Discover how to build muscle and lose fat at the same time by maintaining a positive nitrogen balance.
You may have read that:
- To lose fat you have to maintain a caloric deficit. True
- To build muscle you have to maintain a caloric surplus. False.
The truth is:
To build muscle you have to be in a state of positive nitrogen balance1.
Nitrogen balance is a measure of nitrogen consumption minus nitrogen excretion.
Lifting weights puts your body into a catabolic state, i.e. breaks down muscle tissue thus excreting nitrogen.
Protein is the only macronutrient that has nitrogen as a constituent inside its chemical make-up.
70% of the body’s protein is found in muscle tissue.
The fundamental way to achieve a state of positive nitrogen balance is to have nitrogen consumption exceed nitrogen excretion, i.e. increase protein intake.
Factors That Can Result In A Negative Nitrogen Balance
- A negative nitrogen balance can occur as a result of consuming poor quality protein (street meat, fatty meat, deli meat) that lacks a sufficient balance of amino acids. A negative nitrogen balance in the long run can be detrimental. The body starts consuming its own blood products in an attempt to support its internal organs and the immune system becomes severely weakened.
- The consumption of adequate fat and carbohydrates cannot be overlooked2. If all you consume is protein, the body starts metabolizing it for energy. Key amino acids then begin to be used up by the vital organs rather than by the muscles. This deprives the muscles of the very ingredient they need for growth.
- As mentioned earlier, working out puts your body into a catabolic state. Training hard and not consuming enough protein for recovery can hinder your nitrogen balance into the negative. This phenomenon is known as overtraining.
- Most of the muscular damage induced in the gym goes through repair while we sleep. Sleep is an anabolic state, i.e. this is when most of the protein synthesis occurs. An inconsistent sleep cycle can negatively affect your nitrogen balance.
Tips To Achieve A Positive Nitrogen Balance
- The number one way to achieve a positive nitrogen balance is by increasing quality protein intake.
- Timing your meals can prove vital.
- To spare maximum muscle protein breakdown during training, aim to consume both protein and carbs an hour before working out. My pre-workout meal usually consists of a whey protein shake and an apple.
- The one hour window after a work out is the most important time for you to get in the right nutrients to saturate your muscles with amino acids. I usually go for a whey protein shake mixed with a scoop of dextrose. Dextrose has a very high glycemic index, i.e. it is absorbed immediately by the body.
- Before sleeping, aim to get in a serving of casein protein to sustain enhanced protein synthesis throughout the night.
- Maintain a regular sleeping pattern.
- If you get up and go to sleep at irregular times your body has trouble adjusting to when it should be going into the deep recovery phase.
- Aim to get no less than 6 hours of sleep per night.
- Train in a fashion that stimulates your muscles, not annihilates them. This means:
- Keeping your workouts between 45-60 minutes, with short breaks and high intensity.
- Working out only when your body is fully recovered from a previous session.
Definitive Proof That It Is Possible To Build Muscle And Lose Fat At The Same Time
The results of a study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism clearly demonstrate that it is possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time3.
The randomized 12-week study was performed on 3 different study groups who went through three different treatments.
The first group (10 subjects) was placed on a caloric deficit of 80% of daily predicted needs.
The second group (14 subjects) was placed on a caloric deficit of 80% of daily predicted needs, plus resistance exercise, plus a protein intake of 1.5g/kg using casein protein supplementation.
The third group (14 subjects) treatment was the same as the second, except they used whey protein supplementation instead of casein.
- Body fat with diet alone dropped, on average, 1.3%.
- With diet, exercise, and casein protein supplementation body fat dropped 1.1%
- With diet, exercise, and whey protein supplementation body fat dropped 1.3%
- The average fat loss in the three groups was 2.5, 7.0, and 4.2 kg respectively.
- Lean mass gains in the first group remained unchanged.
- Lean mass gains in the second and third groups increased by 1.4 and 0.7kg respectively.
Simultaneously trying to gain muscle and lose fat is a much slower process of putting on lean mass.
It is clearly possible.
You don’t have to look bad half the year during your bulking phase.
The Difficulties of Gaining Muscle and Losing Fat At The Same Time
Without a caloric deficit it is impossible to lose body fat.
A caloric deficit hinders the process of building muscle in two specific ways.
A caloric deficit results in:
- Reduced anabolic hormone production4
- Reduced rate of protein synthesis5
The key will be in understanding how to overcome these two particular hindrances.
Should you try gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time?
The effectiveness of your attempt to do so will depend upon your training experience.
If you have been working out for a number of years and have already gained heaps of muscle prior, it will be difficult for you to gain more muscle and lose fat simultaneously. You will be better off going through a traditional cutting cycle where the sole goal is to cut body fat.
If you are relatively new to working out OR used to have more muscle mass at an earlier point in life then you CAN effectively gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
It will not be easy to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
Compared to a traditional bulking cycle you will add muscle to your body very slowly.
You will have to be patient.
More Tips On How To Effectively Build Muscle And Lose Fat Simultaneously
1. Follow a meal plan that keeps you in a moderate caloric deficit.
Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn while at rest.
Calculate your BMR and determine your caloric goals.
I usually go with a 500 calorie deficit and aim to lose about a pound a week.
For macronutrient goals here is a general benchmark:
- 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight
- 0.7 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight
- 0.4 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight
Follow these guidelines and measure your progress over the weeks.
Adjust these recommendations based on your results.
The carbs are kept high because they are an important factor in the building muscle part of your goal. Consuming carbs will help preserve your strength in the gym as well as keep up the rate of protein synthesis.
Using the daily numbers as per the formula above, you must figure out a set meal plan.
Having an exact list of foods to eat will make you more likely to followthrough with hitting your daily caloric goals.
Use myfitnesspal to track your daily food intake.
The more precise you are with following a plan the better your results will be.
I have had good results with reverse dieting as well.
2. Don’t Slack In The Gym
A caloric deficit may have you experiencing a drop in energy levels.
This is not an excuse for you to use lighter weights. You are trying to build muscle as well, remember?
Focus on lifting in the 6-10 rep range with weights that you usually use.
Keep track of the weights that you use so you can continue to increase them as the weeks go by.
Keep up with heavy compound movements:
- bench presses
- military press
Numerous studies have proven that High Intensity Interval Training is the best type of cardio for targeting fat loss6.
One particular study had 10 men and 10 women in the subject group7.
Half of them did HIIT 3 times a week while the other half did steady state cardio 3 times a week.
At the end of 10 weeks they found that the subject group doing the high intensity cardio had lost more fat.
HIIT preserves more muscle than steady state cardio by igniting the production of growth hormone8.
Research has also shown that the longer your cardio sessions are the more they work to impair strength and hypertrophy9.
4. Regular Sleep Cycle
Most of the protein synthesis in your body takes place during sleep.
Studies have proven that insufficient sleep is related to a number of factors that impair hypertrophy10.
One particular study found that when 10 men reduced their amount of sleep from 9 to 5 hours their testosterone levels dropped by up to 14% during the day11.
A lack of sufficient sleep also hinders fat loss efforts12.
I find it difficult to get enough protein through my diet alone, especially when trying to gain mass and lose fat.
Supplementing with whey makes it easier to meet my daily nutritional goals and provides me with a convenient source of protein on the go.
Increasing protein intake is the most important factor for maintaining a positive nitrogen balance.
Creatine is a supplement you can use to help build strength and muscle even when in a caloric deficit.
The effects of creatine monohydrate have been widely demonstrated through research13.
In terms of supplements for fat loss, I use Acetyl-L-Carntine.
Supplementing with acetyl-L-Carnitine will have your body better adjust to using fat for fuel14.
Do you have any further tips on how to build muscle and lose fat at the same time? Let me know in the comments below!
- Robson, David. “Nitrogen Balance: The Key To Muscle Growth.” Bodybuilding.com.
- SL, Miller. “Physical exercise as a modulator of adaptation to low and high carbohydrate and low and high fat intakes.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- RH, Demling. “Effect of a hypocaloric diet, increased protein intake and resistance training on lean mass gains and fat mass loss in overweight police officers.” Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.
- R, Cangemi et. al. “Long-term effects of calorie restriction on serum sex-hormone concentrations in men.” Aging Cell.
- SM, Pasiakos et. al. “Acute energy deprivation affects skeletal muscle protein synthesis and associated intracellular signaling proteins in physically active adults.” The Journal of Nutrition.
- A, Tremblay et. al. “Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism.” Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental.
- RE, Macpherson et. al. “Run sprint interval training improves aerobic performance but not maximal cardiac output.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
- KA, Stokes. “The time course of the human growth hormone response to a 6 s and a 30 s cycle ergometer sprint.” Journal of Sports Sciences.
- JC, Gergley. “Comparison of two lower-body modes of endurance training on lower-body strength development while concurrently training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
- M, Datillo. “Paradoxical sleep deprivation induces muscle atrophy.” Muscle & Nerve.
- R, Lepoult et. al. “Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men.” JAMA.
- AV, Nedeltcheva et. al. “Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity.” Annals of Internal Medicine.
- A, Brose et. al. “Creatine supplementation enhances isometric strength and body composition improvements following strength exercise training in older adults.” The Journals of Gerontology.
- Bloomer, Richard et. al. “Glycine propionyl-L-carnitine increases plasma nitrate/nitrite in resistance trained men.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.