You can’t lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.
The belief that you can’t cut fat and gain muscle is a popular one. Many try, but many fail. They cut calories, hit they weights, and perform hour after hour of cardio. They lose weight, but can’t seem to gain any muscle.
So what now? We’ve all heard stories about natural bodybuilders who have lost weight and gained muscle. Is there a dieting secret, or are these lifters just genetic freaks?
Let’s not pull any punches. Genetic freaks exist. They can often eat fewer calories, and still pack on muscle mass. We all secretly envy them, but that last thing we should do is mimic their approach to dieting.
If you want to lose fat and gain muscle, you have to get creative.
If you want to lose fat, you have to limit what you eat. This isn’t rocket science, nor should it come as a shock.
To know how many calories it requires to lose weight, we must first understand how many calories it requires to maintain our weight. This is called caloric maintenance level. You may need to spend several weeks or months getting to know your body before you can determine your caloric maintenance level.
You can also save yourself the time, and perform a generic calculation. This calculation will require an accurate knowledge of what your lean body mass (LBM) is. Your LBM is your total weight less the amount of fat you are carrying on your body.
LBM = Total Weight – Fat
To figure out how much fat you are carrying, you must determine your body fat percentage. Do NOT use a body fat scale to calculate your body fat percentage – they are highly inaccurate. The best way to measure body fat percentage is by purchasing a skin fold caliper. A skin fold caliper runs less then $25.
Let’s say you weigh 200 pounds, and 25% of that is body fat. This would mean that you are carrying around 50 pounds of fat, and have a LBM of 150 pounds. To estimate your daily caloric maintenance level, multiply your LBM by a factor of 20.
Caloric Maintenance Level = LBM * 20
At 150 pounds LBM, to maintain your current weight, you would need to eat 3,000 calories per day. Again, this is a quick and dirty estimation. You may have a high metabolism, and require an additional 1,000 daily calories to maintain your weight. Consider the calculated number a starting point that may need to be adjusted up or down.
To lose fat, our lifter would need to eat less then 3,000 calories each day. Multiply your LBM by a factor of 16. This is how many calories you would need to eat each day to lose fat.
Fat Loss Calories = LBM * 16
Again, this is simply an estimation. If you can’t lose weight using these calculations, drop the number by 200 calories and try again for several weeks. And if you are gaining weight, subtract 500 calories from this total.
So, the lifter in our example needs to eat 2,400 (150 LBM * 16) calories per day to lose weight.
The Problem with Stagnant Diets
At this point, knowing what it takes to lose weight, most people make a critical mistake…they limit themselves to exactly 2,400 calories each and every day. Their diet rarely changes. They are able to lose weight, but find it hard to gain muscle and/or strength.
So what’s the problem? Simple. There is no caloric fluctuation from day to day. The body will slowly, but consistently adapt to the same daily diet. As a result, your metabolism will adapt as well, and it will become much harder to lose fat.
Understand, you can still lose fat using this method. Plenty of individuals have. Just because your metabolism adapts doesn’t mean that fat loss stops. Far from it! What it does mean is this: you will have a hard time gaining any muscle at all because the body is in a locked down state, and wants to conserve it’s energy for vital more functions. Adding more muscle will not be considered a top priority for the body during this time.
Fear not. There is a solution, and it’s a simple and logical one. The solution is to zig-zag your daily caloric intake.
Here’s how it works. If you require 2,400 daily calories to lose weight, eat 2,400 calories on days you don’t train, and eat 300 to 500 calories above maintenance levels on days you do train.
Let’s use the example of our 200 pound lifter again. He requires an average of 2,400 calories per day to lose fat. Let’s also say that he trains 3 days a week, full body style. Here is his weekly zig-zag diet plan:
- 3400 calories - Monday. Workout day
- 2400 calories - Tuesday. OFF day
- 3400 calories - Wednesday. Workout day
- 2400 calories - Thursday. OFF day
- 3400 calories - Friday. Workout day
- 2400 calories - Saturday. OFF day
- 2400 calories - Sunday. OFF day
On workout days, our lifter is eating 400 more calories per day. This caloric fluctuation will assist the body is losing fat, while maintaining, or gaining muscle.
On the average, the bodybuilder in our example is eating below his maintenance level, which will allow for slow, gradual fat loss. Because he is spiking calories on workout days, it will prevent his metabolism from stalling, and allow him the potential to gain muscle.
Zig Zag Diet
No diet plan is perfect. And gaining muscle while losing fat is an extremely difficult thing to do. On a conventional diet, it is nearly impossible for the average natural bodybuilder to add muscle.
The zig zag diet is a more effective approach to cutting fat. Like all diets, you must first learn your body before the diet will truly work for you.
On workout days, you are eating 1,000 or more extra calories. Add at least half of these calories to your post-workout meal. You can divide the rest up among your other daily feedings.