If you want to know what it really takes to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, then you want to read this article.
By Mike Matthews
Build muscle and lose fat…at the same time.
It sounds so simple, right? Why shouldn’t we be able to do it?
Well, some people say it’s a fool’s errand Others say you need to follow “special” forms of dieting and training. Others still say it takes steroids.
They’re all wrong.
Building muscle and losing fat simultaneously (or “body recomposition,” as it’s often called), isn’t beyond the power of us mere natties.
It’s doable, and it doesn’t require esoteric knowledge, fancy or newfangled methodologies, or drugs.
There’s a catch, though.
You may or may not be able to do it, depending on your body composition, training experience, and more.
So, in this article, I’m going to help you understand how body recomposition works and exactly what to do to build muscle and lose fat at the same time.
Why Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle is Tricky
The reason why many people think building muscle and losing fat at the same time is a pipe dream has to do with something called “protein biosynthesis” or “protein synthesis.”
Every day, your cells undergo “maintenance work” whereby damaged, faulty, and degraded cells are eliminated and new cells are created to take their place.
Protein synthesis refers to the creation of new cells and protein degradation refers to the elimination of unwanted ones.
That is, the average person doesn’t lose or gain muscle at an accelerated rate–his or her lean mass more or less remains level on a day-to-day basis. (If we don’t take actions to stop it, we actually slowly lose lean mass as we age, but you get the point.)
Now, when we train our muscles we damage the cells in the muscle fibers, and this signals the body to increase protein synthesis rates to repair the damage.
Our bodies are smart, too, and want to adapt to better deal with the activity that caused the muscle damage. To do this, they add cells to the muscle fibers, and this is how muscles get bigger and stronger (and why progressive overload is so important for building muscle and strength).
Thus, what we think of as just “muscle growth” is actually the result of protein synthesis rates exceeding protein breakdown rates over time.
In other words, when your body synthesizes (creates) more muscle proteins than it loses, you have gained muscle. If it creates fewer than it loses, you have lost muscle. If it creates more or less the same number as it lost, you have neither gained nor lost muscle.
This is why bodybuilders do everything they can to elevate protein synthesis rates and suppress protein degradation rates, including…
- High-protein and high-carb dieting
- Heavy compound weightlifting
- Pre-workout and post-workout nutrition
- Eating protein before bed
- Limiting cardio
- (And in many cases) steroids and other drugs
In short, they are doing everything they can to bolster protein synthesis and suppress protein degradation rates with the aim of gaining as much muscle as possible.
Now that we understand the basic physiology of muscle growth, let’s look at how it’s affected by fat loss.
In order to lose fat, you need to give your body less energy (food) than it burns over time.
This is known is creating a calorie or energy deficit, and it’s the most important factor in weight loss. Regardless what you eat, if you’re eating more energy than you’re burning, you will not get leaner. Period.
While necessary for losing fat, a calorie deficit causes the body to adapt in various ways. Two adaptations are particularly relevant to the subject at hand: a reduction in both anabolic hormone levels and protein synthesis rates.
As you can imagine, these changes directly interfere with your body’s ability to create new muscle proteins.
And to make matters worse, many people trying to lose weight also make diet and training mistakes that further impair muscle building and accelerate muscle loss.
This is why it’s generally thought that you can’t build muscle while in a calorie deficit to lose fat. When in a calorie deficit, protein synthesis rates may not be able to outpace protein degradation rates and hence, no muscle growth.