When people talk about losing weight, they often aren’t really talking about losing weight. What they are really referring to then, is ‘body recomposition’, or how to burn fat without losing muscle.
Body recomposition means that you are losing fat, while gaining muscle. This is a very important distinction because it will completely change the way you look and feel. You can actually still weigh the same amount though (or more even!) seeing as muscle is heavier than fat!
Ever heard of someone who is ‘skinny fat’? This is a perfect demonstration of what can happen if you burn fat and lose muscle. These people aren’t overweight, but they completely lack tone. Thus, their stomach hangs out while their arms look skinny and weak.
Likewise, you might know of people who are very strong and packed with muscle… but all that muscle is hidden beneath a thick layer of fat. That’s not a particularly good look either, nor is it one that is healthy for the individual in question!
The problem is that it is hard to gain muscle without adding fat. And it’s hard to lose fat without also losing muscle. Catch 22!
In this post, we’re going to look at how to burn fat without losing muscle. In fact, you will learn how you can burn fat and build muscle at the same time!
First, we need to define the problem. Why are these two things so connected?
The best way to think of this, is to understand that your body ultimately exists in one of two states: anabolic or catabolic. Anabolism means that you have a caloric surplus and you are at rest. You are free from psychological and physiological stress. Your body now uses this opportunity to ‘rebuild’ and will therefore send nutrients to your muscles and to your organs and immune system. This is when we heal, and it is when we recover from injury. The most catabolic state there is, is sleep.
On the other hand though, being in a catabolic state means that you are in a state of deficit. It means that you don’t have enough calories in your system, or that you are putting an energy demand on your body. Your heart rate goes up, you enter a state of stress, and this state of arousal will burn calories. If there are no calories in the blood, then that might mean burning fat or burning muscle.
So, to gain muscle, you need to be in a caloric surplus – meaning you have more energy than your body needs at that given moment. But to lose fat, you must be in a state of calorie deficit. That means you need to be looking for somewhere to get energy – usually by burning fat. But this automatically puts you in a state of physiological stress that can also destroy muscle.
On a chemical level: low blood sugar leads to an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone). That in turn will then lead to an increase in myostatin – a molecule that breaks down and destroys muscle. Hence the problem!
The Solution: How to Burn Fat Without Losing Muscle
So, what’s the answer?
One answer is to make sure that you don’t go too far into either of these states. The way that Jeff Cavaliere of Athlean X recommends you do this is by consuming the number of calories you would need for ‘maintenance’. In other words? Eating the number of calories that you burn in a typical day.
If you then combine this with an increase in the amount of protein (which the body uses to increase muscle and finds harder to store as fat), then you can see your body composition change as you gradually burn through fat and maintain muscle.
The most important thing to recognize here though, is that this process is slow and gradual. Much more so than doing a ‘cut’ or doing a ‘bulk’. It takes time, but the result is much better for you.