Someone recently posed this question to me, and it provided me with a challenge to take a deeper dive into the answer. After researching this question, I believe the response is a resounding “yes!” In fact, beyond “yes,” one could almost argue for the idea that you cannot do one without the other when you exercise and diet the safe and effective way. Or, at least with intentional fat loss, you should not - let me explain.
Obviously, there are situations in which an individual will be burning fat and actually losing muscle at the same time. Here are some examples.
I work in the healthcare industry, and when a person is seriously ill, fat will be lost and muscles will atrophy at the same time. This is usually from bed rest, malnourishment, the type of sickness, and other reasons. But this difficult reality is not what is being examined here. Another example, and maybe more common situation, is when a person diets (large calorie restriction) and does endless cardio exercise. This also results in both fat loss and muscle loss. Many times, people do this and do not realize they are losing muscle while the scale is dropping. This is what we are hoping to fix - to help people realize there is a better way to the results they desire!
Instead, let’s look at the idea of how to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time in a healthy manner.
Writing for Phoenix, AZ based system Banner Health, Regan Olsson addresses this seeming quandary directly, saying, “it will take a lot of discipline…but it is possible to have the best of both worlds.” - meaning you can burn fat and build muscle at the same time. Encouraging words, to be sure, even when paired with “discipline,” a necessary concept that some shy away from. We need more than an affirmation, however- we need a plan. Additionally, we want to know that we are following a scientifically solid and safe way for physical improvement.
Quoting physician assistant Briana Silvestri, Olsson’s article goes on to declare that one must “identify foods that will be low in caloric intake but also high in nutritional value to allow your body and cells to be fed appropriately.” This nutritional standard, teamed specifically with regular strength training, is the special sauce, if you will. Yes, we want caloric output (daily calorie burn) to be greater than caloric input (food you eat) in order to create that important deficit that will lead to fat loss- but not at the expense of our muscle mass.
Where does this lead us? Two key places:
- Real, Whole Food Diet: you will want to eat an abundance of whole, unprocessed foods. This means you will want to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, unrefined carbohydrates (oats, rice, potatoes, whole grains, etc), and lean proteins (meat, fish, legumes, dairy, and natural protein powders).
- Strength Training (weight lifting): Cardio is great and you should definitely do it, but it shouldn't be the only thing you do. Strength training builds your muscles, strengthens your bones, improves your insulin sensitivity and a whole host of other health benefits.
When we find the balance of this clean food intake and pair it up to consistent strength training (and cardio, of course), great things happen! Again, discipline is key-along with patience- but fat loss and muscle building can and will occur under this approach. Don't get me wrong, it isn't easy and there will days you don't feel like eating clean and exercising. This is okay. This is part of the process. Take your moment, and don't be too hard on yourself. Just get back to it the next day, and remember to be patient.
What you will find is that if you stay consistent and adhere to the the 80/20 rule of eating clean and exercising then this leads to what we truly crave most: health, strength, resilience, and positive transformation!
Read these two blogs to learn how to eat and exercise to start losing fat and building muscle:
Eating clean and exercising, but still not losing weight!? Read this blog to learn why and how to fix it:
Article written by: Beth McKee