I have a few articles that I’ve written over the past couple years that I find myself referring people to over and over and over, because they address some of the most common questions I ever get. One is the “just do it” article when people ask about how to stay motivated. Then there is “the p90x nutrition guide” and “round 1 diet” which help people new to a fat shredder diet to figure out how to tackle it for max results.
And another of my all time favorites is the answer to the question of losing body fat while building muscle. And since it’s been 6 months since I originally posted “body fat vs. bulk”, I want to revisit that concept for those who are newer to the teamRIPPED community.
For some of you reading this, you already know your objective =
Perhaps you are very overweight, and you know you have lots of body fat and body weight to lose. Simple! MISSION #1 is losing body fat. You’ll want to dial in your diet to maximum fat loss and be sure you push play every day to get the most out of yourself.
On the other hand, perhaps you are a “hard-gainer” — rail thin and “scrawny”. Simple! MISSION #1 is building muscle. You’ll need a bulking diet and you’ll want to follow the building mass tips I have in the “my tips” section. Go for it!
Fitting clearly into either of those categories makes your mission clear, which makes it easy to set goals and go for it.
But what about the folks who aren’t sure where to start? What if you don’t fit nicely into either of those categories? I get a lot of questions from people who have high body fat, but their goal is to “be ripped at the same weight I am already”. In other words, they worry that they don’t want to shed lots of body fat because they will look too skinny in their estimation. So they ask me how to get ripped while staying the same weight.
And then there are also the folks who have lost a good bit of body fat already, and (of course) their fat friends and co-workers are now messing with their minds by saying the look “skinny”. So they start to think that it’s time to bulk up and ask me how to bulk up while still losing that last few pounds of body fat.
Here’s my response to the person who has excess body fat (more than 2% above their goal body fat %) but wants to be the same weight they are now:
That’s not a good idea! Here’s why —
First, excess body fat is BAD for you. It’s bad for me. It’s bad for all of us. It puts us in bad health, and makes us prone to all sorts of disease and illness. Job #1 for ALL OF US should be to get rid of that goo! I don’t care what you weigh! If you have too much body fat, you simply have to get rid of it for your health. Period! Weight is just a number, so it’s actually quite silly for someone to say they “can’t” or “don’t want to” go below a certain weight. If you have fat to lose, you need to get rid of that fat.
Second, if you don’t like the idea of shedding fat first, and instead take on the noble mission to “exchange body fat for muscle” while maintaining your weight, you are looking at a LONG, LONG road ahead. Even on a bulking plan (which is designed to build muscle with a calorie surplus) you can expect to gain at most a pound of muscle per week. When dieting to gain muscle while losing body fat, that muscle building happens much slower — probably about 1 lb per month.
So do the math — Let’s say you have 20 lbs of excess body fat that you need to lose. If you decide you don’t want to drop 20 lbs, but rather replace that 20 lbs of fat with 20 lbs of muscle, you should expect it to take at least a year and a half! That’s a LONG TIME! And what’s very dangerous about this approach (other than the fact that you are carrying excess toxic fat around on your body all that time) is that you can realistically expect to bust your butt for 6 months and barely look any different! Talk about discouraging! After 6 months, you may have built about 8-10 lbs of muscle and lost 8-10 lbs of fat, but since your body fat is still high, those changes won’t even be noticeable. Will you have the commitment to keep busting your tail when you don’t see any visible results at all for the first 6 months? Probably not!
So what’s my advice to a guy who weighs 170 and has high body fat, but wants to weigh 170 and be ripped? Simple! Shed the body fat first. Let the scale go wherever it has to go, but get the body fat down to the level you are happy with. For me, that was 8%. For you that might be a different target, but get to within 2% of your goal before you think of doing anything other than shedding body fat. Once the body fat is in that goal range, then — and only then — should you shift gears into muscle building. That 170 lb guy might weigh 150 at this point, but at least he’s healthy and at least he’s ripped with a 6-pack — trust me, you’ll look better thin with a 6-pack than chubby with your magic 170 lb weight target in tact!
And when the body fat is low, you have lots of options to build muscle more efficiently. You can run a calorie surplus. You can increase carbs. You can decrease cardio. You have a lot more things at your disposal to accelerate muscle formation that are simply not possible if you are simultaneously trying to lose body fat.
So Mr. 170 can shed the fat, get ripped at 150, and then go into full-blown muscle building, getting back up to 170, and look ripped the entire time! He’ll stay motivated, his body will work better, and he’ll SEE the results before his very eyes, which will keep him more motivated!
So, what body fat should you shoot for? That depends. It’s totally up to you. Some want to be 10% body fat. Some want to be 8%. Some want to be Shaun T 5% shredded. Whatever your goal body fat is, don’t transition to bulking until you are there. And don’t even transition to a maintenance diet until you are within 2% of that body fat level (see my article “dialing it in” for details on that).
So can you get to your desired goal either way? Yes. But trust me, you’ll be healthier, look better, and get to your goals faster if you shed fat first, then build muscle when you are at single-digit body fat!
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