The truth about gaining muscle and burning fat

The two main goals people generally have when it comes to their physical wellbeing is to either gain lean muscle or burn fat.

You may have heard many a time that you can only choose to do either one at a given time. This is one of the greatest arguments going on in the fitness world.

What do I have to say about this? Malarkey. 

I have tons of success stories from my clients who have accomplished both at the same time and live to tell their story.


First, let us go through the background story behind this controversy.

Why is losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously widely known to be an issue?

Point number 1: In order to lose fat (or weight), your body needs to be in a caloric deficit, meaning to take in fewer calories than you burn daily. When this happens, your body is forced to burn fat for fuel, from the fat stores in your body.

Point number 2: Gaining muscle requires the opposite. Your body needs to be in a caloric surplus - in other words, to take in more than what your body uses daily. Your body will then be able to use the excess energy to repair and build up muscles.

Given this theory, it seems theoretically impossible to burn fat and gain muscle at the same time. Yet if we delve deeper into the science behind this, you will find out how possible it actually is.


How do I lose fat?

The simple answer would be to “burn more energy than I consume”. This puts your body in a ‘caloric deficit’ state where it breaks down parts of itself to use for energy. The hope is that it breaks down the fat cells in your body for energy. But in reality, it all depends on how you train, and the wrong way could lead to actually breaking down existing muscle.

From an aesthetic and health point of view, of course, we would rather not break down muscle when in a caloric deficit, but instead, use our fat stores. Our goal is usually to burn fat while maintaining a good amount of muscle mass or even building more.

This is why I always emphasize not to make weight loss your main fitness goal. (Yes, I’m worse than a naggy parent.) Forget the scale and focus on how you look in feel! Track your body fat percentage instead of actual weight loss if numbers are what keeps you ticking.

If you want to lose half a kilogram of body fat each week, you have to be in a daily deficit of 500 calories per day. That translates to either eating 500 calories less, burning 500 calories more through exercise, or a combination of the two. Which is easier to do?

Lets put it this way. Both the following are equivalent to 500 calories:
3 slices of kueh lapis & 1 hour of moderately paced running.

That’s right when it comes to maintaining a caloric deficit, diet is of great importance, accompanied by the right kind of exercise. It takes a lot less effort to not eat the 3 slices of kueh lapis (which could take you no more than a minute to consume) as compared to spending an hour running.

"What do I eat then?!”, you might be wondering. Have your diet consist of mostly REAL food. Food that is dense in nutrition and low in calories that you know is good for your body; those are real foods, i.e. Meat, Fish, Fruits, Vegetable, Nuts, and Eggs. If something makes you think twice about whether you should pick it up or not, you should probably put it down after picking it up and saying your final goodbyes. You are now ready for a new you.

Let’s do another comparison

1000 calories of spinach VS 1000 calories of ice cream. Technically, they are the same number of calories. However, 1000 calories of spinach being a sh*t ton of spinach would be almost impossible to finish in one sitting. You’d be either full or sick and tired of it not even a quarter way through. 1000 calories of ice cream though, is only a couple of cups which you could easily binge eat your way through over the course of a 1.5 hour Netflix show. And you probably would not be satiated and could do with more.

So with all that advice, take it slow, let your new habits become a new way of life, something sustainable enough that you can make permanent for the rest of your life. And the rest of it? That’s all down to your work out.


Now for the next part, How do I put on muscle?

I’m going to break it down into 3 basic steps.

If you are looking to build muscles, you’ve got to lift heavy.

When you lift a dumbbell, barbell, any other object, or even your own bodyweight enough times, you will reach a point of muscle failure, when you can no longer complete the movement. When this happens, your muscle fibers break down. When the fibers are rebuilt, your muscles grow and you become stronger. And then you repeat the process over and over again.

In order for your muscle fibers to rebuild themselves and make you stronger though, you have to be eating enough. That leads us on to our next point…

Feeding those muscles.

Calories are gonna have to come from somewhere, and more often than not it would be from the food you consume(Cue Captain Obvious). When you eat enough, your body has enough energy to rebuild your muscle fibers, then only can your muscles grow and become stronger. The more this happens, the stronger you get and the heavier you can lift. Of course, you have to eat the right kind of food though, and doing so while managing your quantities will provide your muscles with the (i)gains(/i) they need.

Getting enough rest

is more important than you could ever imagine. Your body reboots and muscles rebuild themselves during your slumber, which is when you are in your most restful state. You need 7-8 hours each night at the bare minimum. This will ensure that your muscle fibers have enough time to recover and repair themselves, in order to get stronger. If you’re getting less than 6 hours of sleep, you are not doing yourself any good at all. The bed is calling you!

Touching more on the second point of eating right for your goals, let's tie in with the wizardry and witchcraft which we are about to go into…


HOW DO I BURN FAT WHILE GAINING LEAN MUSCLE?

What everyone wants and wants to know. Is it impossible? No. Does it take hard work and dedication? Yes. No pain no gain, right?

Lets start with the basics. Where does all the food you eat go to? What does your body do with it? Depending on your lifestyle, it can choose from 3 pathways:

Breaking down for fuel
Rebuilding your muscles
Storing as fat

The first choice is always number 1. Your body burns calories to perform various functions in your body like breathing, regulating your blood circulation, balancing out your body temperature, digesting food, and basically keeping your heart pumping. These calories are known as your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).

Whenever you overeat and don’t use up the excess calories consumed through movement or exercise, that’s when your body stores them as fat - which is the opposite of what we want. We want to turn OFF the fat (and retain or even build muscles at the same time).

So let's say you work out, you sweat, you pump it all out in the gym, but you are not consuming enough calories to burn for fuel or rebuild your muscles. Does that mean the work out has gone to waste? Does your system shut down?

Nope.

Remember point 3? Storing for fat. Your body then taps into your fat storage and utilizes that for fuel. Its starts repairing your muscle tissues. You’re building muscles while shedding fat at the same time.

Stronger muscles & Smaller pants size

Still unsure how to go about doing so? Have your fitness coach take on the burden of the ‘how’ so you can focus on the ‘do’s’.


Here are some tips for burning fat while gaining muscle…

1) Eat enough protein!

I can’t stress this enough. Your body needs enough protein in your daily diet to sustain the muscle mass in your body and to rebuild them, even if you’re in a caloric deficit. Unless of course, you want your body to cannibalize your muscles instead of burning your fat for fuel. You have to take in a minimum of 1g of protein per kg of your bodyweight. And that’s if you are a sedentary individual – but you’re not! So you’ll need at least 1.5-2g of protein per kg of body weight, depending on your level of activity.

That’s up to 120g of protein per day if you weigh 60kg.

2) Strength training. 

When your lean muscle mass increases, so do your metabolism rate. In turn, this increases your body’s fat-burning efficiency. And the only way to build muscle is via increasing your strength, a.k.a. lifting SOMETHING, be it weights, or even your own bodyweight. You need to challenge your muscles in order for them to grow and get stronger.

We all start somewhere. Get a headstart by going through the beginner bodyweight workout here.

The bottom line is that if you want to burn fat while gaining muscle, you’ve got to do 3 things:

Maintain a caloric deficit
Consume enough protein for your bodyweight
Lift heavyweights

If you’ve read up to this point, you’re probably pretty serious about making a positive change in your life, physically and mentally, and I salute you for making this first step by even boring yourself with this lengthy article (Yes, I realized, but there’s just too much to say!).


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