Every time someone asks me to help them with their fitness goals I have to start at the same point, making them understand how this works, and grounding them just a little. In my experience, people generally have two “fantasies” in their minds. They think they can make a radical change in 3 months and they think they can gain weight and lose fat at the same time.
But it’s not all that black or white; you can have phenomenal results in 3 months, but you are not going to go from 50 pounds overweight to a fitness supermodel in that time. You can also try gaining weight and losing fat at the same time, but it’s not the best thing to do and you are going to face much discouragement before you reach your goal.
First Critical Decision – Choose One Goal at a Time
It’s much more effective to start losing weight, and then building muscle or vice versa (I prefer the first one). You will experience better results because you put all your energy, your diet and your training into a single focused objective. Then, once you have lost all the fat you have accomplished your first goal, and now you can pursue your next goal, building muscle.
Losing Weight First
As I said before, I think this is the best option. I have found myself in this position several times and, let me tell you, when you are overweight by more than 15-20 pounds like I was, and you try to gain muscle first and lose weight afterwards, it is much more demotivating and far harder. This is because when we are in muscle-building mode, our bodies tend to gain some fat as well, maybe not much, but 5 extra pounds when you are 20 pounds overweight feels like a step in the wrong direction. You also have to train and diet for weight-loss purposes for a longer time, and that is a hard endeavor. You can get used to dieting that way, but we all have our limits, and personally I’m not happy at all having to eat for weight-loss purposes for longer than a few months.
Eating and Training Recommendations
- Plan a timeline to reduce calories: if you start a 2000 kcal diet, reduce those calories gradually by 100 or 50 after some time.
- Needless to say, eat only high quality food, but you are allowed to have one cheat meal a week.
- Don’t eat carbohydrates after 6-7pm (Editor’s note: there’s no evidence that eating late will cause body fat to increase since calories can’t tell the time! But eating later, when you are tired, usually means turning to unhealthy junk food or foods with a higher caloric density. Those certainly will be a problem if you are trying to lose weight).
- Cardio sessions of at least 30 minutes at least 4 days a week, better 5-6 days. (Editor’s note: if training cardio 5 or 6 days a week, mix things up. Don’t go running everyday unless you have already built up to this – you’ll get injured. Instead, try cycling, or circuits or swimming on days between runs).
Now you have lost weight and have a good physique in terms of body fat. Let’s pack that body with muscles now. As we saw above, don’t worry if you gain a little fat, and if you are not satisfied with your body fat after the muscle building period is complete, you can lose those 2-5 pounds easily in 2-4 weeks.
Eating and Training Recommendations
- Workout at least 3 times a week, 4-5 times better.
- Go heavy, as much weight as you can, but don’t lift more weight than you can handle, while performing the exercises correctly.
- Keep the repetitions low, between 5-9.
- The best thing is to train a maximum of 2 muscular groups per training day. If you do this, the best option is to do one big muscular group (chest, back or legs) with one small group (biceps, triceps or shoulders). Usually you will end up with one or two days where you only exercise one group. I like to do legs or back on those days, and because leg days can be very intense I like to train them alone. And since the back is the next biggest group in the body, I also like to train that alone or perhaps with some abdominal work at the end.
- 3000+ kcal a day diet.
- 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is enough.
- Eat some good fats with each meal (unsaturated fats)
Want To Learn More? Editor’s Recommendation
Here’s a book that I recommend to go alongside Miguel’s articles on muscle-building and fat loss:
Muscle Myths: 50 Health & Fitness Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making
By Michael Matthews
Here are some of the myths you may have read about, and which this book blows out of the water:
“If you want a 6-pack, you have to work your abs more”
“When doing cardio, you need to be in the ‘fat-burning’ zone”
“I’m overweight because my metabolism is too slow”
All wrong, along with so many more “words of wisdom” from self-appointed experts and gurus. This book addresses 50 of the most common myths and points you helpfully in the right direction to achieve your fitness goals. Definitely worth a read if you want to avoid many of the mistakes passed around in the gyms by well-meaning people.