Round 11: Is It Better To Lose Fat Or Build Muscle First?

5954Is it better to lose fat or build muscle first?

Dara: This one depends on where you are starting from. If you are overweight and the excess body fat is either causing a health concern, or preventing you from performing strength training exercises with proper form (like bellies getting in the way of forward flexion or too much weight causing excess stress on joints) then it is better to lose fat first. Otherwise I always suggest building muscle first. As we know, building muscle has numerous metabolic benefits and sets us up for greater success with fat loss later. In addition to this, building muscle and gaining strength first will make you fitter and this means you can push harder in your HIIT and other forms of fat burning cardio. It will also help prevent injuries which can be a big set back once you are in the fat loss groove.

Michael: Greetings Gang!

My personal opinion is that everyone should be building or maintaining lean muscle mass, regardless of their ultimate fitness objective, including fat loss. If fat loss, in fact, is the primary objective, adding lean mass will ultimately speed that process. That is if science is correct in that increased lean mass is directly correlated to an increased metabolism.

Clearly, resistance training will be limited to the degree of the individual’s physical constraints and staying within safe parameters.  But, even relatively small increases in lean mass can have a positive impact on the basal metabolic rate, on top of the caloric output associated with the resistance training itself.

tumblr_mfuycbCK2v1rqw760o1_500_largeColin: I’m in agreement with Michael and Dara that for the most part I’d say build the muscle first, since it will help you lose fat down the road. The hardest part about this is convincing someone who wants to lose weight they need to concentrate on building muscle. Most people who don’t know better come in thinking that restricting their diet heavily and doing lots of cardio is the way to go, and it’s a very difficult thing to convince them otherwise.

That said if you are talking about a true beginner, then you are in one of those rare cases where you can actually say both. Someone who is just starting out can build muscle and lose fat simultaneously fairly easily if they do the right things, unlike someone who has being doing it for some time.

Matt: Adding to what Colin said, the other exception to the rule of both fat loss and muscle-building simultaneously is someone who has taken a break from lifting and gotten out of shape. They can usually relatively easily rebuild muscle and lose fat.

I think Colin also summed it up well by saying that most who are into fitness, whether beginners or not, tend to focus on getting lean. Looking like a magazine cover is almost always the goal. I agree with all of the above that building muscle is the best way to attain this goal long-term. Focusing on hypertrophy training with a decent conditioning element and you are likely going to accomplish both, although not as dramatically as if you had focused solely on fat loss or muscle gains.

There is no reason why a long-term plan can’t include both components. Yes you need a deficit to lose fat and a surplus to build muscle, but fitness-girls-hot-pics-mix-part4-4this can happen throughout the course of the week or month. If you are eating at or slightly above maintenance then it can take something as simple as some HIIT to tilt you into the fat loss column and an extra meal to lean you towards muscle-building. All it takes is a well thought out plan and a large dose of patience. You can have it all, just not all at once.

JC: I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here, since the act of working towards one will ultimately lead to the other. The starting point plays a big factor, since as already mentioned, there may be underlying health issues that necessitate fat loss or muscle gain. Keeping in mind that not everybody desires increased muscle mass, one could still fare very well following a regular exercise and weight program without the goal of muscle gain. As I have said before, people don’t accidentally become bodybuilders and fitness competitors. One perfect example of this is the guy you see at the gym day after day, year after year, who absolutely busts his ass but doesn’t change a bit. I can’t even count how many of these guy I have met over the years. All they want is to be huge – but clearly, they are doing something wrong. But I digress…

baclerWeight training has been proven to aid in fat loss while creating muscle.  Diet/Nutrition is the ultimate influences for fat loss. I wouldn’t be so concerned about whether to build muscle or lose fat first. If you want to build muscle you will incorporate weights and go at it hard. If general fitness and health is your ultimate goal, heavy weight training will not be the emphasis. Rather, I would recommend light circuit training several times per week in conjunction with a properly tracked diet.

The importance of fat vs. muscle first is solely in the hands of the individual.

Round 1: The best fat loss method

Round 2: Fasted vs fed cardio for fatloss

Round 3: Fat loss and muscle-building supplements

Round 4: Nutrient timing/meal frequency for fat loss/muscle-building

Round 5: The best 3 exercises

Round 6: The ideal training program

Round 7: How much protein for fat loss

Round 8: The last 10 pounds

Round 9: The ultimate training split

Round 10: Do carbs or fats make you fat?

Happy Lifting!

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10 comments for “Round 11: Is It Better To Lose Fat Or Build Muscle First?

  1. Neil
    January 5, 2016 at 3:05 am

    Agreed. Lean muscle is definitely the right direction. But I am a proponent of diet first.

    Extra weight is hard on the joints. If you’re morbidly obese, I’d reccommend some serious diet change before you start hitting the gym, just save to your knees, and back.

    I’m a chemist, biologist, soon I will be a doctor. I’m not, however, a kinesiologist, but I am physics guy, so I can tell you a little about joints, joint angles, and being over weight. I won’t bother working the numbers right here for you, but let’s just simplify it way down and say that 20 lbs on the gut is 40 lbs on the knees. Really baby those joints, and if you need to exercise for mental clarity, swimming, and other low impact exercises. Avoid running, jumping, and any other impact sports until you get the weight off.

    Think diet to lose weight, and gym to build muscle. Exercise makes you hungrier. It’s unlightly you will burn more than you eat. So eating right is key. (*eating right*, not just less)

    Also keep in mind that muscle also adds to the weight on your knees, so that’s where leanness comes in. The leaner you can get the better it will be on your joints.

    So resistance is better than cardio. HIIT is the best, but you might not be up for high intensity right off the bat, maybe low intensity is all you can handle.

    Finally, if you’re only a couple pounds overweight, start building lean muscle and cutting that last bit by HIIT plus diet.

    99% of weight loss is diet, no matter how hard you hit the gym if you eat the calories back on, you won’t lose weight.

    • Lifestyle and Strength
      January 10, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      Very well said Neil. I’m with you 100%.

  2. January 28, 2014 at 11:07 am

    That’s great post! Well, I do cardio (20 minutes) in the morning and weight training in the evening followed by 20 minutes cardio!

    This is working fine with me!

    I have increased the muscle size and lost some of the belly fat..

    Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  3. August 28, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Hello there!

    This is such a great post! Thank you very much for sharing this. I think we need to build the muscle first, since it will help us lose fat.


    • Lifestyle and Strength
      August 28, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Sounds like you’re on the same page as us George.

  4. August 28, 2013 at 2:56 am

    I’ve been doing both, slowly and steadily, for several months now, thanks to a great plan by my trainer in the states that I’ve forced my South Africa trainer to use as well 🙂 . It includes upper/lower power days, upper/lower hypertrophy days and HIIT cardio days. Combining the physical work with a great online coach (Colin!) who helps work on the emotional components related to my fitness roadblocks is key to (my) success.
    Great articles, guys. Keep it up!

    • August 28, 2013 at 6:09 am

      Sounds like you have a great plan in place Marla. Thank you for letting us know how you’re doing!

      • August 28, 2013 at 8:26 am

        Marla is the best! Love her passion for weights. Keep up the great work! I’m actually adopting a pretty similar plan for weight training myself right now.

  5. david
    August 27, 2013 at 11:59 am

    I’m still hoping for both fat loss and muscle gains at the same time but it’s not easy.

    • Lifestyle and Strength
      August 27, 2013 at 12:14 pm

      It’s possible to do with the right plan and some patience.

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