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

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Updated September 15, 2010

Question: Can I lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?
Answer: The answer to this question really depends on your goals. For more advanced exercisers or bodybuilders looking to gain large amounts of muscle while losing large amounts of fat, those goals often conflict with one another. Building muscle requires eating more calories than you burn while losing fat requires eating fewer calories than you burn. When losing fat, your muscles aren't getting the fuel they need to grow larger.

However, the average exerciser looking to improve body composition can lose fat while improving lean body tissue over time and beginners will likely get the greatest benefits of both fat loss and muscle gain. In fact, one study found that women who followed a cardio and strength program for 6 months lost an average of 10 percent body fat while increasing their muscle by about 2.2 percent, while another study showed that men experience similar improvements after following a 16-week strength training program. This shows that beginners respond quickly and efficiently to strength training and cardio.

The key is to keep a balance of both cardio and strength training, whether you're a beginner or a more experienced exerciser. Doing all cardio with no strength training can compromise your muscle mass, while doing only strength training without cardio can compromise your fat loss. If you're in that situation (e.g., a marathoner or a bodybuilder), your goals and training approach may be different. For the average exerciser, however, having a balance between the two is the best way to maximize fat loss while preserving muscle mass.

Learn more about building muscle and fat loss.

Sources:

Layman, Donald K., et al. (2005). Dietary protein and exercise have additive effects on body composition during weight loss in adult women. The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 135:1903-1910, August.

Are you losing muscle as well as fat?. The Facts About Fitness. Retrieved March 6, 2006 from http://www.thefactsaboutfitness.com/news/exerpro.htm

Nindl B, Harman E, Marx J, et al. Regional body composition changes in women after 6 months of periodized physical training. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Jun;88(6):2251-9.

Treuth M, Ryan A, Pratley R, et al. Effects of strength training on total and regional body composition in older men. J Appl Physiol. 1994 Aug;77(2):614-20.

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