Why gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is hard
Gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is hard. We wanted to talk about why.
Every Health and Wellness Plan we design four our clients represents a fun challenge. Every person has their own goals, and a lifestyle that we have to build a program around. We recently designed a full Health and Wellness Plan for our client Dave with a very common aim;
“My goals were to lose weight, because I felt like I was packing it on pretty significantly for a while there, and to gain muscle. I wanted to get healthier. I’ve got a young son now who I want to be around for a long time for him. That might sound a bit dramatic but I want to be around and play sport and things with him as he gets older.”
Lose weight, gain muscle. Sounds simple. In reality it’s very difficult, especially for a full-time worker building exercise and eating requirements into a busy lifestyle. So we wanted to put a blog together using Dave as an example of why it’s hard for most people to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, how it can go wrong, and how it can be done correctly with the help of our programs.
Now, just a caveat, this is a guide on how we help our clients with Health and Wellness Programs. Not a general guide for everyone. So let’s dive in!
WHY GAINING MUSCLE AND LOSING FAT IS HARD FOR MOST PEOPLE
Gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is difficult because:
- Building muscle while reducing or re-distributing calories needs to be done with precise nutrition. Muscles don’t grow without proper nutrition, and will be consumed by the body if it’s fed incorrectly. People with busy lifestyles, kids to chase around, and social engagements can struggle to get nutrition right. It can be challenging to maintain control of what you eat because sometimes you take what’s available.
- It takes discipline to consistently eat the correct macronutrient splits. You’re already walking a fine line, and it can be very easy to overstep it.
- For most people, especially our clients, it involves a lifestyle change. Our programs are targeted at everyday people, not necessarily those who are already experienced in nutrition and resistance training. It’s all a learning experience.
- Workouts need to be specific and targeted. We build in progressions to focus on either repitition or resistance. Increased load or time under tension forces muscle adaptation. That’s a better way to build muscle.
- People often focus too much on smaller muscle groups (dare we say “aesthetic muscles”) like biceps or pectorals. Legs should be a big focus because quads and hamstrings are much larger and can grow more quickly. That shifts your body composition more effectively too. The adage “never skip legs day” is very true!
- You might have to reduce other types of exercise. Cardio is wonderful but it can interfere with building lean mass. Dial it back for a few weeks and you’ll see better results in the long-term.
Now, just to be very clear, it’s absolutely possible to gain muscle while losing fat. We’re focusing more on the particular challenges for our own clients and how we help them.
We designed Dave’s program after an initial body scan, full lifestyle consult, and goal setting discussion.
Alex, the program-designing guru, compiled a full exercise and macro-nutrient schedule that he was confident would get that result. Alex has gotten very good at designing programs to do exactly what Dave wanted because he’s been writing them for himself. In the last 12 months he’s personally shifted his body fat from around 28% to 18% and gained significant lean mass at the same time.
With the program designed, it was all uploaded and tracked in our Future Health Fitness app. All Dave had to do was check follow his daily instructions and get to work!
HOW DID IT GO?
After a couple of weeks Alex noticed Dave was working hard. A little too hard in fact. Alex was monitoring Dave’s program in the Future Health Fitness app and noticed quite a lot of deviation from the plan. It had all the signs of the problems we mentioned above:
- Macro splits were well off, with higher carbohydrate and lower protein.
- Daily calorie consumption was inconsistent with days well over and days well under.
- Too much cardio.
- Dave was focusing on high reps targeting his small muscle groups.
- Some exercises weren’t being completed.
We were confident that the mid-program scan result would be the motivator Dave needed to get back into the program. He was showing plenty of commitment willingness to work, but wanted to work in his own way. At the end of the program he reflected;
“I probably didn’t follow the process as well as I should have! So I went more towards the cardio side of things because I felt like losing the fat first was more important than gaining the muscle. The second scan that I did ended up showing me that I’d lost a heap of fat, which was great, but I didn’t really put on any muscle. I lost a bit of the definition in my arms and my legs. That probably wasn’t what I was looking for! I wanted to gain that muscle and get that V figure. If I’d followed the direction that the program and the professionals were telling me I would have had a different result. It wasn’t a bad result, but it wasn’t the result I wanted.”
So we started again, with a renewed belief in the program, and the results from his third scan have been excellent.
CHANGING FOR SUCCESS
After his third scan, we asked Dave what he’d done differently.
“I started to follow the routine more rigidly. After another scan I’m starting to now see a continual decrease in fat mass and an increase in muscle mass. My weight is slightly increasing again but it’s all muscle mass instead of fat mass which is exactly what I need to be doing.”
We were stoked to see how Dave turned it around. He was working hard, working smart, and eating well. A crucial element for his turnaround was the measurement and visualisation, as we’ve found with quite a few other clients;
“I’m really happy with the results. The program does work. The fact that I can see the results on a screen and I can see the composition of my body and the way it’s changing makes it so much more motivating to get out there and keep doing it. The advice is terrific and seeing the results first-hand is excellent as well.”
Body composition is so much more robust than weight. Being able to measure accurately and very specifically means we can give better advice, design superior programs, and motivate clients more. We actively tell clients that weight loss alone shouldn’t be their goal, and that body composition is where they should focus. Dave’s body composition in the second scan showed us the correct progress wasn’t being made. If all we’d had was body weight to measure succes then we wouldn’t have known that Dave needed so re-direction.
After Dave’s third scan we saw exactly what we wanted; stable weight, reduced fat mass, increasing muscle mass, and reduced circumference measures around his waist.
We’re stoked for Dave’s success! He succeeded in gaining muscle and losing fat despite having a demanding lifestyle. It was a great learning opportunity for us too, and another great reminder of how valuable body scanning can be.