If you’re like millions of other people trying to get in shape, it may be hard to sift through the confusing information on where to focus your efforts and attention. For example, should you try to “trim down” or develop lean muscle? If you’re unsure of whether you should do some extra cardio or lift weights at the gym, you’re not alone.
It’s harder to lose weight (body fat) than gain muscle. Muscle is denser than fat, meaning that sometimes gaining muscle leads to increased weight. It’s easier and faster to get visible results from muscle gain than weight loss, and weight loss rates usually slow down when people get leaner.
This article will discuss where you should focus first (weight loss or building muscle) and the difference between the two. I’ll also give you some tips to build muscle and focus on weight loss simultaneously.
Is It Easier To Lose Weight or Gain Muscle?
Losing weight and gaining muscle go hand-in-hand, but many aspects seem to contradict one another. For example, to lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories. However, gaining muscle requires increasing your protein intake. It’s important to understand that each goal requires different approaches.
It’s easier for most people to gain some muscle than to lose a noticeable amount of fat. Since fat tissue is less dense than muscle, it spreads out and takes up more space than muscle tissue. However, heavier people will lose weight easier than those with less body fat.
So, if you’re obese, it’ll be easier to lose weight first. However, if you have a low body fat percentage, it may be easier to gain some muscle mass before losing weight.
Both fat loss and muscle gain rates vary from person to person. Factors like age, current body composition, sex, and fitness level can all impact how the body responds to weight loss and muscle-gaining efforts.
Fat Loss per Week (Average)
|Men||1-2 lbs. (0.50-0.90 kg)|
|Women||0.80-1.65 lbs. (0.4-0.75 kg)|
Reasonable Rates of Muscle Gain (Monthly)
|Fitness Level||% Body Weight (Men)||% Body Weight (Women)|
Tips To Maximize Weight Loss
To make it easier to lose weight, you should consider the factors that can influence how fast the body will lose fat. By eating fewer calories and exercising more, most people will naturally begin to lose weight. However, some factors will make the process easier or more difficult.
|Factor||Can Make Weight Loss Harder||Can Make Weight Loss Easier|
|Body Composition||Lean/Fit||Heavier/More body fat|
While you can’t control many of these factors, being aware of them and how they impact your weight loss goals can help you plan for them and understand how they may affect your outcomes. Many people become discouraged if they don’t see drastic results right away, but it’s important to stay consistent for the best results.
Some other things you can do to help lose weight include:
- Eat a balanced diet. Eating the appropriate amount of calories and trading in your processed, fatty foods for fresh fruits and vegetables will help to maximize weight loss. Vitamins and nutrients, especially proteins, will help you feel full while giving your body the fuel it needs.
- Eat enough. Be sure that you don’t cut your calories too severely. You still need enough energy to exercise and function. If you don’t eat enough calories, it can actually slow your metabolism down.
- Exercise daily. Exercise can include a brisk walk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking at the back of the parking lot. It’s more than just hitting the gym. If you see an opportunity to burn a few extra calories, you should take it!
Tips To Maximize Muscle Gain
Gaining muscle requires both physical exercise and certain dietary elements to have the best results. Like fat loss, muscle gain can be impacted by factors that make building muscle mass easier or more challenging.
|Factor||Can Make Muscle Gain Harder||Can Make Muscle Gain Easier|
|Age||Older (40+)||Younger (under 30)|
|Body Composition||More body fat||Lean|
There’s some overlap between what makes it easier to gain muscle and easier to lose weight. It’s possible to lose weight and build muscle simultaneously, but it’s more difficult and takes more of a commitment than just doing one or the other.
Some research has shown that eating a high-protein diet can help with both muscle gain and weight loss.
Additionally, there are many things you can do at the gym that’ll help you build muscle and burn calories to help with weight loss.
Here are some other tips for gaining muscle:
- Strength training. Do some higher-intensity exercises that are focused on building strength. Try to hit the weights at least two or three times each week.
- Increase intensity. Once you get comfortable lifting, try to increase your weights periodically. Try to push yourself to get one more rep in or to add a couple more pounds. Just take care not to overdo it, and always lift with a partner or spotter.
- Fuel your body. Building muscle requires proper nutrition to fuel your gains. Eat a high-protein diet and increase calories with lean protein like chicken and fish.
Is Gaining Muscle Better Than Losing Weight?
Gaining muscle isn’t better than losing weight. Most people should focus on weight loss before they work toward gaining muscle, especially if they’re overweight or obese. The health risks and other issues associated with being overweight are more important to address than building muscle mass.
However, it’s important to understand that by “weight loss,” we really mean “fat loss.” Weight loss due to water or muscle loss isn’t the same as fat loss and may even be harmful to your health.
So, while you’re trying to lose weight, make sure that you measure your body fat and not just the number on the scale to find out your actual progress. You can maximize fat loss and make sure that you’re keeping muscle weight by eating a high-protein, balanced diet and exercising regularly.
Should I Lose Weight or Gain Muscle First?
Most people should try to lose weight before gaining muscle. The health risks associated with being overweight are far more dangerous than not having defined muscle mass. Also, some people already have muscle definition that’s masked underneath body fat.
Burning fat will make it easier for you to gain muscle, and even if you work out with weights and other strength training techniques, you may not see any noticeable differences in muscle definition without losing some body fat first.
Does Losing Weight Mean Gaining Muscle?
Losing weight doesn’t mean gaining muscle. Losing weight typically refers to burning fat and reducing your body’s body fat percentage. Gaining muscle can actually increase your weight, but it can also improve your metabolism for burning fat. However, you can work toward both goals at the same time.
It’s possible to help improve muscle development while also burning fat. This is known as body recomposition. The goal of this is to change your body’s composition using a combination of diet and exercise.
To burn fat (lose weight) and also gain muscle, you’ll need to have a regimen of both cardiovascular exercise and weight training. Cardio burns calories and helps with fat loss, while weight and resistance training helps build muscle.
The process also requires a specific dietary format that involves reducing your overall caloric intake (eating fewer calories) to help with fat loss and simultaneously increasing your protein intake. Protein helps with muscle development, and it’s essential for body reformulation.
Doing all of these at the same time can be difficult, and it requires a lot of care and attention. It may benefit you to work with a nutritionist and a personal trainer to achieve your goals. However, you should also remember that everyone’s body is different, and we all respond differently to changes in diet and exercise.
Fat loss is far more important than weight loss. For most people, it’s easier to gain muscle than to lose weight, but you should still focus on fat loss before trying to gain muscle. This is especially important if you’re overweight or obese. There are many health risks associated with obesity that are far more urgent than building muscle mass.
However, many factors can impact the difficulty of losing fat or gaining muscle, so it’s essential to be aware of them to set realistic goals and understand what else is affecting your results.
- Baylor College of Medicine: Muscle doesn’t weigh more than fat
- NIH: Regional, but not total, body composition changes in overweight and obese adults consuming a higher protein, energy-restricted diet are sex specific
- Healthline: Body Recomposition: Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time
- Precision Nutrition: Fat loss and muscle gain: What does realistic progress look like?