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I am not obese, nor overweight but I still have fat accumulated around the waistline(giving me those ugly love handles). Other than that, I don't have much fat on me. I have tried long cardio sessions(cutting out on weights) just to notice that I get uniformly "thinner" and the waist is still protruding. Then, OTOH, stressing on weights to get "big" actually neglects the abdominal region. Is there a way to get "big" (with muscle, of course) and simultaneously get rid of that fat? I mean the kind of diet I'd be on during muscle building - does it necessarily have to inhibit fat loss at the waist? I read a similar question but that is not exactly what I'm talking about, besides being overly technical.

Thanks.

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How do weights neglect the abdominal region? –  Dave Liepmann Oct 20 '11 at 14:09
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Ignoring the details, the question you linked is asking the same thing you are - losing fat and gaining muscle. –  Matt Chan Dec 7 '11 at 14:01

5 Answers 5

Yes it is completely possible.

First, let us be clear. You aren't mainly talking about gaining muscle; Instead you are talking about looking better. Probably having a muscular and defined look. It's important to distinguish that because often the biggest obstacle in achieving the look you want is bodyfat, not muscle mass.

To illustrate the point:

A powerlifter at ~320lbs

enter image description here

The same powerlifter at ~260lbs

enter image description here

Where does he look more muscular and 'bigger'? Clearly in the latter picture.

Another example is Frank Zane who competed at around 185lbs:

enter image description here

So its clear: in order to achieve a 'muscular' look, bodyfat is actually more important than muscle mass. I say this to shift the discussion from that muscle mass is either as important or more than bodyfat. Because with that assertion a 'bulking' diet is more superior because its the fastest way to gain muscle.

Now back to your question.. is it possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?

From my experience -and excuse the small bit of self promotion- yes. Is it as fast as if you tried to do one or the other? No.

Having said that, different circumstances require different approach:

  • Anyone above 20-25% bodyfat, and is concerned with how they look, should focus first on cutting bodyfat until they hit the low teens. That means a deficit diet.

  • Anyone who is sigifnantly underweight should focus on bulking/gaining until hitting a good weight. That means a gaining diet.

  • Anyone who has a bodyfat in the mid/low teens, have low/moderate muscle mass should do a composition shift or gain muscle/lose fat diet.

As for you, the best way to solve your problems is by addressing your diet, since nutrition is #1 when it comes to reducing bodyfat. Considering you have visible love handles you should aim to do a cutting diet where you eat at a caloric deficit until you reach the desired bodyfat level. You won't gain a lot of muscle if any during that phase, but that will get you looking the best possible in the shortest amount of time. From there you can transition to a composition shift diet where you either eat at maintenance or at a slight deficit or surplus depending if you want to focus more on the fat loss or muscle gain side.

On bodybuilders

Advanced bodybuilder's methods do not apply or translate to intermedia lifter since bodybuilders are working with an already large amount of muscle mass, not to mention the large amount of exogenous hormones and drugs that they take -it is impossible for Fabiola to look the way she does without exogenous testosterone for example.

Also bodybuilders are focused on how they 'peak'. So a gaining and cutting cycle makes perfect sense. But the average person isn't going to sacrifice 6 months of the year looking bloated and fat in order to look good for 3 weeks.

Here's one of my latest clients demonstrating how being leaner makes you look so much bigger even if you are 40lbs lighter overall.

enter image description here

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"your problem is 100% diet related" - is this accurate? No exercise plus a caloric deficit equals looking good? You don't recommend any lifting or metcon workouts? –  Dave Liepmann Oct 21 '11 at 19:46
    
@DaveLiepmann No I do. Sorry I meant that what is stopping him from achieving his goals is his diet, not really his training. It was a bit hyperbolic since he would benefit from improving his workouts. My point is he can solve this 100% through diet changes while keeping everything else the same. I edited the answer to clarify this point. –  mike Oct 21 '11 at 20:00
    
Before picture: poor lighting, standing relaxed, blurry. After picture: better lighting, flexing, sharp, shaved. ... You didn't fool me. –  JoJo Dec 12 '11 at 6:58
    
Coming from experience from losing weight 60lbs/27kg's and also going to the gym 4 days a week to put muscle on. I did reach my goal, though it is 'TOUGH'. It is easier and more rewarding to first focus on getting to your target weight, then maintaining that weight then after start introducing weight lifting. –  Chad Jan 14 at 3:54
    
I don't want to discourage other people, just the reality of cardo (jogging) + diet + weight lifting (hard) really takes dedication. –  Chad Jan 14 at 3:56

When you're just starting your weight training routine, it's common to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously.

After you've been doing it awhile and you reach those plateaus in your training where your progress slows, then it becomes increasingly difficult to pull this off. These two goals, gaining muscle and losing fat, are somewhat at odds with eachother. And this is why many seasoned weight lifters, body builders, etc will focus on one at a time.

Of course the trick is to minimize fat gain while adding muscle, and minimize muscle loss while losing fat. The best advice I can give is to count calories, weigh yourself, and measure your body fat weekly. Being scientific about it will allow you to adjust your diet and exercise regimen accordingly. If you happen to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time as a result of this, then you're doing excellent work and you should be proud.

By the way, there are different ways to measure body fat. Some are more accurate than others. But the most important thing when tracking your progress is repeatability. And for that I prefer a set of simple body fat calipers.

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I'm not sure why you think that lifting weights neglects your belly fat.

Compound lifting exercises (barbell squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, dips, overhead presses) and eating reasonably will build muscle and get you to a weight that makes sense. Whether you get bigger or smaller depends on how much excess body fat you have, and how much you eat. Whether you are a stick figure with a gut or simply overweight and fat, you will slowly lose the gut while growing stronger in the places that matter.

Starting Strength would be a fine place to start. You haven't given much detail about your situation, so it doesn't get much more specific than that.

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It is not advised to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. I messaged professional bodybuilder Fabiola Boulanger the same question and this was her response:

Question: Fabiola, is it possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? Why do bodybuilders have distinct bulking and cutting phases? Is it more efficient to do them separately? What if you’re crunched for time and need to do both at the same time?

Answer: Each of these goals have to start with an eating plan. And your eating plan will be completely different either you want to lose bodyfat or gain mass. Before starting to cut, you need to build your mass up or there won’t be anything left after the diet. If you want to do both, the results will be so so and you’ll need a vera large amount of supplement to achieve faster results.

This is what Fabiola looks like. You don't need any more proof of her authoritative knowledge on fitness.

enter image description here

It is advised to have a distinct bulking phase and cutting phase. Don't try to do both at the same time. I've asked on other bodybuilding forums such as simplyshredded.com and everyone agrees on this principle.

The only way to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time is to walk the fine line near your caloric equilibrium. This fine line is where the calories burned from fat is equal to the calories from protein needed to supply muscle growth. Since humans don't have a calorie meter like a water pump, it's extremely difficult to maintain equilibrium. It would be much easier to eat a lot and go well above the equilibrium in a bulking phase or eat less and go well below the equilibrium in a cutting phase.

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This may be true for trained individuals, but the person asking the question is an untrained novice. Don't novices build muscle while losing fat on beginner compound weight training programs all the time? –  Dave Liepmann Oct 21 '11 at 14:00
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If he's a novice, then he wont need any help from us. Novices gain muscle and lose fat like there ain't no tomorrow. I remember back when I started weightlifting, I would make gains no matter what I did. But this joy period only lasts about 6 months. After that, you'll need to do a lot of research to find techniques to break through plateaus. –  JoJo Oct 21 '11 at 14:48
    
Its true novices have the potential to gain muscle and lose fat like no matter. A lot of them don't though and I think the OP falls into that category. –  mike Oct 21 '11 at 19:24

Take a look at the Intermittent Fasting:

Intermittent Fasting 101 – How to Start Burning Fat

It is quite alternative way of nutrition and could be helpful for your case.

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