Can you put on muscle while losing fat? Bottom line: yes
Keep these four points in mind while trying to lose weight while gain muscle:
If you are trying to lose weight while keeping your hard earned muscle then protein is the most important factor. Protein will help to keep your body in a positive nitrogen balance while cutting. Having a positive nitrogen balance (basically) means that there is more protein available to your body than you are using: AKA a protein surplus. Muscle is made from the amino acids found in protein sources; if there is not enough building block material available then you will start losing muscle. You need to supply your body with plenty of amino acids to grow your muscle fiber. *Protein doesn’t necessarily mean meat. Chia seeds, soy products, beans, quinoa, and many other seeds and vegetables serve as great sources of protein. Meat is an abundant and easy source, but you can accomplish your goals with a meatless lifestyle.*
Fat is another important factor in putting on muscle while losing weight, but you may not be getting enough while cutting. Fat is important to keep your hormones in check, and if you are not getting enough fat then you can suffer from a decrease in testosterone (this still applies to you ladies!). This will make it even harder to put on muscle, if not impossible. Eggs, avocado, fish, and nuts are great sources of fat. Make sure to measure and track because the calories can add up quickly; balancing your macros and your calories will help you be successful in your nutrition and goals.
The balancing act between eating too much and eating too few calories can be tricky to master at first. If you eat too many calories, even by 100, you will gain weight as fat; if you eat too few calories you will experience muscle loss. The key to walking this fine line is knowing your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the amount of calories you burn by being alive. When you eat lower than this amount of calories you start to use muscle as fuel– because we want to remain alive. However it is very hard to determine your BMR. While there are online calculators to provide a starting point, your specific genetics and lifestyle cause the BMR to vary significantly. The best way to find your caloric needs is to consistently track your intake and progress over time. Start with an amount suggested by a calculator and then adjust as necessary. This is a long process as you need to allow at least 3 weeks per interval.
Body fat percent:
This is another important factor that will determine if you can put on muscle while losing fat. At low body fat percentages, around 5-10%, it will be extremely hard, if not impossible, to lose weight while gaining muscle. While at “higher” body fat percentages it is very possible it put on muscle and lose fat at the same time. Men have an essential fat range of 2-5% and women 10-13%. Anything under 20% is considered very fit for a person, but the average is 18-24% (men) and 25-31% (women).
Years of lifting:
A beginner will be able to put on more muscle while losing fat because they have more potential for muscle gain. In the first year or two of lifting many people put on over half of the muscle than they will ever gain. If you have been lifting for awhile and see a decrease in your progress, don’t despair: This is just part of the journey, and I have experienced it too! *The same goes for general weight loss. The more you have the easier it is to lose. When I was 160 I lost weight so much faster than now at 130. This is why the last 5 lbs is the hardest!
Keep in mind that fat loss is not the same as weight loss. If you are putting on muscle at the same rate as you are losing fat then your weight would stay the same.
To tell if you are losing fat while gaining muscle the mirror is your most important tool. If you are not seeing results in the mirror after about two weeks then you need to change something up. In most cases, you will need to reevaluate your protein to carb intake and decrease your total calories.
Stay consistent out there and good luck!