How to Lose Fat and Build Muscle 101

Burning fat is no easy task. Neither is muscle building for that matter. With pure dedication, the right food, workouts and of course the right mindset, losing fat and building muscle is possible.

What are the basics?

When you’re on a fat losing mission, your body needs to be in a calorie deficit. When you’re building muscle, your body needs the calories and then some. It’s a tricky one. But with the right foods, you can fuel your body to provoke muscle growth.

Don’t know where to start?

Read our complete guide on how to lose fat and build muscle. And thank us later.

By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what to put your body through and what to nourish it with to achieve both goals.

How to lose fat

Having some body fat is healthy and normal however excess visceral fat can cause big health problems. This type of fat resides in your abdominal region, covering vital organs such as the liver, intestines and pancreas.

People with visceral fat are at a higher risk of many serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke and some cancers[1].

Thankfully, excess fat can be reduced with the right lifestyle. 

1) Safe fat loss

You should lose body fat safely and over time. That’s about one or two pounds a week to keep your body healthy and happy. Avoid fad diets or products that seem just too good to be true – they’re more than likely to cause harm.

2) Controlling your calories

To lose fat, you should eat fewer calories than you burn. That’s the aforementioned calorie deficit. Being in a calorie deficit means you eat less during the day and force your body to get energy from stored fat. When your body burns this stored fat for energy, you lose weight.

Studies have demonstrated that you need a calorie deficit of 3500 calories a week to lose one pound of fat[2]. That’s about 500 calories less a day. We’ll discuss the ideal foods later on.

3) Make use of an app

Tech can be extremely helpful when it comes to reaching fitness goals. Make use of your gadgets and get an app that helps you track your eating. MyFitnessPal or LoseIt! are both worthy of taking up some space on your smartphone. If you don’t have a smartphone, a diary will do the trick.

4) Train three times a week

Hitting the gym once a week probably won’t make a huge difference to your fat-loss goals. Ramp it up and try going at least three times a week to keep your body active.

Sweating it out is one of the best ways to target fat. When you exercise, your body needs extra energy which it can get from fat stores. The more you work out, the more calories you burn. As you get fitter, your body becomes efficient at using fat as a fuel source.

We’ll get onto the best workouts for fat burning and muscle building later.

5) Be patient

Losing fat takes time. You know the mantra, slow and steady wins the race. If you feel like you are losing weight at a faster rate of more than one pound a week, chances are you’re losing muscle, not fat. Make a plan and stick to it. And trust the process – you’ll soon see the results you want.

6) Stay hydrated

When it comes to weight loss, water is a vital component in the process. This is because water is the basis for every chemical reaction that takes place in your body – including fat burning. Water is also well-known for its appetite-supressing capabilities[3]. Keep hydrated and you’ll be more likely to stay on track.

How to build muscle

The benefits of a leaner, beefier physique are extensive.

One great thing about muscle is its input in burning fat. Yes, muscle burns calories even when you’re not at the gym! After a workout, your body is still torching fat about 24 – 48 hours after as it works to recover the stressed muscle tissues.

Having more muscle is linked with improved posture, a faster metabolism, reduced injury risk and better ability to perform everyday tasks[4]. What’s more, strong muscles lead to strong bones[5]. What isn’t there to love about gains?

The key to muscle building is simplicity.

1) Concentrate on compound exercises

Compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts involve multiple muscle groups and joints. They are one of the most efficient ways to add muscle mass to your body. By including these in your gym sessions, you train your entire body. You may also experience benefits such as improved strength and better functionality. 

2) Lift weights every other day

Muscles are formed through the process of hypertrophy. To achieve hypertrophy, you need to constantly challenge your muscles to cope with higher levels of resistance. This could be upping your weight or rep volume.

Try a weightlifting session every other day to keep your body engaged, constantly recovering and building muscle.

3) Curb on the cardio

Cardio has many great health benefits but it’s not the best tactic for building muscle. The problem with cardio is that you draw on the same sources that your body uses to build muscle. This doesn’t mean you have to cut your cardio down altogether. Just try performing cardio that has the minimal amount of impact on your body’s energy sources.

4) Eat right and at the right times

Diet is everything when it comes to building muscle. Make sure you’re eating enough carbohydrates and protein to fuel your workouts and recovery periods. Studies have suggested that fast-acting carbs should be consumed together with protein after resistance exercise to promote muscle hypertrophy[6].

5) Rest

Sleep contributes the most to better muscle recovery. In fact, without sleep we can experience harmful effects on our health, with its impact on glucose regulation, blood pressure, cognitive processes and some hormonal axes. Reduced sleep has been shown to lower testosterone levels[7], the primary hormone important for muscle growth.

When you sleep, blood flow to your muscles increases and tissue growth and repair occurs. 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night is adequate to enhance muscular recovery and keep your body healthy.

6) Hit each muscle group from a different angle

Flat-bench, incline and decline presses. You’ve heard of them, we’re sure. The way your body is positioned during a lift can make a difference to how your muscles grow. Try and switch it up a bit, making sure you train your muscles from different directions. You’ll be shocked at how a subtle difference can affect muscle recruitment – you’ll also probably ache in places you haven’t ached before.

How to lose fat while building muscle

You know the basics when it comes to burning fat and building muscle, separately. But what about when you want to achieve both at the same time?

We said it was possible.

1) Sustain a calorie deficit but load up on protein

To lose weight but build muscle, you need to be in a calorie deficit and provide your body with enough protein to fuel the muscle growth. Protein is vital in protecting your muscles tissues from breaking down.

A high-protein diet has been shown to positively impact the calories you burn throughout the day[8] because it has a much higher thermic effect compared to carbohydrates[9], for example. In one study, a high-protein diet was shown to increase the number of calories burned by 260 a day[10].

The recommended amount of daily protein is approximately one gram for every pound of your weight[11].

2) Train heavy

To achieve muscle hypertrophy and get that build, you need to train heavy. Then heavier than that. You need to challenge your muscle to start seeing results.

Or you could try lifting lighter weights for more reps.

3) Fuel up before and after exercise

When your body is hungry, either before or after exercise, it may turn to muscle for its energy source. The trick is to eat just enough carbs to prevent your body from doing this. But make sure it’s just enough, as too much can provoke your body into a positive energy balance (weight gain)[12].

A whole grain slice of toast, nuts, a piece of fruit or a low-fat yogurt is ideal before and after a workout.

4) Switch between moderate- and high-intensity workouts

A mix of high- and moderate-intensity exercises will give your body different challenges to adapt to. This could be as simple as adding a sprint into a longer walk or run. This also works with cardio and weight-training programs. A mix of both is perfect for fat burning and muscle building.

The workout

As far as training plans go, you’ll want to alternate between weeks of lifting heavy for low reps to build muscle and lifting lighter for high reps to burn fat. Don’t forget some light cardio too.

Below is a low-rep, high-weights program you can follow for one week to melt that fat and bulk up. Split the days into separate muscle groups and train three times a week, making sure you have a rest day between each session. Rest for 60 – 90 seconds between each set.

Leg workout

  • Leg press – 4 sets x 12 reps
  • Goblet squat – 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Lying leg curls – 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Leg extensions – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Dumbbell lunge – 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Good mornings – 4 sets x 12 reps

Arms workout

  • Bicep curl – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Bench dip – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Triceps pushdown – 2 sets x 15 reps
  • Barbell bench press – 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Barbell curl – 3 sets x 8 reps
  • EZ bar curl – 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Overhead triceps extension – 3 sets x 12 reps

Chest workout

  • Barbell bench press – 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Cable cross-over – 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Wide press-ups – 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Incline dumbbell press – 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Forward facing dips – 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Shoulders and abs workout
  • Dumbbell shoulder press – 5 sets x 8 reps
  • Front raise – 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Lateral raise – 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Cable upright row – 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Leg raises – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Reverse crunch – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • V-sit up – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Seated Russian twist – 3 sets x 10 reps (each side)
  • Plank – until failure

Back workout

  • Lat pull down – 5 sets x 10 reps
  • Seated rows – 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Barbell bent-over rows – 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Dumbbell row – 4 sets x 12 reps
  • Deadlift – 4 sets x 10 reps

The nutrition

Nutrition for building muscle and burning fat can seem complicated and contradictory. So, we want to make it as simple as possible.

There are three big macronutrients your body needs to stay healthy and happy. These are:

  • Carbohydrates – the main way the body obtains energy, fueling the central nervous system and muscles
  • Protein – involved in every bodily function and are the building blocks for muscles
  • Fats – provide energy to support cell growth and carry fat-soluble vitamins around the body

In terms of building muscle and losing fat, your diet plan needs to include healthy carbs, fiber-rich vegetables, healthy fats, a whole load of protein, and lots of water. This is usually described as non-processed food, i.e. ‘real’ food which will help you maintain a calorie deficit.

But what are healthy carbs, fats and good sources of protein?

You can find a healthy source of carbohydrates in:

  • Oats
  • Whole grain bread
  • Chickpeas
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Sweet potato
  • Bananas
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice

Up your good fats with:

  • Avocado
  • Cheese
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Whole eggs
  • Fatty fish
  • Dark chocolate
  • Peanut butter

Great sources of protein are:

  • Beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • Lean beef
  • Soya
  • White fish
  • Spinach
  • Buckwheat
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Chicken breast
  • Turkey

Below is an idea of the type of food you could eat. Don’t forget the recommended eight glasses of water a day.  

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with ½ a mashed avocado on one slice of wholegrain toast, or a bowl of oats with skimmed milk, blueberries and 1tsp honey; coffee or tea.

Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with brown rice and plenty of veggies or salad. If you’re vegan/veggie, try a soy or tofu alternative.

Dinner: Grilled tuna or salmon with sweet potato mash (or quinoa), green beans and broccoli. If vegan/veggie try spiced lentils with some tempeh, chopped tomatoes, broccoli and quinoa alongside a side salad.

Choose from – low-fat yogurt with some berries, an apple with 2 tbsp peanut butter, walnuts, almonds, any fruit, 50g dark chocolate, protein shake with skimmed milk.

Other top tips to lose fat and build muscle

1) Exercise in the AM

If you exercise in the morning on an empty stomach, you may burn more body fat. One study found that people who exercised in a fasted state burned up to 20% more fat compared to those who had consumed breakfast before working out[13].

2) Try intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is not a diet, it’s a diet pattern. In simpler terms, it’s consuming your meals during a set time during the day. It’s all about when you eat, not what you eat. There are a few ways to do IF, with the most popular being the 5:2 or 16:8 pattern.

  • The 5:2 pattern – you eat 25% of a normal calorie consumption on two non-consecutive days a week
  • The 16:8 pattern – you fast for 16 hours per day, eating within an eight-hour window (usually from midday to 8pm)

Research suggests that an IF eating pattern can result in a 3-8% weight loss over 3 – 24 weeks[14].

3) No more alcohol

Alcohol has more calories in it than most people realize. For this reason, it can have a big impact on your fat-burning and muscle-building goals. For instance, did you know a pint of beer can have the same number of calories as a large slice of pizza?[15]

Alcohol can also make you eat more, and more of all the wrong foods. If you want to make a change, try switching every alcoholic drink with some water or opt for healthier alternatives like spirits with a diet mixer – e.g. a diet coke and rum or a vodka, lime and soda.

Try a supplement

Supplements can sometimes give you that little nudge in the right direction or that nutritional edge to reach your goals. Sometimes, nutritional gaps are difficult to achieve with your daily diet.

Protein, zinc, BCAAs, creatine and magnesium supplements can all accelerate your progress towards a bigger, leaner body.

The final word

As you can see, fat burning and muscle building takes time, dedication and motivation. Armed with the right mindset, foods and exercises you should be able to achieve your physique goals.

Take these tips and start your own mission towards a leaner, healthier and happier you.
















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