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I know this question has been asked dozens of times already, but I wanted a bit more specific of a response. I'm trying to lose fat and build muscle at the same time - I'm a beginner, so this should be feasible. I'm probably ~25% body fat right now.

However, I have these stubborn fat masses at the sides of my torso ("muffin tops"). About a year ago, I was in a caloric deficit of 500 calories daily for 3-4 months, and saw little visible change in these fat deposits (though I was visibly slimmer elsewhere). I was also building muscle at the time, but not as fast as I would've liked.

I'd like to build muscle faster this time, necessitating higher calorie intake. However, I'm worried that this will completely interfere with any fat loss goals. My guess is that those areas are just "genetically more stubborn", and I know that fat seems to decrease on individuals in a certain order (lower priority fat deposits are depleted first), so the only way to lose my muffin tops would be to stick to a protracted weight loss period.

The last time I was in a caloric deficit, in order to build muscle I would say ~60% of my calorie intake was protein (I was getting 150-200g of protein a day), which was unsustainable, I can't fathom a way to increase that number without increasing my total calorie intake.

What are my options here? Vigilantly stick to a weight-lifting regimen and eat "big and healthy", hoping that the increase in muscle will increase my BMR enough to "naturally" eliminate my stubborn fat? Do intense cardio 1-2 times a week? Adjust my goals for fat loss entirely (I'd love to lose my muffin tops by December, but perhaps this is too ambitious).

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  • Something I would check is if you have "hip dips". I am at 10% body fat but it looks like I have a permanent muffin top because my pants rest in these dips, meaning the tops of my hips overhang my waistband despite everything.
    – Thegs
    Aug 9 at 20:41
  • @Thegs That's interesting, thanks for letting me know! I imagine in my case, it's a bit of both. I may have hip dips, but I also have fat to lose. Aug 10 at 0:29
  • Apocryphal and dated, but one of the things they said in my kinesiology classes was that the first place the body deposits fat for storage is the last place it takes it from. Haven't run across anything that ever proved or disproved that.
    – JohnP
    Aug 11 at 22:23
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There are no magic solutions. Lift heavy, do your cardio (both intense and not), and maintain high protein intake. How much you eat in order to achieve your goal of faster muscle gain is up to you.

Consider that you seem to be chasing two rabbits by wanting both fat loss and "faster" muscle gain. I'm not saying it's impossible but be careful with arbitrary deadlines. It's more important to be consistent over a long stretch of time. Staying on the wagon trumps whipping the horses to make the wagon go faster.

The only idea I'd add is that "strengthy cardio" might do you well. That is, instead of supplementing your strength & bodybuilding work with pure cardio like running or cycling (though that might make sense), try using cardio-heavy strength sports and exercises instead. I'm thinking the Prowler, circuits of bodyweight exercises, and kettlebells. These work towards both your goals.

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I haven't been working out for too long and am relatively young (high teen) so take what I say with a grain of salt. The most glaring difference between you and I is our body fat percentage. My body fat percentage is about 9 or 10 percent but I am also very slim, meaning not a whole lot of muscle. But, over the course of a couple months I have found a method, that works for me and maybe you can try that allowed me to maintain my body fat percentage while gaining a bit of muscle.

I try and workout 7 times a week, 5 of which are intense hour long weight training exercise and the other 2 are 25 mile long mountain bike rides that I do for fun and cardio.

What I changed that seemed to work was my eating and nutrition. CARBS are important! If you want to gain muscle and still lose fat you need to eat carbs. However there is a fine line. I normally workout in the evening around 6 - 7 PM so I don't eat any carbs until lunch. At lunch and a snack at 4 PM, I eat meals with carbs because it will give me the energy to lift really heavy. By the time I am done with my workout I am physically drained and I notice I don't have as much energy but I was still able to have an incredible workout.

I also eat a lot of protein. I try to match my body weight in grams of protein. This makes sure that I am breaking down my existing muscle due to a decrease in calories.

Hopefully this method works for you and my pseudo science makes sense, but I applaud you for working out and wish you luck on your fitness journey.

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There is a study that shows that high intensity exercise plus high energy expenditure plus caloric deficit may help spot reduce fat in specific locations.

In my personal experience, I've been near 10% fat (DEXA) and a flabby spot of fat in the abdomen that just plainly did not go away. While the arms, legs, back, with almost no fat at all.

So, while you can aim at growth on a slight deficit, it will be hard to get rid of that fat. Maybe acceptance work will be better?

Another variable is that if you manage to grow, then the deficit is easier to manage, as you can be in a deficit while eating more, so that will be more sustainable.

Consistency and sustainability are the key

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  • Interesting study, but they are hanging a lot on one study in the face of a lot of competing evidence. Agreed with the author a lot of the studies were not the best but still.
    – JohnP
    Aug 12 at 14:10
  • Yup, I think it's interesting to share as it's a reasonably serious study that's not crazy - it's not saying that you do a couple of crunches and you get a sixpack. But is saying instead that if after all conditions are met (high intensity, high energy, caloric deficit), you might lose a bit more fat from the closest place to the muscle. That's reasonable.
    – user35666
    Aug 12 at 15:34
  • I was thinking about this - a limiting factor for exercise is controlling temperature and keeping the body cool. I wonder if there is some mechanism that sheds fat in areas that have higher temps than the rest of the body when exercising? Makes intuitive sense but it's just a wild guess.
    – JohnP
    Aug 12 at 18:50

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