Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Day 50 - Build Muscle, Lower Body Fat

I have a question about weight loss and muscle gain. I want to increase muscle mass, therefore I have to take in more calories. But if I do that won’t it just turn to fat? How does the body know to build muscle instead of storing the extra calories as fat? Am I missing something? Can I gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?

Ah yes, the million dollar question for a lot of guys. I know a lot of guys (and gals) who wish to put on some muscle mass while cutting body fat at the same time. This can be an extremely difficult task to do, but it is possible.

First of all, let's assess the need to put on mass. From an athlete's perspective, some folks have the misconception that bigger muscles mean stronger muscles, which is not always true. Athletes who compete in events that require speed and agility, for example, should train their muscles to be strong and powerful, but do not necessarily want to add any weight to their frames as that could potentially slow their speed. Soccer players are a prime example of this. Soccer players need to be strong and powerful for fast acceleration and dynamic changes in direction, but unnecessary weight could slow them down.

On the other hand, an athlete like a football player (lineman for example) may want to put on mass to not only become stronger and more powerful, but the mass will also make them more difficult to push around.

In this case, however, I believe the individual asking this question wishes to put on a bit of muscle mass for cosmetic reasons, which is fine, as this is one of the most common questions I receive.

There are a number of factors involved in performance and body composition, but for the most part, your diet regulates how you look. Again, this is a pretty broad statement, as the types of exercises you perform as well as your genetics play a big part in how you look.

So what do you eat to put on mass? Well, to put on any type of mass, you need to eat...a lot. Again, I am generalizing here, but for the most part, your calories in must be more than your calories out in order to gain weight. If you are a young male (or female) who has an extremely fast metabolism, this can be a tricky task, but it is doable, you just need to keep feeding yourself every few hours.

How does the body know to build muscle instead of storing the extra calories as fat?

This is the trickiest part of the equation, because let's face it, anyone can gain weight by eating a lot of crap. What most people intend to do is build lean mass, aka muscle.
Any tissue in the body that is being structured requires the building blocks to do so. This is where protein, or more specifically amino acids, come into play. There are a wide variety of studies that have been done on just how much protein should be in one's diet in order to build muscle.

Some folks think more is better, but remember that protein is still a macronutrient, which means too much is still just extra calories, and therefore if unused will be stored in the body as fat. I personally like to aim for the 1g/pound of body mass rule. I usually sit around 176/177lbs, so I try and aim for at least 170-180g of protein a day.

Even with all of this discussion on diet, one fact still remains - you need the proper stimulation for tissue growth. What I mean by this, is that in order to build muscle, you need to resistance train. Not only that, but you need to lift heavy things. Resistance training causes damages to your muscle fibers which, in turn, cause stimulation for growth.

Essentially all types of resistance training causes at least some sort of stimulation for muscular growth, but in order to maximize your potential for growth, you should lift very heavy things. When you lift heavy, your body produces more testosterone, which in turn, causes a chain reaction of processes that stimulate muscular growth.

The nice part about this, is that the more muscle mass your body has, the more calories it burns at any given time. The more calories being burned at any time can translate into lower percentages of body fat.

Other resources to help with this topic can be found on my blog:

Quote of the day:
"One secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes."
~Benjamin Disraeli