Should I Lose Weight Before Building Muscle?

April 5, 2022

About the Author: Eric Bach

Should I Lose Weight Before Building Muscle?

If you’re like most guys in the gym, you’d like to lose weight AND build muscle ASAP.

But what KIND of weight and muscle? And how soon? Most guys would say they want to drop 15 pounds of body fat and replace it with lean muscle….yesterday.

Before you start down this road, here’s sage advice I wish I had received when I first started training: chasing fat loss and muscle growth simultaneously ensures you’ll struggle to do either.

Or, as the late Charles Poliquin put it:
“You can’t ride two horses with one ass.”

There is a fine distinction most lifters miss: At any given point in time i.e. this second, you’re either anabolic (building) or catabolic (breaking down).

During a training phase, you’ll have periods of both. However, if you try to do both simultaneously, progress is almost non-existent.

When you don’t see progress, you lose motivation. When you lose motivation, you stop being consistent and change programs and diets to the point where it’s impossible to make progress.

The fastest way to lose fat and build muscle is to get lean first, then build muscle.

Take a trip down memory lane. When you started training, you probably built muscle and lost fat. As a beginner, resistance training and healthy eating are a shock to your system, and a recomposition is possible.

You make the fastest gains of your life, and you often expect to continue on the same trajectory.

Unfortunately, making progress gets harder the longer you do it. The process takes longer, and reaching new levels of success requires changing your strategy.

This is precisely where most lifters stay stuck. Their expectations are out of alignment with what’s physically possible, so they chase physiologically conflicting goals.

Losing fat and building muscle requires two different protocols. Losing body fat requires your body to be in a caloric deficit and burn stored fuel for energy.Building muscle requires your body to be in a calorie surplus and have additional calories to recover from training to grow.

Fat loss and muscle growth are on two opposite sides of the physiological spectrum.

By chasing two goals, your body receives conflicting signals.You’ll succeed faster by narrowing your focus to either fat loss or muscle growth.

Here are five reasons why starting with…

1. The Best Reason To Lose Weight Before Building Muscle

It’s actually pretty simple. Fast fat loss is incredibly motivating.
Research routinely shows you can lose 1-3 pounds of fat per week following an intelligent plan.

Building muscle takes much longer: 1-3 pounds of lean muscle each month is fast progress, as broken down here.

Fat loss is an exponentially faster process.

You can theoretically lose 15 pounds of fat in 4-8 weeks and keep it off.

Adding 15 pounds of lean muscle will probably take you at least a year if you’re 100% consistent with your training and diet.

Because you’ll lose fat faster and see quicker results when you step out of the shower each morning, you’ll be more confident and, most of all, consistent.

2. Improved Health And Energy Levels

A handful of incredible changes happen inside your body when you lose body fat.

First, relative strength increases.  You’ll be stronger for your size as long as you’re holding onto strength and muscle with a strategic training plan.

You’ll move your body through space easier. Whether going for a run, playing a pick-up sport, or grinding through a long day, everything you do becomes relatively easier.

Should I Lose Weight Before Building Muscle?

Second, you’ll improve hormonal health. Body fat acts like a hormone, leading to health issues and more body fat.Research has found body fat to function as a hormone in your body–and it’s not good.

Here is a list of hormones (and issues) seen with higher body fat amounts:

  • Leptin resistance: An inability to regulate appetite.
  • Adiponectin: reduced insulin sensitivity, increases inflammation.
  • Resistin: Increase insulin resistance.
  • Lipocalin-2: Increased insulin resistance and inflammation.
  • Isthmin-1: Immune function.
  • Adamst1:  Blood vessel formation, ovulation.
  • Chemerin: Increases inflammation and raises blood pressure.

Here’s a bit more if you’d like to read up on these:  Fat Loss and Hormone Function

When you lose fat first, evidence shows you may improve appetite control, decrease inflammation, immune health, sexual health, blood pressure, and blood vessel formation.

Third, you’ll improve insulin sensitivity. When your body is more sensitive to insulin, you can control your blood sugar and more effectively build muscle and lose body fat.

Better insulin sensitivity helps you enjoy your favorite foods without gaining as much body fat and instead of burning it off as energy or building muscle.

3. You’ll Look Bigger When You’re Lean

Most lifters want to build muscle and lose fat because it will improve their look.

Getting leaner helps you look bigger.

I’m always amazed when I go on a diet and drop 8-10 pounds: I get compliments that I’ve bulked up.

Body fat hides muscular shape and definition. When you get leaner, you’ll reveal a more muscular shape and definition.

Your shoulders will appear wider, your waist will appear small, and from an aesthetic point of view, you’ll look bigger and more impressive.

If your primary goal is to look better, getting leaner is the best way to do it.

4. You’ll Learn How Much Muscle You Really Need

Men chase “growing” to a certain weight on the scale as a gauge of their success.

I fell into this trap years ago when trying to build muscle for football.

Weighing a certain amount had its credence in a sport predicated on high-speed collisions like football. But body weight is a piss-poor indicator of success in the gym, particularly if your goals are based on how you look and feel.

Don’t get me wrong–you need lean muscle mass to build your best body.

Most men who train have a good amount of muscle.  Unfortunately, most men carry significantly more body fat than they realize.

Because they’re fatter than they think, their expectations of what they should weigh are warped, creating a huge mental trap.

Unrealistic expectations blur our view of actual progress, when progress appears to be lacking, confidence withers, and consistency struggles.

I recommend guys to diet down to 10-15% body fat. In order words, you should have some visible abs before you attempt to bulk up.

5. You’ll Add Lean Muscle Easier When You’re Lean

When you’re leaner (<10-15% body fat), your body will be healthier, and your insulin sensitivity will be improved. The result is you can eat at a calorie surplus–a requirement to build significant amounts of muscle– while limiting fat gain and building muscle.

When you’re leaner, you have a better grasp on how much muscle you want to gain.

As a result of practical expectations and a body that’s optimized for lean muscle growth, you can set practical goals and build a plan around building lean muscle. Which brings us back to our original question…


And the answer is:
It’s entirely possible to lose fat AND build muscle.

The best way to do it is by getting lean first. Once you’re lean, focus on building lean muscle.

You’ll be healthier, happier, and most of all, you’ll accomplish your goal faster.

If you have questions, feel free to book a physique transformation call here: Coaching

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