Why is it difficult to lose fat but gain muscle at the same time?

The easiest explanation for this is due to the fact that for optimal fat loss you want to be expending more calories/energy from physical exercise than what you consume through food and drink, and for optimal hypertrophy or building lean muscle mass, it’s the opposite. Regardless of what you eat, if you’re eating more energy than you’re burning, you will not get leaner.

While necessary for losing fat, a calorie deficit causes the body to adapt in various ways. Two major adaptations occur, which impacts on your body ‘’s ability to build lean muscle efficiently at the same time:

  1. A reduction in both anabolic hormone levels and
  2. A reduction in protein synthesis (growth) rates.

As a result, both these changes directly interfere with your body’s ability to create new muscle proteins.

In addition to the above, people trying to lose weight may also make diet and training mistakes that further impair muscle building and accelerate muscle loss.

How should men best go about this? What are the basic principles?

When it comes to the best approach to lose fat mass while building lean muscle, it’s important to note that the major determining factors for success come down to training state and experience. Here are some important rules to remember:

  • If you’re new to resistance or strength training, or are getting started again after a break, you shouldn’t have any trouble building muscle and losing fat simultaneously.
  • If you have at least 6 to 8 months of weightlifting experience and aren’t coming off a long break, you may have trouble building muscle and losing fat simultaneously.
  • The exception to the second point is if the person that has been lifting weights for some time but has never incorporated heavy compound weightlifting, it’s very likely that he or she will experience initial gains in lean muscle, while being in a calorie deficit.

To successfully achieve a reduction in fat mass while gaining muscle there are some basic principles that men should consider. These include:

  • Implement a moderate (15-20%) calorie deficit in your diet, which will allow you to lose fat while preserving muscle.
  • Focus on heavy compound weightlifting for best results in muscle growth/hypertrophy. Utilise all major muscle groups while working at 80-85% of your 1RM (repetition maximum), which will equate to around 4-7 reps.
  • If you’re going to perform cardio training, focus on high intensity interval training (HIIT) – This type of cardio training incorporates intense periods of work with short recovery segments. HIIT helps you give maximum intensity within the session and keeps your body burning fat even after you finish.
  • Change your training program every 4-6 weeks – one training principle that occurs over time is adaptation. This means your body becomes used to the exercises and intensity you are performing and thus, in order to make continual gains you need to change your program.
  • Get enough sleep – This is very important to allow your body to rest and repair, especially any damage done to muscle tissue. Muscle soreness is going to be likely, but if you don’t rest appropriately you are at more risk of injury or burnout, which will lead to hindrance in your training and results. Additionally, quality sleep is important for balancing hormones, especially testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which all play a major rolein building and maintaining lean mass and burning fat.

Six tips for men trying to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass:

  1. Build a routine – make exercise/training part of your lifestyle. Implement a routine where you are exercising most days of the week.
  2. Plan, plan, plan – One of the biggest areas where people fall down with their diet/nutrition is that they do not plan or prepare their meals. In an age where we are so busy, not planning your healthy meals and snacks will cause you to make poorer food choices and hinder your results and health goals.
  3. Adjust your program as needed – you will hit plateaus, so it is important to make changes to your training program and diet as required. The most common ways to increase the intensity of your training sessions include: modify rest periods, vary the load, increase the speed of movement, progress from isolated to compound movements/exercises.
  4. Keep a training and diet diary/journal – by keeping record of your progress and food choices it allows to see where adjustments are needed.
  5. Warm up and cool down appropriately – by incorporating warm up and cool down or stretching to your training, you are reducing your risk of injury as well as improving flexibility and range of movement of your joints, which all contribute to an optimal training regime.
  6. Get plenty of sleep – recovery plays a crucial role in your results. Get plenty of rest to aid muscle repair and recovery, and optimise hormone balance to assist fat loss and muscle building.