How to Lose Fat First Then Build Muscle

If you are thinking of losing fat before building muscle, you should take into consideration what’s best for your body type. For people that are overweight, losing fat first is the way to go, while people with a natural slim physique will be better off building muscle first. Losing fat is all about burning calories through exercise and getting the proper nutrition to create a calorie deficit. To lose weight effectively -- and build muscle -- getting into the rhythm of working out consistently is vital for success.

sporty woman morning exercise running on mountain driveway under sunrise
Woman running outside at sunrise. (Image: fatchoi/iStock/Getty Images)

Getting the Cardio Basics

To perform effective fat-burning exercises, you should improve your heart fitness with moderate exercise. Start with 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week. This can include jogging, recreational badminton, dancing, brisk walking or any workout that helps you break a sweat and increase your heart rate. Consistently perform moderately intense exercise for two to three weeks before moving on to rigorous cardio, such as basketball and sprinting, particularly if you are starting from a sedentary lifestyle.

Effective Fat-burning Exercise

High-intensity interval training, HIIT, is effective at burning calories during and after a workout, as well as producing abdominal and subcutaneous fat loss. Begin every exercise session with a five-minute warm up that consists of a moderate-intensity jog. The American Council on Exercise recommends you alternate between 60-second sprints and 120 seconds of recovery at 50 percent exertion. Your recovery interval should be at a jogging pace while the intense interval should be at least 70 percent of your max pace. Continue alternating between the intervals for 20 to 25 minutes. In addition to your basic cardio regimen, perform HIIT workouts once or twice a week to reduce your risk of injury.

Packing on the Muscles

To build muscle mass, stimulate your muscles with a strength-training program. Unlike cardio, you only need to perform these exercises two or three times a week. A full-body workout can consist of pullups, lunges, the bench press, bicep curls, calf raises and military press. Aim to perform eight to 12 reps of each exercise in three sets to achieve muscle fatigue. ACE recommends you gradually increase your weight by 5 to 10 percent when you can perform 12 repetitions without breaking form.

Eating Less for Fat Loss

Losing weight thorough exercise will not be possible without proper nutrition. Your diet should consist of whole foods which can include seafood, lean meat, vegetables, lentils, nuts and fruit. Avoid frying any of these foods and purge processed, baked and sodium-rich foods. Pay more attention to your calorie intake when you are losing weight. Create a daily deficit of 500 calories to lose a pound of fat weekly during your fat-loss phase.

Eat More for Muscles

While building muscles you should create a calorie surplus of between 300 to 500 calories by increasing your protein, carbs and healthy fats intake. Choose canola oil, nuts such as almonds and seeds for healthy fats. Consume a variety of green vegetables and fruit for carbs. For protein intake, multiply your body weight in kilograms by 1.5. For example, a 180-pound individual will require about 125 g of protein daily.

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