by Naomi Rabon
NASM Certified Personal Trainer & Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NW Fitness Team Trainer
Changing one’s body composition – summed up in a nutshell – is gaining muscle and losing body fat. Or is it gaining muscle or losing fat?
Which raises one of the most common questions most people have – can you do both at the same time? The short answer, in my opinion (and many may argue with me), is no. You cannot gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
What can happen, from a physical aspect, is that if you gain some muscle mass within a certain time period, your metabolism will likely speed up. Your engine will start revving, you’ll burn more calories at a faster rate, and you may actually end up shedding some fat because you gained a little muscle. So physically, yes, you can appear to gain and lose – maybe not at exactly the same precise moment in time, but I may be over-thinking it.
GOAL OVERVIEW #1: Creating a Caloric Surplus (AKA: Gaining Weight)
When your focus is to build muscle, your goal is to gain weight. These are the variables you can control as much as possible to create the best environment for gaining muscle:
• Caloric surplus (eat more than you burn)
• Macronutrient split specific to muscle Gain (40/40/20 protein/carbs/fat is the most common but this varies)
• Minimal cardio
• Heavier weight-lifting sessions (8-12 reps for hypertrophy is most common), longer rest periods
• Larger separation of body part splits to focus more on each muscle group
GOAL OVERVIEW #2: Creating a Caloric Deficit (AKA: Losing Weight)
When your focus is to burn fat, your goal is to lose weight. These are the variables you can control as much as possible to create the best environment for burning fat:
• Caloric deficit
• Macronutrient split specific to fat loss
• More frequent cardio for longer durations (preferably a mix of HIIT with steady state for at least 30 minutes a day, 5x a week)
• Faster-paced weight-lifting sessions, higher rep ranges, shorter rest periods, keeping HR high throughout
• Can combine more muscle groups and even incorporate total body workouts
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR PLAN
The problem arises when someone thinks they can do everything all at once because they want to build muscle and shed fat and see a chiseled, ripped physique when they look in the mirror. So their fitness program consists of heavy lifting sessions (to build muscle) and a ton of cardio while at a caloric deficit (to shed fat). And they expect to gain muscle mass and lose body fat and completely change their body composition all in a matter of a few months (and some might even expect these changes in a few weeks … you know who you are ;-P).
This fitness program is not designed for one particular focus, the variables are all over the board and maxed out, you’re exercising 6-7 days a week. What will likely happen is you won’t see the results you hope for, you will be completely tapped out and eventually frustrated – wondering why you are working so hard but aren’t getting anywhere.
It is in this sense – the focus of your overall fitness program – that you cannot both gain muscle and lose fat at the same time and get the results you want.
How you go about doing this – which you focus on first and for how long and when you should start focusing on the other and for how long, and how you know when to switch from one to the other, etc. – varies from person to person and depends on a lot of factors, including what your overall goals are and how your body responds to your fitness program.
To maximize your time, your expenses, your energy, your efforts and all other resources you are putting into changing your body composition, you need to focus on one or the other – either gaining muscle or losing fat – for a certain period of time in order to truly get great quality, long-term, measureable results.
Tip Me Tuesday: Muscles Matter Most
ABOUT NAOMI RABON
One of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.