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Hi I began gym 2/3 months ago.

I go about 5 days a week and my routine is as follows: 30-60 min cardio, 45 minute weight lifting (targeting each muscle group on a different day)

Currently: female, 145 pounds, 170cm tall

Goals: lose body fat & gain muscle

Question: I realise you can't lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. So if I continue doing this (cardio & lifting) and eat under maintenance calorie on some days and over maintenance calorie on other days, getting adequate sleep and protein, what will happen? Will I gain any muscles or is it all just a waste of time?

Also what would happen if I alternate between a week of hard training and resting? And one week eating over maintenance and another week eating under maintenance? Would this allow me to lose weight and grow muscle?

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    As a beginner, you probably CAN lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Consider barbell training (squats, deadlifts, presses) to replace some of the isolation exercise I infer that you're doing - and I would do the weights before cardio (else you're too tired out to really build strength). Good luck! – G__ Sep 1 '14 at 19:13
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Absolutely, you can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. In fact, the more you gain the muscle; the more you're able to burn the fat. The catch? you've to consider your diet and how your body responds to certain types of diet.
Protein and amino acids are essential so you're going to take them anyways. But you've to keep in check how your body responds to 1) starchy carbohydrates 2) Saturated fat. If starchy carbohydrates make you feel fat and bulky then you're most probably going to benefit from a low (not zero) carbs diet and saturated fats (coconut oil, refined butter etc) are going to benefit you.
Also look into the routine called carb-clcying. Summary of carb-cycling: You divide your whole week's workout into high-cardio--low-weight and high-weight--low-cardio days. On low cardio days, you consume carbs that are good for you and on high cardio days you do not consume carbs (consume saturated fat and protein).
It is a long subject which I've just started learning AND have seen tremendous results from. It is like replacing your fat (around shoulders and chest) with muscles. Following this routine, you might observe that your weight isn't decreasing as much you feel, that's because you might be gaining muscle.

And one very important thing, don't ever starve yourself. Keep eating and have a healthy metabolism. Do not rely on BMI because it doesn't take body composition into account.

Reference: The one and only, Burn the fat feed the muscle by Tom Venuto. You can never go wrong with what's in this book.

P.S. I'm not associated with Tom in any way

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I'll start with an anecdote. I've been working with a coach to help me get strong and cut the fat at the same time. I've been working with him for nearly a year now, and I've lost a total of 20 lbs, 22 lbs of which were fat. NOTE: that's not a typo. I've gained 2 lbs of lean mass and lost 22 lbs of fat. I've also lost several inches. During that time, I've also increased my strength steadily. In the first few months I increased my power lifting total 70 lbs while weighing in several pounds lighter (just not enough to get into a new weight class).

The process required two things to work together in concert:

  • I had to eat enough to support the training I had to do, but still lose fat.
  • I had to work hard enough to keep building strength.

With the guidance of a coach, they can make the adjustments to the plans as necessary over time. For example, my diet has been tweaked about every other month to keep progress moving forward. He also kept an eye on my training to see how I responded and made some adjustments on the fly.

In the absence of a coach, I can give you some general principles to work with:

  • You have to eat your protein. While 1 g / lb is easy to remember, you don't need quite that much to keep building strength.
  • Keep fat low, but still have it. Fat should make up roughly 20% of your diet.
  • You have to eat your carbs. In fact, carbs become even more necessary as that's what fuels your training.
  • Use carbs that have a good amount of fiber in them. They keep you satisfied longer, and they tend to minimize inflammation.
  • In fact, eat whole foods and foods known to lower systemic inflammation.

Your training will already have some inflammation involved, as that's part of getting stronger and building muscle. However, uncontrolled systemic inflammation from fast food and highly processed foods create a hostile environment and triggers your body to keep storing the fat.

With training, keep in mind the mantra "no junk miles":

  • Have your plan for what you do in the gym, and do that plan.
  • Don't try to max out in the gym or fatigue your muscles to the point of exhaustion.
  • Emphasize recovery--both active and passive.
  • Your training plan should allow some wiggle room for having a bad day. They will happen more often when you are losing weight, but if you can get the planned work done even on a bad day you will do well.

The shortcut is to hire a coach and have them do the hard thinking for you. But also keep in mind my progress. I lost on average 1-2 lbs of fat per month, and gained a pound of lean mass every 6 months. The transformation will be slow. Slower than if you pursued either goal wholeheartedly. I'm still not done yet. I personally will continue this route, as I'm very healthy and simply have too much fat. Since I do compete from time to time, performance is more important to me than how I look. That said, I'm very pleased at how my transformation is progressing.

  • wow thanks heaps for your long detailed answer, definitely given me some hope :) – Tori Montgomery Sep 7 '14 at 22:50
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You can't gain muscles and loose weight at the same time. Thats right. But it is so misunderstood.

Time is continuous. Your not always in a calorie deficit. Your are not always in a calorie surplus situation either. You do not eat 24-7. You do not exercise 24-7. Your body goes through all kind of phases.

Over a longer time horizon, lets say a month, it is more than possible to loose both fat, and build up muscles. Mind you, it might not be the most efficient approach.

Train hard. Eat clean. And eat at the right times. You will loose fat, and build muscles in no time.

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Since you have stated your weight and height, why not calculate your own BMI (body mass index) to know where you stand?

Weight: 145lbs = 65.77kg
Height: 170cm = 1.7m
BMI = Weight/Height² = 22.8

A BMI of 22.8 is in the normal healthy range but near the overweight category. If you do not have a muscular physique, then it can mean that you may have excess body fat.

Therefore it is entirely possible, in your particular case, to trim down your body weight by reducing your caloric intake and at the same time converting some of your body fat to muscles by working out in the gym.

  • One reason not to calculate BMI is because it is useless for individual evaluation. You also did not mention what adjustments per se were necessary to the training regimen and dietary intake. – Berin Loritsch Sep 5 '14 at 21:05

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