Almost everyone’s goal is to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously. But can you really build muscle and lose fat at the same time? This is one of the most controversial questions asked in the fitness industry. The answers often have many different opinions. A lot of the time, most people deny that it is practically not possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Then we have a large group of people who claim the exact opposite and throw their arguments.
The main obstacle any trainee faces when trying to reshape the body is nutrition partitioning. In a perfect universe, every calorie you ate would go into the muscle tissue, so you would be 100% muscle. Conversely, any calorie you didn’t eat while dieting would be pulled from fat storage so you would never lose any muscle. Unfortunately, the universe is not perfect. When building muscle you always gain some fat; when dieting, you always lose some muscle. And this is exactly the point where things get complicated.
Let’s see what we can conclude about this topic and whether is there actually an unequivocal answer to this question.
The first school of thought: You can’t build muscles and lose fat simultaneously
This school of thought has its own arguments why this is not possible. Objectives of losing fat and building muscles have some tricky and contradictory dynamics. Many people have not been able to accomplish their goals in this challenge of building muscles while at the same time losing unwanted fat. The important point to take note of is that muscles cannot be created from nothing and therefore you need to take in more calories than those that your body uses up.
The dilemma in pursuing fat loss goals simultaneously with muscle-building goals is that fat loss is leveraged on taking in fewer calories that your body needs so that the deficit can lead to the using up of the already accumulated unwanted fat. On the other side, muscle building entails taking in more calories than your body actually needs. You can build muscles only if you consume more calories than your burn. Clearly, the two are opposites. This is the reason why many fitness programs that integrate the goals of fat loss and muscle building do not cut it.
The second school of thought: You can build muscles and lose fat at the same time
Yes, you can simultaneously build muscle and lose fat! What are their arguments? From a nutritional perspective, although a caloric deficit is needed to lose fat, a caloric surplus isn’t necessarily needed to build muscle. This is because stored fat is stored energy. The stored fat calories are available for the body to use as fuel for the muscle-building process. The more fat and the less muscle you have, the greater your ability to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. So your biology is working in your favor when you want to pack more muscle on, but have some fat to lose.
What is known for sure?
Closing thoughts about building muscles and losing fat at the same time
While you won’t maximize muscle gain in a caloric deficit (cutting phase), multiple studies have shown that it’s possible to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously (at least to some extent). However, not everyone can lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously. Three factors increase the likelihood you’ll be able to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time: (1) your weightlifting experience, (2) the size of the caloric deficit, and (3) how much protein you consume. Your ability to gain muscle during a caloric deficit (cutting phase) is inversely related to your weightlifting experience. The less experienced you are, the more likely you can gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously. The larger the caloric deficit (i.e., the less you eat), the harder it is to gain muscle. A high-protein diet is essential if you want to maintain or even increase muscle mass during a caloric deficit (cutting phase).