How to Gain Muscle and Burn Fat – at the Same Time

I’d like to help you get into top shape as quickly as possible. In order to do that, you must do two seemingly opposing things: Gain weight (muscle) and lose weight (fat).

Many fitness pros just plain don’t believe that you can burn fat while building muscle at the same time. But you can. Every time I read an article by some doctor or expert claiming it’s “biologically impossible” to gain muscle on a hypocaloric diet (a diet low in calories), I just laugh.

I do more than make claims. I have proven this to be true many times. I’ve had my body fat hydrostatically measured during several peaks in my training cycles. In all but one, I showed an increase of muscle mass and a decrease of body fat during a 12- to 16-week period. The one time I didn’t show an increase in muscle mass was when I was doing most of my training in the gym. That may not make sense right now, but it will in a moment.

Keep this in mind: I’m a 44-year-old former fat guy who does not take any fat-burning drugs or steroids for muscle mass. While training, I eat only two or three times per day. I do not do hours of cardio. And… of all things… my best workouts are under 20 minutes. More like 15.

I look pretty good for a natural bodybuilder who used to be clinically obese. I won’t win the Mr. Olympia title, but that’s okay. Most people reading this article could care less about looking like a real mutant. (I think drugged-up 300-pound guys, to quote the great fitness trainer Vince Gironda, look like “bloated sausages.”)

Okay, I’ll come clean. I admire competitive bodybuilders for their drive and passion for excellence. But I do not admire their common sense. I should know – I tried bodybuilding for a while. However, I never actually competed. Came close, but no cigar.

The funny thing is that most people assume I’m a competitive bodybuilder when I’m in top shape (which is most of the year). I have 17-inch arms, a huge back, good natural leg development, and pretty good shoulders.

This is not a fluff piece to tell you how great I am. I’m not. I have plenty of genetic weaknesses, trust me. I walk by a doughnut shop and gain a pound. But the fact remains that most people lose muscle on a diet. Those who don’t know how to diet lose far more muscle than fat! So when a guy in his 40s claims he can build muscle AND lose fat… well, eyebrows raise.

As I said, I’m not a competitive bodybuilder. But I love to look like I’m in CLOSE to the condition of one. For me, that’s about 7 percent body fat with ample muscle mass, but not enough to make folks toss their cookies. Lest you worry that you will become “muscle-bound,” accidentally transforming yourself into the next Mr. or Ms. Olympia, fear not. Muscle is like a biological dimmer switch. It’s either on or off – and you control the amount of muscle you wish to see.

So how does this work? Can anyone do it? Absolutely. But you have to have the right combination of factors.

Most fitness pros will tell you that you have to increase your calories in order to gain muscle. Yes, you have to increase your calories to gain weight. But that’s not what most people want to do. They want to gain lean muscle and burn body fat.

For men and women who want to lose fat and build shapely muscle at the same time, a bit of metabolic trickery is involved.

A calorie is nothing more than a specific measurement of energy or heat. And your body requires energy and heat in order to survive. Simply stated, in order to lose stored energy (body fat), we need to decrease the amount of energy we ingest (calories). A slight reduction in calories is essential to burn body fat – there’s no way around that. So, if you want to gain muscle, doesn’t it make sense that you have to increase your calories in order to pull it off?

Yes, it makes perfect sense. But it’s wrong. Flat out, absolutely dead freakin’ wrong.

Listen up: As long as you have fat to burn, all the energy you need for building muscle can come from that stored energy. What you want to do is tap into that unwanted body fat and use the energy to repair your body after exercise and build lean tissue.

There are three key steps to take to trick your body into doing it.

Step One: Stimulate your body to increase its muscle mass.

You do this through weight training. However, train TOO LONG and all that extra energy from your stored body fat will go toward keeping your central nervous system from crashing. Your body will shift all that energy, and then some, into the metabolic processes we call “survival mode” faster than you can snap your fingers. It will try to make sure your metabolism stays high enough for you to survive the stress you’re subjecting it to. That’s one reason diets fail: Your metabolism crashes because your calories are too low AND because you are exercising too much.

Brief but brutal training is the key. Let me give you the example of a three-minute abdominal routine. Perform each of the following movements without rest between sets. Repeat until three minutes are up. Breathe out all your air prior to contracting the abdominal muscles. (This is critical!)

  • Hanging Leg Raises (with elbow harness, if possible) – 5-10 reps using foot-held weight if need be. Support yourself either by holding on to an overhead bar or, preferably, with elbow supports (common in most gyms). This helps prevent fatigue from grip failure. Breathe out all your air and raise either your knees to your chest (for beginners) or raise your legs as high as possible, keeping them as straight as possible. Contract and lower slowly. Repeat.
  • Floor Crunches – 10 reps, holding the contraction at the top of the crunch for two seconds. With your hands folded on your chest and your lower back firmly planted on the floor (use a pad if you wish), “crunch” your lower body and upper body together as if you were a human accordion. The key here is not to do a “sit-up” but to contract your abs by crunching your torso into your lower body. This requires very little in the way of up-and-down motion.
  • Rope Pulley Crunches – side to side (for the obliques, or “love handle” muscles), 10 reps per side, holding the contraction for two seconds. Position yourself in front of a pulley-driven weight stack. Use a rope with handles or small balls at the end to connect to the pulley, and place the pulley high. Select an appropriate weight and kneel down about three feet in front of the weight stack with the rope held slightly above your head in a fixed position. Then “bow” from side to side, contracting the muscles in your abdominal and oblique (side) region. Go left to right, completing one rep after both left and right sides are contracted.

That’s it! Brief and effective.

Step Two: Lower your calories.

How do you manage to lower your calories without starving the muscle? Keep the protein and fats high. Healthy fats are best. For example, stick to lean cuts of grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught omega-3-rich fish (such as salmon).

Now, here’s a great trick: Overeat slightly cooked or raw vegetables. Try to eat as much of them as you can, especially at night. This trick fools the mind into thinking the body has more food than it actually does.

Step Three: Walk. The more the better.

Walking helps clear out the toxins, gets the blood flowing, rids the system of lactic acid, and burns fat… all at the same time. I walk about 20 times longer than I train with weights, because I love it so much. It’s my number one fat-burner.

So, let’s recap:

1. You can burn fat and build muscle. The energy required to build muscle mass comes from stored body fat.

2. This works only if you keep your protein and fats sufficiently high AND you do not over-train in the gym. The shortest workout possible is the best. Stimulate the mind and body to “build muscle” and it will.

3. Walk as much as you can. Walking before eating in the morning helps you burn even more body fat.

Three simple steps, some hard work and dedication, and you’ll soon have that lean, muscular body you’ve always wanted.

[Ed. Note: If you want to build more muscle in less time while you burn body fat, pick up nutrition and fitness counselor Jon Benson’s newest book, 7 Minute Muscle. It’s a complete system for dropping fat and building muscle that’s guaranteed to work for you. Try it for 60 days and prove it to yourself.

And for a FREE source of nutrition and fitness advice, check out ETR’s natural health newsletter.]