Be honest, you’ve said the following sentence before:
“I want to lose 20-50 pounds, and I’d like to pack on some muscle too…but not too much! Can I do this in 2-3 months?”
I know you have, because I certainly did when I started training. Men want to know “the secret” to a thinner waistline, but also get bigger arms and chest… Meanwhile, women ask how they can lose weight while getting more toned, without getting too bulky.
If you’ve had those same thoughts, then today’s article is for you.
Today we’re going to dive into these goals, and how to best go about them. Keep an eye out for Part 2 later this week.
What We’re After
I know why we have those goals of “smaller waistline and bigger/toned muscles.”
We’ve been listening to and following the image put forth by the infomercials, magazines, and advertisements – that in just 90 days with a few workouts (or one key piece of equipment) – we can accomplish everything we want:
- Shredded, six pack abs!
- Lose stubborn “belly fat!”
- Bigger chest and arms!
- Hot women falling all over you!
For women, the message is only tad different:
- Lose stubborn “belly fat!”
- Tone your hips, butt, thighs, arms!
- Get that bikini body!
Regardless of which camp you fall into, you see these commercials full of professional fitness models and genetically flawless dudes, and then we look at ourselves in the mirror…and we decide enough is enough: we want to look like them!
And here’s a program that tells us we can get there in just 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 90 days. And thus we get started. 90 days later, we’re slightly closer to our goal, but we didn’t build a lot of muscle and we only lost a bit of weight. So we freak out: “those other people got results, but I only lost a few pounds and I don’t have women falling all over me. What did I do wrong?”
Forgetting the fact that I can pretty much guarantee the actors/models in those ads definitely did not use the program they’re advertising to get fit, these programs aren’t even designed with you in mind.
Don’t worry, we CAN turn you into a superhero. It’s just going to mean going about things a bit differently…
Okay, but I want to lose fat and gain muscle…
If you are trying to lose ‘belly fat’ and also get bigger and stronger, it’s incredibly difficult to do both at the same time. It’s just how our bodies work.
Which then might lead to your next question:
“Well, Steve, I want to gain muscle and lose weight, but I have no muscles and I have a gut. What do I do first? WHY CAN’T I JUST DO BOTH AT THE SAME TIME!?”
Putting on weight (be it fat or muscle) requires eating more calories than you burn every day.
Losing weight requires burning more calories than you eat… so if you have these two goals, it can feel as if you are watching a battle of tug-of-war. If you try to do both at the same time, neither side can get an advantage and you’ll struggle to see any discernible results in either direction.
OUR RECOMMENDATION: For most people, the first thing we recommend is to drop your body fat percentage: put the focus on fat loss (notice I didn’t say weight loss) and maintain the muscle you already have. Once you get your body fat percentage down to a specific level, you can then turn your focus to packing on muscle.
Here’s why we recommend this:
- Carrying extra body fat isn’t healthy: if you’re already overweight, packing on MORE muscle and fat is going to push you farther away from a healthy body fat percentage (which is our ultimate goal).
- Build momentum early. Losing weight, for most people, is an easier and faster process than building muscle. When you get rid of the body fat covering up the muscle you already have, you’re going to build up emotional and mental momentum.
- Create a great starting point: Physiologically, when you get rid of excess body fat and are down to a level that you’re happy with, you can adjust your training and nutrition so that your whole body, all the way down to the cellular level, is now dedicated to a single cause: BUILD MUSCLE!
So, what should your game plan be? Here are a few strategies to drop weight while retaining as much muscle as possible:
- Focus primarily on Paleo-type foods
- Eat more carbs on workout days, especially right after your workout (sweet potatoes, fruit, rice)
- Eat more fat on non-training days (almond butter, avocado or guacamole, nuts)
- Always eat enough protein (lots of chicken, fish, and a protein shake here and there)
- Get enough sleep!
- Consider working out in a fasted state – as explained in our article on Intermittent Fasting.
Combine the above diet advice with three types of exercise:
- Strength training
- Walking (or any activity you enjoy that gets you moving)
- Sprints or jumping rope
When you strength train, your muscles are broken down and need to recover. The calories you are consuming during this period are used to rebuild those muscles and recover, keeping them strong. When you walk (especially first thing in the morning, in a fasted state), you don’t tax your body enough to need to pull from your muscles’ fuel stores. Instead, you pull from the fat you already have.
ONCE YOU’VE DROPPED YOUR BODY FAT LOW ENOUGH (somewhere between 10-15% for guys, 18-22% for women), you can adjust your diet to consume more calories/carbs on training days and start building muscle – making adjustments along the way.
How much weight can I actually lose?
For most Rebels who email us, your first step should be to cut down your body fat percentage by combining healthy eating with strength training. If you happen to be super skinny, you can probably skip straight to the “how to get big” article!
Your next question might be, “Just how quickly can I lose the fat then?”
Whenever we post these stories, we receive a few dozen emails from people saying “But that can’t be healthy, to lose all of that weight so quickly.”
Our response is always the same: every person will react to strength training and healthier eating decisions differently. If somebody is incredibly overweight, and they switch to a healthy diet and proper exercise and stick with it for months and months, their transformation COULD be drastic and also completely healthy.
In this nerd’s humble opinion (and I am not a doctor), any day spent 200+ pounds overweight is unhealthy, and the faster we can get a person down to a healthy body fat percentage, the better (provided it’s done in a sustainable, healthy way).
We encourage people to NOT starve themselves, to NOT overexert themselves with exercise, and to listen to their bodies. The Nerd Fitness path involves healthier eating decisions, building exercise habits, and months and months of dedicated work! Depending on your situation, you could lose anywhere from .5 lbs to 5+ lbs a week and be completely healthy. Everybody is different, so if you are concerned about your rate of weight loss, be sure to check with your doctor.
One BIG factor here: If you are strength training and actively trying to preserve the muscle you have, the weight will drop off more slowly than if you solely focused on eating better and eating less and exercising as much as possible at all costs. However, in the long run, we believe most people find this route preferable.
Again, our goal is not pure weight loss. It’s building a body that is healthy and gives you confidence. Don’t just focus on the scale, but the big picture.
What’s really possible?
Here’s the truth: we’re human beings. Yes, we are capable of freaking amazing things, whether it’s Joe transforming, or Saint getting in incredible shape for his wedding, Anthony dropping 200 pounds, or Bronwyn becoming an actual superhero.
Unfortunately, unlike in superhero movies, there’s no super serum we can take to turn us from Steve Rogers into Captain America in a matter of minutes – or even in a matter of months! No matter your desired level of superhero status, it’s gonna take hard work! And a crazy amount of patience and dedication.
Focus on the fundamentals above, be aware of these tricks up the Emperor’s sleeve.
1) Those magazines, DVDs, infomercials and books are designed to prey on your insecurities about your body, and paint an unrealistic picture of what you can accomplish in a few short months. Not cool! They don’t want to get you healthy; they want to sell products. If they got you healthy AND taught you how to keep going, you wouldn’t need them anymore!
2) Unless you’re a member of the X-men (if you are, let’s hang out), or on steroids, it’s brutally difficult to build lots of muscle while simultaneously losing fat. As explained above, to build muscle, you need to eat a caloric surplus so the extra calories go into muscle building. To lose fat, you need a caloric deficit so your body is forced to burn fat for energy. How does one eat too much and too little at the same time? It’s kind of like trying to thread a needle while riding Space Mountain after eating a gallon of Dippin’ Dots. Not impossible, but certainly no walk in the park.
Fortunately, if you are just getting started with strength training, you can make some SERIOUS strength gains (which is not the same as muscle gains) while simultaneously losing weight. We’ll explain that in Thursday’s article.
3) If you’re trying to lose weight and the scale went up, you probably did NOT build muscle. We get this quite a bit too, from people that are overweight and in their first two weeks of attempted weight loss.
The conclusion they come to, thanks to what we’ve been told, is “muscle weighs more than fat, so I must have put on muscle!”
Building muscle is not as easy as you’ve been told, so it’s likely that you:
- Put on fat, and ate a caloric surplus. Or, most likely, you:
- Are carrying additional water weight, or your first weigh-in was in-accurate. Remember, the scale lies. Increased carb/sodium consumption for a few days, menstrual cycle for women, or any number of factors can give you a totally inaccurate starting weight, or progress weigh-in.
If you are overweight, the scale should be trending down if you are eating properly and exercising. If after a month you’re not seeing results, or the scale is going up, we’ll need to make some small adjustments to your diet (look at your total calories and the sugar/grain consumption).
Yes, you can EVENTUALLY accomplish each goal if you have a solid plan to follow, and you’re dedicated. Becoming Captain America, Black Widow, or Katniss Everdeen is possible. It just depends on how badly you want it, and what you’re willing to give up to get it.
I can tell you building a body to be proud of is absolutely worth it, but you’re much better off building that superhero frame one step at a time, instead of all at once!
But I’m ready to see Results now
I hear ya! Look, I would LOVE to get you in killer shape for your wedding in two months and help you lose 50 pounds, and give you a bigger chest and arms (or ‘toned’ arms and legs), and make you look like Daniel Craig in James Bond or “famous action star in big movie.”
Unfortunately, here on planet Earth, in a place we call “reality,” we have to attack this differently than in Hollywood. We’re much more interested in getting you down the proper path, with a strong, solid base, that sets you up for year after year of success (rather than for 15 minutes during a movie shoot).
I want this article to become a resource for the Rebels who are confused about weight loss – so let’s hear your questions! I guarantee if you have one, there are a dozen others with the same question, too. And remember, keep an eye out for Thursday, where we’ll talk about the other side of this coin: muscle gain!
What else can I answer for you about healthy weight loss? What tips do you have for your fellow Rebels?
PS: We have 650+ free articles and dozens of free workout plans on Nerd Fitness, but if you’re looking for a comprehensive course that covers all of this stuff, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy – level up a character by completing quests and missions, follow the workout plans, and level up your nutrition to get started down the path to life as a superhero.