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What's the best way to bulk up AND lose fat?
February 15, 2005 7:59 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to bulk up in addition to losing existing body fat? [more inside]

I have seen much conflicting information on this topic. I am in my early 20s and have a tall, rather lanky build. At 6'4" and 162 lbs, I am generally regarded as being anywhere between 15 and 40 pounds underweight. I would ideally like to gain enough muscle mass to go up at least one waist size. At the same time, I have some small existing areas of fat (i.e., stomach) that, although not excessive, would only worsen by taking in a large amount of additional calories. But I haven't started any serious cardio exercise for fear that I would get dangerously skinny.

What might the ideal body strategy for someone like myself consist of? Should I treat these two goals as separate entities, losing the fat first before trying to gain muscle?

Thank you, Ask MeFi.
posted by dustinAFN to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Cardio mixed with weight lifting should do the trick. I'm in the same boat, and 4 times a week I do heavy cardio to skimp the beer gut, and lift weights to add muscle mass. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty comftorable in saying that its important to do both weights and cardio at the same time (but different day intervals, perhaps?).

Continue a healthy diet and you won't lose wait and become "dangerously skinny." I'm sure of that.
posted by nitsuj at 8:15 AM on February 15, 2005


Cardio mixed with weight lifting should do the trick. I'm in the same boat, and 4 times a week I do heavy cardio to skimp the beer gut, and lift weights to add muscle mass. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty comftorable in saying that its important to do both weights and cardio at the same time (but different day intervals, perhaps?).

Continue a healthy diet and you won't lose weight and become "dangerously skinny." I'm sure of that.
posted by nitsuj at 8:15 AM on February 15, 2005


In my experience, the best way is to do one (gain lean body mass), then the other (lose bad body mass- fat), by developing good eating habits (what you eat) while changing HOW you exercise. In your case, you can focus on mass gain, with minimal fat loss. Some experts have different opinions:

Men's Fitness: "2 Experts" Article

Google Answers Thread

Other Links:

Google Search on "gain+mass+program+same+time+lose+fat"

Common Fitness Myths

Article with tips on gaining mass. '

Hope this helps.
posted by wonderwisdom at 8:18 AM on February 15, 2005


I'd start here.
posted by trharlan at 8:28 AM on February 15, 2005


Realize that (assuming you're not going to take performance enhancing drugs) genetics plays a large part on how bulky your muscles can get. Chances are you won't look like a pro body-builder no matter how much you work out or how much you eat.

That said, probably the best you can do is eat 3 healthy meals (4 if you want to gain weight) a day and do a mix of aerobic (running, biking, swimming, etc) and anaerobic (weight-lifting) exercise several times a week. The aerobic exercise will improve your heart and lungs and trim fat. The anaerobic exercise will build muscle.

John Stone's site talks a lot about his workouts and meals and also chronicles his progress with pictures.
posted by driveler at 8:31 AM on February 15, 2005


its been poo poohed here before ... but creatine does work.
posted by specialk420 at 9:26 AM on February 15, 2005


I second John Stone's site. Great community as well.

John himself tried the bulk while cutting and it didn't work for him as well as focusing on bulk then cutting. You can do both, but you end up doing both only moderately well.
posted by jopreacher at 9:33 AM on February 15, 2005


but creatine does work.

True, but I'd never suggest it to anyone unless they'd been working out consistently for the past 3-6 months. I would say the same for weight-gainers, or any other major supplements.
posted by BlueTrain at 10:08 AM on February 15, 2005


Everything I've ever heard from people who seem trustworthy suggests that few if any people can successfully gain lean mass and lose fat at the same time (except perhaps fat people who have never trained before). Basically, your body doesn't want to invest in anabolism unless it's satisfied that you have calories to spare, and it's not satisfied until you have enough spare energy to lay down a fat cell or two. This is why bodybuilders cycle between mass gaining and cutting.

I like these guys, Krista's site and the nasty but heart of gold newsgroup misc.fitness.weights (which has an excellent FAQ.

From that FAQ:

# Can I gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?

This is very difficult. It can be done in some unique circumstances, but for the most part it isn't possible. For example, novice lifters can sometimes gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. Also, people returning from long layoffs can sometimes add muscle and lose fat at the same time. However, experienced lifters who are working out consistently can't do both at the same time. If you want to do both, you should choose one goal (either fat loss or muscle gain) and work towards that goal for a few months. After some success towards that goal, you should then change over and try to accomplish the other for a few months. Be single-minded in your focus towards that goal. When trying to lose fat, you should be unconcerned if you lose a little muscle as well. Likewise, if you're trying to add muscle, you should allow the addition of a small amount of fat.
# Can I lose fat without losing muscle?

No, this can't be done. Most dieters will lose 1 pound of muscle for every 3 pounds of fat lost. Steroid-aided athletes can only take this ratio up to about 1:8. Muscle loss when dieting is inevitable. Try to minimize it, but focus on the goal of fat loss.


There is some evidence for creatine promoting lean tissue gain/retention, but I'd save it for later. If you've never trained before, I think you'll really surprise yourself as long as you eat well.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:40 AM on February 15, 2005


PS: often, when you lose fat, you appear "bigger", because your muscles are showing better. But Mr Tape Measure and Ms Scales and their friend Calipers will reveal that you are in fact smaller.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:41 AM on February 15, 2005


It's harder to do both at the same time because you're giving your body two different directives that conflict with each other. In order to build mass, you need to eat like crazy. Eat, eat, eat. 6 meals a day is not unheard of. This is why people bulking up have to resort to those Myoplex shakes. It just takes too long to cook 6 meals every day and make sure they're all healthy and balanced.

Of course, you need to exercise as well. Stick to lifting, and above all don't overdo it!. Lifting 7 days a week for 2 hours a day is crazy-stupid, unless you're rotating body areas (legs one day, arms the next, etc.) Stress your muscles enough to encourage growth, then give them enough food to do their job. Oh, and make sure you get enough rest to give you body time for recovery.

Cutting, on the other hand, is pretty much the exact opposite. When you are eating/exercising for weight-loss, you're going to lose fat and a bit of muscle mass. There's no way to avoid it: your body really, really doesn't want to get rid of those fat stores unless it has to. You must convince it.

If you have a particularly fast metabolism, you will find it very difficult to turn on the "gain muscles" switch in your body. I'm like this, too--a hard gainer. Consistency is the one thing every successful exercise plan has in common. I'd wish you good luck, but luck doesn't really play into it. Work hard and you will see results. John Stone is a great example of this. So is Anthony Ellis.

creatine does work

Creatine enhances your cells' ability to store water (not to be confused with plain-jane water-weight). It does work, but unfortunately the effects are not permanent. You must keep taking Creatine if you want the effect to last. Many have argued that this isn't much different than muscles themselves--you have to keep exercising if you want to maintain your shape. I have used creatine, and found it only marginally affected my lifting performance. It's not like steroids (or other enhancers) that have negative side-effects. Unfortunately it's expensive as hell for what you get out of it.

I'd put the cash into Myoplex shakes before creatine, but when you get to the point where you hit "the wall" you might want to consider it as an option.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:52 AM on February 15, 2005


First, stay away from creatine. I've never met anybody who swore by creatine that actually did anything impressive without the occasional dose of steroids. Second, I agree with the 20-rep squat but be careful. I saw that somebody linked to this but the answer seems to be deleted (or I'm blind). If you're going to really do the twenty rep squat routine you will build muscle and you're going to feel like Hell in the process. Proper form and a spotter are essential if you're really going to crank out 20 reps with what you'd normally be comfortable with for 10 reps. It doesn't sound like you have much experience with weights, find somebody who can spot your form. The guy at the gym who lifts insane amounts of weights but is stooped over like a osteoarithitic bi-centarian isn't your best choice.

When I was in my twenties I had a trainer who swore by the hard gainer techniques even for people who are somewhat genetically atypical (like myself). I've seen beanpoles put on some muscle in short order using the 20 rep squat as the core exercise plus a few sets of bench, curls, dips etc.
posted by substrate at 11:00 AM on February 15, 2005


To follow up on myself I've seen many many people throw up when first introduced to the 20 rep squat.
posted by substrate at 11:36 AM on February 15, 2005


I'm in my mid 20's and have battled an underweight problem all my life. In HS I played rugby, did freeweights, ate a lot, and swam and I'd only get scrawnier/tighter. I gave up the active lifestyle entering undergrad, started working out again in 3rd year with the same (non) results.

In the last year, though, I've noticed that I'm putting on a little fat, so I got myself a chinup bar for New Years. 12 chest ups, 12 chin ups in the morning (I had to work up those numbers but it only took a couple of weeks), and another set when I get home from work if I'm not too worn out. I've put on 5lbs in my arms/chest/shoulders since 05.01.01. The bar is set-up pretty low so I do them in an 'L' position and my abs are (slowly) coming back, too.

Two of my uncles on my mother's side and my father were also underweight until they hit their mid/late 20's so age might be a factor, I'm assuming that it is in my case.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:46 PM on February 15, 2005


If you start building muscle and do some hard ab work, you might find the fat seems less important. Your stomach can still look in shape with some fat over the muscle.
posted by lunkfish at 1:53 AM on February 16, 2005


Thanks to everyone for all the great information.

If you start building muscle and do some hard ab work, you might find the fat seems less important. Your stomach can still look in shape with some fat over the muscle.

Doesn't this get back to the issue of spot-training being effective or ineffective? Maybe that's a separate question, but in looking over previous questions the consensus seemed to be that it generally does not work.
posted by dustinAFN at 9:35 AM on February 19, 2005


dustinAFN, I think you're confusing it with spot-reduction. Spot-reduction is doing say a lot of sit-ups in the hope of removing fat from your midsection. This doesn't work, you'll lose fat from all over anyway. Spot-training is doing a more intense workout on a specific part of your body to build muscle mass. If you want a huge chest for instance you can concentrate on the bench press. For more meat (as opposed to fat) on your abs you concentrate on abdominals. If you've got lots of muscle beneath the same amount of fat your muscle will still show through somewhat.
posted by substrate at 11:04 AM on February 19, 2005


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