Build muscle and lose fat – the right way

Build muscle and lose fat – the right way

One thing I really love (aside from delicious healthy food) is weight training. Not only does it keep me strong and lean but it also helps to give me mental clarity. The gym is my place where I can go and clear my thoughts and emotions. If I’m angry, sad, upset, or just overall having a bad day, a good weight lifting session always makes me feel better.If you’re like me you probably also have diet and fitness goals we are working on and the journey of self improvement can be challenging to say the least.It’s not always easy to get right straight off the bat – especially with the array of health and fitness products and misinformation shoved down our throats by unscrupulous sellers.

While each and every person’s goals and bodies are unique, a good general rule of thumb to follow is to reduce body fat while also keeping (or building) the muscle you have – namely build muscle and lose fat. This approach leads to a better physique and a healthier body, leaving you feeling and looking better, with more energy and improved mood. So… where do you begin?

Losing fat (not weight)

Weight loss goals should be more than just the number on the scale – losing fat and losing weight are not necessarily the same thing. When it comes to losing body fat the answer is seemingly simple, namely: consume fewer calories than you use (if you need a crash course on what exactly calories are, have a look here). When your body needs more calories than the amount you are eating, you are in a caloric deficit. Calculating your calorie deficit is not an exact science – as every body is a different body – but as a good general guide check out this article: How to calculate a calorie deficit and listen to what your body is telling you.

When it comes to maintaining a caloric deficit, it really comes down to diet. The easiest (and most sensible) way to eat fewer calories consistently is by prioritising real, whole foods. This translates into a healthy diet rich in fresh produce, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and especially protein.

As the old saying goes: “you can’t outrun a bad diet”. In theory eating in a calorie deficit means your body doesn’t have the amount of calories it needs as fuel, so it will start dipping into your fat reserves for its energy requirements. After all, fat is simply stored energy, right? However, depending on the type of food you are eating and how you are training it will break down muscle too. Obviously losing muscle is not ideal, so you want to try to focus on using up that fat storage instead. Diet becomes very important when trying to build muscle and lose fat and especially when training.

Building muscle

There’s no way around it – if you want to build muscle, you’ll have to lift heavy things and ensure that your body has enough calories and protein to build more muscle. Weight or body resistance training helps to build muscle by pushing your muscles to the point of failure. This causes your muscles to tear and break down. When your muscle rebuilds itself following the workout, it’ll be bigger and stronger than before. As long as you are eating enough to rebuild your muscle, you’ll get stronger (this is where we come back to our beloved protein).

It is crucial to maintain a caloric deficit while eating enough protein. You need your body to burn more calories than you consume, and also provide your body with enough protein to rebuild its muscle. If building muscle and reducing fat is your goal, experts recommend at least two days of resistance training per week and combining that with strength training exercises like squats, bench presses, pushups and other muscle-building exercises for an additional two to three days per week.

Protein Power

I go on and on about protein – I know! But that is because it is so important to your success when you want to build muscle and lose fat. Eating enough protein is one of the keys to both losing body fat and building muscle. So when you cut out calories to create a caloric deficit, don’t cut them from protein sources. If you eat too little, not only will it be harder to stick to your diet while losing energy, but your body will burn up all that hard earned muscle you’ve been working on. Eat more protein calories around your workouts to refuel, this way your muscles aren’t deprived and can grow. Read more about how much protein is enough protein here: Are you eating enough protein?

What about cardio?

Cardio is shown to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, and regulate blood sugar. For your overall heart health and happiness, cardio is a wonderful thing to add into your routine. The temptation to double up on cardio in order to see quicker results is alluring but faster excessive cardio can set back your actual progress. Cardio doesn’t necessarily hinder muscle growth and maintenance, but it can slow your progress if it comes at the expense of resistance training.

Overtraining with cardio can cause excessive stress on the body, muscles and tissues. Chronic stress, whether from exercise or lifestyle, can cause cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, to be too high, resulting in your body becoming fatigued and increasing its fat storage capacity. So by all means add some cardio into your life (even a brisk walk is good enough) but don’t overdo it.

Fibre for fullness

Fibre has no magical fat burning properties. It simply helps you feel full without adding a lot of extra calories to your diet. Fibre is also a heart hero as it helps to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and it promotes healthy circulation. Eating more fibre rich foods, such as vegetables and beans, can help decrease body fat, especially in the belly area. While high fibre foods tend to be healthy, what is equally important is that this kind of diet is easier to stick to.

The Mediterranean diet is a great way incorporate fibre and is recommended for overall mental and physical health by loads of reputable organisations such as the American Heart Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association (read more about the benefits of this style of eating here: Top 10 benefits of a Mediterranean diet)

Take time to rest and rebuild

As with most things in life, good health is all about balance! Strengthening your muscles and boosting your cardiovascular endurance are important goals, but it’s also important to know when to rest. Muscles don’t grow in the gym, they grow when we sleep. Resting adequately is crucial for both fat loss and muscle gain, and if you don’t give your body enough time to recover, you’ll find it harder to reach your goals.

As I have mentioned above, your muscle tissues break down and then repair themselves in response to training. When you don’t allow adequate time for your body to recover, you unintentionally place yourself at an increased risk for injury and overtraining. While exercise is important and beneficial, overtraining syndrome results in increased cortisol levels, poor sleep quality, irregular heart rhythms, decreased energy, weakened immune system, and even mood changes. None of those are good, so be sure to give your body a break when it needs it.

In short, the best way to build muscle and lose fat is a combination of eating in a (healthy) calorie deficit and weight training. If you train heavily and eat right your body will pull from its fat stores to fuel itself while building muscle. This power packed combo will help you achieve your goals, improve your fitness and stamina and leave you feeling like a million bucks.

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