At first, losing fat while gaining muscle appears to be an impossible task, like baking a homemade kale chip that isn’t soggy. After all, the two goals are seemingly contradictory: fat loss is decreasing your body mass, while gaining muscle is doing the opposite. But, as it turns out, it is possible to achieve these goals simultaneously. In fact, increasing your muscle mass can actually help you lose more fat in the long run.
Oftentimes we will focus solely on losing body fat without considering the import role muscle plays in our overall metabolism and the calories we can eat daily to maintain our weight,” says Julie Lohre, women’s fitness expert, IFBB Fitness Pro, certified personal trainer, and nutrition specialist.
“Losing fat is good and might leave you smaller, but without definition . . . and if you do it wrong, you could lose a lot of muscle in the process. If you want to really reshape your body and get defined, then adding muscle as you trim body fat makes all the difference.”
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. Doing both at the same time requires making specific changes to your diet and exercise routine. We got the experts to break down exactly how to optimize each of these areas to maximum fat-burning/muscle-gaining results.
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Balance Cardio and Strength Training
The notion that women will get bulky from lifting heavy weights is so outdated. It’s not like you’re going to pick up a 35-pound dumbbell and wake up the next morning looking like The Rock (it takes a lot of cod — and testosterone — for that to happen).
“Remember that in order to build muscle, you need to let those muscle fibers work. Focus on large movements that require multiple muscle groups to work at the same time like squats, deadlifting, rowing, and bench pressing,” James Shapiro, an NYC-based independent trainer with a master’s degree in exercise science and NASM CPT, CES, and PES certifications, says.
Lohre recommends functional movements like barbell thrusters. “[These] engage your entire body and burn more calories as more muscle fibers are recruited. Additionally, as you move through the reps quickly, your heart rate elevates and you burn more calories,” she explains.
“As for cardio, focus on intervals for a higher intensity with a cooldown period for recovery. You want to minimize the amount of cardio you perform to about 20 minutes. The more cardio you perform, the less muscle synthesis promotion is triggered physiologically in your body,” Shapiro adds.
That’s where something like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) comes in. HIIT has been scientifically proven to help burn fat.