I have just spent the past hour jumping around to some of my favorite fitness blogs. A few guys touch on the idea of gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time. A common practice in some circles is to “bulk up and cut down”. I’m not a fan of that approach, because it just doesn’t make sense to me to put fat on your body on purpose. What I want to do in this post is point out a few fitness experts who have similar beliefs. I also want to hear feedback from other people who have successfully or unsuccessfully gained muscle while getting lean.
[One of my favorite activities is dock diving in the summer and then laying in the sun to dry off. Honestly, if I crafted a “perfect day”, this activity would be included…even better in the Caribbean where this picture was taken (not by me). Look at the color of that water…Wow!]
Gaining Muscle While Losing Body Fat. I Used to Be a Skeptic.
In the past I was brainwashed to believe that muscle gains required an excess of calories. Over the past 2-3 years I have changed my thinking completely. At most, I would recommend a really slight calorie excess for a short period of maybe 2 months. This goes against long-held beliefs as far as gaining muscle is concerned. Luckily, I have been exposed to some brilliant minds who are on the cutting edge in thinking when it comes to muscle gain, fat loss, etc. Let’s examine some posts and thoughts by some of these guys.
* Martin Berkhan – of “Lean Gains”
Martin Berkhan is a freak show when it comes to staying lean…but I mean that in a good way. Like me and quite a few others, he likes to use intermittent fasting as a way of staying lean year round. Martin believes that there should be minimal fat gain when adding muscle. The title of his blog, Lean Gains, says it all…maximizing muscle gain while minimizing fat gain. Here are some quotes from his site:
…cycling between overfeeding (training days) and slight underfeeding (rest days) is another excellent strategy to remain lean regardless of your goal. The benefits are not only physiological, but also behavioral.
My comments: I have done this in the past with success. I have noticed these days that I just need to do a maintenance calorie day mix with an underfeeding day 1-2 times per week (basically what Eat Stop Eat teaches). I could certainly see the benefit of adding in some slight overfeeding especially if someone was far from their genetic potential in adding muscle.
…I’ve never been a fan of the bulk and cut approach. An approach often taken to the extreme by some of my peers, with the net result being that they only look decent during the summer months.
My comments: This is something that I have addressed a lot on this site. Why look good for just 2-3 months a year? Plus it is just healthier to avoid having a lot of extra fat on your body in the first place. One more thing I would add is this: People who use the “bulk and cut” approach more often than not underestimate how much fat they have to lose. This usually means they don’t get lean until summer is almost over. There are others, who always seem to be stuck in “bulking mode” and never get lean.
A Video Intermission…
[My girlfriend just showed me a great clip from Pearl Jam’s 2000 tour. I won’t spoil it for you. It is one of the coolest and inspirational things I have seen done at a concert. I just had to share it.]
* Brad Pilon & John Barban – “Eat Stop Eat” & “Adonis Effect”
Over the past couple of years I have had both of these guys do guest posts…I did a collaborative ebook on supplements with them…they have made a few videos for this blog, etc. These two are WAY ahead of the curve when it comes to health and fitness. Many of their ideas are probably too far “out there” for people to take in right away. Here is a link to a video that John Barban made for this blog: Nutrition Plays A Small Role in Building Muscle Mass – Controversial Video. I agree with him that muscle gain is largely an issue of training and not so much about diet (at least not as big of a part of diet as many would have you believe).
Here’s that video John Barban made for this site…
[There is a lot of wisdom in this video. If you have never watched it, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes and listen to what he is saying. Good info!]
So…I won’t quote Brad or John in this post, but I wanted to link to a video they made to prove a point. Brad Pilon wanted to prove a point about how supplement companies and fitness magazines can mislead us. He shows how you can gain 8 pounds of lean mass in one workout. I enjoyed the video and the webinar was outstanding. Anyway…both Brad on John are big on the idea of gaining muscle while losing body fat.
* Tom Venuto – of “Burn the Fat Blog”
Tom Venuto isn’t someone I quote often, but he writes well thought-out posts over on his blog. He also has one of the best selling fitness ebooks of all-time (I think it was one of the first ebooks I ever purchased). Anyway…his latest post is aimed directly at the question of…how to gain muscle and burn fat at the same time. I suggest that you take the time to read the post in detail, but here are the parts that really jumped out at me.
…what if most days of the week you were in a deficit for the entire day, and on some days you were in a surplus? If so, then isn’t it possible that over the course of the week, you’d have a small net gain of muscle and loss of body fat a a result of the caloric fluctuation?
My comments: Tom has a slightly different viewpoint on muscle gain than John Barban, but suggests days of calorie deficit mixed with days of surplus. Eat Stop Eat preaches a related concept and this is close to what Martin Berkhan does as well. Tom also suggests timing your meals around your workouts in this quote…
…it’s entirely possible that you might pass through periods of “within-day” surplus where you were in a highly anabolic state (for example, you eat the biggest, highest carb meal of the day after your workout), and you were in a deficit the rest of the day.
Isn’t it possible that you could gain a small amount of muscle during those anabolic hours, while losing fat the rest of the day? Granted it might only be grams or ounces – but what if you kept that up for a week? A month? Three months?
My comments: This is a strategy that I have seen people use with success. Tom also points out the 4 “X Factors” that make it possible for some people to gain muscle and fat at the same time without having rely on this nutrition strategy. His article explains the factors that need to be in place for this to happen.
So No Need to Add Fat When Gaining Muscle
All 3 of these guys have slightly different beliefs and approaches, but the main thing is that they help people gain muscle without gaining body fat. In my opinion in makes sense to learn from those who will teach you to get the results you want. I am constantly in learning mode and enjoy reading from sharp minds who are pushing the envelope.
Note: So what has your experience been with gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously? Have you ever tried the “bulk up and cut down approach”? Would love to hear about some of your experiences in the comment section!
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