How To Build Muscle and Burn Fat Simultaneously

Alyssa Atkinson

Plus mistakes to avoid that could ruin your progress.

Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash

If I told you that getting fit was simple, would you believe me? Probably not. The truth is, getting fit is simple if you’re strategic, it just isn’t easy. It requires discipline, knowledge, and opportunity.

Once you develop a healthy, balanced diet, there are really only two ways to get fitter. You can either build muscle or burn fat, or do them both at the same time.

When I was in college, I reached a plateau in the weight room. I came into college with little experience, gradually built muscle and strength, and then remained at that level for about a year or two, unable to make any noticeable gains.

By my senior year, I was running 60 — 70 miles a week (I was a cross-country and track runner), and with all that cardio, it became difficult to build more muscle.

However, now that I don’t compete in college athletics, I live a more balanced lifestyle which includes around 30 minutes of running each day and a weight lifting session two to three times per week.

With the following science backed strategies, I have been able to build muscle gradually over the past few months. Apply the following tips and avoid the mistakes I’m about to share, and you will be able to build muscle and burn fat efficiently at the same time.

First, eat more of this.

If you want to build muscle and burn fat, you have to get into the habit of eating enough protein. What does “enough” mean? Well, Sports Medicine recommends:

“consuming between 2.3 to 3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of your bodyweight (1.09 to 1.41 grams of protein per pound of your bodyweight). In addition, this protein intake should be spaced out evenly throughout the day.”

Now, this may seem like a significant amount. However, even as a vegan, I get plenty of protein each and every day through tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, etc. Find the sources of protein you enjoy, and make them a key part of your healthy, balanced diet.

Next, lift weights this often.

In order to gain strength and muscle mass, you have to lift consistently every single week. Much like anything else in life, the more you consistent you are, the better the results. And, there is actually a minimum you should be lifting to see muscle maintenance or growth that was found in a Harvard study.

The 2015 Harvard School of Public Health study of 10,500 adults found:

“Those who performed strength training gained less abdominal fat (while building more muscle) over a period of 12 years compared to those who spent the same amount of time dedicated to cardio.”

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t do cardio exercise. I go for a run daily, because it makes me feel good, and there are many mental and physical benefits to be gained from it.

However, if you want to get fitter you shouldn’t neglect weight lifting completely. Registered dietitian Jim White states:

“We need to include at least two days of weight training a week to maintain existing muscle mass and three or more times a week to build muscle.”

This goes to show that a consistent weight lifting regimen is key to maintaining or building fitness, so it shouldn’t be neglected. If you lift weights once per month, you probably aren't going to see the results you seek. However, if you get on a consistent schedule, that will make all the difference.

Finally, avoid the following mistakes.

First off, if you want to achieve fitness results that last, you can’t drastically reduce your calories. This can actually lead to muscle loss. You need to be strategic about building muscle mass, and that means eating enough to fuel all that muscle growth and repair. This is a common mistake many people make that you'll want to avoid for optimal results.

Atlanta-based board-certified sports dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist Marie Spano states:

“When you consume fewer calories than you burn every day — a prerequisite for losing weight — you tell your body to put your muscle health on the back burner. Lower calorie diets decrease the intracellular signaling necessary for your body to synthesize new muscle proteins”

This is why you will often hear that you need to eat more when you lift weights. If your goal is to build muscle, a caloric surplus will help with muscle growth and repair, whereas a caloric deficit will only prevent your body from reaping the benefits of all the hard work you put in at the gym.

Second, you shouldn’t have a goal of losing weight as quickly as possible. This is because severe drops in weight tend to result from not only fat loss, but also muscle loss, which will have negative impacts on your overall fitness.

Shockingly, one study showed:

“When people followed an extremely low-calorie diet, 18 percent of their weight lost was from muscle. When people stuck to a more moderate approach, that percentage dropped to 7.7.”

Therefore, by taking the slow and steady approach, and aiming to lose no more than the recommended one to two pounds per week, not only will your diet and fitness routine be more sustainable, but you will also retain a lot more of your muscular strength in the process.

Final Thoughts

Even if your diet is healthy, balanced, and sustainable, you can still get fitter through exercise in two key ways — build muscle and burn fat.

Although I am happy with my overall health and fitness, I do have a goal of getting stronger every single month. I have seen slow, incremental improvements in recent months by exercising regularly, performing both fat burning and muscle building exercises, and eating plenty to replenish my muscles.

If you also have a goal of getting fitter through exercise, you don’t need to drastically cut out calories to do so. Take a slow and steady approach, focus on gaining strength, fuel your body with nourishing foods, and you will ultimately achieve the results you seek.

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Ohio U XC/Track alum. I love to run. I blog about food, health, fitness, lifestyle, etc. Personal Blog - | Electrical and Computer Engineering Grad.

Raleigh, NC

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