How To Lose Weight And Gain Muscle At The Same Time

Can it even be done?

How to lose weight and gain muscle
Image: IG @amandabisk

Welcome to ‘We Asked The Experts’, where our professional know-alls answer the questions that have been puzzling you. Today on the segment, Body Science expert, personal trainer and ex-NRL player, Dan Conn, breaks down the common conundrum: how do I gain muscle AND lose weight simultaneously? … Got a question you want answered? Email ask@sporteluxe.com.

Ask just about any female about their training goal and they’ll say some variation of “lose weight and tone up, simultaneously.” It’s the ultimate aim, really, to shed fat but gain muscle at the same time. But according to Dan Conn, it’s not that easy.

“Losing weight and gaining muscle isn’t as simple as reducing your calorie intake and upping your reps at the gym,” he told us (*cue sigh*). “…It’s important to understand that you want to preserve lean muscle and therefore manage your intake carefully.”

When the goal is to lose weight, most people immediately up their exercise and rapidly cut their calorie intake but according to Dan, this isn’t the answer.

“When you increase your energy expenditure, you need to replenish your body efficiently. Restricting calories post exercise may result in muscle loss rather than muscle gain … In addition, restricting calories may also cause hormonal dysregulation resulting in adaptations that tell your body it is going into starvation mode, slowing weight loss. Over time, [significant calorie reduction] may send your body into a stress response whereby it produces excess cortisol, leading to inflammation, which is not an ideal state of health.” And as we know, excess cortisol makes the body hold onto fat, which is exactly what we were trying to avoid.

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According to a study published by the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, gradual weight loss—as opposed to more rapid weight loss—results in a better preservation of lean body mass, improved performance and sustainable weight maintenance. So, those looking to lose weight while maintaining muscle are best to do so gradually (at a rate of 0.7% to be exact).

To avoid extremes that may stagnate your progress, Dan suggests making small changes. “As a start, slowly add more of the good stuff and drop the bad stuff. In other words, increase your intake of vegetables and lay off the sweet stuff.”

“If your goal is to drop weight, I tend to adopt a high fat and low carb meal plan, which puts my body into a state of ketosis. This encourages your body to tap into stored fat for longer sources of energy. Sometimes, you have to shock the body to make the body! To help prevent lean muscle loss I will also take Branch Chain Amino Acids BCAAs as well as a lean body protein powder, which helps build lean body mass.”

So along with being patient, concentrating on slow changes and refining your diet without over restricting your calories, Dan says it’s also important to pick the right exercise.

“Sprinting has been shown to be one of the most effective exercises for weight loss as it causes the body to release certain hormones that promote fat loss, while resistance training has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, which helps support weight management as well as strengthen muscle groups.”

Dan recommends incorporating both these exercises into your training plan. “Alternating your exercise helps target all muscle groups rather than focusing on one region. If you focus on one area and repeat, it’s unlikely you’re going to see further results after the initial couple of weeks. After all, doing the same thing over and over is unlikely to aspire motivation.”

Accoridng to a study published by Sports Medicine, weight management for athletes and active individuals largely comes down to balancing the energy equation and ensuring that a diet can be maintained.

“The moment we push too far past our ability to sustain a healthy meal plan is when the yo-yo dieting creeps in and our weight fluctuates, this also introduces emotional stress. Finding that sweet spot may involve a bit of trial and error, but when found can bring a healthy routine and results,” says Dan.

Disclaimer:  While we might all want to be a size 6 with a sculpted physique, Dan warns us that we must be realistic. We need to ask ourselves if we’re committing to a meal/exercise plan outside of our scope. Ask yourself:

  1. Does my goal weight take into consideration my genetic makeup and family history?

“While it’s possible to drop gained weight, your body may not be able to lose beyond that amount and sustain it. However, improving your fitness can certainly bring positive health results.”

  1. Is your goal weight appropriate for your health, specifically reproductive health?

“Females who partake in excessive exercise are prone to amenorrhoea or longer cycles. If you notice a change in your menstrual cycle, you may need to reassess your fitness and meal regime.”

  1. Does your diet or exercise plan result in emotional stress, disordered eating or personal conflict?

“The moment your new exercise or eating plan becomes a burden is when you need to start asking yourself if it’s worth the stress.”

Ready to get started? Here’s how to write your own training plan based on your fitness goal and how to work out how much protein you will need.