Usually this is the problem of a man who wants to build muscle but doesn’t want to get fat. He also wants to lose a bit of fat without losing an ounce of muscle. It is totally an image concern. Yet with many women I train, this isn’t even a question. They have no problem building some muscle so that it burns the fat. So, let’s straighten a few things out here.
Who Tries To Lose Fat and Gain Muscle?
It is usually only someone on the bodybuilding side of life, which tends to be very image oriented. It is definitely not built into a CrossFit program or the culture as CrossFit is performance based. The philosophy with those guys is “However you look after doing x,y,z workouts in record time, is probably how you should look.”
I tend to agree with them.
But nonetheless, I have also at times been very concerned with my image and, at a time, would have been embarrassed to be seen in public with a 12% or higher body fat. I wanted to have more muscle, but I didn’t want to sacrifice any part of my 6 pack.
So to put your mind at ease, I’ll tell you how it can be done and I’ll give you a very unexpected case study of myself and two co-workers who built a ton of muscle and got shredded on accident.
Catabolic vs Anabolic State
Your metabolism is broken down into two parts, catabolism and anabolism. Catabolism is the breaking down of molecules. Anabolism is the forming of molecules.
The conflict of interest here is that we want to form the molecules that make up muscle without also forming fat molecules. And, reversely we want to break down the fat molecules without breaking down muscle.
An anabolic state is something like right after Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, the molecules in your stomach are being broken down, but everywhere else they are being taken to rebuild muscle and fill up the reserves of fat and sugar. Your warehouse just got a shipment and things are being put on the shelf.
When you haven’t eaten a meal and your body has used all of the nutrients from your last meal, your body looks inwards towards stored reserves. This is commonly referred to you being in a catabolic state. Your body has three sources of fuel here:
- Stored sugar
- Stored fat
- Stored muscle
There is some sort of calculation your body does to decide what percentage to draw from each of the above, but that data is unknown to me and probably anyone else. It honestly varies from person to person.
But, we can say that stored sugar is the easiest to use. The fat and muscle are slower burning energy. Think of protein and fat as kerosene and the stored sugar as gasoline. Gasoline will build a big fire right now, whereas kerosene takes a bit to get going.
The Reason Your Body Gets Rid of Muscle
Muscle is expensive. Think of it like an engine. If you have a lot of muscle, you’ve got a massive V8 engine that, even while just idling, is guzzling gas away.
If you are low on fuel, your body is going to try to switch to a smaller engine. There will be no survival or future for it if it burns up all available energy. So your body decides to ditch as much muscle as it can so that starvation doesn’t occur.
So, make your body think that it isn’t ever starving.
How I Gained 10 Pounds of Muscle and Went From a 6 Pack to an 8 Pack
This should not have been possible.
At one point in my younger days (22 years old), I decided that no matter what I was going to gain 10 pounds of muscle. I was a personal fitness trainer, a CrossFit coach and a college student studying Exercise Science. I was a naturally lean, tall and skinny guy who wanted to be massive.
I was looking into fats at that time and the benefits all around for weight loss, clean energy, etc. I decided to do something very wild and eat about 3,000 calories of fat per day, 1,000 calories of carbohydrates and 1,000 calories worth of protein. I did that for about two months. If you are familiar with the Zone diet, I was basically just doing that with 5X the fats. Everything was weighed and measured.
I stuffed myself for two months and I lifted heavy. I also sprinted and did grueling circuit training workouts, but they weren’t for long duration.
I ate so much that at one point I had a surge of energy and felt amazing – then I realized I forgot to eat lunch. I hated food during that period.
In one of my college classes we were doing an exercise of keeping a diet log and doing the math behind everything to analyze the different macronutrients we were eating. This went along perfectly with my experiment. I also had two other dudes doing the same program as me so we kept each other honest on the eating and workouts.
To be honest, I went into this thinking that I was going to potentially forever ruin my 6 pack abs. I was willing to sacrifice a little to gain 10 lbs of muscle and break this skinny trip I had been on my whole life.
A little over a month into this and after gaining over 5 lbs of muscle, I looked in the mirror and thought I saw that I was leaner. I could see more definition in my abs. I attributed this to some delusion, the lighting or the constant headache that I had from eating so much.
I checked the next day and it was still there. I went up to my teammates and was like “Guys, I think I’m getting even more ripped.” Their response: “Me too!”
At the end of 2 months, I hit the 10 pounds-heavier mark and lost god-knows how much fat.
I had done the impossible. I gained 10 pounds of muscle while losing even more fat.
How To Trick Your Body Into Never Eating Muscle
Apparently, based on my little experiment, fat is the magic molecule.
It’s really only magic because most American’s don’t eat a lot of it. It’s kind of a longer discussion, but when you’re basically hooked on carbohydrates/sugar, then your body goes into starvation mode a lot quicker. With the amount of fat I was eating and the fact I was eating it five times a day, there was no chance that I was going to lose muscle. It was a constant abundance of energy.
Why didn’t I gain fat? Probably because there was no need for my body to store it.
Why This Question Never Comes Up With the Women I Train
Most of the women I train want to lose a little (or a lot) of fat. My method of training them is the same as I did to myself. I build muscle so that it burns fat. I even get them eating fat and tell them that any time they want to snack on something snack on fats.
There are no penalty points or self-remorse for eating fats when you’re hungry.
I tell that to everyone I work with who wants to lose weight and they ALL lose weight. Eating fat helps you burn fat and that’s not even a question for me at this point. It is actually the single most successful thing I’ve implemented as a trainer (next to functional training).
The women gain muscle and lose fat.
Please understand that what I did is not healthy.
Having a headache all of the time because you eat too much is not healthy. My triglycerides were probably out the roof, god knows what else was off with my blood. I wasn’t even making significant gains in strength. The goal was to change the composition of my body and it worked.
If you’re a dude trying to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, look into adding some fats into your diet, but do it under the supervision of a trained professional.
And if you do make your 10 pound goal, you have to continue your actions for several months thereafter to keep those gains.
When I ended the two month period of stuffing my face, I took a week off to see my family for the holidays. I ate plenty of food, but nowhere near the amount of calories as before. There was fudge, pie and all sorts of sweets.
At the beginning of the year I weighed myself again. I lost eight of the ten pounds I gained.
My goal should have been “To gain and keep 10 lbs of muscle.”