You may workout and eat right for many reasons.
You want to live longer. You want to feel better. You want to be able to do tasks of daily living with grace and ease.
But lettuce be 100% cereal: you want to look awesome.
Don’t be ashamed. I love looking awesome. I’m just not going to the gym just to play tiddlywinks, you know?
I mean, who doesn’t train for big guns and shredded abs? Even the “functional” bros and bro-ettes want to look good.
So when you really boil it down this means two things: building up muscle and torching body fat (which, btw, are two very healthy things so they help with the above goals as well).
So we’re talkin’ body composition, baby!
And what is body composition?
Body composition is basically the amount of lean mass and the amount of body fat mass in (on?) your body.
Note: lean mass is technically water, minerals, and protein. But for our purposes we’re really just concerned about the protein portion (muscle) to keep it simple.
So here’s your formula:
Build a decent amount of muscle + lose a certain amount of body fat = BEAST MODE
Yes, it’s very simple.
But don’t let that fool you, it’s no walk in the park.
Building muscle requires dedication, discipline, planning, prep, and proper mindset. Losing fat requires the same.
- Eating less calorie-dense foods and eating more nutrient-dense foods.
- Eating more protein and more quality protein.
- Getting enough sleep (7-9 hours of deep sleep).
- Minimizing stress as much as possible.
- Training 3+ times a week (hardcore training, not just being in a gym and socializing).
So you must be willing to sacrifice some things to get the body of your dreams.
No one said it was easy.
Can I lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?
For almost everyone: no. Not at the exact same time.
You need to be in an anabolic (building up) state to build muscle.
You need to be in a catabolic (breaking down) state to lose fat.
These processes do not compliment each other at all. You’ll have to do one at a time.
This means you’ll need to have a period of calorie surplus followed by a period of calorie deficit (or vice versa depending on your starting point).
This does not mean you need to get fat to gain muscle, however. A small calorie surplus will suffice for gaining muscle. You can stay relatively lean while gaining muscle.
Note: if you encounter someone who believes they’ve achieved gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time, they were most likely slipping in and out of a surplus and deficit unwittingly over time. I’ve done this myself. Your body does a good job of self-regulating based on activity.
What body fat % should I aim for?
That depends on your body type, genetics, and where you feel good.
A good guideline for men is 5-13%, and for women 15-23%. At the given percentages you’ll be able to feel good, and stay healthy and lean.
What types of body composition testing are available?
Many different types, some more accurate than others.
DEXA seems to be the most accurate, but most expensive. The best and cheapest place to check for this measurement is universities.
Gyms may have an Omron device like this one:
These aren’t the most accurate, but will give you an idea.
Skinfold measuring can also be used. Again, not the most accurate but will give you an idea.
What about using just scale weight?
Scale weight by itself is almost useless for our purposes. Scale weight needs to be used in conjunction with body fat measurements for you to gain any real clarity.
The scale can’t account for water loss or gain, meaning that may think you’ve gained muscle or lost fat, but you’ve just gained or lost water.
Also, when you’re gaining muscle and losing fat, muscle weight is simply replacing the fat weight. So scale weight may not budge. This may alarm some and cause them to cut down even harder when they were making good progress.
The point is: you always want a more clearer (sic) picture.
How long does it take to get muscular and lean?
That depends where you’re coming from. Months to years, usually.
You’ll only be able to build a certain amount of muscle and lose a certain amount of fat a month, so you’ll be at the mercy of your own biology.
I wouldn’t worry about it and respect the process. You’ll get there if you just keep working at it.
I just want to lose fat, why should I worry about muscle?
Whoa, whoa, whoa! What you got against muscle!?
You should be concerned about muscle because it has SO many important functions, including:
- You couldn’t move without muscle. If you can’t move, you can’t really live life to it’s fullest extent, amiright?
- Muscle, strength, and power go hand-in-hand-in-hand, and at some point you’ll need to use strength and power to get out of a sketchy situation. Like running from a pack of wild dogs.
- Back to looks: muscle gives your body shape. If you lose a lot of fat and have no muscle, you’ll just look like a skeleton.
- Muscle burns calories, allowing you to eat more, and stay more sane when losing fat.
And there are hundreds of other reasons… but one thing’s for certain: mind your muscle.
Get your body fat measured.
If you’re above say, 13-15% body fat, lose fat. Burn more calories than you eat. Train hard to minimize muscle loss. Get some sleep. Find ways to de-stress.
If you’re under 13-15% body fat, gain some muscle. Eat more calories than you burn (a little more!). Train hard to maximize muscle growth. Get some sleep. Find ways to de-stress.