Have plans to lose weight and tone up? Building muscle while losing weight takes effort and strategy, but it can be done. As long as you eat right and exercise intelligently to reach your goals, you can see results in 30 days.
Eating plenty of protein and strength training while adding high intensity interval training (HIIT) to your exercise routine will help you build muscle and lose fat at the same time, a process called body recomposition.
The Myth of Toning
Two misconceptions people, particularly women, hold when hoping to lose weight and tone up are that muscle toning is a separate process from muscle building, and that muscle building will make you bulky, big and masculine.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) explains that women often choose to lift weights that are lighter than they should to avoid getting too big and bulky. They lift these low weights for weeks and months without seeing any physical changes. The lack of aesthetic change is for a reason — to produce changes in your muscles, you need to progress to weights that challenge you.
When it comes to the idea of toning, the typical myth is that lifting low weights for many repetitions will result in muscle "tone." According to ACE, there is no real definition of muscle tone, only muscle growth or loss.
The idea of firming and toning your muscles is a fallacy. Any physical and aesthetic change is a result of the growth of your muscle tissue and the reduction of body fat. Removing the extra fat on top of your muscles will help make them more visible and more defined. You cannot do any exercise to cause your muscles to become harder; you can either grow your muscles or shrink them.
Read more: How Women Can Build Muscle Fast
Light weights do have their place, namely in boosting the endurance of muscle tissue, but you cannot adequately produce muscle growth with weights that are too light for your abilities. In other words, you're wasting your time trying to tone using weights that do not challenge you at all. If it's definition that you're after, activating your Type II muscle fibers with more challenging heavier weights is your best bet, says ACE.
Building Muscle While Losing Fat
Muscle growth typically requires you to eat in a caloric surplus; this means that you are eating more calories than your body needs to maintain your weight. If you are hoping to grow your muscles, then that growth requires energy in the form of calories. However, there are several hormones at play when it comes to muscle growth, and there are specific strategies that can help you to slim down and lose body fat while you build muscle.
A critical factor for lowering your body fat while increasing your lean muscle mass is strength training, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your percentage of fat mass will increase if you neglect strength training, especially as you age. The Mayo Clinic says that strength training helps to prevent you from gaining weight and increases your ability to lose weight while boosting your metabolism and burning more calories.
However, ACE stresses that while exercise is essential for preventing disease and keeping healthy, there is a more significant player in the effort to lose weight. The reasons why you became overweight will influence your ability to lose weight, as well as how you should go about it.
Things like genetics, your life experiences early on, ingrained behaviors, your culture, socioeconomic status and your penchant for self-motivation will all play a role in your ability to lose weight, says ACE.
ACE points out that nutrition is the dominant player when it comes to fat loss. Although it is possible to exercise off more calories than you consume, that takes a substantial amount of exercise. For example, if you eat an extra 500 calories during the day, then that will require two hours of cycling to burn off.
Maintaining a healthy diet at a calorie level that is right for your body and creating a small deficit through a combination of nutrition and exercise will help you to tone up and lose weight (i.e., build muscle and lose fat).
Read more: How to Lose Body Fat
To figure out how many calories you need to maintain your weight, see ACE's calorie needs calculator. You can create a caloric deficit through your diet and exercise. Using ACE's activity calorie counter can help you determine how many calories you are approximately burning for the type of exercise that you choose. Don't forget that strength training also helps boost your metabolism and contributes to overall calorie burn in ways that can't be measured by a calculator.
Body Recomposition Strategies
So now that you know both diet and exercise play a role in your efforts to tone up and lose weight, you can adopt some strategies to help you accomplish fat loss while building muscle at the same time. When you are focusing on losing weight and building muscle at the same time, it can appear as though you are not progressing much. This effect occurs if you measure your progress by the number on the scale.
This is because when you gain muscle, you are gaining lean body mass. Although, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), you cannot typically gain enough muscle to offset the amount of weight per week that you can lose with healthy weight loss. Muscle gain does add weight to your body, so it may appear as though you aren't losing as much scale weight as you would like because you are gaining muscle at the same time as you are losing fat. This process is typically called body recomposition.
According to a June 2017 article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, your diet must include a caloric deficit if your focus is on fat loss. Being sure to lose weight slowly will better preserve the lean mass that you have already. If your focus is on gaining muscle mass, then you must eat in a caloric surplus to support the process of gaining muscle through increased resistance training.
One crucial factor of your diet, according to the study, is to be sure to increase your dietary protein beyond most current recommendations to induce body recomposition. Protein intakes of up to 2.3 to 1.3 grams per kilogram of fat-free mass may be required. The researchers note that the most imperative aspect of body recomposition is compliance and consistency.
Another study published in the May 2017 issue of Advances in Nutrition concurs with this advice. The study points out that weight loss that occurs as a result of diet sacrifices muscle mass and that this effect can be mitigated by a high protein diet that helps to preserve lean body and muscle mass during weight loss.
When it comes to the type of training you should do, multiple sources, including ACE, recommends completing 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of an exercise. As noted, consistency is vital, so try to strength train four to five days per week, being sure to give muscle groups 24 to 72 hours of rest between sessions.
A great way to structure your workout is to choose compound exercises that use your larger muscle groups at the beginning of your workouts such as squats, bench press, deadlifts, barbell rows and overhead press. For the rest of your strength training workouts, you can choose between six to eight exercises to perform and split them up however you wish.
Lastly, the type of cardiovascular activity you choose may also play a role in your ability to lose weight while building muscle. Hormones or hormone-like compounds that stimulate your ability to increase muscle fiber size are factors for growth, according to the University of New Mexico. One of these hormones is called growth hormone, and specific exercise modalities can stimulate the release of growth hormone to aid in muscle growth.
Growth hormone also boosts fat metabolism to use as energy in growing the muscles. Growth hormone can also help you utilize amino acids in protein more efficiently to help you build muscle. With all of these factors taken into consideration, you can see that exercising in such a way that boosts human growth hormone is ideal for body recomposition.
The University of New Mexico says that strength training is one way to boost human growth hormone. When it comes to cardiovascular activity, exercising at high intensities also helps boost human growth hormone. One small January 2018 study published in Physiological Reports states that high-intensity exercise (HIE) creates an increase in growth hormone. It may be worth adding HIE to your exercise routine to assist fat loss and muscle definition.
- ACE: "A Girls Guide To Gaining Muscle: Weight Training"
- ACE: "4 Myths about Strength Training for Women"
- The Mayo Clinic: "Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier"
- ACE: "5 Weight-loss Lies We Tell Ourselves"
- ACE: "Daily Caloric Needs Estimate Calculator"
- ACE: "Physical Activity Calorie Counter"
- NASM: "5 Fitness Myths-Busted!"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Diets and Body Composition"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Preserving Healthy Muscle during Weight Loss"
- University of New Mexico: "How Do Muscles Grow?"
- Physiology Reports: "Pilot Study: An Acute Bout of High Intensity Interval Exercise Increases 12.5 H GH Secretion"