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How to lose fat & gain muscle

Burn fat and gain muscle - kristy

It sounds like the holy grail of fitness, but is it really possible to lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time?


How to lose fat


On the face of it, losing fat and gaining muscle are opposing goals. So it makes sense that you’re here asking whether you can do both things at the same time. Let’s revisit what you need to lose fat first.


Losing body fat is pretty simple (if not always easy!) and comes down to a calorie deficit. If you take in fewer calories than you expend (or expend more than you take in), this leads to a calorie deficit which will result in weight loss over time.


You can achieve this calorie deficit by reducing your calories “in” from foods and drinks, by increasing your calories “out” from NEAT, exercise, or BMR, or from a combination of the two.


How to gain muscle


But what about gaining muscle? To increase muscle you actually need to be in a calorie excess, which means taking in more calories than you burn. You can do this by increasing your calories from food, or by reducing your activity levels.


That’s not the only factor involved in gaining muscle. You also need to eat enough protein so your body can create new muscle tissue, and you need to do regular weight training to provide the necessary stimulus.


Can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?


This brings us to the main question: can you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? Logic would tell us no, but many bodybuilding athletes would tell you yes! It’s a clever process which needs you to tick a lot of boxes: healthy nutrition, macronutrients, training, and rest.


What does body recomposition mean?


Body recomposition, or body recomp, is what happens when you lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time. This is different to just losing weight or just adding muscle tissue. Body recomposition means that you literally change the composition of your body, so it is made of less body fat and more lean muscle tissue than before. You can measure a successful body recomp by lean muscle and body fat percentages.

Burn fat and gain muscle - Whylie

The five steps to losing fat and gaining muscle


Regular resistance training


Resistance training is key to body recomposition. This might be weight training with free weights or gym machines, or could be functional fitness training. Either way, you have to do regular, intense strength training if you want to build muscle at the same time as losing fat. Lifting weights will grow your muscles, keep your metabolic rate high, and burn more calories.


Training intensity


It’s important to train with intensity if your goal is building muscle and losing fat. Have a training programme, stick to your sets and reps, work with tempo and rest periods, and don’t waste time in the gym.


Progressive overload


Your body composition programme should be based around progressive overload, which means gradually building in load and volume. This will ensure your body can’t adapt and plateau.

 A small calorie deficit


You can’t burn fat without a calorie deficit, but you can’t build muscle if you don’t eat enough. The best way to manage this paradox is to keep your calorie deficit small so you have enough energy to train hard and recover well.


Macros and protein


Keep protein high – around 2.2g per 1kg body weight – to help your body access the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild muscle tissue after training.


Is losing fat and gaining muscle different for male and female?


The mechanisms your body uses to lose body fat and gain muscle tissue are the same for men and women. The only changes you should make are based on your body weight and energy levels (which may or may not be related to your gender).


Men and women should both do regular, intense resistance training, eat in a small calorie deficit, and eat enough protein to build muscle.


Can you lose fat and gain muscle on keto


The ketogenic diet is ultra-low in carbs and high in fat, with moderate protein. As protein is the key macronutrient for building muscle, you should be able to lose weight and gain muscle on a keto diet if you can stick to your calorie diet.


Many people find it is easier to stick to a calorie deficit whilst doing keto, because they feel fuller on a low carb and high fat diet. If that sounds like you, then there should be no reason not to achieve your body recomp goals.


Several studies have been done on keto for muscle gain and fat loss, and the keto diet has been found to be just as effective as a traditional balance macro way of eating. (1)


Can you lose fat and gain muscle at home


If you train at home instead of a gym, you might be wondering if it’s possible to do a successful body recomp diet and training plan. The good news is, the nutrition part of the deal can be done anywhere, and your own kitchen is the best place to take control of your food quality and macronutrients.


The only issue might be lifting heavy enough at home. It’s hard to overload your muscles with light dumbbells or kettlebells. But if you have a home gym set up with a barbell and plates, you can definitely train to achieve a body recomposition.

Burn fat and gain muscle - Tom

What macros to lose fat and gain muscle


The most important macronutrient to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time is protein. Keep protein between 1.8g-2.2g per 1kg body weight throughout your recomp diet. Your carbohydrates and fats are up to you. Many people will choose to keep them balanced, with a 40/40/20 split between protein, carbs, and fats.


But if you know you do well on a higher carbohydrates diet, or you want to follow a high fat or keto way of eating, you can still lose fat and gain muscle.


Just remember, the most important rule is to be in a consistent small calorie deficit. The second rule is eating in a way that gives you enough energy to train hard. And finally, make sure you eat a macro balance that helps you feel full.


Here’s an example of a balance macro split for a 70kg person wanting to lose fat and gain muscle:


Maintenance calories: 2000 kcal

Body recomp diet calories: 1800 kcal




Protein: 155g (2.5g per 1kg body weight) = 620 kcals

Carbohydrates: 155g = 620 kcals

Fats: 62g = 560 kcals


What to eat to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time


Focus your diet on high protein foods and healthy, natural carbohydrates that will give you plenty of energy to train. And don’t forget to eat plenty of low calorie green vegetables and leafy greens to keep your body healthy as you lose fat and gain muscle.


Good sources of protein: chicken and turkey, lean red meat, fish, seafood, canned tuna, tofu, seitan, edamame beans, Greek yoghurt, skyr, whey protein, protein bars


Good sources of healthy carbohydrates: oats, rice, buckwheat, couscous, potatoes, beans, lentils, root vegetables


Healthy fat sources: oily fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, peanut butter


Nicola is a specialist freelance copywriter for the fitness industry @thefitwriter