How do I Lose Fat and Gain Muscle?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

There are many theories on how to lose fat and gain muscle, and one of these is that the two goals really don’t work together. Either people can lose fat weight, and usually some muscle weight at the same time, or they can gain muscle weight. Trying to do both may be possible for some people, but it could take strict attention to diet and exercise goals at the same time.

Strength training helps build muscle.
Strength training helps build muscle.

A few things will be needed to attempt to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously. These include eating a balanced diet that is higher in protein. This doesn’t mean that carbohydrates and especially dietary fiber sources from complex carbs should be eliminated, but it does mean eating at least 30% protein from the day’s food intake. Some nutritionists suggest a balance of 30% fat, 30% protein and 40% carbs that are mostly complex.

A person can increase muscle mass by eating a proper diet and working the muscles.
A person can increase muscle mass by eating a proper diet and working the muscles.

Lowering calories too drastically tends to take off muscle, so calorie intake should be appropriate to present weight. Exercise is important too — people may want to combine cardiovascular exercise with muscle building exercises like strength training. Some forms of exercise combine both, but often what is suggested is alternating days of strength training and cardiovascular training.

Chances are, even with diet and an alternating exercise program, most people will not lose fat and gain muscle. Yet in losing fat, muscles, especially developed lean muscles, may become slightly more prominent. The less fat on the body, the more muscles show. If muscle deterioration seems very evident and people would like to focus on building muscles instead, they might want to remain on a diet to lose fat, but skip cardiovascular workouts, focusing only on muscle building exercises. There is conflicting evidence about the overall health benefits of this strategy, since cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, where resistance exercises may not have this benefit.

Some people approach the goal to lose fat and gain muscle in an opposite direction. Muscle accumulation is said to help with burning calories. Instead of losing weight, people work on exercises that help build muscle, as these may ultimate help in eliminating excess fat. There are muscle bound people with high amounts of body fat that clearly prove this doesn’t always work.

Perhaps the best advice is to find a good nutritionist or physical trainer that can help design a program best suited for body composition desires. The program can also be checked for its efficiency with body composition testing. Testing can really say whether muscle mass is increasing, while fat levels are decreasing. Again, not all people find these goals easy to obtain simultaneously, and it may take adjustments to workouts or switching back and forth between strength and cardiovascular training to gradually lose fat and gain muscle.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - I do think it depends on what a person means when they say they want to gain muscle. If they are losing weight through diet alone they will certainly lose muscle mass. But a combination of diet and a variety of exercises should help to build muscle in anyone who is interested in losing fat and increasing fitness.

In fact, this is why exercise should always be integrated into a weight-loss attempt. Losing too much muscle can affect body systems like the heart.


@browncoat - I would argue that swimming can be a method of achieving both at the same time, if that's particularly important to someone. Being in water helps to strengthen your muscles, since they are having to work harder, but most water-based exercise is still considered to be cardio-based.

I don't think you'll gain as much muscle mass as you would if you were concentrating solely on that goal, but I guess that's true of most workouts.


You might not be able to find the perfect single exercise that balances gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time, but that doesn't mean you can't be working towards both in general.

Gaining muscle is generally a long term effort that requires fairly strenuous strength exercise and an increased intake of protein. Losing fat requires expending calories (usually through cardio-based exercise) and taking in fewer calories through diet than you use.

You will gain muscle more efficiently if you are fit, which can only really be achieved through the same kind of exercise that causes you to lose fat. And you will burn more calories in general if you have more muscle mass, since muscles need more calories to work.

So the two goals work well together, even if they can't really be achieved with the same workout.

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