Let’s keep it real. Reducing body fat and building muscle at the same time can be a tricky feat. Generally, in an effort to reduce body fat, calories tend to drop, macros favor higher fat and protein, and over time energy levels dissipate. Building muscle is usually the opposite; body fat increases slightly as calories increase, carbohydrates go up, and energy levels are better. Trimming fat off while maintaining your hard earned muscle can be tricky unless you balance everything carefully.
Typically, people go about burning fat with the same ideas in mind:
- Reduce calories or change macros
- Reduce carbs and replace with protein or fat
- Do extra, extra amounts of cardio
- Lift lighter and increase repetitions – but usually this happens away as a decrease in energy levels also decreases strength
These protocols definitely have their place and can have some benefits. But it can be a little extreme to put your body through all that at once. Matter of fact, doing any of these in excess can have the reverse affects, like weight gain, stagnant fat loss, and loss of energy.
So let’s get to the best approaches to keeping muscle, while successfully shedding fat to uncover a beautiful physique. These techniques apply to both men and women.
Always Eat Until Your Full.
Eat evenly, and frequently throughout the day. To maintain your muscle, you need to fee it in a timely fashion. Space your meals roughly 3 hours apart so you don’t get hungry. Your meals should consist of a protein, complex carb and fat, and the macro nutrient ratios will depend on your body type and the amount of fat you’re trying to burn. In addition to eating enough, be sure to make protein a priority in your efforts to burn fat and keep muscle. Protein can come from having a couple extra protein shakes and drinking BCAA’s before, during, and after your workout. Keep in mind that not eating enough can cause you to go into a catabolic state, where your body turns on it’s muscles for fuel. Limiting calories can also prevent your body to burn off stored body fat. Make sure you keep your muscles strong and happy with a constant supply of energy!
Get Enough Carbs In.
It makes sense to assume that you must eliminate carbs to burn fat, but the opposite is true. That’s right, you want to eat the right amount of carbs to spare your muscles and burn fat. Suppressing carbs will cause the body’s metabolism to drop and increase insulin sensitivity, which both increase fat storage. So the key with carb intake is to eat enough to preserve your metabolism and muscle, but low enough to burn fat off. To establish the right amount of carbs for your body, you’ll have to start at a specific number of carbs and see how you feel for a day or two. Be aware of your energy levels, mental focus, and strength at the gym. If you feel good enough, stay at this level. Depending on how much fat you have to lose, or how much muscle you’re trying to gain, you can try to cycle your carb intake in a couple ways. For those with higher fat to burn, keep carbs low but have 2 higher carb days throughout the week. Pay attention to how you are feeling on your low carb days so you you don’t go too low, so that your metabolism still stays high enough to utilize the carbs on the high carb days. For those who have less body fat to burn, try two days of low carbs followed by one day of high carbs. The amount of carbs you’ll need for the high and low days will depend on your body but 50-100 grams is a good place to start. The same numbers can be used as the increase on your high carb days.
Eat The Right Carbs For Your Goal.
The types of carbs you eat play a big role in your insulin, blood sugar, energy levels, and fat storage. Insulin tells your cells to make more room to store the sugar you just ate. It also halts the body from releasing stored sugar into the blood stream for usable energy. But if your goal is to burn off extra fat, you’ll want to keep insulin on the ‘down low’ most of the time so that your body can start releasing energy from its cells, and ultimately burn more body fat. Keeping low insulin levels will also encourage higher HGH (growth hormone) for you to build muscle and keep lean body mass.
Foods that are high in sugar like sweet fruits, candy, and refined carbs will increase insulin and prevent the body from burning stored fat. The best time to eat sweet fruits and higher glycemic carbs are right after a workout, when your glycogen stores are low and your muscles need to repair. Insulin has a specific purpose; to keep blood sugar levels steady and shuttle nutrients to the cells. It’s important to maximize its function by taking advantage of it at the RIGHT time. The rest of the time, filling up on greens and other non starchy carbs will keep you full, energy levels stable, and insulin low.