I'm Overweight: Can I Build Muscle?

Doing regular bouts of weight lifting can help you quickly gain muscle mass. (Image: Ridofranz/iStock/GettyImages)

Some people are looking for the best fat-burning muscle-building diet, and they may wonder if they can get more muscular. If that's your case, you might want an easy weight-loss and muscle-gain workout plan to get started. Learning some basic principles and doing simple exercises will help you reach your health goals.

Tip

If you struggle with belly fat, it doesn't seem to matter how much or how hard you work out. The most important thing is that you regularly work out. Doing regular physical exercise can help you lose belly fat within a few months, according to a November 2018 report in the journal Obesity.

Bulk Up With Resistance Training

Doing resistance exercises like weightlifting can cause an increase in muscle mass. These changes seem to happen no matter how much you weigh. A July 2017 report in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research confirmed this effect by testing two types of resistance training programs in 25 overweight women.

Researchers compared a traditional (straight sets) resistance-training program and a pyramidal-resistance training program. The study lasted for several months. Subjects exercised on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for two eight-week sessions separated by a 12-week break. They participated in both types of resistance training.

The results indicated that, compared to baseline, each eight-week phase caused an increase in muscle strength. Each type of resistance exercise also caused an increase in muscle mass. These changes happened without affecting insulin-growth factor or testosterone.

You can take advantage of the muscle-building power of resistance training with a simple program using elastic bands. These accessories are an excellent way to get started, but you will want to gradually include weight training.

It's important to use proper technique no matter what exercise you do. Consider working with a personal trainer, a professional who can plot a course of action, track your progress and guarantee your safety.

Build Muscle With Eccentric Cycling

Eccentric cycling involves pushing back against motor-driven pedals. This exercise is known to cause hypertrophy — an increase in muscle cell size. A January 2019 paper in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports demonstrated the positive effect of eccentric cycling in 24 overweight adolescents.

Researchers tested the participants using both eccentric and traditional (concentric) cycling. The children exercised three times a week for 12 weeks. Each session lasted for 30 minutes. At the end of the study, the scientists compared the results found before the training to those found after training.

Eccentric cycling caused a 3.8 percent increase in the kids' whole-body lean mass. Concentric cycling produced similar results — it caused a 1.5 percent increase in lean mass. Both types of cycling also increased the strength of the subjects' quadriceps muscles.

You need a special machine for eccentric cycling, but you can do concentric cycling with a regular bicycle. This exercise targets your leg muscles and triggers hypertrophy, according to the January 2019 paper in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. Smaller changes happened with concentric cycling — a 1.5 percent increase in whole-body lean mass — but these effects remain impressive and easy to reach.

Gain Mass With Aerobic Training

Aerobic exercises like running can also help people gain muscle mass. An April 2017 article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society nicely illustrated the positive impact of aerobic training in 60 older adults with age-related muscle wasting and obesity.

The subjects did aerobic training twice a week for eight weeks. Compared to a control group, adults in the treatment group had greater muscle mass by the end of the experiment. Interestingly, these differences still remained a month after the study — even though the participants had stopped working out.

This study shows the power of aerobic training. Muscle wasting typically happens very soon after you quit exercising. For example, a June 2019 report from Maastricht University showed that a week of bedrest caused much muscle loss in 10 healthy adults. Aerobic exercise can help prevent muscle loss and help you achieve positive results by increasing your metabolism.

It's easy to find a type of cardio exercise that will help you build muscle, given the many types of aerobic exercise currently available. Your choices span a wide range — from walking to swimming. Even dancing can help you gain mass, according to an October 2015 report in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity which tested 34 older women.

Keep Your Routine Varied

Long-distance running can cause weight loss, but it can also decrease your muscle mass. Adding resistance exercise to this routine can let you keep your muscle mass as you lose weight. Trainers call this combination concurrent training. A January 2016 article in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism looked at the impact of concurrent training on 68 overweight adolescent girls.

Scientists randomly assigned the girls to one of three experimental conditions: high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, plyometric training combined with HIIT, and no exercise. Each of the three phases lasted for 12 weeks. At the end of this experiment, the authors compared the results to the ones at the beginning of the study.

Both training styles — HIIT and plyometrics plus HIIT — had significant health benefits. For example, they improved physical fitness and body composition. Concurrent training, though, caused a greater increase in muscle mass and improved diabetes markers. For example, it decreased blood sugar levels and leptin production.

An October 2014 report in Sports Medicine describes how you can maximize the benefits of concurrent training. The author suggests doing endurance training early in the day, recovering for three hours and then doing resistance training. It's also beneficial to take amino acid supplements immediately after resistance training. You need to eat well between the two sessions so you can completely recover.

Change Your Diet

The best fat-burning muscle-building diet remains unknown. Many people have lost weight with low-carb diets. To be clear, most carbohydrate-restricted plans are also low in calories. Such diets can cause weight loss and thus have potentially beneficial effects on basal metabolism and life quality, according to a March 2014 paper in the Annual Review of Public Health.

It is difficult, however, to lose weight and keep muscle while cutting calories. For example, a May 2017 report in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity demonstrated that dietary restrictions triggered weight loss in 24 obese men, but they also caused strength loss. The authors attributed the latter change to large losses in lower body muscle mass.

Doing resistance exercise while dieting might prevent this muscle loss. A February 2017 paper in the Nutrition Journal showed that combining dietary changes and resistance exercises allowed overweight adults to increase their muscle mass while dieting. Interestingly, the increase in muscle mass didn't occur with dietary changes alone. So, it's important to exercise while dieting if you want to gain mass.

Some people find the concurrent combination of exercising and dieting overwhelming. Try to show moderation with your diet as you can't overcome bad eating habits with exercise. You should also show moderation with your exercise. Working out too much can damage your joints and cause burnout.

Fat Loss vs. Muscle Gain

It's important to stay patient if you start thinking, "I'm gaining muscle but not losing fat." The best fat-burning muscle-building diet remains elusive, and some effects of exercise take time. Exercise causes both immediate and delayed effects.

A November 2017 report in the International Journal of Sports Medicine tested 10 healthy adults and showed that exercise-induced inflammation seems to explain the early gains associated with resistance training. Yet, a September 2016 paper in the Journal of Physiology tested 10 healthy adults and showed that adaptation happens within a few weeks and genuine muscle tissue develops at that point.

A February 2016 review published in Immunology and Cell Biology describes the delayed effects of exercise, such as better metabolism health and reduced inflammation. These changes, though, can take a while to happen. Gender might play a role too.

An April 2018 article from Allina Health dispels some myths about your metabolism and offers some useful tips. For example, it's important not to use exercise as an excuse to overeat because that change will override many of your gains. Combine regular exercise with a balanced diet to speed up your progress. Finally, use a journal to track your exercise, sleep and diet patterns.

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