Can you really lose fat and build muscle at the same time?

BY John Papp

Table of Contents

Go into any gym and ask patrons why they are working out and they will probably give you one of three answers: lose weight, build muscle, or lose weight AND build muscle.

Sure, overall health, longevity, stress relief, and sports performance may be important for some but let’s face it. Many of us first entered the gym with the goal of changing our body composition. Because it is such a common goal there are also some common myths that need to be busted.

Here are some of the most frequent questions related to body composition change that I hear every day in my career as a coach. 

1) “Can you gain muscle mass and lose fat at the same time?”

I'm sure you've heard or even asked that question before. The simple answer? There isn't one.

Let’s start with "no". According to the laws of thermodynamics, you cannot be simultaneously burning fat tissue at the exact same time as you are building muscle tissue. That being said, if we look at a longer time period than just one moment, we can in fact gain muscle mass and lose fat mass at the same time. If we look at a longer time period such as, say,  four to eight weeks, which a reasonable time period to complete a full training program, you can in fact lose body fat and increase lean muscle mass over that period.

It has been proven that a combination of resistance training and high intensity interval training while in a period of caloric deficit (but relatively high protein intake,) can in fact result in the desired results above. (1)

It should also be noted that it may be easier to accomplish as a complete beginner in the gym and/or if you are starting with a very high amount of body fat.

2) “Can I turn my fat into muscle?”

This one is very simple, no.

You cannot turn fat cells into muscle cells. They are two completely different things and cannot be transferred back and forth based on additional exercise and change to diet. You can however work to change your body composition by building more muscle and lowering body fat. 

3) “I want to lose the fat in fill in the blank area, what exercise can I do to get rid of it?”

None of them!

It doesn’t quite work like that. It is impossible to control where you lose fat when you are decreasing body fat. But you can change the appearance of an area by adding muscle mass to an area through resistance training. So stop doing the extra crunches and focus on quality nutrition and consistent training and you will see the results you want.


Happy training!


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