days a week and have been doing so for a year now. It’s my ‘sweet-spot’ for maximum results, with minimal time spent in the gym.

Hydration

Keep the water levels high, but don’t go overboard. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, don’t drink to excess especially around meal times. Water intake at meal times, will interfere with your stomach acids hindering food break-down and nutrient absorption.

Ultimately this means, you’re throwing a spanner into the mass-building machine and throwing your muscle-building potential right out the window.

You need to be getting 7 hours of sleep a night to give yourself the best chance of gaining muscle whilst losing fat

You need to be getting 7 hours of sleep a night to give yourself the best chance of gaining muscle whilst losing fat

Rest

Sleep for at least 7 hours a night with an optimum time of 8. Not enough sleep is catabolic to your hard-earned muscle (especially during such an intense regimen).

Also remember, you don’t grow in the gym, so limit your stay to a maximum of 1 hour.

How am I personally attacking it?

I’m using what i’ve outlined above, but here’s a summary and some extra goodies in case you’ve skipped to the end ;)

I’m currently…

  • Using Eat-Stop-Eat once a week to fast intermittently
  • Limiting my carbs
  • Eating a teaspoon of coconut oil with my protein shakes each day (2 shakes a day, one before training and one after)
  • Taking 8 fish oil caps a day
  • Taking Vitamin C, Garlic and Zinc supplements once a day.
  • Not eating 2 hours before bed
  • Drinking a couple of litres of water a day
  • Sleeping 7+ hours a night
  • Training 4 days a week
  • Using Visual Impact as my program guide (almost at the end of Phase II).

What if you don’t want to use Visual Impact?

Hey, you can use whatever training program you like, it just happens to be the one that I’m currently using and am achieving significant results with. You can use many other programs out there, even your own. Just keep the intensity high, the rest periods short and be diligent with your diet.

Further reading about training for muscle growth while losing body fat

Rusty over at fitnessblackbook.com also wrote a great article on this very topic.

Check it out here

Editor’s Note: What’s your experience with training for muscle growth whilst losing body fat at the same time? Comment below.

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

More posts by Clint Nielsen

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Yavor says:

    Clint – a tricky subject. For me losing body fat is effective via cutting calories, but then I lack energy/motivation to train.

    You mentioned intermittent fasting – I found it a great way to cut calories AND have energy because on the other days the caloric intake is normal.

    Yavor

  • Noah Ohlsen says:

    Hey,
    Interesting article. This is certainly a hot topic no a days and in fact something we repeatedly discuss in my exercise physiology class at UM. My professor has a solid point: To gain one pound of muscle, you’re body needs about 2,500-3,000 extra cals, and to lose a pound of fat, you should have a deficit of around the same amount. In that case, how can you be in a caloric deficit and surplus simultaneously? Impossible. You do make some good points here though, and I’m sure that implementing certain things in certain time windows can in fact lead you to the hallowed, “gain muscle, lose fat.”

  • fran says:

    Hey, last year i did the p90x program. I was able to lose some BF and gained a decent amount of muscle mass at the same time. I was skinny when i started, not overweight at all. I was not super strict with my diet, i could have gotten better results, but all in all, i think it is definitely possible to achieve both. I have stayed the same all year round, but now i am trying to break the plateau by starting Turbulence Training and being stricter with my diet. What do you think?? do you know the program??

  • Yavor says:

    p.s. Clint – please edit my first comment – it turned out with my email as name. Don’t want to be picked up by a spam crawler.

  • Bryan says:

    Good article Clint. I certainly think that it is possible and I certainly hope that we are right because it is what I am doing now. Trying to loss a small amount of fat while getting the maximum amount of muscle gain that I can. I lost 50 lbs through diet and cardio with a light body workout but I ended up losing some muscle and decided to try flipping my exercise and diet around. I came up with a little bit of program for myself to keep myself at the same weight while toning muscle. Since I work a typical schedule and I have a wife and kids I had to find the best schedule which was a 5 day plan with varying intensities with a 2 day rest period.

    Basically 100% of my exercise is heavy weight lifting ( basically 80% or greater of my 1 rep max ) for upper body day 1 and day 4. Day 2 and 5 are 75% heavy weight lifting with 80% of 1 rep max for lower body and 25% cardio ( running for me ). Day 3 is straight core/abs/lower back workout. My diet is high protein and low fat. I don’t pay CLOSE attention to my carbs because of HOW I eat. Which is every 2 1/2 – 3 hours I am feeding Monday through Friday. Stray away from anything with greater than 50% fat or high sodium content ( like cheese, or diet soda, oh noes! ) in it and you’ll see results regardless. On Saturday and Sunday I only eat the 3 typical meals and rest the most on these days.

    Change up the type of exercises and what you eat/when you eat it and you’re body will continue to be confused and not get into THAT RUT. Oh, and drink water… tons of it.

    Hope I didn’t go overboard, but that has seemed to work for me with toning my body while maintaining a lower body fat ratio. Not perfect, but manageable. Still, if you want dramatic results, go for one then the other… namely fat loss THEN muscle gain.

  • Clint Nielsen says:

    @Yavor
    Im hearing you on the energy aspect — i tend to have to use ‘supplements’ with added caffeine to help me through low calorie phases. Also, training with a lower rep range in mind (4-6) also helps.
    Fasting is definitely a neat trick to have ;)

    @Noah
    In black and white, it’s easy to see his logic, but i feel your professor isn’t taking into account ‘nutrient timing’ or a bunch of other factors.
    If im eating enough to put on size, who says i can’t fast for 24 hours and burn through my fat stores then repeat? Energy expenditure is one thing, but the KIND of energy you are expending is another.

    @fran
    I need to look into this p90x thing :)
    Nice work on adding muscle whilst staying slim!
    I think once you have reached a certain body fat level, it can become tougher and tougher to make the same sort of progress you see when you first started out.
    As for turbulence training, i haven’t tried it myself, but have heard reports that it is in fact good.

    @Bryan
    Definitely agree with you there especially in your last point. Most people aim for muscle gain when they first start out. If they lost 5% body fat FIRST, then switched to a mass-build phase, the results would be so much more pronounced.
    Good job with your program — i too don’t worry ‘that’ much about carbs these days as I like to enjoy the finer things in life (particularly on the weekends)

  • fran says:

    Hey Clint, thanks for the feedback. As for p90x, it really works, especially if you are out of shape or a beginner. As you said, it is easier for a person who is overweight or unfit to change their body composition and make serious changes. Fit people find it harder i guess, it is as if the body gets used to hard training and gets resilient to change.

  • Nice post, this kind of approach is my modus operandi when it comes to staying in shape year round.

    Michael

  • Rick Leigh says:

    Why does no-one ever consider the fact that, although you may need a calorie excess to build muscle, we already have tha in the form of stored bodyfat? Has no-one thought maybe we could dip into our fat stores to give us fuel, so what’s to say we can’t be in a calorie deficit daily, but in fact gain muscle through utilising the X number of calories we already have round our waists along with adequate protein and a solid training program??

  • I don’t know how many times I have heard that. But thank you for letting us know it is possible to build muscle while losing fat.

  • Dessy says:

    Great information, never heard of using the coconut oil before, will have it give it a go

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