How to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle

When someone new wants to join the Next Generation Training Center family, we always have what we call a strategy session before we jump into any training. During our initial conversation (strategy session) we always ask the new client about his/her goals. There is usually one thing that we hear as a fitness coach when we first start working with a new client. They tell us that they want to lose weight, and get toned. If I had a penny for every time I heard this, I would probably be writing this blog on a beach somewhere, instead of in my basement apartment in freezing cold New Jersey…. When someone tells us that they want to “lose weight and get toned,” as a professional fitness coach we hear that they want to “lose body fat, and gain lean muscle.” As commendable as this goal is, the truth of the matter is that it’s very difficult to lose fat AND build muscle at the same time. Luckily for you we’re the experts in this, and have boiled it down to these actionable steps that you can take to start losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously.

Why is it so hard?

Before we jump into the “how”, let’s first discuss the “why”. Why is it so hard to lose fat AND build muscle at the same time? Simply put, they require sending different signals to your body. Just imagine if you’re behind someone at a stop sign, and they keep changing their turn signal back and forth, from right to left (or if you’re in New Jersey, they don’t use it at all). You don’t know which way they are going to turn, so you just sit there at the stop sign and you don’t go anywhere. This is similar to when you try to tell your body to burn fat, and build muscle at the same time. Your body is receiving conflicting signals, so usually you end up staying right where you are. Being clear with what adaptation you are trying to get your body to respond with is of the utmost importance if you are serious about achieving your goals. However, there are a few habits that you can do to get the best of both worlds. But just remember that if you really want to accomplish something specific like weight loss, the best approach is to focus entirely on hitting that goal only.

It turns out, water doesn’t suck.

For you to accomplish any goal; regardless of if it is weight loss, muscle gain, or athletic performance, you must first start with your hydration. Drinking enough water on a daily basis is a non-negotiable habit if you want to better your health. A large portion of our population walks around on a regular basis dehydrated, and not providing the proper environment for their body to be functioning at the highest level. Up to about 60% of our body is made up of water, and nearly every biological process that happens in our body is affected by water. Making sure to drink enough water sounds like it is a simple habit, however it is the one that is oftentimes the one that is lacking. A general rule of thumb is to drink between .5 and .75 ounces of water per pound of body weight. For example, if you are 200 pounds you would want to be consuming a MINIMUM of 100 ounces of water per day. Stop reading this now, and go drink some water if this is an area that you need to improve on. The rest of these habits can go out the window until you nail this one down. Trainer Tip: Start your day with a glass of 16+ ounces of water upon immediately waking up. 

You are what you eat.

It may sound a little cliche, but you are what you eat. Outside of making sure you are well hydrated, being well nourished with mostly non-processed foods is the most important habit to help you build muscle, and burn fat. Many of the foods that we eat in the traditional American diet consist of very little, to no nutritional value to our body. Because of these gigantic corporate food conglomerates who are in the race for mass production, cheaper prices, and higher margins; many of these food companies strip the nutrition out of the food through the means of how they process the product. Without the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that we are supposed to get through the food that we eat, our bodies can’t function at their highest capacity. If you want to drop body fat and build muscle, then you need to provide your body with all of the nutrients that it needs to work at it’s healthiest state. Trainer Tip: When food shopping, stick to the outside aisles. The refrigerated food, such as the produce and the meat, is generally the least processed. If it can sit on a shelf for an extended period of time, then it is probably highly processed, and void of the essential nutrients.

I don’t want to gain muscle, I just want to get toned.

Generally speaking, the most misunderstood habit for losing weight is strength training. Many people to this day believe that lifting weights will make you bulk up like Arnold in the early 90s. This is simply not true. Unless you have a specific goal of building massive muscle mass, it is EXTREMELY difficult to bulk up. With that being said, building muscle is a necessity to achieving the goal to shed fat. The amount of muscle you have on your body has a direct impact on your metabolism. With the more lean muscle mass that you have on your body, the more energy (aka calories) your body will need to utilize to maintain homeostasis. This is why it is very important to not neglect strength training. Unless you take large doses of performance enhancing drugs, spend hours every day in the gym, and focus all of your attention and efforts on getting huge like Arnold; it just simply won’t happen. However, if you dedicate about 3-6 hours of strength training each week; you will build the lean muscle mass that is needed to drive your metabolism around the clock. To lose weight and gain muscle, it seems obvious that strength training should be part of the equation. Unfortunately, a lot of people have a negative view on strength training, and don’t utilize it to achieve their goals. Trainer Tip: Hire a professional coach to help build your strength training program. Every single human has your own specific needs and demands. There is no such thing as a cookie cutter approach to training, and you need to make sure that your workouts coincide with your personal needs.

Energy In VS Energy Spent

The most difficult factor when trying to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time, is balancing your energy output with your energy input. Or in other words, calories in VS calories out. A calorie is just a measure of a unit of energy that our body uses for fuel. There are many metabolic factors that play a role in weight loss, however the most important starting point is being in a caloric deficit. When your body is in a caloric deficit it needs to rely on converting other sources, such as stored fat to use for energy. Unfortunately, one of those other sources that your body likes to use is muscle. This is why it is so difficult to lose weight, and gain muscle at the same time… difficult, not impossible. Although you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight, you also need to make sure that you are eating enough calories to support recovery from your workouts, and build muscle. Just cutting calories alone will help you lose weight, however it will come at the expense of your muscle. Cutting calories by about 5-10% while maintaining a consistent strength training routine, 3-6 hours per week, will be a good starting point for many. This deficit percentage will take constant monitoring and tweaking as your body adapts, so you may find that you need to consume more or less calories over time. Being in a slight calorie deficit makes it even more important to focus on the quality of food. You should fill those calories with healthy fats, proteins, and vegetables. Trainer Tip: Increase your energy expenditure (calories burned) everyday by adding in an additional low intensity cardio workout. A 30-45 minute walk everyday will increase the amount of calories that you burn, without putting the stress and recovery needs that strength training, or other higher intensity workouts demand.

No Sleep Till….

Lack of adequate sleep plagues many Americans, and oftentimes can be the habit that drastically changes your body composition results. When you chronically don’t get enough sleep, your body responds with changes in your hormones that promote fat storage. Testosterone levels are significantly lowered with inadequate sleep, which is an important hormone for building and sustaining muscle in both men and women. The release of insulin is increased, causing higher levels of sugar in the blood, which can lead to Type-II diabetes. Also with sleep deprivation, your body’s ability to send the right signal to your brain that you are full, and should stop eating is also negatively impacted. This leads to overeating, even after you have consumed enough food to be satisfied. A lot of people look at their diet and workouts as the main keys to losing weight and gaining muscle. However, don’t overlook getting enough sleep! We recommend a minimum of 6+ hours per night to truly give your body the best opportunity to shed fat, and gain muscle. Trainer Tip: Systemize your sleep. Create a routine that you follow every evening, going to be around the same time. Consistency creates good habits, and good habits lead to the desired results.

Rinse and repeat.

Not only are you what you eat, but you are also what you repeat. Making changes in your body composition requires consistency and patience. Being consistent with staying hydrated, eating healthy, exercising daily, getting adequate sleep, and managing stress is the hardest habit for many people to develop. To make any real change, you must give it time for that change to happen. Your body is great at adapting, but only if you put it in conditions to adapt consistently enough for those changes to take place. Just like practicing any other skill such as a new language or sport, your brain and body needs time, and a lot of exposure to it before it can make a permanent change.  Your body composition follows the same concept, and it is  just a reflection of the conditions that you repeatedly subject yourself to. Trainer Tip: Schedule everything into your calendar. Just by writing down where and when you are going to do something in your calendar, you increase your likelihood of acting on it from 35% to 90%.