It’s the ideal of nearly everyone who steps into the gym: building muscle and losing fat at the same time. With the traditional mindset of bulk first, cut later, many people tend to think that it isn’t possible to gain muscle without gaining fat. News flash: it’s definitely possible.
If you are like most gym goers, then one of your main fitness goals is to learn how to gain muscle without gaining fat. Building muscle while losing fat requires a combination of doing the right workouts, eating nutrient-dense foods, and being realistic about your expectations.
If you are not happy with your body or you are feeling like you’ve hit a plateau in your muscle building journey, then you have come to the right place. If you have more fat on your body than you would like, you must start with decreasing your body fat percentage. So, how can you build muscle and lose fat at the same time? Let’s find out.
- How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat at The Same Time
- Set Realistic Expectations for How Much Lean Muscle You Can Gain
- Understand How to Bulk Without Gaining Fat
- Control Your Caloric Surplus
- Use the right Macronutrient Combination
- Recovery is a Very Important Part of the Muscle-Building Process
Want to learn how to build muscle and lose fat at the same time? Studies show that consistent and proper resistance training combined with a nutrient-dense diet, NOT a caloric-dense diet, is the best way to decrease body fat while preserving and building lean muscle mass.
With that said, if you’re currently overweight or you have more fat than you’d like on your frame, you’ll want to focus on burning fat first. Once you lower your body fat percent to 10% to 12%, then you can start clean bulking.
Far too many people expect to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger within the first three months of starting their bodybuilding program. Unfortunately, this is not a realistic expectation. It took Arnold several years of consistent training and progressive overload as well as proper nutrition in order to look the way he does.
Realistically, it takes months, and even years, to build lean, strong muscles. In order to avoid disappointment, set realistic expectations for how much muscle you can gain per month and per year. Without the use of growth hormones and steroids, most people realistically cannot gain more than one or two pounds of lean muscle per month. Keep this in mind as you create a macro or annual-focused goals and workout calendar.
If you want to learn how to bulk without gaining fat, it all starts with understanding the concepts of clean bulking.
Clean bulking is when you are already relatively lean and you strategically and gradually increase your caloric intake, eating more nutrient-dense foods. On the other hand, dirty bulking is when you consume substantially more calories without concern for nutritional value.
For example, PopTarts and sweet potatoes both contain carbohydrates. But the carbohydrates that you’ll get from PopTarts are based in sugar while the sweet potatoes contain healthy complex carbs.
If you increase your caloric intake to “bulk up” before you have enough lean muscle, those extra calories will end up getting stored as fat. As a result, you will not see a lot of progress from your workout program.
Before increasing the number of calories you consume, it’s important to decrease your body fat percentage. Drastically increasing your caloric intake when you already have too much fat on your body can lead to a number of weight management issues down the road including the following:
- An increased number of fat cells making it easier to store fat going forward.
- A reduction in insulin sensitivity, which makes it more difficult for you to use food as fuel and easier to store it in the form of fat.
- Development of bad habits and the sacrifice of healthy food and exercise choices.
The harder and more frequently you train, the greater your caloric intake needs to be. While a moderate caloric surplus will fuel your workouts and help you increase your muscle mass, a significant caloric surplus will lead to fat gain. At the same time, if you do not eat enough calories to fuel your training, your body will begin to burn muscle for fuel.
In order to determine your caloric needs, you need to first calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and then add 200 calories to that number. Simply put, your Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of calories that your body needs per day just to survive, without taking your activity level into account. Your BMR is the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight. It’s also important to note that your BMR is just an estimate of your daily caloric needs.
This online calculator gives you a chance to quickly and effectively figure out your recommended daily caloric intake. But if you want to take matters into your own hands, you can use one of these BMR formulas:
- BMR for Men: (4.536 × weight in pounds) + (15.88 × height in inches) – (5 × age) + 5
- BMR for Women: (4.536 × weight in pounds) + (15.88 × height in inches) – (5 × age) – 161
- Additional Calories: Once you have your BMR, add 200 calories to this number. This is a good starting point for a clean bulk that will ensure you have extra calories without going overboard.
As you increase your activity level, you will be able to consume more calories to fuel your lifting sessions. Slowly increase the additional calories to 500, adding about 50 to 100 calories per week. On your most active days, you can consume approximately 200 to 500 more calories per day than you typically do on days when you are least active.
In addition to properly controlling your caloric intake, the importance of your macronutrient breakdown is not to be ignored. Macronutrients, commonly referred to as “macros”, include protein, carbohydrate and fat.
Protein Intake for Building Lean Muscle
While many gym-goers focus on timing their protein intake to correlate with their lifting sessions, they fail to realize that consuming the right amount of protein is more important. According to one study, more protein is required when starting an intense resistance-training program. How much protein?
Studies recommend that you consume approximately 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day in order to maximize muscle and strength gains from your resistance training program. This converts to nearly one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Carbohydrate Intake Recommendation for Building Muscle without Gaining Fat
Carbohydrates play an important role in fuelling your muscle-building workouts. If you do not have a lot of fat on your body, then you can consume more carbohydrates in order to save your muscles from being used as fuel.
In general, depending on your body fat percentage and gender, you should consume between 1.5 to 2.5g of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.
Healthy Fats for your Muscle-Building Journey
A lot of people are afraid of consuming foods that contain fats because they believe that eating fat will make them fat. However, that is not true. Eating healthy fats is important for all aspects of your health including hormone production and cognitive function. Incorporating healthy fats into your diet can also help to increase energy, satiety, and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Some examples of healthy fats include:
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Raw chocolate
- Fatty fish such as salmon
- Whole eggs
- Nut butters
Quite often, people underestimate the amount of recovery they need after each workout. Some people shy away from rest because they are afraid that resting will slow down their muscle-building process. However, incorporating rest days as well as ensuring that you get ample sleep every night will help you build muscle without gaining fat.
Unfortunately, studies prove that not getting enough high quality sleep puts you at risk for gaining weight. In this case, the weight you gain will be in the form of extra fat. You should aim to sleep between seven and nine hours per night. In order to fall asleep quicker, avoid using your computer and smartphone at least an hour or two before bed.
Rest days help your muscles recover so they can grow bigger and stronger. Additionally, adequate rest decreases your risk of injury and improves your performance during future lifting sessions. Therefore, you will be able to work out harder and get better results.
Do the Right Workouts
It’s important that you lift weights three or four times a week. Not only that, but you must gradually increase the amount of weight that you lift. This is called progressive overloading. As your muscles get stronger, you will need to lift heavier weights in order to avoid hitting a plateau.
You should focus on adding more multi-joint exercises to your training program. Multi-joint exercises engage several groups at the same time. A few examples include barbell squats, dumbbells lungs, and barbell bench press. Below are a few examples of resistance training workouts you could do during the week:
Clean Bulk Workout: Lower Body
- Deadlifts: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
- Squats: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
- Weighted Lunges: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions per leg
- Weighted Glute Bridges: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
Clean Bulk Workout: Upper Body
- Push-Ups: 3 to 5 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions
- Lat Pulldowns: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
- Bench Press: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
- Standing Barbell Rows: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
Clean Bulk Workout: Total Body
- Deadlifts 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
- Plank Rows: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions per side
- Squat Presses: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
- Squat Rows: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
If you have a bit more fat on your body than you would like, you should add some high-intensity interval training and steady-state cardio sessions that last for 30 to 40 minutes.
Check Your Progress Regularly and Reassess
It’s important to keep track of your progress in two categories: your workouts and your physical changes.
During your workouts, you should keep a journal that covers when you worked out, which exercises you did, and all of the acute variables (e.g., sets and reps). We would also recommend tracking your sleeping patterns.
For physical changes, it’s essential to weigh yourself on a daily basis, measure inches lost or gained every week, and take monthly progress pictures.
Tracking your weight and inches will help you tweak your caloric intake. If you gained more fat than you wanted, then you should reduce how much you are eating and increase your activity level. However, if you are not gaining any muscle at all, then you need to increase your daily caloric intake as well as make some changes to your weight training routine.
How to Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat: Focus on Clean Bulking
Learning how to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time is a long process that requires patience, consistency, and structure. You must know what to eat and how much to eat, as well as follow a proper weight training program. Finally, it’s important to track your progress so that you can continuously modify your training and nutrition to optimize your muscle gain and fat loss.