Build Muscle AND Lose Fat?

The goal of many bodybuilders is to gain muscle/lose fat whilst doing so simultaneously. Unfortunately, for most who’ve been training for any amount of time, training with this goal in mind is typically just a surefire way to stand in one place spinning your wheels for months, if not years on end. It’s often noted that bodybuilders tend to be extremists. Whether this is just a natural personality tendency among us, or it is a result of the habits with which it takes to induce noticeable and lasting physical changes in our physique, it does ring true for a large majority. Even when taking training out of the equation, what other group of people, or athletes, puts themselves through the dietary rigors of a bodybuilder? Eating enough to feed a small country while on a bulking phase yet turning around and barely subsisting on enough calories to feed a bird while on a cutting phase.

Anyone who’s ever truly been on a real bulking phase or a cutting phase will know exactly what extremes I’m talking about. In order to gain muscle the body needs food and lots of it coupled with a reduction of all extraneous activities. In order to shed fat after building this muscle the body needs much few calories and lots more tedious cardiovascular type exercise. To try and embark on a mutual compromise between bulking and cutting typically brings compromising results in either direction.

However, with science, information, and understanding on how the various systems of the body function, we can better understand and apply correct exercise and nutritional timing to better enable us to achieve the goal of increasing muscle mass and losing fat simultaneously. The plan I am about to unfold here is, as only a bodybuilder would have it, a bit extreme. However, if dedicated to and followed, it will enable you to achieve these 2 mutually exclusive goals simultaneously by taking advantage of nutrient and exercise timing.

What we are going to do is take advantage of the body’s hormonal state as it pertains to day to day circadian rhythms, exercise, and nutrient timing. The plan involves periods of both rather extreme underfeeding for fat loss, and rather extreme overfeeding for muscle gain coupled with both training for fat loss (cardio, HIT) and training for muscle gain (heavy weights). Basically what will be happening is you’ll be in a fat burning mode the majority of the time eating lower carbs and calories and performing fat burning activities like regular cardio and HIT cardio to help in this aspect.

The rest of the time you’ll either be sleeping, hitting the iron heavy and hard, or eating like a madman to drive protein synthesis, build muscle, and take advantage of the anabolic hormones induced by the weight training and feeding schedule. So let’s take a look at the nuts and bolts of the program.


Some form of cardio should be done 3-6 days per and alternated between longer, slow duration cardio, and HIT cardio. Walking on a slightly inclined treadmill for 45 minutes is an ideal form of the longer duration cardio which should be performed on weight training days (up to 3x per week) and sprinting outdoors, on a treadmill and/or cycling is an ideal form of HIT cardio which should be done on weight training off days (2-3x per week). For the HIT portion there are many different methods of implementing this.

I like to keep the work:rest intervals a little longer than most at 1:2. As an example, after a 4 minute slow jog/cycle warm up perform 20 seconds of all out sprints followed by 40 seconds of jogging repeated for 8-12 sets with a 4 minute cooldown of slow jogging at the end. If there is one key to HIT cardio it is to keep it creative. Basically, the more you struggle with fat gain and/or loss, the more cardio and HIT sessions you’ll need to perform with 3 cardio and 3 HIT cardio sessions being the max. Those somewhere in the middle of the metabolic continuum should perform 3 HIT sessions and ditch the regular cardio sessions. Those with excellent metabolisms might find they need only 1 or 2 HIT sessions per week.

Weight Training

The actual content of your weight training sessions is not nearly as important as the timing. It is important for this program that your weight training sessions be done sometime in the late afternoon/early evening to allow you to burn fat throughout the day as this is the time when you’ll be eating a lower calorie/low carb diet. Also make sure you schedule the weight training early enough in the evening so that you are allowed a minimum of 6 hours between your weight training session and bedtime as this is the time you will be overfeeding to drive protein synthesis and replenish glycogen stores. Doing so too early in the day would halt fat burning for the rest of the day and put a damper on our training and fat burning economy.

The weight training should be done 3x per week on alternate days, M/W/F or Tu/Thu/Sat being ideal. The training sessions should consist of heavy, basic compound movements with some overlap. In other words, don’t make any sessions arms only as you want workouts that stimulate a lot of anabolic hormones and muscle mass. As an example here is how I currently have my 3x per week routine set-up. My training is usually done with mixed goals of performance and vanity so it tends to be a bit unconventional for many but it’s just an example.

Monday (chest and back focus) – 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Wednesday (legs focus) – 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Friday (shoulders, traps, and arms focus) – 3 sets of 8-12 reps

I normally like to keep sets per exercise around 4-6 and reps between 4-8 and use antagonistic supersets when possible.

In my case, I do smaller muscle groups such as forearms, abs, calves, and rotator cuff on my weight training off days, however, this is definitely not something that needs to be done. Do abs and calves whenever you want, just make sure your workouts are hard, heavy, intense, and cover your entire body.


Now for the really interesting part, the diet! The diet is divided up into 2 separate phases, the low calorie low/carbohydrate portion and the high calorie/high carb portion. Here are the guidelines:

Low calorie/low carb portion

    Duration – All day on weight training off days and ½ day on weight training days.
    Caloric intake – 10-12 x bodyweight
    Macronutrient ratio – 50% protein 30% fat and 20% carbohydrate

High calorie/high carb portion

    Duration – on weight training days only. From the beginning of the weight training session until bedtime.
    Caloric intake – The same amount as you would take in during a normal low calorie day but these calories are to be consumed in a time span of 6-8 hours. ( 10-12 x bw or 1600-1900 calories for a 160 lb individual)
    Macronutrient ratio – 20% protein 5% fat and 75% carbohydrate

Maintenance calorie/carb portion

    Duration – weekends
    Caloric intake – 15 x bodyweight
    Macronutrient ratio – 50% protein 30% fat and 20% carbohydrate

Daily Schedule

    Monday – AM cardio PM weight training*
    Tuesday – HIT cardio performed anytime
    Wednesday – AM cardio PM weight training*
    Thursday – HIT cardio performed anytime
    Friday – AM cardio PM weight training *
    Saturday – HIT Cardio done anytime maintenance calories
    Sunday – no training/maintenance calories

* (AM cardio optional depending on individual)

So lets take a trial run through the program. At a bodyweight of 160 lbs our hypothetical trainee needs 1600-1920 calories on the low carb/low calorie day. At a 50p/30f/20c ratio this will mean 200 grams of protein/80 grams of carbs and 53 grams of fat. Lets first use and illustrate a weight training off day, Tuesday as an example.

Preferably sometime in the late afternoon or early evening perform HIT cardio or sprinting. The timing for the HIT on weight training off days is not terribly important but keep in mind the evening is usually a time when the metabolism begins to slow. By performing intense exercise at this time we stimulate the metabolism so the metabolic rate over the course of 24 hours is greater. After this have a protein drink along with some liquid carbs which would be equivalent to about ½ of the total 80 gram allotment of carbs for the day. Since the body is most responsive to carbohydrate consumption following activity try to get more carbs in postworkout, regardless of when you perform it. Throughout the rest of the day the body would be in a hard-core fat burning state. Diet would consist of mostly lean meats, fibrous veggies, and quality fats about every 3 hours throughout the day.

Again our hypothetical trainee gets up and this time does the optional slower/longer duration cardio for 40 minutes such as walking on a slightly inclined treadmill at a pace not so fast that it leaves him out of breath, but just fast enough so that it would be a little difficult to carry on a conversation. After this have a protein/carb drink. The amount of carbs would be less than the preceding days HIT cardio post-workout consumption, maybe 20 grams since the longer duration slower cardio is less taxing on the glycogen system.

Another important thing to remember is, since this is a weight training day and this training session is around 3 pm, he’ll only be eating the low cal/low carb portion for approximately ½ day so the macronutrient total needs to be adjusted since those #’s are based on a full days total. Instead of 1600 calories 200 grams of protein/80 grams of carbs and 53 grams of fat we need to cut those in half and eat about 800 calories/ 100 grams of protein/40 grams of carbs and 26 grams of fat from breakfast until 3pm.

Once 3pm hits is when the anabolism (and the fun) begins! Just prior to the workout we’d have a serving of some type of stimulant and begin sipping on a carb/protein drink. (dextrose/maltodextrin/whey) or (BCAAs, dextrose, malto). After the workout we would have another high carb/protein drink of dextrose/maltodextrin and whey and head home for more great FOOD and CARBS! The macronutrient total from 3 pm until bedtime will total approximately 1600 calories /300 grams of carbs/80 grams protein/and 9 grams fat for a 160 pounder, so this pretty much means any low-fat carbohydrate sources are fair game.

Although complex carbs such as white potatoes, rice, oatmeal etc. are ideal due to their effects on replenishing muscle glycogen, it’s ok to have some cereal, low fat pastries, etc. during this time as well. Keep fruit and fructose consumption to a minimum and definitely make sure you stay away from fat. Having high insulin levels coupled with fat intake will drive that fat directly into storage. Continue to pig out on carbs until bedtime and then wake up the next morning for another 1.5 days of dieting before hitting the workout and overfeed all over again.

Why It Works?

The weight training and preceding dieting phase not only burns fat but also puts the body into a glycogen depleted state which heightens insulin sensitivity so the body is ready to suck up on all the nutrients delivered during the short-term carbohydrate overfeed. In addition to increasing cellular hydration, which is important for protein synthesis, the body responds to this overfeeding by increasing levels of the anabolic hormone insulin.

Having high insulin levels ALL the time could be a bad thing and lead to fat gain, but for such a short period of time after an intense workout we’re able to maximize the anabolic power of insulin for anabolism and muscle building with little danger of spillover into fat storage. Studies have shown that carbohydrates consumed during massive short-term carbohydrate overfeeding have a very small effect on de novo lipogenesis, or conversion to fat from carbohydate.

Also, during this time and after, the body will respond to this short-term overfeed with larger amounts of the hormones testosterone, thyroid, and leptin. Leptin is the hormone which normally drops during a diet and causes our fat loss efforts to reach a stand-still and causes our body to begin cannibalizing muscle tissue. By boosting leptin through over-feeding, we also ensure that our fat loss efforts continue unhindered throughout the plan while all the other hormones are optimized for muscle gain. Regular cardio is done earlier in the day not only to burn more calories and fat but, more importantly, to give a big metabolic stimulus throughout the day. Diet is optimized to allow fat burning during these times.

Likewise, the timing of the weight training sessions coincides with the time when the body would normally begin to go from an anabolic to a catabolic state. By doing our weight training and HIT in the afternoon/early evening we are able to boost anabolic hormones and sensitivity to these hormones at a time when they naturally begin to decline while also stimulating the metabolism at a time when it begins to slow down. Following the weight-training workout with a high carbohydrate overfeed gives solid, round the clock hormonal and dietary management of both muscle gain and fat loss.

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