I got a question last week from a Youtube viewer asking:
Why can't more advanced individuals do both [meaning gain muscle and lose fat] at the same time?
My answer was: You need to try to do both.
For example. If you’re gaining muscle mass, you should definitely try to lose fat, or keep fat gain at a minimum. How can you do that?
Do you know how much muscle mass a trained individual can put on per week? For a 200 pound individual, this person can maximally put on 0.25 pounds to 0.5 pounds of muscle mass per week (coming from Alan Aragon who is a solid bodybuilding researcher). This assumes that you are resistance training and you are getting in a lot of protein.
Let’s assume you’re on a bulking phase and you are gaining 5 pounds of bodyweight per month. How much of this weight will be put on as muscle and fat? Since we know we can gain 0.25 pounds to 0.5 pounds of muscle mass per week, we can gain anywhere from 1 to 2 pounds of muscle per month. The rest of the weight will be increased water weight, other metabolites and nutrients, and fat mass.
If you put on 10 pounds of body weight, do you know much much muscle you'll gain? Between 1-2 pounds. Most of the rest of that weight will be fat mass, so I think you're getting my point.
This means you need to gain weight slowly in order to put on the muscle mass, but minimize the fat gain. My typical recommendation is then to gain 2-4 pounds of body weight (for the average 200 pound male) per month. This will maximize muscle gain, but keep fat gain at a minimum and maybe even allow you to lose some fat. As I said before, this assumes you have a smart resistance training program in effect and your nutrition is dialed in.
How else can you gain muscle with minimal fat gain?
Cardio burns a ton of calories for the timeframe you do it in compared to strength training. (The afterburn effect of strength training is highly overrated.) Some individuals recommend doing more lifting sessions, but in my experience, this will lead you into overtraining much faster than if you simply have 2-3 sessions of cardio per week.
(If you are a female, newbie, or a super-lightweight, you probably can lift more frequently and get away with it. But, if you push very heavy weights, more frequent training will burn you out.)
Doing cardio in a lower to moderate heart rate zone (110BPM to 135BPM) burns a lot of fat and ideally will keep the fat gain you inevitably get at bay. These types of sessions (typically done for 20-30 minutes) will also allow you to recover faster than if you didn’t do them.
If you have not been used to doing any kind of aerobic work, you absolutely need to do these aerobic sessions. If you don’t, you’ll likely have poor work capacity, have less energy, and won’t recover from your workouts optimally.
Unless your nutrition is 99% solid and you get in all of your training and cardio sessions, you'll likely gain a little bit of fat mass even if you gain weight slowly. Don't worry!
Let's assume that over a 4 month period, you gain 5 pounds of muscle and gain 3 pounds of fat. First off, that's pretty damn good because you gained weight slowly, and you put on some substantial muscle mass. Second, you only put on three pounds of fat which will be a lot easier to lose than if you had put on 15 pounds of fat.
Assume you're tired of gaining weight, so you decide to cut. You need to increase your protein intake to make sure that your muscle mass is not lost. You still need to strength train and do cardio. Much like we did with gaining muscle, you need to lose weight slowly.
If you lose 2-4 pounds per month, you'll be in a prime position to drop fat and keep your muscle mass (and maybe even build some muscle mass). You can even decide to go through multiple cycles of cutting or bulking as long as each cycle is moderate. Later, we'll go through transitioning from bulking to cutting, but for now, you know the basics.
Weight gain and weight loss should be done slowly. As long as you are consistent with your strength training and cardio sessions and have overall good nutrition, you'll make solid progress.
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