Can you cut fat and build muscle at the same time?
That’s one of the most common questions we get asked.
Ideally, people would want to be able to do both at the same time.
After all, who wouldn’t want to get completely ripped in the quickest time possible?
In this article, we look at the best way to cut fat and build muscle.
And here’s a promise:
When you finish reading, you will have all the knowledge, tools, method, and action steps to help you achieve your fat burning and muscle building goals in the most optimal way possible.
Let’s move on.
Can You Burn Fat & Build Muscle Simultaneously?
People often club fat burning and muscle building together.
However, the two process are physiologically very different, and commonly you can only achieve both simultaneously — to any level of effectiveness — if you are significantly overweight.
For this reason, you must approach these two goals separately if you want to achieve results efficiently.
These two goals, or processes rather, are known as ‘cutting’ and ‘bulking’.
To mirror this distinction, this article covers fat burning and muscle building in two sections.
If you are close to your ideal weight, you can pursue both projects together.
But, if your body mass index places you in the overweight or obese category, focus on the first project — fat burning.
How to Burn Body Fat
If you’re burning body fat and wanting to get an attractive athletic physique, you should aim for your body fat percentage to get down to a level around:
- 10-13% for men
- 15-20% for women
You can approximate your body fat percentage using a simple method called girth measurement.
You can work out your body fat more accurately using body fat calipers (available here), but honestly, taking photos and making an approximation is usually fine.
Bodybuilders will usually have body fat around 6% (although it can be less) and professional athletes will often be in the 8-12% range.
Understanding Body Fat
Your body stores fat in microscopic containers known as adipose cells.
These containers grow larger when they accumulate fat and shrink when they release fat.
Your body uses hormones to signal the containers to either accumulate or release fat.
Fat burning hormones tell the cells to release fat and fat storing hormones tell the cells to accumulate fat.
So, preventing the production of fat storing hormones is the secret to fat burning.
Cortisol and insulin are the most dominant fat storing hormones in your body.
The presence of these two hormones renders all your fat burning hormones inactive.
Whilst many great diets can help you to lose weight, this is a tip that you won’t find in many places elsewhere:
For efficient fat burning, you must decrease the level of cortisol and insulin in your system.
Here’s how you can do this:
Decrease Insulin Level: Since sugar consumption triggers insulin production, cutting sugar from your diet is the best way to lower insulin level.
Decrease Cortisol Level: Stress is the prime agency that spikes production of cortisol. To decrease cortisol level, you must relieve stress healthily.
There are more tips on decreasing these levels below.
The Tools You Need to Burn Body Fat
To reach a state of steady fat burning, you will need the following tool:
Food diary: A notebook to record exactly what you eat. A great example of this is apps like My Fitness Pal.
Stick to your journal and track every single thing you eat across a day, week and month.
Ensure you’re eating at a calorific deficit (that means you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming) of around 500 calories each day.
This means you’d typically be consuming 1500-2000 calories a day, depending on how active you are being. However…
All bodies are different.
If you’re already a 20 stone wall of pure muscle, you’re going to need to eat a lot more than 1500 calories a day when burning fat, or you’ll just burn away your gains too.
It’s essential to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) – try it yourself using a free online TDEE calculator.
How to Decrease Your Insulin Level
Meet your new best friend: glycemic load (GL).
Glycemic load is a number that shows the extent to which a food item stimulates insulin production.
The higher the number, the higher the stimulation.
Therefore, the key principle behind reducing insulin level is replacing high-GL foods with low-GL foods. The following steps describe how you can systematically do this:
For two weeks use your food journal to record everything you eat, along with the portion size and time.
At the end of the two-week period, calculate the glycemic load of everything you’ve eaten the last 14 days.
You can use the SELF Nutrition Data site to get the glycemic load. Be sure to select the right serving size.
Now, create yourself a ‘blacklist’.
Add every food item that has a glycemic load of 10 or more to the blacklist.
Until you reach your ideal weight, stay away from all items in this list.
Now, for each item in the blacklist, find a suitable substitute.
The substitute must have a glycemic load of less than 10 and must be accessible during the time of the day when you usually eat that particular blacklisted item.
Continue the low-GL diet until you reach your fat burning goal.
How to Decrease Cortisol Level
Your body switches to stress-mode in response to a threat.
During the hunter-gatherer days of human beings, stress-mode helped them survive potentially fatal encounters.
Today, humans don’t run into many physical threats.
Mentally, however, people are more insecure than ever.
Unfortunately, the body doesn’t distinguish between physical and mental threats.
In some people, an electricity bill creates the same sense of danger and impending doom that a sabre-toothed tiger does. These mental tripwires are everywhere you turn.
Mental tripwires mean increased cortisol. This has catastrophic impact on fat burning.
So, to relieve stress and decrease cortisol level it is important you learn to relax your body and mind.
Controlled breathing is one of the most effective and simplest way to do this.
Ensure you get chance to relax at least a couple of times a week, even if it’s just a long soak in the bath.
Yoga is also extremely beneficial for this.
Each time you practice the method, your relaxation deepens.
Eventually, you will become able to relax your body completely in mere seconds.
This is not meditation. You can do this even if you aren’t spiritually inclined and will reap huge rewards.
Ryan Giggs credited his exceptionally long footballing career to yoga.
If you can eliminate high-GL foods and keep your body and mind relaxed, you can watch your body fat melt away quicker and easier than normal.
However, there’s a problem:
Burning fat through diet alone will not strengthen or tone your body.
It is most effective if you ‘cut’ for 3-6 months before returning to a bulk, depending on your current physique.
So, after you’ve finished cutting fat, it’s time to build your muscle mass through a ‘bulk’.
How to Build Muscle
At the end of the muscle-building project, you should have put on at least a stone in weight, usually more.
This additional weight should be mostly muscle, although will include water weight and fat – this can’t be avoided.
Because it can’t be avoided, this is why you have to make clear distinctions between when you’re cutting and bulking.
Just because you’re certain to put on some fat, it doesn’t mean you should accept putting more on than necessary.
Eat clean, train hard.
Understanding Muscle Growth
Your muscles adapt to handle demands you place on them.
This is the basic premise of muscle building.
The adaptation happens in two phases: neural adaptation and muscular adaptation.
When you begin training your muscles, your body modifies them to handle the load by increasing the number of neural connections to the muscles.
An increase in neural connection allows your body to employ more muscle fibers to do the work, thereby increasing your strength.
Since neural adaptation precedes muscular adaptation, initially you will notice immediate strength gains without any apparent muscle hypertrophy – without them being noticeably larger or more defined.
After your body can no longer add neural connections to your muscles, it begins to increase the size of the muscle fibers to make the muscles stronger.
At this stage, you will see an increase in muscle size along with obvious strength gains.
You need a systematic way to saturate neural adaptation and optimize muscular adaptation.
Fortunately, there is a safe, efficient, and economical way to do this. Let’s look.
The Tools You Need for Muscle Growth
To achieve muscle hypertrophy and amazing strength, you need the following tools:
Protein shakes: these will make it much easier to hit your daily macros. No-one wants to spend all day stuck in the kitchen prepping meals.
Pre-workouts: similar to protein shakes, pre-workouts will get you pumped and you’ll have considerably more energy and strength than without one. We’ve rounded up the best gym preworkouts right here on TG.
Food diary: similarly to cutting weight, you need to keep a food diary to ensure you’re getting enough calories and hitting your macros (that’s protein, carbohydrates and fats). We’d again recommend the app My Fitness Pal for this.
How to Build Muscle Mass
This section isn’t going to be as detailed as you’d like.
This is because it’s actually really simple:
You must eat at a calorific surplus – that means consuming more calories than you burn off each day. Again, use a TDEE calculator to work out your own personal calorie expenditure.
You need to maintain a healthy diet for this, but a diet for gaining muscle mass is a whole other story.
You need to consume 0.8g of protein every day for each pound that you weigh.
This means someone weighing twelve stone would need around 135g of protein each day at a minimum.
In addition to eating loads of healthy food and hitting your macros, you also need to lift heavy.
What is ‘lifting heavy’, though?
It’s all relative.
What’s heavy to your muscles may be a warm-up weight for someone else, but that’s completely fine.
We’re all at different stages on our fitness journeys, with different goals and different commitments too.
The key is to hit your chest, back and legs heavy at least once a week.
And this is simple, with bench press, deadlifts and squats hitting all of the above.
These workouts will also naturally help your arms, shoulders, abs and more, but you’ll need to throw in extra exercises for these muscles known as ‘accessory work’.
As you lift heavier, you’ll get stronger and build muscle.
Over time, your muscles will have to grow to accommodate the additional strength.
Once you’ve been working out for a while and you’re struggling to keep progressing with the weights that you’re lifting, it’s time to start adding more calories to your diet – try an extra 250 a day.
When Should You Bulk and When Should You Cut?
There is an amusing, but useful phrase in weightlifting: “Bulk until you hate yourself, then cut until you hate yourself.”
In other words, bulk for as long as you can before your body fat percentage is too high for your liking, then cut until you think that your bodyfat percentage is too low.
Many people fail to burn fat and build muscles because they do too many things moderately well.
Your chances of succeeding increases exponentially when you choose to have focus:
Cut and bulk.
Reading a post on the internet is one thing, but actioning it is another.
Remember to take key pointers away from this and put them into practice.
A sexy, strong, and healthy body awaits you.