Why am I losing muscle & gaining fat if I’m working out?


One of the most common questions I have received as a Personal Trainer from a lot of people is, “how is it possible that I am losing muscle and gaining fat if I am working out hard?” From my experience as a trainer and a fitness enthusiast, I have noticed that the workout routine of many people is a mess and they don’t take the nutrition plan seriously. Planning workouts and paying attention to the diet will help you accomplish any fitness goals. 

When it comes to losing muscle and gaining fat, you have to consider the type of body, the intensity of the workout, and the most important of all, the diet plan you follow. For example, a skinny girl who doesn’t have too much fat to lose will probably be losing her muscles when working out because of low protein intake, an average guy, on the other hand, who’s probably working out a lot, maybe gaining fat and not lean muscles due to a high carb intake (being of the opinion that because he is working out it is not a big deal to eat that much) and not training the bigger muscle groups at high intensity. Here are some helpful tips you can adapt to your lifestyle that can help you focus on things that really matter when you hit the gym.

Get a workout plan

Yeah, I get it! It may sound basic and boring, but believe me, if you don’t have a plan in anything you want to accomplish in life you’re probably are going to struggle; the same holds to get the body of your dreams. With a plan in mind you would have an idea of what is the reason for you to go to the gym—are you working out for fun, health, passion, as a hobby, is it because you want to make some friends at the gym, or is it because you don’t have anything to do? Ask yourself this.

Start by hiring a Personal Trainer. Yeah! I know I know you are probably thinking that many personal trainers need a Personal Trainer themselves, but seriously if you have no idea what you are doing at the gym, one of the most important steps in order to see a noticeable change and progress is to hire a professional who at least has more knowledge than you and can help you build a meaningful routine that could get you results.

If you prefer working out on your own, look for those high-intensity routines, and do cardio. You need to feel like your heart is going to get off your chest to reap the results of cardio, and not just sweat a little bit for a couple of minutes.

Working out with specific goals

When you hit the gym, it is very important to have goals. Don’t work out just because everybody is doing it, or because you want to be cool; workout for life, my friend, make it a part of your lifestyle, and you will realize it is much more fun than you expected it to be.

The most common goals are building muscles and losing fat, I mean who doesn’t want that? Everybody is focused on that, except the athletes; those guys want everything—muscle, no fat, skills, strength, endurance, speed, and to be honest with you, in many cases, you don’t care about all that. You just want to get rid of the belly, have a flat stomach, and look good in your clothes, tell me if I am wrong!

So let’s go back to the basics

 Building musclesLosing fat
Higher protein intake than carbsQuality sources of proteinBe smart with your carbs (avoid high intake at night)
Choose your carbs wiselyHigh intake of carbs only as a pre-workout (depending on your workout schedule)Low intake of carbs as a post-workout (fruits)
If you don’t work out in the morningLight breakfast (protein and fat)Light dinner (protein and fat)
Eat just what you needEvery big meal (protein, fat, and carbs)No added sugar and salt (you don’t need it)
Ninja tipsFruits before meals (better assimilation of the nutrients)Low sugar fruits (apples, pears, berries, peaches)
Ninja tipsAminos as a snack (twice a day)CLA, L-arginine, and L-Carnitine (best combination)
SacrificePrepare your own mealsDo cardio to sweat your ass off (seriously)

Train your big muscle groups

Ok here’s a fact that you could read everywhere but you don’t care—you just want to do your bicep curl, calf raises, lateral raises etc., but small muscles are not going to make a difference in your routine and neither to your fitness goals. Forget about them, train hard and push yourself to the next level, try compound exercises, and modify your routines where your legs, chest, and back are the stars of the movie.

The most important benefits of multi-muscle exercises are you burn more calories and improve your strength. This is pretty much what you need in order to build muscles and lose fat:

Forget about training small muscle groups

When you work out small muscles, is for either of the following two reasons:

1.- Because you are lazy

2.- Because you want huge biceps and a big belly

There is no other reason to train the small muscle unless you are a bodybuilder. These guys have to train every single muscle because they have an amazing body; you don’t, so you need to start building muscles and losing fat right? Well, I am telling how you can to do it.

Training small muscles training has the following disadvantages:

  • They are not going to grow as fast as you think.
  • They are not going to increase your heart rate when working out.
  • They are not going to make you sweat.
  • If you develop them, you won’t have a symmetric body; you are going to be just a normal dude with big arms, that’s it!

You need to look athletic, fit, and healthy, that’s what everyone wants, but guess what, you need to work hard for it.

Do enough cardio

In my experience in this fitness journey, it is better to do a 10 – 15 min cardio at high intensity rather than a low-intensity one for a longer duration, here is why:

Many people think that doing cardio is just sweating their ass off and not getting their heart rate high enough, which, in fact, is when you would be doing a cardiovascular workout.

In the following table, you can take a look at the training zones to determine if you are doing enough workout or you are just wasting your time at the gym:

How to determine your target heart rate zone?

Use an online calculator to determine your desired target heart rate zone or, here’s a simple way to do the math yourself. If you’re aiming for a target heart rate in the vigorous range of 70% to 85%, you can use the heart rate reserve (HRR) method to calculate it as follows:

  • Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  • Calculate your resting heart rate by counting how many times your heart beats per minute when you are at rest, such as the first thing in the morning. It’s usually somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute for the average adult.
  • Calculate your heart rate reserve (HRR) by subtracting your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.7 (70%). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.85 (85%). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • These two numbers are your average target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise intensity when using the HRR to calculate your heart rate. Your heart rate during vigorous exercise should generally be between these two numbers.

For example, say your age is 45 and you want to figure out your target heart rate zone for a vigorous exercise using the HRR method, follow these steps:

  • First, subtract 45 from 220, which gives you 175—this is your maximum heart rate.
  • Next, check your resting heart rate first thing in the morning. Say it’s 80 beats per minute. Calculate your HRR by subtracting 80 from 175; your HRR is 95.
  • Multiply 95 by 0.7 (70%), which gives you 66.5, and then add your resting heart rate of 80 to get 146.5.
  • Now, multiply 95 by 0.85 (85%) to get 80.75, and then, add your resting heart rate of 80 to get 160.75.
  • Your target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise is 146.5 to 160.75 beats per minute.

Types of cardio that I tested to lose my belly fast (high intensity)

  • Jump rope intervals
  • Battle rope
  • Jacobs ladder
  • TRX workout
  • Stair-climbing, Stairmaster Interval training

Protein intake is key

You have to know when is the best time to take your protein shake; it is very important. Many people say it’s best to take it after working out, but let’s be honest, if you take your breakfast at 5 am and work out between 6 – 8 am, after working out you will be starving for sure. You drink your protein shake but that still leaves you hungry, and as a consequence, you also eat your meal; what’s the point? Your calorie intake probably will end up being higher than the calories you burned, which is a huge mistake, and if you didn’t work out hard enough, that’s even worst.

In order to take advantage of the benefits of the protein shake, you have to consider your daily schedule; it all depends on the time you usually workout, in this example 6 – 8 am.

A recommendation to my clients is:

  • Breakfast at 5 am, high intake of carbs with protein.
  • Work out from 6 – 8 am, and after that eat fruit and then your meal (protein, carbs, and fat),
  • At lunchtime, have another meal (protein, carbs, and fat).
  • 3 – 4 hours later, have a snack (here could be the best time for the protein shake).
  • Have another snack (optional, depending on your daily routine).
  • Your dinner should be either be a light meal (protein and fat) or you could have amino acids.

This is very basic and simple but yet is so effective.

How can I lose body fat without losing muscle?

The answer is simple, don’t eat more calories than you burn, at least not every day. Eat just what you need, enough amount of good fat, high intake of carbs before working out, forget about sugar, salt, processed food, soda, candy, and start eating clean and natural as much as possible.

It’s kind of obvious but why do you consume more calories than your body needs, and then, you ask yourself how can I lose fat or weight? Help yourself and start watching your calorie intake and just eat what you need, eat every 3 – 4 hours, and train at high intensity to increase your metabolism.

Here’s how you can start eating clean:

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-intensity/art-20046887

abel

Retired Athlete, Retired Personal Trainer, Retired University Teacher, Retired Sales Manager...

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