Is 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.

Colin: 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 this 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…

Weight 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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