A big, lean physique is the holy grail of gym training. But it doesn’t come easy. Getting that kind of body means doing two opposing things at the same time. We’re here to teach how to build muscle and lose fat.
You gotta build muscle and strip away fat, which sounds like an impossible task. But plenty of guys do it. And you can, too.
Ready to find out how?
You’ve been training for long enough now to know the basics. Building muscle means extra calories, plenty of protein, and heavy lifting.
Getting shredded means sticking to a calorie deficit diet without losing your mind. So how the hell can the two goals co-exist?
How can you eat enough, but also be in a deficit? How can you protect muscle, and tick the cardio box?
It sounds impossible. But fitness models, physique athletes, and competitive bodybuilders achieve it all the time.
Learn from the best and discover how to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously.
Is It Difficult?
Want to know why so many guys fail?
Because it’s easier to pick one goal. That’s why most guys find it easy to pack on muscle when they’re not worrying about body fat.
And it’s why most people can slim down – but not many will actually look good.
When you diet to get shredded, you risk losing muscle. When you eat to pack on muscle, it’s all too easy to gain fat.
Achieving that holy grail – big and full, but sliced and diced – means getting super smart with your training and nutrition.
Here’s how to build muscle and lose fat without risking your health or sanity.
How To Build Muscle & Lose Fat
Your physique goal means nailing a precise and delicate calorie intake. Your body needs excess calories to build muscle, but it needs a calorie deficit to eat into fat.
OK, here’s how to build muscle and lose fat simutaneously.
You need to stay in a very small calorie deficit, with enough protein (and amino acids) to support muscle gain.
When we say a small calorie deficit, we mean so small your body barely registers it. Aim for no more than 10% of your maintenance intake.
Let’s say you can eat 2500 calories to maintain your weight. So right now, you want to eat 2250 to lose fat and gain muscle.
This small deficit will chip away at stored body fat, but won’t eat into precious muscle mass. You shouldn’t feel too hungry either. We’re playing the long game here!
It can really help to have some solid tips/rules to live by when learning how to build muscle and lose fat at the same time.
#1 Get Enough Sleep
Really? An article about how to eat, train, and supplement to get shredded and the first thing we recommend is sleeping?
YES!! Sleep is the most important thing you can do for your body, whether you’re asking it to get big or get lean. Lack of sufficient sleep may compromise the efficacy of whatever calorie deficit you’re on (NCBI, 2011).
Sleep is free, doesn’t need any special equipment, and it’s available to us all.
We’re not saying everyone can sleep 9 hours a night. Kids, shift work, and stress will put pay to that.
Sleep more. Sleep better. Sleep as much as you can. Your body will repay you.
Sleep is essential for muscle growth along with loosing weight. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will not reap the benefits from your diet or your training routine.
You’ll digest nutrients better, have fewer cravings, feel more motivated for training, and have plenty of energy to get it all done.
The goal is to sleep between 7-9 hours a night, have your bedroom dark and cool, turn off electronics, and don’t take your phone into the bedroom.
#2 Give Yourself Enough Time
Getting shredded without muscle gain doesn’t take long. And if you want to do a dirty bulk, you’ll pack on size fast.
But, striking the balance between both? That takes a smarter approach. You can’t just smash in the calories, or create a harsh deficit. You need a proper plan and a lot of patience.
Getting that big, muscled, lean look takes time. So make sure you give yourself as long as it’ll take.
If you have an end-date in mind, work back from that date and start with plenty of time.
The key take away is don’t rush the physique transformation process, give yourself plenty of time (and add in a couple weeks buffer zone).
#3 Eat Lean Protein
Protein is protein… until it’s not. What do we mean?
All protein has 4 calories per gram of the macronutrient. That’s just math. But when your physique goals get super-specific, you need to dial in your nutrition.
You want to build muscle and get leaner, right? Both those goals need protein.
Muscle gain needs protein intake for the amino acids. And getting lean needs protein for the satiating effects of the macronutrient. It’s your job to choose the best types of protein to support your goal.
You need to eat more lean, leucine-rich protein like fish, lean poultry, and a quality whey or isolate protein powder.
#4 Don’t Skimp On Healthy Fats
Eat fat to get lean? Sounds crazy, but it works. You just gotta get the balance right.
Healthy fats – especially the omega 3 fatty acids in foods like oily fish, flax, and walnuts – support your body, hormones, and brain (WebMD, 2017).
These important fats help your body stay healthy, energized, and strong so you retain muscle and can let go of body fat.
If you skimp on omega 3 fats and you’ll feel sluggish, recovery will take a hit, and your immune system could suffer.
Take the recommended serving of a quality fish oil or other omega 3 supplements every day, all year round (factor the fats into your macros if you track).
#5 Stay Hydrated
Water can’t actually help you build muscle or get lean, but it’s a crucial part of your physique transformation plan.
When you don’t drink enough water, your electrolytes can be out of whack, leading to poor gym performance and even worse recovery.
Thirst can also be mistaken for hunger. If you struggle with snacking, drinking more water can fix it (WebMD, 2009).
Water supports digestion, brain function, and even helps you feel less tired.
You need todrink at least 2 liters of water per day, more if you are big, active, or sweat lots when you train.
#6 Lift Hard, Then Recover
The trickiest part of this lean-gain game is hanging on to muscle while you diet for fat loss.
It takes a two-pronged approach: food, and workouts.
The food part of the puzzle means enough protein, spread across your day, with a good balance of the essential amino acids.
For training, you’ve gotta hit the weights hard but recover hard too. Nix the volume, and focus on load. This means lower rep ranges (5-8 or 8-10) and heavier weights. Get in, do what needs to be done, then get out of there and recover.
Get rid of all the unnecessary fluff work in your workouts, lift hard and heavy to keep muscle tissue on your frame.
#7 Avoid Injuries
Well, due right! Nobody sets out to get injured. But plenty of guys train like they don’t know the risks.
Truth is, if you get injured part way through this physique journey, you won’t reach the finish line.
You’ll either go off the rails and wind up a bulky mess, or you’ll see the diet through to the end and look scrawny. So just don’t get injured.
Lift with proper technique, choose exercises that work for your body, and stay on top of your soft tissue maintenance work.
You can keep the injury wolf from the door by lifting safely, stretching, and getting regular massages if possible.
#8 Retain Muscle Tissue
This process isn’t just about building lean muscle. It’s also about hanging on to the muscle you’ve already got.
In fact, retaining muscle is easier than gaining it. It’s less effort, it’s cheaper, and it’s less metabolically demanding.
Don’t neglect your existing muscle mass. Nail down your nutrition, get enough protein, pay attention to amino acids, and prioritize rest.
Burn body fat, but not if it threatens muscle mass, let diet take care of fat burn and use training for muscle gain and muscle protection.
#9 Activity, Not Cardio
Do you have to do cardio to get lean? Not necessarily.
You do have to create a small calorie deficit, and cardio can help. But you could achieve that calorie gap with diligent dieting.
Think activity, not cardio. Activity means walking, daily movement, and NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis).
It’s good for your mind, keeps your heart healthy, and boosts recovery from lifting. But it won’t threaten your recovery.
Only do dedicated cardio if you can promise it won’t impact your hunger levels or recovery, focus on activity and movement on a daily basis instead.
#10 Volume Foods For The Win
Want to know every pro physique athlete’s lean-gains secret? It’s the food volume trick.
It’s simple. Just make sure you get the most bang for your calorie buck.
If you’ve got 400 calories for a meal, don’t waste them on calorie dense foods that barely fill your plate.
Instead, pack your meals out with high volume foods. Think green veggies, salads, soups, protein smoothies, rice cakes, puffed rice cereal, and super lean protein.
Maximize your calories by choosing foods with the most volume.
This approach will make you feel like you’re eating filling, satisfying meals – even if your calories get low.
Be smart with your calories, don’t waste them on calorie dense foods, maximize the volume of snacks and meals with low-cal, high-volume food choices.
#11 Support With Supplements
Diet and training are fundamental to building muscle while losing fat. But, a little helping hand never hurt anyone.
A lot of supplements are a waste of cash, but there are some supplements that can really help.
You should only buy supplements which list all their ingredients clearly on the label.
Don’t waste money on proprietary blends or tiny micro doses.
Amino acids, especially BCAAs and leucine, will support your body as it gains new muscle. A good quality protein (especially a low-fat whey protein isolate) will top up your protein levels with almost zero carbs or fat.
Creatine is a must for powerful training performances.
Don’t go down the route of dangerous or illegal banned substances such as steroids to reach your goal. You can’t be sure what you’re taking, and there are multiple dangerous side effects.
Choose solid, reliable supplements designed to boost muscle gain and support your fat loss diet.
After reading this article, you should know how to build muscle and lose fat at the same time.
In order for your body to build muscle and lose weight, you need to enough sleep, stay in a calorie deficit, drink plenty of water, eat lean protein, avoid injuries, and retain the muscle you currently have.
Implement the changes needed, work hard, stick to the plan and you will see results in the next few weeks.
So long as you’re committed, those physique goals are yours for the taking!
After changing his best friend’s life by helping him lose over 70lbs, dropping him down to an amazing 7% body fat, Terry was inspired to be a full-time internet trainer knowing he could do the same for many more. In 2010, Terry published his own diet and fitness e-book that can be purchased on this website. Let Terry help you change your body for the better!
Latest posts by Terry Asher (see all)