The Importance Of Choosing One Fitness Goal At A Time
We all want to build muscle and burn fat right? It’s the reason why we even go to the gym in the first place.
But are you sure that what you're currently doing is helping you to build that lean mean physique?
Everyone walks in the gym with pretty much the same goal: To get big and get shredded. But most of the time, this same mentality is what’s hindering their progress.
Why? Because, in an ideal world we would be able to build muscle and lose fat at the same time at a significant pace, but sadly, this ideal world is very rare.
Now I’m not saying you can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time, because in some occasions it does actually occur, it’s just very uncommon.
In the most common cases that this occurs is to individuals that are completely new to training. This beginning stage of training is what we call “noob gains”, this is basically the only time in your life where you will build muscle and burn through fat with not so much effort. In the other scenario that this occurs is when people use certain types of anabolic steroids. But this is a topic for a different post so let’s move on.
So what do we do to build that ideal physique? We choose one fitness goal at a time.
What I mean by this is that you either choose to build muscle or lose fat. And do so in a periodized manner. The reason why we choose one goal at a time is because building muscle and burning fat each demand a different approach with your nutrition.
Our body builds muscle mass in the presence of a caloric surplus (consume more calories than you expend) followed with a strength training program. Without weights and just a surplus of calories you’re only going to get fat. So strength training is a must.
And to burn fat we need a caloric deficit (burn more calories than we consume).
A caloric surplus builds an anabolic environment in our body, which means everything starts growing. And this surplus of calories combined with weight training is going to help you build that muscle mass you want.
The opposite process of this would be called catabolism. Catabolism is a metabolic pathway that breaks down molecules into smaller units when in a caloric deficit. In Layman’s terms: Your body starts burning through fat, muscle, bone, etc.
Now it’s important to note that anabolism doesn’t always mean getting fat, and catabolism doesn’t always mean losing muscle. What will determine whether you gain fat in a surplus or lose muscle in a deficit is the size of the surplus or the deficit.
Let me put this in an example:
A 200lb male maintains his weight at 3,000 calories (I’m going to use easy numbers for this)
If he wants to build muscle he will need to consume more than 3,000 calories. How much he goes over those 3,000 calories will determine the amount of fat he gains in the process. My recommendation is always keeping the surplus controlled and not way over the maintenance calories. A good surplus would be between 200 and 500 calories; meaning he will consume between 3,200 and 3,500 calories a day if he wants to build muscle but avoid gaining too much fat in the process.
Now, if his goal was to lean down and get shredded, he will need a caloric deficit. This means eating less than the 3,000 calories that he needs to maintain. Again, my recommendation like in a gaining phase will be controlling the deficit and eating around 400-500 calories less; this is 2,500 to 2,600 calories a day. This ensures that the deficit is not too large that he will risk losing muscle mass, and just enough for his body to start burning through fat.
You’re probably asking why I recommend this amount of calories for a surplus or a deficit.
The reason being is that; the greater the surplus of calories, the more weight you will gain. But this is not a good thing, because by gaining weight too fast, you will increase the rate at which your body stores fat. This is because you can only synthesize so much protein, so we can’t build as much muscle as we would want to in a short period of time. So, a big surplus of calories isn’t an ideal approach.
Kind of the same thing happens when in a deficit but the other way around. The greater the deficit, the more weight you will lose, but not in a good way. If you lose weight too fast, you’re going to risk losing your hard earned gains.
So what is an optimal rate of weight loss and weight gain?
When in a mass gaining phase, I recommend gaining about 2 pounds per month. This will ensure you are gaining a good amount of muscle mass, but at the same time avoid putting on unwanted body fat.
And when in a caloric deficit; losing about 1 pound a week is the most optimal approach. This will help you burn through fat while at the same time maintaining the muscle mass you already have.
It’s important to note that this gain/loss rate is just an average number, because losing fat and gaining muscle doesn’t occur in a linear manner; Some weeks you might not lose weight at all, while other weeks you may lose up to 2 or 3 pounds despite having the same diet. That’s why switching around your diet to often isn’t a good idea. Wait at least a couple of weeks before you make adjustments to your nutrition.
Another important factor to take into account here is the time you spend within a surplus (gaining phase) or a deficit (burning fat). Remember when I said you should periodize your fitness goals?
Dividing your fitness goals into different periods and approaching one at a time is ideal for building that body you’ve always dreamed of.
I never recommend going through a fat loss phase for more than 20 weeks at a time; unless you're prepping to compete in a bodybuilding show. The reason for this is that dieting for too long can start doing more harm than good. So it’s important that you don’t try to lose fat forever; you need to come out of that deficit every once in a while if you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Or at least take a couple of months off dieting and bring up your caloric intake and recover from the metabolic adaptations that occur when restricting calories.
When talking about how much time you should be in a caloric surplus is a whole different story. In my opinion, a gaining phase should last a minimum of 3 months if you want to notice significant gains.
And how much time would be too much?
I would say that when your focus is gaining, it can vary a lot from person to person. Some people want a lot of muscle; others just want enough to look “toned”. So it all depends on what your goals are. I would generally suggest that it’s better to limit a gaining phase depending on the amount of fat you gain in the process, and set yourself with a body fat percentage limit. A good limit would be around 15% body fat for men, and 20 to 22% for women. When you reach these numbers in your gaining phase, it means it’s time to trim down and burn some fat.
Hopefully with this article you will understand why so many people “bulk” and “cut” throughout different times of the year. It’s because bulking is basically the investment part of bodybuilding, it may not be pretty, and so it’s important that you see it as a long term benefit; because it’s what’s going to help you build the muscle mass necessary to achieve an aesthetic physique. The cutting down period is when you show the profit of that investment. And if you never invest, than what profit will you have to show? What muscle tone will you have without the mass?
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions, leave a comment below!