My first question is factual, while my second question is regarding myself.

  1. Is it possible to build muscle on fat? That is, is it possible to build muscle (say ab muscles) underneath your already-existing fat without losing much of that fat during the process? I have heard people say that's a thing; also, I have seen some (really) overweight people at the gym lifting a lot of weights. To me, that was an example of building muscle on fat that hasn't been shed. On the other hand, I have read some articles saying this notion is a myth.
  2. I myself suffer from a beer belly. To be clear, I do not drink; I have gained weight and my body has decided to store it all in my abdominal area---hence the beer belly. I'm exercising regularly now with focus on both cardio and weight lifting. For my abs, I do the medicine ball V-up and plank exercises. I can already feel my ab muscles getting harder and stronger, BUT, I also feel like my abdominal fat has also gotten stiffer. This might be a simple consequence of my overall abdomen having gotten stronger, but I'm not sure.

    I want to make sure I do not build muscles on fat. I'd like to get lean (not a bodybuilder kind of lean, but just a regular athletic look) and not like that still-overweight-albeit-very-strong guy at the gym. Any suggestions besides a healthy diet and the workout I already do? Should I change my workout routines? Any suggestions there?

About Me:

I am 21 years old, weigh 165Lbs, 5'5" tall; 21% body fat; calorie intake set at 2500 according to Samsung Health app, but my average intake is about 1900-2000.

I go to the gym 5 days a week. Mon, Wed, Fri I do cardio (exercise bike) for 45 minutes, and conclude with 30 minutes of weight lifting. I do upper body (bicep curls, etc.), 3 minutes of plank, squats, and calf raises. Tu and Thur I focus only on cardio with 60 minutes on the exercise bike. I conclude it with 3 minutes of plank.


By "I don't want to build muscle on fat" I mean I do not wish to maintain my fat while getting stronger and building more muscle. I understand that it is inevitable to have fat and muscle at the same time for a while; I just want to be on a plan where I am sure to reach a point where my fat is gone. It might have come across as that I absolutely don't want any fat present while making muscle. I just wanted to clarify that is not what I meant. I just want the fat gone some reasonable time later down the road.

2 Answers 2

  1. Yes, a fat person can gain muscle without losing fat, if they drastically increase their food intake alongside starting strength training. This seems like something that would be difficult to achieve by accident though. For example, let's say you were consuming 2500 kcal per day without exercising, and then you simultaneously started weight training and increased your food intake to 3300 kcal per day, then you'd likely gain muscle without losing any fat, leading to an increase in scale weight. But if you only increased your food intake to a more moderate 2800 kcal per day, then for the first few months you'd likely find that you were getting stronger, but not getting heavier, as you are both gaining muscle and losing fat. If you didn't increase your food intake at all, then you'd likely lose weight overall, gaining a little muscle but not as much as the weight of fat that you lose, and your strength gains would stall reasonably quickly. This also occurs in powerlifters in the top weight categories, where it's common for them to carry a large amount of fat in addition to a whole lot of muscle.

  2. It's very unlikely that your abdomminal fat has gotten stiffer. More likely is that you have more muscle underneath it, or you've lost some of the fat and so there's just less there to jiggle. If you want to get lean and strong, you can start out weight training with a caloric deficit (i.e. adjusting your food intake so that you are losing weight) but will eventually need to settle on either focussing on losing fat first and then getting stronger after that's done, or getting stronger first and then cutting fat at a later point in your training. As for changing your workout routines, we can't possibly comment on that if you haven't described what they currently are, but you should know that ab exercises like V-ups and plank only strengthen the abdominal muscles, they don't burn fat from the abdomen.

  • I updated the post with more information about myself and my workout routine. With regards to this sentence "but will eventually need to settle on either ...", are you saying that I cannot simply workout with a caloric deficit and reach a point where I have lost my fat and am lean? Please see the clarification I added. If V-ups and plank don't help burning the abdominal fat, then what can I do? Your link suggests I should simply do overall fat burning exercises. Should I focus on cardio or weights?
    – Ptheguy
    Aug 1, 2018 at 2:16
  • Clarifying that comment, what I meant was that in a caloric deficit you will fairly quickly (on the order of weeks to months) stop gaining strength. You'll still be able to lose fat, but unless you are new to resistance training and/or very fat, you won't be able to gain muscle in a caloric deficit. So in the early days, when you have a lot of fat and not a lot of muscle, you can make strength gains without eating more. But as you lose fat and gain muscle, you will need to eat more and more in order to continue gaining muscle. So it depends on whether you want to get thin or muscular. Aug 1, 2018 at 2:40
  • As for your workout routine, it sounds fine for losing fat, but probably very suboptimal for gaining strength, based an the assumption that you can't do a proper strength workout in 30 minutes. Aug 1, 2018 at 2:45
  • So I guess I need to balance between two opposing forces---eating more to gain muscles and eating less to lose fat. I would like to get thin and be moderately lean. I do not wish to be so strong that I'd have to do an hour of detailed weight lifting. I would just like to be thin and be in shape. I understand that by maintaining a caloric deficit, I would continue to lose weight and hit a plateau in terms of gaining muscle. But, is there a plan where I get enough calories to maintain building muscles, yet not gain weight? This could be a plan I partake in after I lose a decent amount of fat.
    – Ptheguy
    Aug 1, 2018 at 3:35
  • That's pretty much it. And you can get enough calories to to build muscle while losing fat, but only if you have a lot of fat and not a lot of muscle. As you lose fat, it becomes harder to lose more, and as you gain muscle, it becomes harder to gain more. Hence it will initially be easy to lose fat and gain muscle, but the muscle gains will plateau eventually. This is why bodybuilders focus on separate phases of bulking (gaining muscle without worrying if a little fat is also gained) and cutting (losing fat while aiming to preserve as much muscle as possible). Aug 1, 2018 at 4:29

Muscle cannot be built on top of fat, that simply isn’t how humans (or for that matter, ANY animals that I’m aware of) are built anatomically speaking. However, it is possible to build muscle while gaining, maintaining, or even losing fat. The last of which tends to be conditional (typically requiring either a newness to strength training or being overweight).

It sounds like you’re on the right track to me though. Just make sure your nutrition is on point and you’ll reach your goals.

  • The body of the question clarifies that what OP means by "build muscle on fat" is gain muscle without losing fat. That is most certainly possible. Aug 1, 2018 at 0:58
  • @David Scarlett - He sort of goes back and forth on it, which left me a bit confused, but I’ll edit my answer to include that as well. Aug 1, 2018 at 1:03

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