How to Gain Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time?

March 5, 2010

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.

Dock Jumping in the Caribbean

[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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Thanks for reading all these years!


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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Viriatus March 20, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Hi Rusty,
I am 75kg and 5’11”. I just got back into weight training after 8 mths off with a shoulder injury from rockclimbing.
My shoulders have shrunk in size as expected and in width during the recouperation. I have always been somewhat narrow across the shoulders. After reading the great article on “how to develop a square and even chest” in which i learnt so many tips that i had never read in other sites, like avoiding flat bench till the upper chest developed, i was wondering if you could post a similar article with tips and secrets on how to best workout to develop broad shoulders.
At present i do supersets of side lateral raises with bent over lateral raises and supersets of dumbell presses with upright rows. I stopped doing shrugs as it would make my shoulders look even narrower.
Would love others input!

Phoenix March 23, 2010 at 7:36 pm

I started off trying to gain muscle while staying lean. I grew stronger, but I plateaued quickly. I felt exhausted after every single workout, and psychologically, I felt like gaining mass was nearly impossible.

After trying that for a few years, I totally removed all diet restrictions while lifting except for my protein requirement, and now I’m seeing strength gains with very little effort. I blew past my old plateau without even breaking a sweat.

Even though I’ve gained a little fat, I still look better due to all the muscle underneath. I figure I can drop it all in a month.

So maybe gaining strength without overeating works for some; I still think it’s not worth the effort. It’s much easier to overeat then trim the extra fat later on – psychologically and physically.

Jackson March 26, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Thank you! I love this article, I agree it…it does not make since to put on fat to gain muscle.

Bobby April 6, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Hi Rusty

Great e books. This week ive started to wake up, have a cup of tea in the morning and hit the gym followed with HIIT everytime. I want to put on mass and get toned, could you recommend a diet for the rest of the day, e.g. how many protein shakes or meals??

Also I got the eat stop Eat book, just wondering if you think i should fast once a week, even if i want to put on the size aswell?

Jan Michael April 18, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Hi Rusty

Martin Berkhan is a freak show ! Man he’s like so ripped with the right amount of dense muscle. Saw his picture and i was like WOW I wanna have a body dense and strong like that someday ! How does he workout ? 5x5s just like what Pavel taught ?

Thanks ! More power Rusty !

Jesse Jackson April 23, 2010 at 11:13 pm

The reason why I purchased the Dr Max Power Anabolic Stack was because I was too lazy to motivate myself to go back to the gym. I thought to myself, if I spend $60, I can’t waste it by not going.

Anyways, I was on the stack for a full 15 days. I was able to do much more in the gym such as 5 set exercises instead of the normal 3 set exercises. I was able to lift much more too. There was also a shift in weight going from 155 to 162 over the 15 day period.

im on my third cycle fof the stack now over the last 6 months. recommended.

Paul Nicolson April 26, 2010 at 3:11 am

I have trained for over 20 years and find the myths quite a laugh.

Ditch the cardio stuff and get straight into the weights.

Use weights as your warm up, small weight with lots of reps.
Then go into some bigger weights with fewer reps.

Building muscle will shed the fat and burn up more calories than cardio alone.

Check out for some good guides to getting fit the cheap way.

Anthony May 21, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Hey what about the “G-Flux” concept that Dr. John Berardi is teaching over at and T-Nation?

Basically he says someone who is sedentary and taking in 2000 calories daily (and burning 2000 calories daily) will have less muscle and more body fat than someone who is exercising 5-7 hours per week and has an energy intake of 3000 calories daily (and also burning 3000 calories daily).

Both have a neutral energy intake/outflow, but one has more muscle and less bodyfat!

Jose Lopez August 8, 2010 at 8:59 am

I think gaining lean mass while loosing fat is a total BS, to loose fat you need to eat less calories than you burn, to gain lean mass you need to eat more calories than your maintenance level. please correct me if I wrong, Iam also interested in your new program. one more question what do yuo think about the Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle program?

Thank you.

Paul Nicolson August 19, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I agree using weights, is a great way to burn fat. The cost of kitting your self out with some good commercial fitness and gym equipment can be achieved with very little outlay.

I have used for several purchases and they offer olympic weights and dumbells at knock down prices.

Get off the rowing machines and cross trainers and get straight into pumping iron, shed the pounds and loose the weight.

Steven August 24, 2010 at 10:36 pm

There’s a very simple concept I normally consider when trying to get rid of fat: I must burn much more calories then I consume in order to lose fat. That is why I am sure that there is no good diet without physical exercises.

Tony - Rochester Exercise Equipment November 4, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Great post. I appreciate you clearing the air about this common misconception. It’s always bothered me that people think they need to eat more in order to gain muscle. It seems ironic since this usually just leads to more fat, which is obviously the opposite result! I would urge anyone interested in bulking up to visit the gym and consult a personal trainer – they will help you come up with an excercise routine that is right for you.

Gary - Simple Exercises November 18, 2010 at 7:49 am

Going on a starvation type diet and trying to improve muscle mass will surely fail; the muscle will be metabolised as the body seeks more energy. Losing a small amount of fat and adding muscle at the same time should be no problem.

Ajit-keep fit at home November 23, 2010 at 6:56 am

nice article! this article probably help all those who are not able to get results! I am sure that this strategy is going to clear misconceptions. perfect combination of weight loss and muscle-building routines.

Twilight Zone Episode Guide December 4, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Build muscle and lose fat simultaneously – breaks no biological laws!

Suresh January 10, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Interesting article. I think losing a small amount of fat while adding a bit of muscle is possible especially when someone is quite far from his/her genetic potential. It get tougher the closer we get to our genetic potential.

Cecil Kelly August 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm

It makes sense not to combine both goals because your body will either lose weight, gain muscle, or will retain its current condition. Setting your goal means you’ll do muscle building for a week and when that period is over, you switch over to cardio workout also for a week. Focusing on one goal at a time ensure you are getting its full benefit by doing workouts accordingly.

Denise December 10, 2011 at 9:20 am

I have a question! I’m on a diet that is basically high protein, low carb, and relatively low fat. I want to lose a lot of weight–in the neighborhood of about 75 pounds (I need to lose about 50 to not be overweight). I have a bodyfat scale that shows that I have about 51 pounds of muscle. I noticed that I lost about 6 pounds of muscle from last week, despite doing everything suggested to prevent such loss. I know those scales aren’t the most accurate, but assuming they’re somewhere in the ballpark, I’m wondering if I simply have much more muscle than I need and therefore losing some is going to be inevitable.

How many pounds of muscle do fit women generally have? Thanks!

Power Pump XL June 8, 2013 at 7:36 am

And that’s the only reason we’re in the gym, right. Just make sure that
whatever routine you decide on that you do it on a regular basis so you can achieve
the best results. Having a six-pack or eight-pack abdomen
is a dream for thousands of people, which is further fortified by the screen
shots of their favorite actors who have the perfect physique
with muscular arms and chest.

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