How to gain muscle and lose fat successfully
How to gain muscle and lose fat successfully
Gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously is the holy grail of most gym goers. Doing both together is known in the industry as reconfiguration.
Reconfiguring is not impossible, but it is very difficult. This is why the vast majority of people who try to do this fail. In fact, most people who chase muscle gain and fat loss often end up failing to achieve either goal. They don’t lose a significant amount of fat or build a noticeable amount of muscle. They spin their wheels and train hard in the gym but they never look different. This is why I have often warned people not to try to recalculate.
This does not mean that you should completely abandon reconfiguration. Just know that to be successful you will need to meet certain standards, great attention to detail, and have a heroic work ethic.
This shouldn’t be a huge surprise. After all, isn’t everything worth accomplishing in life so difficult?
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difficult vs. impossible
I first saw the following quote in my school’s careers advisor’s desk, “The difficulty we do right away; the impossible takes a little longer.” Whether they are trying to be motivating or making a comment about the impossibility of helping me have a successful career, I’m not entirely sure. Regardless, reconfiguration is often described as impossible. This is wrong and unfortunate. It’s certainly difficult, but not impossible. I know this because I have seen it and many clients have been achieving it.
I’ll take my share of the blame
It may have played a role in promoting the belief that reconfiguration is impossible. Not because I said it was impossible, but because I identified the challenges involved, highlighted the specific circumstances required for this to happen, and expressed the need for a caloric surplus for skinny guys to pack on size (it’s all true). Unfortunately, the black and white world we live in means that we are looking for divorced women. The assumption that something is difficult is often described as impossible.
Good coaches think and adapt
On reflection, I think I might be wrong. Whereas in the past, I would tell you that reconfiguration is only possible under one of 5 conditions:
- As a complete beginner
- After a long break from training
- When you finally start training “right”
- If you train properly, but your diet is poor and you improve greatly
- If you are taking performance enhancing drugs
I now think it is possible outside of these conditions. Instead of these five conditions, I think most people can get the effect of reconfiguration. The magnitude of this effect is determined by where it occurs on a graduated scale of factors.
sliding scale for reconfiguration
Even with this information, I might still tell you that reconfiguring isn’t the right option for you.
After speaking with Chris Barkat, author of a research study on reconstitution, I would like to consider the chances of significant reconstitution among three factors. and this is:
- Training age
- training status
- body fat %
The training age simply describes how long you have been training. Amount of training status How far you have progressed. A good measure of training status is how strong you are. This will largely indicate how effective your training is (it can of course be influenced by genetic potential). Body fat percentage is self-explanatory. Based on these three factors, you can determine how likely a reconfiguration is for you.
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A good candidate for retraining has a low training life, low condition and high body fat. If that describes you, you have the potential to achieve an exciting remodel. On the other hand, if you have a high training age, condition, and are very vulnerable, it is highly unlikely that you will get much compensation.
Another big factor is lifestyle and nutrition. This definitely plays a big role. If you eat like crap and sleep like an insomniac, improving your diet and sleep will increase your chances of getting compensated. The reason I didn’t include these factors as separate factors is because I believe your body fat percentage provides a fairly definitive indicator of both the quality of your diet and your sleep. How many people sleep more than 8 hours a night and eat a diet full of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good fats do you know they are obese? I don’t think there will be much.
In any case, if you evaluate your training age, training status, and body fat honestly, you can assess whether compensation is on the cards for you.
Author’s note: Almost none of us are actually as advanced as we’d like to think. I’d be prepared to say that if you’re a guy with more than 15% body fat, you have some scope for it to be recompensated.
What does science say?
I’ll give you details on how to give yourself the best chance of having a successful recompilation in a moment, but first, let’s take a look at some of the exciting scientific research on recombination. The scientific literature provides compelling evidence that reconstitution effects can be achieved. By anecdotal, I have also seen it with many clients and myself. In fact, Chris Barkat goes so far as to say that this is the norm rather than an aberration in his research career.
Here are some examples:
A study by Alcaraz et al. It was found that participants after a specific training protocol gained 1.5 kg of fat-free mass and lost 1.5% of body fat in 8 weeks. 2 In another study, participants were able to gain 1.4 kg of fat-free mass and lose 2.4 kg of fat in just 6 weeks. Whereas a recent study by Colquhoun et al. It was found that people who trained 6 times a week in their study were able to gain 2.6 kg of lean mass and lose 0.1 kg of body fat. 4
The exciting part about all of these studies is that the participants did not modify their diet. They were all told to stick to their usual eating regimen. If these results are possible without targeted nutritional intervention to improve outcomes, imagine what would be possible if you got your training and diet to work synergistically.
Multiple feeding studies have demonstrated the effects of reconstitution. These studies indicate that changes in body composition are more complex than just calories in versus calories out. Research has shown that different nutritional strategies (eg, high-protein diets, post-exercise nutrition, low-fat diets, etc.) may contribute to body recomposition.
A study by Dr. Bill Campbell provides an excellent example of what can be achieved when diet is considered. In this study, they investigated the difference in protein intake (high 1.14 g pro/lb vs. low .41g pro/lb) on body composition in the personality of female competitors. The high-protein group gained 4.62 pounds (2.1 kg) of lean mass while simultaneously losing 2.42 pounds (1.1 kg) of fat mass, despite eating an average of 423 more calories per day than the low-protein group. Both groups underwent the same training protocol, and this demonstrates the power of nutrition! 5
And it also goes some way to prove that not all calories are created equal! If you eat too little or too much, you will likely lose or gain more weight than you want to, but other factors are important. The next most important factor after calories is the macronutrient and their ratio. This research suggests that you may find that you can eat more total calories to maintain your weight if you increase your protein intake. The added bonus is that if all else is in order, you may be able to build muscle and lose fat at the same time.
One reason for this is that protein is not only the most satiating but also has the highest thermogenic effect when consumed…which means that when you eat protein, digesting it requires more energy than carbohydrates or fats. Therefore, 100 calories from protein tends to take more energy to break down than 100 calories from carbohydrates or fats.
The authors of the reconstitution study offered the following practical applications based on their research:
- Implement a gradual resistance training regimen with a minimum of 3 sessions per week.
- Tracking the rate of progress, attention to performance, and recovery can be important tools to appropriately adjust training over time.
- Consuming 2.6-3.5 g of protein per kg of lean mass may increase the probability or volume of reconstitution.
- Protein supplements (such as whey and casein) can be used as a means to increase daily dietary protein intake as well as as a tool to maximize muscle protein synthesis. This may be even more important after exercise as a way to maximize the effect of reconstitution.
- Prioritizing sleep quality and quantity may be an additional variable that can significantly influence changes in performance, recovery, and body composition.
To maximize your chances of success, I will add 6 key tips that I found vital in achieving reconfiguration:
- Time frame (must be a short term goal)
- Too focused on a specific goal (eg photo shoot, fitness show, vacation, event)
- Evaluation, reassessment and correction of the course
- Control calories tightly
- Embrace the Anabolic Window (Pay attention to pre-workout nutrition)
- Lift and do cardio to achieve maximum reconfiguration results
Tip #1: Time Frame
You can’t just recompensate indefinitely hoping you’ll end up being 20 pounds heavier and smaller than you are now. To achieve effective reassembly, you must focus the laser on the details. Even for the most dedicated bodybuilders, there is a limit to how long you can maintain the discipline to check all the boxes required for a reconfiguration.
Even if you can get into full robot mode and stay on track, it won’t work because the body adapts. You need a strong signal to make it continually adapt. You will also soon discover that an effective recovery depends on you being moderate enough in consuming calories and training volumes to allow for a slow (ish) rate of fat loss. You lose quickly and chances of gaining muscle evaporate. Because the recovery approach is moderate in terms of calorie restriction, it is not an assertive or strong enough stimulus to drive adaptive resistance beyond. There will come a point where you have to either cut back on calories to get less fat or increase them to gain muscle. Hence, I suggest a 6-12 week period for re-comp. In my experience, in most cases 10-12 weeks is the right place.
This is long enough to drop a noticeable amount of fat at a slow enough rate and you can also give yourself a chance to gain some muscle mass. It is also a time frame in which most highly motivated people seem to be able to follow the plan perfectly. To achieve the near impossible, you need a great plan and perfect execution of it. Can some people last longer? Yeah. Do I think it is wise to try? No, I’m going to commit to getting the most out of yourself and your training and diet for 12 weeks and then go from reconfiguring for a while.
Tip #2: Choose a goal that keeps you focused
In the previous point, I highlighted how important focus and motivation are to achieve rehab as an experienced lifter. In fact, I think you need to be hyper-focused. You need to develop a tunnel-like vision with your eyes directed at the prize to get what you want. The best way I’ve found to achieve this with my clients is to associate it with a clearly defined event or outcome. Booking a photoshoot, competing in a fitness competition, dieting for the vacation of a lifetime, or preparing for a major event like a historic wedding or birthday have all proven powerful motivators for my clients.
With this goal on the horizon and additional accountability, it often provides people with another level of commitment, dedication, and leadership. They have their eyes fixed on the prize and do everything in their power to get to it.
This hyper-focused approach is amazing for relatively short-term goals, and can lead to burnout if you try to determine your own path in life. Choose a time when you pay. Make sure you have a strong reason, to be motivated, and a strong desire to see things through because you can’t stand mistakes if you want to achieve a recompilation of noteworthy proportions.
Tip #3: Evaluate, re-evaluate and correct the course
Making a decision based on the results will guide the whole process. The result is clear. Lose fat and gain muscle. How you do this will change based on your starting position and results. If you have lean fat, maintenance eating and training properly is a good option because you want to fill out your arms. You don’t just want to end up skinny. If you’re starting out as a slightly leaner person, you’ll likely have good muscle mass under your body fat. You just need to lose enough fat to reveal it and have the added advantage of gaining a bit more muscle at the end.
Related: Your body type – Ectomorph, Mesomorph or Endomorph?
As the study authors suggested, keep a close eye on your progress and monitor your gym performance. When recompensating, your energy levels should be high enough to improve gym performance. Gym performance is easy enough to keep track of. Tracking your body weight on the scale is also easy and useful data. Depending on the starting point, change (or not change) metrics should target when data regrouping varies. There are two general types of clients that I see great reconstructing effects with:
- men skinny fat
- Men who weigh 10 to 20 pounds over their ideal weight
For lean men, the goal is to keep their weight the same throughout the process while improving performance in the gym. If they train hard, eat enough to keep their weight steady, but eat protein up to about 1.2 grams per pound (2.6 grams per kilogram) of body weight, and managing lifestyle factors like sleep and stress levels have the potential to see excellent results.
For men 10 to 20 pounds overweight, lifestyle factors, hard training, and high protein are still vital. However, you should aim to lose weight. In my experience, the ideal rate of loss in this scenario is 0.25-0.5% of their weight per week. So, for a 200lb guy, it’s 0.5-1lbs per week.
Practically speaking, the leaner you are, the higher the risk of losing muscle. For this reason, I tend to start these guys at the higher end of my target loss rate (0.5%) in the first few weeks. After that, I go back and lower the rate to 0.25% per week. This approach was very effective.
Tip #4: Control calories tightly
Following up on my last point about the rate of weight loss, it is important to understand that you will need to pay close attention to the calories you eat.
You cannot lose weight too quickly or risk losing muscle mass. You need to delay instant gratification to see the scales decline each day and learn to accept slower weight loss to allow you the opportunity to retain and gain muscle.
You also have to stick to the plan every day. As the deadline approaches, each day off the plan has a noticeable impact. With only 12 weeks to play with you, you can’t afford to waste a single day.
To stay on top of things, you’ll likely need to keep track of everything you eat in an app like MyFitnessPal. Doing so means that you know how your body responds to the calories and nutrients you eat. When making adjustments to your diet, it is important to have accurate data to work from. A detailed food diary gives you that data.
If tracking your food intake for 12 weeks seems like a lot of hassle to you, that’s great, but you also have to accept that your chances of achieving a reconstitution may be minimal or no. As I said at the beginning, recalculation is not impossible, but it is very difficult. Achieving the difficult things requires extraordinary levels of effort, consistency, and attention to detail.
Related: BMR Calculator: Calculate Your Basal Metabolic Rate and Calorie Requirement
Tip #5: Embrace the Anabolic Window
Effective reconfiguration is all about attention to detail. Accumulating marginal gains. These small gains can add up to have a profound impact. One example of this is the interest in nutrition in the pre-workout period. Peri means “perimeter,” so what I’m talking about here is really focusing on nutrition before, during, and after exercise.
Reconstructed research indicates that consuming a post-workout carb and protein shake can boost your results. As a general rule, aim for 25-40g of whey protein mixed with 30-50g of carbohydrates (such as maltodextrin) right after your workout.
This post-workout shake won’t do the work for you. It simply takes advantage of the work you did in the gym. If done consistently, it creates the possibility of slightly amplifying the body’s response to training. This can lead to a little more muscle and less fat over time. This is a very nice combo for the relatively free habit of post-workout shake shakes.
Tip #6: Lift and do cardio for maximum reconfiguration results
I’ve seen the best results with clients who lift four days a week and strategically add some cardio.
My favorite training split is an upper/lower split that allows each muscle group to be trained twice a week. This split and repetition of training allows for a balance between training enough but not too much.
The temptation when chasing a highly focused target is to do too much. I understand this temptation. I’ve been a victim in the past. Transforming your body is highly emotional. When emotion takes over logic, it tends to disappear. It’s easy to convince yourself that more training means more motivation to build muscle and burn more calories. However, it does not take into account the width of the big picture.
It’s important to remember that your calories will be relatively low when trying to regain weight. With fewer calories comes less energy and less endurance for the overall training volume. If you do too much, you will suffer negative consequences. These include the risks of muscle loss, overtraining, injury, and driving stress hormones like cortisol so high that muscle gain and fat loss are impaired.
Keep this under control by lifting four times a week after a push/pull split and including some smart cardio. My favorite type of cardio is Low Intensity Steady State (LISS). I don’t mean endurance training. This is not the time to run a marathon! What I mean is a very low level activity that helps burn some calories while relaxing. If done correctly, it will improve recovery and burn calories.
Just getting out of the house for a 30-40 minute walk every day is my favorite recipe for making that happen. Doing this first thing in the morning is my preferred option. It allows you to start your day with a win, get your head in a good place, feel accomplished, and at this time of day your cortisol should be higher. Giving cortisol can help mobilize fat for fuel, making early morning walks more effective for fat loss.
Related Topics: How Much Muscle Can You Really Gain?
Conclusion: slow and steady wins the race
Reconfiguration is possible, but difficult. To determine if it’s a good choice for you, first assess where you fall into your training age, condition, and body fat spectrum. If you’ve analyzed these and think remodeling is up for you, take it slow.
Your approach to reconfiguration should be just as slow and steady as you approach cardio. Attempting to speed up the process will result in your failure. Instead of searching for a quick fix, give yourself 12 weeks of continuous consistency and you can build muscle and lose fat. After this point, the chances of reconfiguration are slim. Once you have been pushed through the highly focused rebuilding phase, I suggest you move on to either the custom muscle gain phase or the fat loss phase.
Remember that you can’t make up forever!
Switching to a calorie surplus and striving to gain muscle is the best option for most people. If you still want to lose more fat after the rebuilding phase is over, I suggest you take a diet break where you eat a little more for a month or so. This will allow your body and mind to recover from the relentless grind of sticking to your rehab plan and refresh you for your next push to get leaner.