Build Muscle While Burning Fat at the Same Time

Is it Possible to Build Muscle While Burning Fat at the same time?

When I was in college, my roommate was a guy who was stick-pole skinny. At 6’2”, he only weighed a buck thirty. Determined to change all that, he started on a weightlifting program. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that in order to gain muscle mass, he needed to increase his caloric intake by massive amounts. My roommate followed this dogma and worked out with great zeal, but things didn’t turn out as planned. He bulked up alright, but not in his chest, arms, or legs. His gut, on the other hand, got real beefy. Afterwards, he was a stick-pole with a gut.

Conventional wisdom and its adherents will tell you that it is not possible to build muscle while burning fat at the same time. They say that you can only build muscle or burn fat in two distinct phases, and not at the same time. The build phase is when you eat more calories than your metabolism requires in order to give your muscles all the growth fuel it needs. The cutting phase is when you lower your caloric intake to create a deficit so that your body will start burning off the fat to reveal all that muscular glory you created in the build phase.

Conventional wisdom is attractive because makes perfect sense. In theory, it would seem impossible to build muscle while burning fat at the same time. Here’s the physics to back this theory. Your body requires about 2,500 calories to build one pound of muscle. Thus, in order to build one pound of muscle in seven days (which is almost impossible BTW), you would need to eat an extra 350 calories every day. If you are weight training, those extra calories should be converted into muscle. On the other hand, you need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat. If you were trying to lose one pound of fat in seven days, you would need to eat 500 fewer calories each day so your body would start dipping into the fat stores for energy.  Mathematically, it’s impossible for you to eat 350 extra calories per day (to build muscle) and 500 fewer calories per day (to burn fat) at the same time. Therefore, it should be impossible to both build muscle while burning fat at the same time.

But What Does Science Tell Us About Building Muscle While Burning Fat at the same time?

Forget conventional wisdom! It is something that so called experts turn to in order to justify their beliefs which may or may not be true. Let’s look at science, because there have actually been studies that examined this question. Surprisingly, science reveals that what seems impossible may really be possible.

One study from California State University monitored a group of men for eight weeks. The men were on a caloric excess eating plan–over 4000 calories per day. They did weight training 60-90 minutes at a time for four days a week. At the end of the eight-week period, the men gained an average of about six pounds of muscle. They also gained about half a pound of fat. No big surprise, right? That’s what conventional wisdom would say would occur.

However, in another study group, the men were on a caloric deficit eating plan.  They only ate about 2000 calories per day. These men also trained with weights several times a week. At the end of the study, this group of men lost over seven pounds of fat. This is also what conventional wisdom would predict would occur. But wait, that’s not the most interesting part of the study. In addition to losing fat, this group of men also gained 2.5 pounds of muscle. This is something conventional wisdom said was impossible.

Women Can Also Build Muscle While Burning Fat at the Same Time

A similar set of studies were done on women confirmed that women can also build muscle while burning fat at the same time. Women who performed weight training workouts for eight weeks, but weren’t on a caloric deficit eating plan, added 2.4 pounds of muscle, but didn’t lose much fat. In the same study, women who were on a caloric deficit eating plan added a pound of muscle over the same eight-week time frame, but also lost a lot of fat.

It should be noted that the women on the caloric deficit eating plan ate only 800 calories per day, which is considered extremely restrictive. Their eating plan consisted of a high percentage of protein.  If the women trained with weights, they gained about six percent muscle mass. The ones who did no weight training lost fat and muscle mass.

The bottom line is that it is indeed possible to build muscle while burning fat at the same time. The tradeoff is that you will build muscle at a much lower rate than you would if you were on a caloric excess eating plan. It turns out conventional wisdom is wrong.  It’s not impossible to do both, it just comes with certain tradeoffs, and most importantly, you must be on a weight training program in order to build muscle. If you restrict your calories without weight training, you will lose fat and muscle. Not good if you want to look lean and mean.

I Proved to myself that It Is Possible to Build Muscle While Burning Fat at the Same Time

Without even trying to prove anything, I learned that all the conventional wisdom I was fed for so many years is a load of crap. When I started doing P90X, I was overweight and flabby. The rolls on my gut were getting hard to hide. My priority was to lose the gut. To me, it was more important to regain a trim and lean physique than to try to bulk up. I planned to build muscle after I lost most of the fat.

build muscle while burning fat at the same time

I was able to build muscle while burning fat at the same time.

I put myself on a moderate caloric deficit eating plan. I was eating 400-600 fewer calories than what I needed to maintain my weight. My diet was also high in protein (about 100-120 grams per day from various sources). Sure enough, I did shed the fat. But to my delight, I also gained muscle mass. I’m not talking Hulkish mass, but very noticeable gains. My legs, chest, back, and arms all bulked up, while at the same time I was burning the fat off my waist. I was like the proverbial bumble bee. Conventional wisdom dictates that a bumble bee should not be able to fly. The bee doesn’t understand conventional wisdom and flies anyway. Likewise, conventional wisdom says that it’s not possible to build muscle while burning fat at the same time. I didn’t know any better and did it anyway.

It was only after I achieved my results did I begin to do more research on this topic. My research revealed what I had already proved to myself—yes brothers and sisters, it’s possible to build muscle while burning fat at the same time.  I don’t have super genetics, and I didn’t take any supplements other than protein powder, but I worked out VERY hard. The body operates in mysterious ways, I guess.

One last thing—I also did a lot of cardio (45-60 minutes of high intensity cardio three times each week).  Conventional wisdom also says this is a no-no if you’re trying to build muscle, yet I put on muscle anyway. I did everything wrong according to many experts but results don’t lie.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of myths floating out in cyber space about health, weight training, and nutrition. It’s a difficult process to sort through all the crap, but keep an open mind, and you might stumble upon some great ideas like I did. So, if you want to cut the fat like I did but are afraid to lose muscle mass, don’t worry about going on a calorie restrictive eating plan as long as you’re doing weight training and eating sufficient amounts of protein.

Click here to see how I began my fitness journey. If you’re ready to start your physical transformation and build muscle while burning fat at the same time, contact me at or send me a Facebook friend request with a message. Let’s get the conversation going!

build muscle while burning fat

Want someone to guide you through this workout? Click on the link above to purchase P90X and I will automatically be assigned as your personal coach (without any additional cost to you). I can help maximize your results, keep you motivated, provide accountability, make suggestions, and offer encouragement. You won’t be working out alone!

About Khoa Nuyen

Aging and feeling crummy are for people who don't know any better. If a middle aged dude with a sedentary job can get these results, you can too.
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6 Responses to Build Muscle While Burning Fat at the Same Time

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