There is a lot of information on internet circling around this topic. Most of the time the groups are divided into two camps. The other side says that you can gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously, the other side says that you should focus on one task at a time.
With this topic I’m going to clear up this whole mindset of gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time and give you a bit of advice on what is the best way to go about it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re naturally skinny and are looking to gain overall mass. Or you are on the heavier side and want to cut down. Or you’re just somewhere in the middle and want to take your body to the next level.
It is important to undestand that you will typically need to focus on one specific goal at a time if you really want to make the best progress possible.
For the majority of people, trying to build serious amount of muscle and burn fat at the same time will likely leave you with minimal overall progress.
This really isn’t one of those “kill two birds with one stone” -type of scenarios.
There are basically 3 exceptions to the rule here:
- You’re using drugs – Those who are using steroids are in a totally different class and can often build significant size and strength while reducing body fat levels. Natural trainees have to play by a much different set of rules.
- You have outstanding genetics – Those in the very top percentile of the genetic elite can achieve this goal under the right circumstances. This is due to their superior level of nutrient partitioning where nutrients are favorably shuttled away from fat tissue and into muscle tissue. However, this is extremely rare.
- You’re a complete beginner – Since intense weight training will be a completely new stimulus for your body, the first 1-2 months of your program may allow for a simultaneous increase in muscle mass and reduction in body fat. However, this phase will usually only last for a month or two at the most.
For the remaining majority of the population, the attempt to build significant amount of muscle and burn body fat at the same time is actually the least effective and least efficient way to your muscluar physique.
Take a look at these two basic principles of how your body actually works:
- In order to build new muscle tissue, your body requires a consistent surplus of calories to fuel recovery and growth.
- In order to lose body fat, your body requires a consistent deficit of calories in order to stimulate the use of body fat for fuel.
This is a basic issue of thermodynamics and trying to overcome this will either require an extremely advanced protocol (which most people would never be able to stick to) or it will kill your results altogether.
For this simple reason, a cyclical bulking and cutting approach is going to be the best method for most people.
You’ll want to decide on your primary goal whether it be muscle gain or fat loss, and then put all of your focus on that goal for a period of time. Once you’ve achieved a level of progress that you’re satisfied with, switch to the other goal if you see it necessary.
Should You Bulk Or Cut First?
There’s no single answer here as it depends on each person and what they want to achieve.
If your body fat percentage is around 14% or higher, I would generally recommend that you always focus on fat loss first. If you try to gain muscle when your body fat is already on the higher end, you’ll probably end up excessively fat by the time your bulking phase is done.
Remember that any time you try to gain muscle you’re always going to add some fat, and any time you try to lose fat you’re always going to lose some muscle.
Alternatively, if your body fat levels are already under control then starting off with a mass gaining phase is going to be your best bet if your goal is to build overall size.
How Long To Bulk Or Cut?
Again, this all depends on the individual.
It depends on how much muscle you’re trying to gain, how much body fat you’re comfortable carrying, or how lean you ultimately want to be.
Here are some basic guidelines though:
- If you’re starting off with a mass gaining phase: You’ll want to continue either until you achieve a level of muscular development that you’re satisfied with OR until you’ve gained an amount of body fat that you’re uncomfortable with. It’s impossible to put a universal number here. This could mean a bulking cycle of 12 weeks… 6 months… 2 years… or even more. It all comes down to you, your body and your goals. Some people who do not gain body fat easily and take their goals really seriously and on top of that are focused on building muscle can sometimes go for years on end without ever performing a standard cutting phase because they will not pack on much excess fat along with the muscle.
- If you’re starting off with a fat loss phase: You’ll simply want to continue until you reach a body fat percentage that you’re personally satisfied with. For some people this might be 12%, for others it might be 10% or 8% – there’s no “right” answer here. Again, it depends on you, your body and your goals.
So although you aren’t going to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, the best thing you can do is to aim to:
- Minimize body fat gains while you bulk.
- Minimize muscle loss when you cut.
This way you’ll never gain an excess amount of fat during your mass gaining phase, and you’ll never lose an excessive amount of lean muscle when you cut.
Weight Training While Bulking Or Cutting
There is a huge misconception still going around the fitness industry that you have to change your weight training if you’re changing from gaining muscle mass to burning fat.
This is one of the most common error that people tend to fall into when they start to drop their body fat percentage.
While bulking people are striving for heavier weight, more reps, more sets, progressively overloading their muscles to give it a reason to grow, but suddenly when they enter into the cutting phase they lower the weight down and cut their intensity down and start doing higher reps.
This is completely counterproductive
There are couple of myths that tend to perpetuate this low intensity & light weight approach while cutting which are:
- High repetitions will burn fat from the muscle that you’re working (ex. bicep curls will burn off fat around biceps).
- High repetitions will burn fat better than high intensity, heavy weight training.
And both of these myths are complete carbage.
Fat loss is not something that you can decide where you want it to burn. Burning fat is not a localized event that takes place where you want it to.
You will decrease your whole body fat percentage by staying in calorie deficit and your genetics determine where the fat comes off first and last!
As you enter into cutting phase, you should try to train even harder than you did within bulking phase.
You need to give your body a reason to preserve all the muscle and strength as you decrease the amount of calories your putting into your body to drop the excess fat off.
If you start taking your workouts lightly, your body will instantly get the message that it doesn’t need bigger muscles to stay stronger cause the stress placed upon it suddenly decreases!
So please hammer this into your head and remember to try your best to keep most of your strength while cutting since it will preserve and in some cases might even build a tiny bit of muscle.
Muscle Gain Vs. Fat Loss – Cardio
One important aspect to touch on is cardio training.
Whether you’re trying to gain muscle or burning fat, some form of cardio should be incorporated to your routine in both cases.
Some folks don’t perform any cardio because they believe that it will decrease their ability to build muscle.
Some people think that while they’re burning fat they need to do 1 hour cardio sessions 5 days a week to burn off fat.
And both of these are WRONG!
Actually different types of cardio can help you gain strength and muscle when done in moderation (for example sprinting to increase your squat or leg development).
Also doing moderate cardio when dropping body fat percentage delivers better results than going balls to the wall and going way overboard trying to burn hefty amounts of calories by doing HIIT 5 days a week for 1 hour at a time.
Moderation is key here and you will experience only positive benefits as long as you are performing the right amount along with right exercises!