By far the most frequently asked question I receive. How do you build muscle while burning fat? The concept alone is contradictory. In order to gain muscle, the body needs food. To shed fat, the body needs a deficit of calories. In the gym, you need to lift to build muscle with minimal cardio that cannibalizes your hard work. To lose fat, you need cardio to aid the above deficit. The line to find the mutual compromise between the two is fine – very fine, at best. But NOT impossible. With an understanding of how various cardio-based and strengthed-based training systems coupled with nutritional tracking and timing impact your body, you can build muscle while shedding fat. Spoiler alert: This is NOT for the fickle or faint of heart. Without dedication, you cannot find success.
Is it necessary? Debatable. There are a lot of people who claim it’s crucial. There are just as many professionals who claim that if you’re strength training with progressive overload, it’s not necessary.
If you get a thrill from cardio, it should not replace your strength workouts. Muscle GROWS from resistance (or strength training). BUT you can increase your caloric expendature through cardio – one of two ways: steady-state cardio and HIIT cardio.
Personally, I do my HIIT cardio at Barry’s always. Sprints, dynamic treadmill sprints, dashes on a track. I’ll also do windgates on a bike or 25 or 50-yard sprints in a pool. Steady-state cardio is usually power walking on a high incline, the StepMill or running at 70% max effort on a flat road.
- For HIIT, I like to keep the work to rest intervals at a solid 1:2 ratio in order to allow your heart rate to come all the way down. HIIT sessions really don’t need to exceed 20 minutes, if you’re doing it right.
- Steady-state cardio should last 30-45 minutes. It will be the longest 30-45 minutes of your life. If you struggle with losing fat, you should prioritize your HIIT cardio, doing no more than 3-4 sessions a week.
THE MAGIC PILL. If you’re training properly, strength training only needs to be done 3-4 times a week, on non-consecutive days if possible. Sessions should consist of heavy compound movements to target the largest muscles in your body. Read THIS post on how to put together your own strength training workout. I like to keep 3-4 sets per exercise and around 8-12 reps per drill. I’ll throw in a few super or giant sets to really get to failure and fatigue any given muscle group. The Barry’s schedule is a great way to target antagonistic muscle groups. If you’re lifting on your own, the below is a good guide for your lifts.
The crux of any program is diet. To build muscle and lose fat you to 1) prioritize your protein consumption and 2) eat with a caloric deficit. Read more on that HERE.
You do not need to track macros, or cycle your calories or macros if you don’t want to. BUT if you’re looking for an additional layer, here are a few ways to determine your lower caloric/carb days vs. the higher. Note – these will be different for everyone depending on the workouts you’re doing, and your level of existing fitness. The below is a guideline, not a perfect formula! The first being a low-calorie/low carbohydrate day and the second a higher calorie/high carb and portion day. As mentioned, your workout schedule will dictate the type of plan you follow.
Lower-Calorie/Lower Carb Plan
- When to implement: All day on weight-training off-days
- Caloric intake: 10-12 times body weight
- Macronutrient ratio: 50% protein, 30% fat, and 20% carbohydrate
You’ll need to play around with this. If 10x your body weight is too low, then stick to 12x. If you don’t have a lot of fat to lose and know that your body can process fat or does well on a high-fat diet then you could split your protein or fat macro ratios evenly.
Higher-Calorie/Higher Carb Plan
- When to implement: On weight training days only
- Caloric intake: 13-14 times body weight. This is just over your low-calorie day, but all food should be consumed in the span of 6-8 hours to directly refuel your muscles and give yourself enough time to digest and deplete your glycogen levels for the next day. This is the same concept used in intermittent fasting
- Macronutrient ratio: 45% protein, 5% fat and 45% carbohydrate
Remember you’re lifting heavy, so you need fuel to recover and promote muscle growth.
Why This System Works
It’s no doubt it’s complicated to strike the balance of caloric intake for muscle growth and deficit for fat loss – but it is possible! The above allows you to do the following:
- Maintain a moderate calorie deficit
- Eat plenty of protein, you’ll rebuild muscle AND feel full
- Build muscle through heavy lifting
If you have a significant amount of fat to lose, you’ll experience change quickly while being more flexible with the above. If you’ve been training and cycling nutrition for the last few months or years you may need to be a bit more strict with your nutrition lifting. Regardless, it does require discipline to see the changes you’re looking for. Be patient, go hard and reap the rewards.
Image via HDQWalls.