Firstly, is losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time possible? If it is possible, what is the general nutrition and exercise plan to do it?

Secondly, is losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time not efficient for bodybuilding? Most bodybuilders have a heavier off-season weight than contest weight, which implies that they go through a bulking phase a distinct cutting phase. Here are examples of pro bodybuilder's phases:

Jay Cutler

  • Contest: 274 lb (124 kg)
  • Off season: 310 lb (140 kg)

Ronnie Coleman

  • Contest: 297 pounds (135 kg)
  • Off season: 330 pounds (150 kg)
  • Don't forget that these guys trained using steroids, do not expect the same results training natural.
    – Luciano
    Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 9:17

2 Answers 2


The full answer is beyond my scope of understanding; however, there is only one time in a trainer's life where they can build muscle and lose fat at the same time. That's when they are a beginner and are currently obese. Based off of information from Dr. Kilgore in "Practical Programming for Strength Training" we have a couple variables for building muscle:

  • Doing enough work to disrupt homeostasis, and force an adaptation.
  • Getting enough rest and food for recovery.

A beginner is so far removed from their genetic potential, they have much more leeway to play with their nutrition than someone who is an intermediate or higher lifter. Intermediate refers to the length of time recovery takes, not how much the person actually lifts. Essentially, the beginner can lift with a calorie deficit, assuming they are getting the protein and other nutrients they need. Essentially the body needs the following for recovery:

  • Rest (sleep and time without work)
  • Protein (used to build more protein pairs in the muscle fibers to make you stronger)
  • Vitamins and minerals (necessary part of metabolism, and a lifter needs more of these than a sedentary person)
  • Energy (can be in the form of fat or carbs, the body doesn't care)

The key aspect here is the last bullet point. With the calorie deficit, the body will pull from the fat stores to push energy into the muscles. Energy in this sense is the glycogen stores. A pound of muscle can store 600 Calories of glycogen, and a pound of fat stores 3500 Calories of glycogen. So the exchange will never be 1-to-1.

There are a few "anabolic" diets out there, some more questionable than others. A similarity among most that work is a reduction in the amount of carbs you eat, or a controlling of the glycemic load on the body.

The unfortunate truth is that as you progress in your lifting and are getting closer to your genetic potential, the difference between disrupting homeostasis and overtraining gets to be razor thin. When you aren't recovering like you should, you have to look at the diet.

This is a primary reason why most professional bodybuilders have bulking and cutting stages. The bulking stage is focused on building the muscle up, by any means necessary. That means more food, and probably higher fat than they would normally like. The cutting stage doesn't build more muscle, or make you stronger. It's designed to preserve your muscle while you burn fat. Essentially the work you are doing is not disrupting homeostasis, so it isn't going to force any adaptations. That means it's like an active recovery for a bit. Trying to cut Calories while building muscle can mean the difference between successful recovery for the next increase or overtraining because of insufficient recovery.

  • Would a super high protein, low carb, and low fat diet hasten muscle building and simultaneous fat loss? Carbs and fat are more readily converted to adipose fat than protein. On the other hand, protein is more readily used for muscle building and only converted to energy as the body's last resort. I understand that carbs also help protein build muscle, but are carbs completely necessary in muscle building? If one lowers carb intake, wouldn't the body more readily take energy from adipose fat when carbs in the bloodstream is low?
    – JoJo
    Commented Aug 22, 2011 at 1:07
  • Good logic about the way the body uses the diet overall. Carbs provide energy, plain and simple. In short they help with recovery, not necessarily with building stronger or larger muscles. As you pointed out, fat does the same thing. The biggest concern about a very protein rich diet is the process by which the body coverts the excess protein to glycogen. Essentially it puts more work on the kidneys and the liver. As long as you have healthy kidneys (as most people do) they will be fine. The liver comes to play in dealing with poisons, etc. Commented Aug 30, 2011 at 2:10
  • ... The point being not that protein is poison, but that the liver is already working hard every day. The best approach is to get the energy in a more readily usable state, but not in too high a proportion. Commented Aug 30, 2011 at 2:12
  • The last comment I want to make is that working out while in a state of ketosis is very hard. When the carb content is very low (under 40g/day), you will go into ketosis. A guy I know did that while cutting, and felt sick after his first set. He had to rest a lot longer between sets just to get through the session. That said, if you reduce your carbs to a relatively low level (but not enough for ketosis), you can usually keep enough energy to work out without the adverse effects on energy. Commented Aug 30, 2011 at 2:16
  • As for the effects of ketosis on training, ive read an interesting article about it: eatingacademy.com/…
    – K.L.
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 13:27

Yes they do have a bulking period and then dieting down period. I have heard from a few bodybuilding coaches that they will have there clients gain around 15% body fat which helps gain muscle quicker than lower body fat percentages.

When it's close to their contest they slowly cut calories while doing low heart rate cardio in the morning before breakfast. They will also drink a amino acid fluid when walking in the morning to target fat break down and keep most of their bulking phase gains.

For most bodybuilbers 'cutting' down to 4-5% body fat takes off more than fat. Some muscle comes off when dieting and doing large amounts of cardio.

The professional bodybuilders you mentioned stay pretty lean in the 10-15% range throughout the year but they supplement like crazy. Plus 'hormones' help.

I know personally that building strength and mass is to hard when you're trying to lose weight.

You can either do what the bodybuilders do, or strength train doing minimal cardio three times a week around 30-40 minutes, eat clean meaning skip on sugar, fried foods, potatoes, wheat and beer. It's difficult to judge what someone needs to do because every ones body type is different. It's hard to judge when you don't know what the person looks like and what kind of training they have been doing. Man or woman? weight? age? current diet? injuries? A general answer would be a starting strength program and 30-40 minutes of cardio three times a week with a clean diet.

  • I've also heard that steady pace cardio at 60% maximum heart rate is best for burning fat and saving muscle (video source). There are others that say faster cardio cannibalizing muscle is a myth. Don't know who's right.
    – JoJo
    Commented Aug 22, 2011 at 1:55

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