On the surface, this sounds like a simple plan. Just exercise (to build muscle) and diet (to lose fat). In fact, shouldn't the exercise alone cause you to lose fat
? Sadly, it is nowhere near as simple as that, unless you are a complete beginner (we will cover your approach to fat loss here too) it is extremely difficult to build muscle without gaining some body fat unless you're on steroids. What this guide will show you is how best to approach to build muscle without getting fat. There are two main approaches, we will look at both in turn and then you can decide which one suits you best. Newbie Gains
If you are brand new to the weight-loss game, with a new gym membership and a brand new set of trainers then you're probably a little worried that you're miles away from all of your more experienced, gym going buddies. Luckily for you, there seems to be a thing known as newbie gains, which is where you will increase strength and build muscle faster during the first 6 months of your training than at any point in the future. This isn't a universal thing, not everyone increases strength and hypertrophy (muscle growth) at the same rate. But there is science behind this particular phenomenon. At first, most of your struggles will be with getting your technique right (even if you think it is perfect). The more you practice (lift) the more efficient you will get at performing the exercise, and the easier your body will find it. Compare it to learning how to throw a football. Once you had been shown the technique at first all of your concentration was on getting the technique right, and you would be able to throw the ball further and with more accuracy. On day one you may not have been throwing the ball properly at all, but after a week of practice, you could now throw the ball correctly. After a few more weeks of practice, you could throw the ball much further but your technique still appeared to be the same. It is the same with lifting weights. When you first start your technique will be easy to accomplish, but the tiny changes that your body makes with practice will continuously improve your ability to perform the exercise. This will come hand in hand with strength gains and hypertrophy. For weight loss, because the newbie hasn't exercised before they won't even need to diet! Just adding exercise to their routine will increase their calories burned per day which will cause them to lose weight. After a few weeks, they can begin to make some changes to their diet, increase protein, add some vegetables to their lunches and dinners, cut down their junk food and alcohol intake per week. Small changes per week will make big differences at first. After a while, these not-so-new gym attendees will find that the strength gains that saw them increase their bench press on an almost weekly basis will start to slow down or stall completely. This will be a bit frustrating at first but means that they are no longer Gym Newbies but Gym regulars. There probably won't be a ceremony, that would be weird. The Strength Approach
So now that you are no longer a brand new gym goer what do you need to do to lose weight while building muscle? The strength approach is a pretty simplistic approach, you are going to focus on building your strength, deadlifting heavier, squatting more, increasing your bench. Nothing more, keep your diet more or less the same. Lower it if you are overweight, maintain it if you are an average weight but want to lower body fat percentage, and you can even increase it if you feel that you are underweight. The only thing that will change is your strength training program. As you continue to lift heavier your muscles will gain strength and size, as this is happening your body fat percentage will slowly drop. This will happen for two reasons.
- Basic math. If you have 40lbs of fat and 40lbs of muscle and then increase your muscle to 50lbs your percentage of fat will go down without having to change.
- Metabolism. As you get stronger and your muscles get bigger your metabolism will increase. This won't be a huge increase but every little helps. You also might find that your Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) increases. NEAT is a number of calories you burn throughout the day performing activities such as vacuuming, cooking dinner, walking, fidgeting, washing the car etc ...
This approach will take time, but it will be fairly straightforward to follow (step 1. Lift Step 2. Results) and will keep you motivated and happy throughout. Increasing strength is easy to measure, unlike physique, and unlike physique it is something that you can tell your friends "I lifted twice my bodyweight today" sounds a lot less arrogant than "You can see my six pack now". It will also help you avoid the indecision that plagues a lot of body composition enthusiasts. When do I start bulking? When do I need to cut? Is this approach working? Should I lower carbs or fat this week? Just Lift! Even better, this approach allows you to use the next approach when you want to. If you're getting stronger each month and you've lost quite a bit of fat you can decide to ramp it up for a couple months, just in time for your holiday. Best of both worlds. The Bodybuilder Approach
Some call it Old School; some call it a classic but the typical Bodybuilding approach to building muscle without getting fat works. Whether it is the right approach for you personally remains to be seen, but if you stick with it, you will end up lean and strong. The Bodybuilder approach is to split your training into two main phases: the bulking phase, and the cutting phase. During the bulking phase, the lifter will increase their calories so that they are in a caloric surplus (more calories in than out equals weight gain). This will give them the extra energy necessary to increase their strength, train harder, and increase muscle size. Of all of the ways to build muscle, being in a calorie surplus is the most effective. The trick with bulking is to try to keep fat gain to an absolute minimum, this can be achieved by adding cardio to your workout program, but the best way is to slowly add calories week by week rather than jumping by 500 calories per week. This way your body will be able to adjust better, you will also manage to avoid common problems like bloating, sluggishness etc. After the bulking phase has reached its goals, you can then start cutting. This means slowly lowering your calories week by week until you are in a large calorie deficit. The trick with cutting is to try to protect your muscles as much as possible throughout the process. Drop the calories too fast and you will definitely lose fat, but you'll also lose quite a bit of muscle size. With fitness, the main way to prevent muscle loss is to increase your protein intake. Eating high protein, while lowering fat and carbohydrate levels will ensure that your muscles will not lose too much size (though some loss in size is bound to occur). While cutting your training is likely to suffer, especially compared to when you were in the bulking phase and your calories were much higher. The loss of hundreds of calories worth of food is bound to affect you; it is for this reason that most lifters perform higher reps at a lower weight during the cutting phase. Cardio can also be increased during this phase, but don't go overboard with it. Running for 2 hours every day is more likely to cause you an injury then get you a six pack, add some in every couple of days for best results. As you may have noticed, during the bulking phase you are going to gain excess body fat and during the cutting phase you are going to drop that excess body fat, so by the end of a successful bulking/cutting phase, you will have built muscle without gaining fat. It just took you a while to do it! Build Muscle Without Getting Fat
There are many ways to build muscles without getting fat, the strength approach is probably the straightest forward. While the Bodybuilders approach is much more popular, and definitely has its advantages. The thing that both of these approaches have in common, though, is that they take the time to achieve. Any program that promises that you will both increase muscle size and
lose fat within 12 weeks is very ambitious at best, and outright lying to you at worst. It can be done, but not by everyone and it is certainly not the most sustainable option for you.