How to Build Muscle Naturally While Trying to Lose Weight

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on January 12, 2022
Last updated on April 19, 2022

Many people who are trying to lose weight have a companion in the form of muscle gain.

How to Build Muscle Naturally While Trying to Lose Weight

It’s not as simple as looking good. Muscle mass is important for overall health, particularly as you lose weight. Strength, energy, mobility, heart, and insulin health are all aided by lean muscle. It’s connected to a longer life expectancy and affects your basal metabolic rate.

The difficulty is that most people who achieve their weight-loss objectives lose muscle mass in the process. Some people’s body fat percentages are even rising.

Why? Because when you eat less calories than you expend each day, your body is told to break down rather than grow, explains Marie A. Spano, a board-certified sports dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist based in Atlanta. This calorie deficit is required for fat breakdown and loss.

However, a caloric surplus — ingesting more calories per day than you burn – is what tells your body to grow and get lean muscle.

Muscle Building Techniques

So, given that biology is working against you, how can you increase muscle while losing fat? By using these six tactics, which have been approved by experts.

1. Maintain a slight calorie deficit.

A happy medium is excellent for “recompositioning,” or reducing body fat while growing lean muscle mass, with calorie deficits driving weight reduction and surpluses promoting muscle gain.

For example, in a 2016 Obesity study, persons who severely reduced their calorie intake for 12 weeks lost 8.8% of their total body muscle. Only 1.3 percent of muscle was lost when participants cut conservatively.

According to Jim White, registered dietitian, exercise physiologist, and proprietor of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia, the smaller your calorie deficit, the less muscle will break down as you lose weight – and the more likely you are to be able to actively develop muscle. Previous study has shown that exercisers who maintain a moderate calorie deficit can gain significant muscle mass.

What is your objective? According to White, you should lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. To lose weight at this rate, each person will need to cut calories and/or raise activity levels in slightly different ways, but cutting caloric intake by 500 calories per day is an excellent place to start. Cut even more to acquire even more muscle.

2. Take your time.

This may be the most difficult tip of all, but it’s crucial to remember. That’s because, while you may first observe significant benefits, they will naturally slow over time.

“As you get more trained and leaner, it gets increasingly difficult to gain muscle while decreasing fat,” says Brad Schoenfeld, a certified strength and conditioning consultant and former board member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

It’s just the way the human body works: the more fat we have to remove, the easier it is to lose 5 pounds. This is especially true if you’re trying to maintain a very low calorie deficit.

Gaining 5 pounds of muscle is easier the more muscle we have to gain. Expect to see more minor changes in your fat and muscle levels as you approach closer to your goal, but don’t become discouraged.

3. Consume at least 25 grams of protein four times a day.

Your muscles become bigger and stronger as a result of the protein you consume. According to Spano, when you restrict calories, your muscles may become less responsive to the protein you consume.

As a result, when exercising males followed a low-calorie, high-protein diet for four weeks, they dropped 10.56 pounds of fat while gaining 2.64 pounds of lean muscle, according to a research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Those who followed a diet with the same number of calories but less protein, on the other hand, shed just 7.7 pounds of fat and gained less than a quarter pound of muscle.

“This protein consumption should also be spread out equally throughout the day,” Spano adds. This provides a regular supply of building blocks to your muscles.

In reality, according to a 2018 analysis published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, persons should take between 0.4 and 0.55 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight four times per day for maximum muscle building.

This equates to four meals of 33 to 45 grams of protein for a 180-pound adult. According to other research, most adults should consume 25 to 35 grams of protein per meal, with vegetarians and vegans consuming slightly more.

4. Perform compound strength workouts three times each week at the very least.

“We need to do weight training at least two days a week to maintain existing muscle mass and three or more days a week to gain muscle,” White explains. Strength training not only helps develop muscle, but it also helps reduce belly fat levels, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study of 10,500 adults.

Compound workouts, which work many muscle groups at once, are the most effective for both fat loss and muscle gain. Squats, chest presses, and rows are among examples.

Focus on making these moves the most important part of your weekly training regimen, and then think about bringing in the correct aerobic activities.

5. Use cardio to help you recuperate.

When you’re in a calorie deficit, cardio isn’t the best way to create (or retain) muscle.

Fortunately, it’s an excellent tool for aiding recovery following strength-training regimens, allowing you to keep and gain the most muscle possible in the end. According to Dean Somerset, an Alberta-based kinesiologist, low-intensity exercise like walking, jogging, mild cycling, or swimming increases blood flow across the body, allowing oxygen and other nutrients to reach muscle cells.

Take advantage of modest cardio in between strength training. Stick to low-intensity workouts that feel no more challenging than a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 on a range of 1 to 10.

6.Use high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sparingly.

Try high-intensity interval activities like repeated sprints on the treadmill, elliptical, or bike as a last addition to your training routine.

According to White, these routines can help burn calories and reduce body fat while also building muscle. However, you should only use them on rare occasions, such as once or twice a week. Overdoing it on high-intensity cardio can overstress your muscles, making them less likely to grow. Strength training should still be your workout focus.

HIIT should be done on nonconsecutive days and when you’re well rested.

Bottom line is that you can grow muscle and lose weight at the same time. Maintain a small caloric deficit by focusing on both fueling and training your muscles. Make long-term changes that you can maintain – both fat loss and muscle gain take time.

Is It Possible to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?

Trying to shed pounds while sculpting your abs and muscles? Even though you’ve been watching what you eat, going to the gym, and lifting weights, the numbers on the scale are dropping, but you’re still not getting the muscular physique you want.

It’s nice to lose weight, but what’s the catch? Is it feasible to shed fat and weight while also gaining muscle?

“People are capable of doing both,” Briana Silvestri, a physician assistant from Banner – University Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute in Phoenix, AZ, said.

When it comes to weight loss and muscle building, the average Joe will need a lot of discipline, which can be difficult—even painful (think self-discipline sort of pain)—but the best of all worlds is feasible. Silvestri discussed the science behind achieving this feat as well as advice on how to achieve the body of your dreams.

Muscle Gain vs. Fat Loss

The first two principles to grasp are that losing weight differs from gaining muscle, and the two goals frequently conflict.

Your body must be in a caloric deficit to lose fat or weight, which means you must consume less calories each day, making it more difficult for your body to maintain its present weight.

What makes this tough is that your body must be in a calorie surplus in order to grow muscle. This surplus gives your body the energy it needs to heal itself and ultimately gain muscle mass.

“On the basis of pure science alone, some people may believe it’s impossible,” Silvestri added. “Because if you’re always in a caloric deficit, your body may begin to break down other portions of itself to meet energy demands.” Unfortunately, your body may begin to break down muscle instead of fat for energy as a result of this.”

Say it isn’t so, please! When science is working against you, how can you grow muscle while reducing weight?

Tips for Losing Weight While Gaining Muscle

1. Keep in mind that you are what you eat.

The first thing to know is that exercise will not help you lose weight without simultaneously helping you increase muscle mass. It all boils down to the food you consume. “You are what you eat,” some say, and this is especially true when it comes to shedding weight and growing muscle.

“It’s critical that some folks choose foods that are low in calories but high in nutritional value,” Silvestri said. “This allows your body and cells to be fed adequately while not swinging you out of your caloric deficit.” “It’s been said that eating choices account for 80-90 percent of weight loss, while exercise accounts for 10-20 percent.”

You’ll consume a certain number of calories on any given day. At that point, your body has three options for how to use those calories: burn them for fuel, rebuild muscle, or store them as fat. For our bodies to function properly, they require a controlled caloric intake. Our basal metabolic rate is what we call it.

Your metabolic rate can be messed up if you don’t eat enough calories. Your body believes it is starving, so it slows down your metabolism to help you survive. Not getting enough calories might cause your body to cannibalize muscle and store fat, which isn’t what you want!

A nutritionist at Banner Health can help you assess your metabolic rate and create a meal plan that allows you to eat the foods you enjoy while also providing your body with the fuel it requires to gain muscle and lose weight healthily.

2. Make protein-rich foods a priority.

When it comes to low-calorie foods with great nutritional value, you’ll want to be sure they contain enough protein. It’s possible that doing so will pay off.

“A sustained calorie deficit combined with a high-protein diet will help your body burn more calories than it consumes.” It also gives adequate nutrition and energy for your body to develop its muscles,” Silvestri explained. “Protein-rich diets are essential for both reducing body fat and increasing muscular mass.”

3. Strength train a couple of times per week.

Lifting relatively large weights to the point where muscles reach a threshold of fatigue and failure—at that point, your muscles will tear and break down—is required for the body to effectively gain muscular mass. You will get stronger and more defined during this healing process.

“What’s crucial to remember, though, is that when strength training, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough calories to repair muscles and fuel your body,” Silvestri added. “If you don’t, your body will use muscle mass to fuel itself, which is the exact opposite of what you’re attempting to achieve.”

Not every strength training program is ideal for you, depending on your fitness objectives and overall health. To limit the chance of muscle damage or joint pain, consult a professional athletic trainer or fitness specialist before beginning a new exercise plan.

4. Keep the tortoise in mind, not the hare.

Patience is undoubtedly a virtue in our era of instant satisfaction, but it has numerous advantages, particularly when it comes to our long-term health. If you want to become in shape and lose weight, keep in mind that even Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t become a bodybuilder overnight.

While it may be tempting to lose weight quickly, you may lose both fat and muscle. Instead, aim for a weekly weight loss of no more than 1 to 2 pounds. Also, don’t be dismayed if the rapid improvements you started with start to slow down over time.

“It will get increasingly challenging to gain muscle while decreasing fat as you get closer to your goal, but don’t give up,” Silvestri added. “Gradual weight loss assures that you’re losing fat rather than muscle.” It could be harmful to your health goals and/or muscle tissue if done too quickly.”

How Can I Keep my Muscle Mass?

You’ll need to create a balance between restraining yourself and pushing yourself as hard as you can to preserve your muscle while shedding fat.

The outcomes will vary from person to person. Pay attention to your body and make adjustments to your training and diet regimen as needed.

Make time for healing.

Allow ample time for recovery in between workouts. This is especially vital if you’re restricting your calorie intake and engaging in strenuous exercise. Get lots of rest to help your energy levels recover.

Don’t limit yourself.

Any dietary plan that is excessively tight or extreme should be avoided. Long-term, it will be more difficult to keep up with.

Overtraining should be avoided, as should any workout regimen that has the potential to exhaust you or cause damage. Exercising too hard or too quickly may result in missed workouts due to tiredness or injury. Remember that relaxation days are crucial.


Another key part of maintaining muscle mass is exercise. In 2018, researchers looked at the impact of calorie restriction paired with resistance, endurance, or both types of training in obese older individuals.

The researchers discovered that people who followed an eating plan and exercised were able to avoid muscle loss caused by calorie restriction.

The majority of the diets consisted of 55 percent carbs, 15% protein, and 30% fat.

More research is needed to establish the most beneficial type of exercise for reducing muscle loss.

Consume nutritious foods.

Change your diet to include more nutritious proteins and less bad fats.

Researchers found that when older persons ate higher protein diets, they kept more lean mass and lost more fat, according to a 2016 assessment of 20 studies.

Consider taking a multivitamin.

Consider taking chromium picolinate, a supplement that has been shown to help with weight loss, hunger, and blood sugar levels.

According to 2018 research, it’s critical to lose weight without sacrificing lean body mass.

You can do this in addition to ingesting chromium picolinate by:

  • eating the right amounts of macronutrients, such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
  • managing calorie intake
  • doing resistance exercise

It’s a good idea to see your doctor before using any supplement. Certain supplements may interact poorly with certain drugs or medical conditions.


While you may lose a small amount of muscle mass as well as excess fat, a balanced nutrition and exercise plan will help you control it.

Maintain a calorie deficit while consuming plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and fresh fruits and vegetables to aid fat loss.

Set goals that are both reachable and realistic. Over the course of several months, keep note of your improvemen Make it a goal to increase your performance and strengthen your body.

Maintain a steady strategy and keep your eyes on the prize. Make a point of appreciating the fruits of your labor.

In the end, your body will be able to draw from its fat stores to both fuel itself and potentially create muscle mass if you can maintain a lifting program and consume a caloric deficit.

Prioritizing protein-rich diets is an important part of decreasing body fat while also developing muscle. However, keep in mind that changing your body will not happen overnight. You’ll reap the long-term benefits if you’re patient.


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