You’ve probably heard it before, and for good reason – muscle burns more calories than fat.
So while lifting weights may not be your first thought for weight loss, strengthening muscle can do more than get you looking buff. It can help you burn fat, therefore lose weight.
But how do building lean muscle and burning fat go hand in hand?
We take a closer look to find out.
We all have two types of muscle:
- Type 1 (slow-twitch) fibers
- Type 2 (fast-twitch) fibers
But what’s the difference?
Well, type 1 takes the lead in endurance. We’re talking about activities such as running long distance, or low-impact workouts – like Zumba.
While type 2 fibers are used for fast-paced movements, like sprints or squat jumps. Naturally, these fibers tire faster and require a longer recovery time. Meanwhile, type 1 fibers stay near enough the same size after toning – the opposite to type 2.
In short, if you’re looking for serious muscle definition, type 2 are going to be where you should be focusing your efforts. If you think of type 1 and 2 as a pair, you’ll reap the benefits.
What is fat?
Unlike muscle types, fat can appear a little more complicated. After all, there’s a reason why we refer to some fat on our bodies as ‘stubborn’.
This ‘stubborn’ fat is usually white fat – or subcutaneous fat – which is easily pinched around your hips, belly, butt and thighs. This type of fat is your body’s largest energy reserves, making it tough to get rid of. Since our bodies are wired to keep hold of it, shifting this type of fat can seem pretty challenging.
Meanwhile, ‘visceral’ fat hides away beneath the white fat around your midsection. While its purpose is to protect vital organs (such as the liver and intestines), too much of this fat can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
Then, there’s ‘brown’ fat. Sounds gross, but you actually want more of this type of fat. Brown fat burns calories instead of storing them. Throwing yourself into beast-mode at the gym can even encourage white fat to temporarily turn into another form of fat that burns calories – beige fat.
Calorie burn per pound of muscle
So, you wanna build muscles and burn fat, huh? It’s important to understand how building lean muscle and burning fat work together.
In reality, a pound of muscle burns around 6 to 7 calories a day. Previously, we were led to believe that some 5 pounds of muscle would burn a whopping 250+ calories at rest. Unfortunately, this 5-pound myth is just that – a myth.
Also Read: How to measure your body fat percentage
The trouble is, different research utilises different ways to test metabolic changes post-exercise. Since there many other factors involved in metabolism – such as sex, age, activity level and fitness level – there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how exercise influences metabolism.
The relationship between building muscle, burning fat
So what is the connection between wanting to burn fat and build lean muscle? Much like your car needing gas, your muscles require fuel, too.
While our bodies use a number of calories for normal bodily functions (such as breathing and circulation), the majority of our energy goes into powering our muscles. And that’s not just crushing it at the gym. We’re talking about keeping your heart pumping and balance maintained.
But where do our bodies look to for energy? Fat of course.
- Fat contains 9 calories per gram
- Carbs contain 4 calories per gram
Unfortunately, we can’t dictate where our bodies look for energy. For general everyday tasks, like typing on a keyboard or going for a stroll to the shop, fat is tapped into for energy.
When you up your game in the gym, your muscles seek fuel faster. This encourages your body to switch to burning carbs.
Building lean muscle and burning fat
So, with this info so far, you might be left scratching your head about build muscle and burning fat. Should you strength train if you’re trying to cut fat? Of course, you should.
While you may not be zapping through shed loads of extra calories by simply having extra muscle, you will be changing your metabolism for the better. Plus, your overall health and fitness will benefit from strength training.
According to research, keeping hold of muscle mass and gaining lean tissue as we age keeps us from gaining excess weight. Here’s what else strength training can do for you:
- Develop your body composition, keeping you healthy and giving your body shape
- Burn extra calories, long after your workout (aka, afterburn)
- Helps improve coordination and balance (meaning you’re less likely to injure yourself)
- Prevents lean body mass loss
- Keeps your bones and connective tissue strong
How to burn fat and build muscle
So you want to know how to lose fat and tone muscle? Well, here’s how.
No doubt about it, you’ve probably heard of the “fat-burning zone” before now. Think of this zone as the level of intensity at which you’re exercising at – about 50-65% of your maximum heart rate.
This zone sits just below the threshold where your body switches to burning carbs. The more calories you’re able to burn during your workout, the more your body will be forced to burn fat to aid muscle recovery.
So how can you burn fat and build lean muscle and maximize your results? These six strategies should help you build muscles and burn fat – fast.
1. Exercise earlier
The early bird really does catch the worm – but more in the form of building muscle/burning fat. Yep, morning exercise can blast up to 20% more body fat.
But what’s the secret? Eating breakfast after your workout. Not eating before your morning workout encourages your body to burn fat, since it has less glycogen (energy) from carbs to eat through.
2. Get more rest
No, I don’t mean scrolling through social media at the gym. Aim for a decent amount of sleep each night – at least seven hours of high-quality sleep.
When you’re running on poor sleep, your body’s levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) are elevated. When this occurs, it’s unlikely you’ll maximize your efforts in the gym. When your body feels stressed, it begins holding onto fat stores even more, making it even harder to shed fat.
3. Follow the 1:3 rule
Workout for one hour, three times a week – it’s as simple as that. If you can exercise even more, great. Sticking to your workout schedule is key.
It’s better to throw yourself into beast-mode three times a week than barely break a sweat five times a week.
4. Work harder
Looking to burn fat and build lean muscle? Your best bet is to lift weights and do bodyweight exercises until you can barely make it back to your car.
When you lift to failure, your muscle fibers are given the nod that they need to grow. And this is where the magic happens.
5. Get plenty of rest, too
Sure, you want to go hard at the gym and maximize fat burn and the amount of muscle you build… But, you need some time to recover as well.
Try to switch up your workouts to challenge different muscle groups, too. Recovery is essential for your muscles to build themselves up stronger, increasing fat burn.
6. Choose the right post-workout snack
In order to maximize building lean muscle and burning fat, you need to smart when selecting your post-exercise snack.
Opt for a combo of carbs and protein within a 2-hour window post-workout. Not only will the carbs help to replenish glycogen stores, but the amino acids in the protein will aid muscle repair.
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