Strength coaches and fitness experts often say that you can’t lose fat and build muscle at the same time. Although it’s true that having a primary goal or priority is a smart move when working out, it is absolutely possible to lose body fat and increase muscle simultaneously.
In fact, being able to lose fat and put on lean muscle is what sets the most successful trainees apart.
The cool thing that a lot of people don’t realize, is that you’ll be much more likely to successfully get the best of both worlds, achieving a lean and sculpted physique, if you train for muscle and performance rather than fat loss. This article will give you ten reasons why and reveal the secrets of how to do so.
#1: You’ll be less likely to slash calories in order to lose fat.
Slashing calories in a desperate attempt to lose fat almost always causes a lot of misery and a worse body composition in the long run. When you cut calories to lose fat, you experience considerable muscle loss in conjunction with any fat loss.
This increases disease risk and leads to a less favorable body composition, which means the body will burn fewer calories at rest.
Besides a lower metabolic rate, calorie cutting causes the body to downregulate metabolism in order to preserve fuel stores, halting fat loss. Top this off with the need to fight off hunger with willpower, and you’ll elevate cortisol. If you’re training hard in an effort to get things moving again, high cortisol will become a chronic problem and you can throw your hormones completely out of balance. What a mess!
Instead, training for muscle and performance requires you to eat accordingly, getting adequate calories and lots of protein. Shoot for a high-protein, nutrient rich diet that supplies at least 1.6 g/kg of body weight of protein a day to promote tissue repair and a higher thermic effect of food. This amount has been found to protect muscle mass during fat loss in people of normal weight who were involved in intense training.
#2: You’ll be gaining a protective effect by training all your beautiful muscle.
Proper training “protects” muscle. It causes metabolic and functional changes in muscle tissue that safeguard your body from injury, fat gain, and muscle loss.
To train properly, you should focus on performance, striving to put more weight on the bar every workout. By increasing your weights, you end up training a greater number of motor units. A motor unit is a collection of muscle fibers and the neuron in your brain that makes it move.
The more motor units you train, the more muscle you train and the more protection you get from injury. You also get more metabolic “ammunition” to protect you from any less than stellar diet or lifestyle choices.
All the physiological systems in your body will be functioning optimally so that when you kick your training up a notch and dial in your nutrition to lean up your physique, your metabolism is ready to respond. Your hormones are balanced. You have energy and motivation and are ready to get it done.
#3: You’ll be stronger. Getting stronger will allow you to potentially lose more body fat down the road.
Being strong can solve a lot of problems. Not only will you be better able to outsprint an attacker or get yourself out of a tricky situation, being strong means you’ll be able to apply greater, more efficient stimulus to your body for faster changes in your physique.
For example, studies show that trainees with greater back squat strength were able to get much faster and more powerful from subsequent training than weaker trainees.
Plus, the more strength you have, the higher your levels of fat burning hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone will be. By doing some heavy lifting, you prime your body metabolically so that when you do zero in on body composition, training will “feel” easier and you’ll accelerate the fat removal process.
#4: You’ll have better insulin sensitivity and a better metabolism.
Strength training has a profoundly beneficial influence on insulin sensitivity and blood sugar function. One of the best-kept secrets of the fitness world is that insulin health is the most underrated (and often ignored) factors in fat loss and body composition.
Insulin is a very anabolic hormone and it will drive nutrients into muscle cells. In an insulin resistant state you are much more likely to store the food you eat as fat. When you are insulin resistant, results will be slow and you won’t change your body as dramatically or as quickly as someone who is more insulin sensitive. You’ll be one of those people who never seem to get the results they desire.
By training for muscle, you increase both the receptivity of the muscles to insulin and their demand for glucose. This contributes to better body composition, diabetes prevention, and a metabolism that works like clockwork.
#5: You’ll have better hormone balance and less stress.
The process of losing fat is inherently stressful. Most people fixate on fat loss when they are trying to get lean. The desire for less flab is always with them, marinating away in the back of their minds.
This anxiety about food and body fat makes the body feel threatened. Top it off with the need to use will power to control what you eat, and you’ll have a high stress situation, leading to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.
It’s important to know that cortisol is a key player in fat loss because it is involved in the release of energy stores to be burned when blood sugar drops. But, optimal cortisol balance that helps you lose fat is like a wave: It should be elevated in the morning and then slowly recede over the course of the day. When you stress about fat loss, food, or stress your body by skipping meals and training all-out, cortisol stays elevated, impeding fat loss.
Training for muscle and performance is the perfect solution:
- It requires you to focus on eating lots of protein and nutrient-rich foods that promote recovery and have a high thermic effect.
- It’s motivating and shifts the focus to the numbers on the weight plates instead of on the scale. Instead of worrying about calorie counts and body fat percentages, you can get jazzed by how fast you ran your sprint repeats.
#6: You’ll be less likely to overdo cardio.
A fat loss mindset can easily lead to overdoing cardio. We all know that steady-state cardio is not the best way to get lean, but the fact that it’s the most commonly recommended mainstream type of exercise for fat loss makes it easy to get sucked in.
It’s not that steady-state exercise should be completely avoided when you have body composition goals. Going hiking, biking, brisk walking, and so on can be fun and get you outside and active. But, cardio should never be the primary focus of any program that is geared at getting lean and improving body composition.
#7: You’ll be less likely to reward yourself with food.
Research shows that when people are motivated to work out in order to lose fat, they usually aren’t successful because they end up eating more calories afterwards. Scientists think that people have become conditioned to reward themselves for physical efforts that they associate with fat loss.
In contrast, people who work out for other purposes, such as “for fun,” “to get strong,” or “to build muscle” don’t tend to compensate by eating more calories. Training for muscle and performance actually helps you to be your own champion. It helps you kickstart other healthy behaviors, getting you more in tune with your body. You will want to eat well so you feel energized in the morning instead of using food as a reward system.
#8: You might fall in love with training.
When you start training for muscle and performance, it’s common to discover this wealth of strength within yourself. Once you tap into it, you literally transform every aspect of your life for the better. You start sleeping better, your mood is elevated, and your brain works better.
Best of all, you feel more confidence and self worth from setting new PRs. Setting personal records every week is a great way to keep you excited about training that makes it easier to stay on track with workouts and nutrition so that you become someone who makes staying lean effortless.
#9: You’ll have stronger bones and less injury risk.
An often-overlooked target of training for muscle is the beneficial bone and connective tissue adaptations that keep your joints healthy and reduces bone fractures. Plus, strong connective tissue improves muscle power and your ability to move at high speeds.
On the other hand, training programs geared at fat loss that favor high rep, light weight training can have a negative effect on bone and connective tissue. Such programs also don’t correct structural imbalances between muscles that increase risk of injury.
Of course, not all fat loss programs have these pitfalls. But training for muscle and performance is an easy way to ensure you don’t make yourself susceptible to training mistakes that degrade your health now and down the road.
#10: You’ll be using the BEST training methods possible for fat loss.
It just so happens that by training for muscle and all-around athletic performance, you’ll be using the very BEST training methods for fat loss possible. Here’s the deal:
Any time you want to use exercise to lose fat, your first goal should be on elevating your resting metabolic rate (RMR) by increasing lean muscle mass so that you burn more calories every day.
Second, you want to train in a way that creates a large metabolic disturbance and favors anaerobic training pathways because this will increase post-workout energy expenditure, or the amount of calories your body burns during recovery.
Finally, you’ll be covering all your metabolic bases, optimizing insulin health and hormone balance—the two MOST important factors in fat loss and body composition.
The key is to always focus on challenging your limits. Always remember what a wise woman once said:
“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves."