Should I Lose Fat Before Building Muscle?


question-icon-newI’m a 43-year-old male in very good health and I’m currently doing cardio on an elliptical machine 4 times a week for about 45 minutes each session. I have been at this for 5 weeks and have lost about 13 pounds so far. I take a multivitamin and drink a protein shake after my workouts and before I go to work in the morning. I also do some weight training but I’m more interested in toning up and losing fat first before I start the muscle building process. I eat by snacking throughout the day and I drink a lot of water. However, it seems like around lunch time I get really burned out and tired. I used to never get tired like this. Can you tell me why this is happening and whether or not I should cut down a little on my weight training workouts if my goal is a more lean and ripped physique versus having a big and muscle-bound look?

answer-icon-newFirst, allow me to congratulate you on your decision to improve your health even further through weight loss and exercise. Many people find that picking a good plan that works for them, and sticking with it, is much more difficult than they originally believed. I am happy to hear you have remained focused on your goals and have completed 5 weeks of training thus far. It sounds like you have found the discipline required to be successful in your endeavor. That 13 pound loss is nothing to laugh at either. Way to get a good start on this!

It sounds like your biggest stumbling block so far has been feeling burned out after lunchtime. Energy is a major factor in both weight loss and the desire to exercise. People who lack this tend to want to sit around and do nothing, except maybe eat more, which is detrimental to the end result you are working so hard to achieve.

A big part of energy is a result of diet. When you eat correctly, your energy levels remain more stable as opposed to rising and falling, creating that tired feeling. Turning that around, a big part of diet (and losing weight), is a result of energy as well. When you feel vital and full of energy, you tend to want to eat less and move more. It’s a win-win situation.

Below are a few things you should be aware of when your energy levels start to slump during the middle of the day:

  • Cut down on your caffeine intake. If you drink coffee or tea, cut it down slowly (1 cup per day) to see if this helps. Don’t go cold turkey or you will experience severe caffeine withdrawals which can cause very bad headaches and make you feel even more tired.
  • Cut back on training a little. You might be overworking yourself. Take a few days off and see how you feel.
  • Make sure to eat protein. Each meal should consist of a lean protein source (chicken breast, turkey breast, fish, eggs) to help fuel and repair your muscles.

Along with decreasing your caffeine intake, you should also be eating 5-6 meals per day. Make your largest meal be breakfast, after your body has rested and gone without food for a while. The smallest should be your last meal of the day. You don’t need a lot of food later at night when you’re ready to go to bed and sleep.

You say you drink a lot of water. Try to reach a goal of drinking a gallon of water each day. Staying well hydrated is a good way to boost your energy and keep it at a higher level. Many people find that a glass of water works about as well as a cup of coffee to get them moving, and they don’t experience that caffeine slump later. You need plenty of water in your body to help carry the nutrients you consume and the oxygen you breathe throughout your bloodstream, providing you with more energy.

You have already figured out that protein is important by drinking a shake after your workouts and before work every morning. It is imperative that you are getting the right amount of protein in your diet to maximum your results in the gym. The protein shakes are wonderful before and after your workouts but try to focus on nutrient dense whole foods throughout the rest of the day.

Complete proteins contain all 9 of the essential amino acids our bodies require but do not naturally make. They come from animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. Stick to leaner cuts when choosing meats to reduce the fat intake. A good choice for a complete protein is cold water fish because it also provides healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which is essential for heart health. Include a lean complete protein source in each meal. Incomplete proteins, found in plant-based foods and vegetables are also beneficial (if you’re a vegetarian and want to avoid eating meat).

A gram of protein is equal to 4 calories. To calculate how much you need in your diet, shoot for protein to make up about 25-30% of your total calorie intake each day. A good rule of thumb is to focus on eating 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, so if you currently weigh 175 pounds, your goal should be to eat at least 175 grams of protein each day. Divide this total number between 5-6 meals and you will have a steady supply of muscle building nutrients throughout the day to fuel your body and help you recover and grow from intense workouts.

For toning and losing fat, there is nothing better than building lean muscle tissue with weight-bearing exercise, so do not cut down on your workouts. Make sure to lift as heavy as possible since you want to maintain and even build up as much lean muscle mass as possible. Muscle is a very active tissue in your body which will burn about 6-10 calories per pound even when you’re at rest. By adding 10 pounds of muscle, you will be able to burn an additional 60 to 100 calories each day! Building more muscle is the best way to burn fat and get lean. Weight training increases your metabolism this way and it’s absolutely crucial to your overall success. I wish you the best as you continue your path to a better and fitter you!

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