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Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?

What is the truth behind this claim?

There are many myths surrounding the question of whether you can lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.

Dr Mike Israetel, PhD in Sport Physiology and cofounder of Renaissance Periodization, explains that the question is far more nuanced than what it might seem at first.

The first aspect you have to consider is whether you’re asking if you can gain some muscle and lose some fat at the same time, or whether you believe you can gain tons of muscle with cero fat gain at the same time.

Additionally, you have to clarify what you mean by “the same time”? Do you think of the question as achieving both day-after-day or achieving both in the same training cycle? You also need to take your starting point into account; what is your training history and where are you now?

Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?

Yes, in certain circumstances

You can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time if:

  • You’re not used to much diet or training structure.
  • You’ve made big conscious and efficient changes in your diet and training compared to what you did.
  • You’re coming back to training and paying close attention to your diet from a long break.
Body fat of marcus fillySource: Marcus Filly

In most cases however, while it is possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, the process is slow and the results can be hard to notice. This becomes especially hard if you’re already lean (around 10% and 18% body fat for males and females respectively) and well trained.

The leaner you get the more your body fights against you, the more difficult it makes fat loss, and the tougher it makes muscle retention,” Israetel explains.

How to gain the most muscle and lose the most fat

What works better if you want to both build muscle and lose fat is to include intentional muscle building phases and intentional fat loss phases sequenced together in your training routine.

You can get much further by sequencing them than just trying to do lean gains or recomping the entire time.

“Why? Because the most profound thing – other than resistance training and eating protein – on how much muscle you gain is a hypercaloric condition; if you eat excess calories by just a little is unbelievably anabolic,” explains Israetel. “And the most profound fat catabolic signal is a caloric deficit.”

Being in a calorie maintenance you don’t use either of these processes.

The exceptions

  • Beginners: if you’re new to training, it is better to first get used to regular training and a healthy diet before concepts such as hypocaloric diet or hypercaloric diet are introduced.
  • Athletes coming back to training: if you’ve taken a big break in your training or nutrition, you can see great results by keeping things simple to start off with. However, you’ll have to pay attention to when progress stagnates.

Watch Dr Mike Israetel explain when you can lose fat and gain muscle at the same time

Dr Mike Israetel also goes over the best practices to achieve muscle growth and fat loss in the least amount of time.

Learn more

Try the dumbbell pullover or add the Pendlay row into your training.

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