Lose Fat While Getting Jacked? Signs of Gaining Muscle While Burning Fat
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Lose Fat While Getting Jacked? Signs of Gaining Muscle While Burning Fat

It's almost that time of year again.

Time to get to the beach, head down to the pool, shed your t-shirt and show off all of the work you've put in this year.

One problem: your body fat percentage isn't quite as low as you would like to see it and you haven't been able to sculpt your body quite as well as you would have liked. Thing is…you don't want to cut away the muscle mass you worked so hard to put on and you actually would like to experience more muscle growth.

The beach hunnies are waiting...what's a lifter to do?!

Keep grinding...don't let that number on the scale fool you!

Today, we're going to discuss some of the key signs that you are actually gaining muscle while losing fat.

Gain Muscle and Lose Fat...at the Same Time?

Everybody wants to shed excess fat; nobody wants to lose much muscle. It's a tale as old as time and one that athletes, personal trainers, and kinesiologists have been studying for years.

Thankfully, the question of whether this is possible, has been settled. You can shed fat while adding muscle tissue (even while maintaining your body weight, if this is a priority) (Barakat, Pearson, Escalante, Campbell, De Souza, 2020). Let's look at some of the most glaring signs that these changes ARE taking place.

Signs of Gaining Muscle

As obvious as this may be, you may be putting on a lot of muscle without even realizing it

  • The Weights Feel Easy

If you've been lifting heavier weights during training or if it feels easier to lift the same weights from week to week, it's pretty clear that you're gaining strength...and muscle.

  • How your Clothes Fit (Around your Arms and Shoulders)

As we'll soon see, your clothes fit differently as a result of fat loss, but when your sleeves cling to your biceps and your shirt clings to your traps, you know you're putting on muscle.

  • Your Metabolism is on Fire

When you gain muscle, your body's metabolic rate increases. If you're experiencing increased energy levels and you feel like you are able to burn more calories without even trying, there's a good chance you've packed on some muscle.

What Happens to your Body Composition when you Lose Fat?

A lot of the body’s changes to decreased fat levels are pretty apparent. You may notice others...but they may not be as obvious.

  • You can see the Veins and/or "Cuts"

Depending on the amount of fat covering your body, you may notice that your muscles look a lot more defined as you start losing body fat. Without that extra layer of subcutaneous fat covering them, you'll start to notice every last striation and your veins will start to pop out from your skin.

  • How your Clothes Fit (Around your Midsection)

One of the biggest changes in your body composition when you are losing fat is that your waistline and general midsection begins to shrink. Since much of the body's fat distribution accumulates in this area, it is one of the first places where you can feel the effects of reduced body fat (Nackers, Ross, Perry, 2010).

  • Lower Body Fat Percentage

Are you still obsessed with the numbers on your scale even as you see and feel changes to your body? If so, it's time to get your body fat percentage tested. You'll probably find that your weight may be the same, but your body fat percentage has drastically lowered (Goonasegaran, Nabila, Shuhada, 2012).

Strong back muscles of a fitness enthusiast performing strength training

Physical changes body gains

We've all heard some absolutely shredded bodybuilder talk about having to go on some "deep cut" prior to competing in some posing contest. The thought of one of those guys having trouble maintaining their gains while they're clearing out the last ounces of body fat can be pretty intimidating.

However, as we've discussed today, unless you are that serious bodybuilder (who literally has little, if any, muscle left to gain and fat to lose), your experience with switching out fat with muscle is likely to be much easier (and much less annoying to your friends who have to hear you talk about it!)

Of course, it's much easier to stay on track when you can see or feel the changes to your body so be sure to keep on the lookout for all of the signs discussed today!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to gain muscle and lose fat with mainly endurance types of workouts?

You don't have to lift weights in order to improve muscle strength and mass and to experience body composition changes. This is especially true if you are brand new to your fitness journey; literally any type of exercise will build more muscle (Rippetoe, 2011).

However, without enough of a stimulus, usually in the form of weighted resistance, to promote muscle growth, it won't be long before you are losing inches around the waist, but not experiencing muscle growth.

For the best results, combine cardio/endurance workouts with weight training and closely track your progress to ensure that you are experiencing fat loss and muscle gains.

Is it possible to experience increased muscle definition without fat loss?

It is certainly possible to experience increased muscle definition as your body fat percentage remains stagnant, especially if you are working muscles and areas of the body that you haven't previously spent much time sculpting.

However, as long as there is an extra layer of fat, your muscles will certainly be growing larger, but you probably won't be able to see the desired muscle definition.

Can I build muscle and actually lose weight at the same time?

This is more difficult than simply "transferring" your fat storage to muscle fibers, but it is possible, especially for those in their early stages of their weight loss journey.

The excessive levels of deep visceral fat in many overweight trainees is much easier to burn than surface-level fat. Because visceral fat makes up a disproportionate amount of oversight trainees' bodyweight in relation to their muscle mass, they will oftentimes burn this fat at a faster rate the heavier muscle  can "replenish" their total body weight (Harris & Kuo, 2021). The end result? More muscle and less weight.

References:

Barakat, C., Pearson, J., Escalante, G., Campbell, B., De Souza, E. (2020). Body 
recomposition: Can trained individuals build muscle and lose fat at the same time? 
Strength and Conditioning Journal, 42(5): 7-21.
https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/fulltext/2020/10000/body_recomposition__can_trained_individuals_build.3.aspx

Goonasegaran, A., Nabila, F., Shuhada, N. (2012). Comparison of the effectiveness of body 
mass index and body fat percentage in defining body composition. Singapore Medical
Journal, 53(6): 403-408.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22711041/

Harris, B., Kho, C. (2021). Scientific challenges on theory of fat burning exercise. Frontiers in
Physiology, 12.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8290478/ 

Nackers, L., Ross, K., Perri, M. (2010). The association between rate of initial weight loss and 
long-term success in obesity treatment: Does slow and steady win the race? 
International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 17(3): 161-167
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780395/

Rippetoe, M. (2011). Starting strength: Basic barbell training (3rd ed.). Aasgaard.


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