By Erik Ledin
One of the biggest mistakes people – both males and females – make in their pursuit of physique improvements, whether that be fat loss or muscle gain, is not ensuring that their nutritional program supports their goals. Sounds logical doesn’t it? If you want to lose fat, you have to eat in a way that supports fat loss. If you want to gain muscle, you have to eat in a way that supports muscular gains. Yet look around your gym; how many people ever really look much different? I’d say not too many. It’s not for lack of trying in the gym as I’m sure you see many of the same people week in and week out and they certainly appear to be working hard. They’re lifting weights, they’re doing their cardio, but for some reason, they don’t look much different. Why? Nutrition! Their diet doesn’t support their goals.
Now if you stopped and asked any one of these individuals what their goals were, they might say they’re trying to get bigger … and leaner. That’s what most of us tend to want, but the problem is trying to do both at the same time. I’ll keep this simple, but basically, to lose body fat you have to be in a caloric deficit at the end of the day. You can get there either by dietary restriction (eating less calories than your body requires to maintain its current weight), by exercise, or by some combination of both; the latter being optimal. Contrast that to the goals of gaining muscle. You need to be in an energy surplus to gain muscle. That begs the question – how can you be in a caloric deficit and a caloric surplus at the same time? You can’t. They’re mutually exclusive positions. Now maybe you’ll argue the point of simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain with me – what we affectionately term a ‘recomp’ – but let me try a little logic. First the easy one; does it make sense that the body would be forced to call on fat stores (an energy reserve), when it’s getting an excess of calories? There’s no reason to.
On the flip side, when you’re eating in a deficit, your body is trying to survive. You’re not providing it with enough energy to sustain itself, hence the need for it to call on fat reserves to maintain metabollically active tissue and bodily functions. Ok, pretty straight forward. But to bring some logic back into the equation, does it make sense that your body would go through the trouble of adding more metabolically active tissue – muscle, which needs to be grown AND sustained – when it already doesn’t have enough energy/calories to sustain its present self? The process of adding size to the body is an energy costly process. That’s a huge strike against those who state their goals as being simultaneous fat loss and muscle gains. More often than not, you’re going to be disappointed.
Now does that mean that one can’t ever gain muscle while simultaneously losing fat? No, it doesn’t. However, it is very unlikely unless you fit into one of the following categories – you’re a ‘newbie’ just starting out, you’re coming back from a lay off and as such are basically in a detrained state, or you’re new to ‘effective’ training.
If you’re seriously after optimal progress in either direction – fat loss or muscle gains, you’ll do far, far better if your nutrition supports those goals. If you’re chasing fat loss, again, you need to be eating in a deficit. If you’re wanting to pack on some beef, you really need to be eating … a lot. There’s an old saying that says if you’re not growing, you’re not eating enough and honestly, it’s for the most part true. The biggest reason more people don’t get bigger and stronger is that they simply do not have enough calories/energy coming in to one sustain them and two support the growth and maintenance of new muscle tissue.
Take a look at yourself, do a hard assessment and determine what you need to do first. Maybe you start out trying to add some size, while minimizing fat gains and then you transition into trying to get ripped while maintaining some of the newly earned muscle. Or maybe you have a lot of fat to lose in which case you want to jump right into a fat-loss program. Maybe you’re in desperate need of more muscle. Regardless, the bottom line is that your training, your cardio, what you do in the gym, while important, is going to end up being secondary to ensuring that your nutrition supports your physique goals.