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Build Muscle or Cut Fat? Which one should I do first?

FINDING YOUR BALANCE
 
When asked the magic question: "What are your workout goals?" chances are you will get one of two answers. People, regardless of age or sex will usually answer A) "I want to get huge," or B) "I want to lose weight". Or you may get a variant of A and B) "I want to get cut/tone/ripped." Too often, it seems that people isolate their focus on one of these two goals when it comes to physical fitness training. Either they are trying to gain muscle mass, or they are trying to lose body fat. But what happens when you fall into that special category of those who want to both gain mass AND lose body fat at the same time? Many "experts" seem to think that you cannot have it both ways. It is commonly believed that you have to first gain mass, and then go through a cutting cycle, or vice versa. When one actually understands the way the human body functions, one realizes that is it is in fact possible to cut your body fat levels, while at the same time adding lean muscle mass. Granted, adding muscle while burning body fat is a lot more difficult than focusing strictly on one or the other, as it requires a lot of discipline and strategy. Think of it as walking a tight rope. On one side you have the strategies pertaining to weight training, cardio, diet and supplementation that will help you to burn body fat. On the other side you have those strategies that will help you to gain muscle size. In order to attain both, one must balance the two ideals out. Before we look at the specifics of balancing out each factor, let's first go over some misconceptions that need to be examined.
 
Compare 5lbs of fat to 5lbs of muscle"I Want To Lose Weight"
When a person says "I want to lose weight," they are misleading themselves. Losing weight alone does not necessarily mean that one is losing fat. One must learn to differentiate between the two. When starting a new weight-loss program, the average person will lose a significant amount of weight in the short term, usually the first two weeks. During this time their body is adapting to the new lifestyle change and will usually lose a lot of "water weight". This is especially true if that person is new to exercising. It will deceivingly appear that they are losing massive amounts of fat, when in reality, they're losing mostly water that is stored in the body. Shortly thereafter, once their body has started adapting, their weight loss will slow down dramatically. They will still be losing the same levels of body fat; however, the addition of muscle will negate any loss of actual weight. This frustrates many who simply use the scale to determine success or failure. Often they will then try crash dieting, or quit altogether. That is why when thinking about fitness goals, it's important to not just think in terms of losing weight; rather, think about losing body fat - that is were the true transformation starts to happen. It is not uncommon for someone to shed their excess body fat, go down in pants or dress sizes, and lose little to no overall body weight. Some people actually GAIN weight when all is said and done.
 
"I Only Need To Do Cardio In Order To Get Cut"
The staple to body restructuring comes from weight training. Cardio burns calories; however, it alone does not change one's metabolism. On the other hand, the more lean muscle mass one has, the greater number of calories they will burn metabolically and consistently throughout the day. Adding muscle will help increase your metabolism. Without weight training, the muscles will gradually decrease in size. This will cause decreases in body fat to be less visible. Loss of muscle will also cause a drop in metabolism, which defeats the whole purpose.
 
"To Gain Size I Should Eat 10,000 Calories A Day"
This statement in and of itself is true. However, the size gained may not be the type of size one is looking for. When going through a "mass building cycle", many weightlifters will have gained significant amounts of body fat along with their hard-earned muscle. This is due to an obsession many have with taking in as many calories a day as possible during this time. They then feel the need to do a "cutting" phase in order to shed the excess body fat gained. This creates an endless and unnecessary cycle. The way to correct this is to balance out the right amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates that will allow one to gain muscle size, without putting on unneeded body fat. Check out this article here to get a more clear vision on how many overall calories you should be eating and in what proportions.
 
bodytype.jpg"I Can't Get Fit Because Of My Genetics"
It is true that genetics play a huge role in how we look. Everyone knows someone who naturally looks like the epitome of fitness, yet they drink, smoke, eat like a pig, and couldn't even tell you what the inside of the gym looks like. This can be very frustrating. Genetics cannot be changed, however they can be maximized. This means that people of every body type have a certain potential that they can achieve. One must be realistic when it comes to expectations. The best thing to do is to look for people of a similar height and body type before deciding goals. Example: Someone around 5'8" and thickly set will struggle with losing body fat, however they have an overall advantage when it comes to getting big, and displaying a "powerful" physique. By the same token, those who are over 6 feet tall and skinny will struggle more with putting on muscle, however they have an overall advantage in obtaining the "slim, healthy, athletic" look. It is good to find role models when it comes to finding what you want to look like. Keep it realistic, though.

Now that we've dispelled some myths and misconceptions, let's look at how exactly we can balance out your physical fitness regimes.

Balancing Weight Training
When utilizing a balanced approach, you'll want to vary the weight and number of repetitions you do. However, you do not want to do this every single work out. It is a commonly accepted rule of thumb to change your workouts every 4 to 6 weeks. When changing the exercises one does in a given workout, one needs to change the weight and number of reps performed as well. This will ensure that all the different types of muscle fibers are utilized over time and not neglected. Doing this will also "shock" the muscles, which is key to promoting new growth.

Example of cycle changes for a chest workout:

1st Cycle

Exercise

Weight

Repetitions

Bench Press

275 lbs

4-6

Incline Dumbbell Press

80 lb dumbbells

4-6

Dumbbell Pull Over

75 lbs

4-6

Dumbbell Fly

45 lb dumbbells

8-10

 

2nd Cycle

Exercise

Weight

Repetitions

Dumbbell Bench Press

70 lb dumbbells

12-15

Incline Bench Press

135 lbs

12-15

Decline Bench Press

135 lbs

12-15

Cable Fly

30 lbs

12-15

 

3rd Cycle

Exercise

Weight

Repetitions

Bench Press

225 lbs

8-10

Incline Bench Press

185 lbs

8-10

Dips

Bodyweight

8-10

Dumbbell Fly

35 lbs

10-12

 
This is an example of how to shock your muscles and stimulate new growth, as well as incorporate all the different muscle fibers that control strength, speed, and endurance.

Balancing Cardiovascular Training
Cardio is vital to losing the bodyfat we have already accumulated. While weight training will help increase metabolism, cardiovascular exercise will speed up how quickly the body loses fat. This is because when performing cardio, energy is obtained from free fatty acids, which come from the bodyfat stores. A common mistake is the tendency to overdo it. Just as in weightlifting, one can over-train on cardio. Too much cardio will tear the muscles down, slowing recovery. Three to four times a week is sufficient. First thing one needs to do is to forget about all those confusing "optimal heart rate" formulas you find on cardio equipment. There are, in fact, benefits of performing cardio at various levels of intensity for various time frames. Low intensity for a long duration will burn more fat on the spot, however, high intensity for a short duration will burn more calories overall; plus the body will continue to burn calories throughout the day, long after you've left the gym. Using a moderate degree of difficulty will accomplish a degree of both. All levels of difficulty actually complement one another. Low-Intensity/Long Duration will get the body used to working for longer periods of time, while high-intensity/short duration will work the lungs harder and help improve the body's ability to "go the extra mile". The best way to balance out the benefits of cardio is to vary the intensity and duration throughout each week. Example:

Day One – Stair Stepper, high degree of difficulty, 20 minutes (High-Intensity/Short Duration)

Day Two – Eliptical Machine, moderate degree of difficulty, 35 minutes (Moderate-Intensity/Medium Duration)

Day Three – Exercise Bike, moderate degree of difficulty, 45 minutes (Moderate-Intensity/Medium Duration)

Day Four – Bicycling, low degree of difficulty, 1-2 hours (Low-Intensity/Long Duration)


Balancing Diet
The hardest part of any fitness routine, regardless of goals, is usually diet. The word "diet" is an ugly word in and of itself, because it conjures up images of starvation. Plus, most people think of "diet" in the short-term. It is better to think about a permanent eating strategy that will allow one to attain and maintain their fitness goals. Those looking to gain muscle are convinced that they need to consume an ungodly number of calories each day, while those looking to lose bodyfat feel that they need to cut out absolutely everything and starve themselves. An eating plan cannot make one feel miserable, otherwise it will be too difficult to stick with. To balance everything out, one needs to keep several things in mind:

1) ALWAYS consult a doctor before trying any "diet". No two bodies are exactly alike, and while significantly cutting carbohydrates may be beneficial to one person, the same concept could have dire medical consequences to another. Your physician will be able to do tests to see what type of eating plan will work best for you.

2) Never cut out carbohydrates or fat completely. Both are needed to maintain normal, healthy bodily functions.

3) Regardless of your goals, the body needs extra protein when you are physically active. When looking at gaining muscle and losing fat, you should take in between .5 and 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Protein shakes will keep protein levels high, without the extra calories that come from carbohydrates and fat.

4) Whether you like them or not, maintain a healthy intake of fruits and vegetables. They provide much-needed vitamins and minerals.

5) Avoid sugary foods and carbonated drinks. The body will work to process the sugars first, and will not utilize stored bodyfat while simple sugars are in the system. Simple sugars also quickly convert to fat, if not utilized.

6) Stay hydrated! Drink at least 64 ounces of water each day. Staying hydrated is critical when working out. It will help to prevent muscle cramps, as well as help the body to flush out the toxins and waste.

When looking to lose bodyfat and gain muscle, it is critical to keep the overall calories low enough that the body is burning more than it is taking in. At the same time, it is necessary to keep protein levels high enough that muscles will be allowed to gain size and not atrophy

bodybuilding and alcoholAlcohol
Something that deserves its own paragraph, but still falls under diet, is alcohol. If you are serious about staying physically fit, alcohol can stop you in your tracks. All of us have heard the arguments about switching from beer to liquor, and about how drinking is not "that bad" for you. Truth is, drinking alcohol on the weekends is worse than eating a bucket of ice cream. The main reason for this is that while consuming alcohol, your body goes into overdrive to try and purge it from your system. In other words, your body stops burning fat while you're intoxicated! No matter how you may sweat from dancing at the club, you are not burning any bodyfat while there is alcohol in your system. This does not mean that you can never have a beer or shot of whiskey again; just use some common sense and think about what your priorities are. If it is important to drink up and party, feel free. Just don't complain when you see that after six months of trying to hit your goals, you have done little more than spin your wheels. If truly staying physically fit is more important to you, do yourself a favor and cut out the booze!

Supplements
Ah yes, the "magic thin pills", "muscles in a bottle", etc. At least that's how some people look at supplements. Let's face it, in spite of all the hype heard on infomercials, there is no wonder drug that will make you magically thin. Nor is there any special formula that will give you big muscles overnight. Supplements are exactly that, they "supplement" diet and nutrition. They are not the solution in and of themselves. Each type of supplement has its own place in the world of physical fitness. But are they all necessary? Let's look at supplements that one should take, as well as ones that are optional. This is especially important for those on a limited budget.

Necessary Supplements

Protein
Protein molecules are the "building blocks" of the body. The advantage to using a protein supplement is that you can quickly ingest much needed protein, without a lot of preparation or hassle. Plus, it is also very cost-effective. When it comes to protein supplements, the differences between brand names are minimal at best. When choosing a protein supplement, the best thing to look for is what gives you the most protein per serving at the lowest cost. It's also important to look at the protein to carbohydrate to fat ratios. You want to be able to get the most protein per serving, with the lowest amount of carbohydrates and fat.

Multivitamin
In today's society getting enough vitamins and minerals is difficult. This is compounded when one is exercising. Physical training depletes the body of vitamins more quickly than sedentary activities. Taking a multivitamin can offset this. Though there are brands specifically designed for bodybuilders, a generic brand that you can buy at the grocery store will still be more beneficial than nothing.

Glutamine
Glutamine is a naturally occurring amino acid that your body becomes depleted of while working out. As a supplement, it is extremely cost-effective and is quickly gaining popularity. Though research on it is far from complete, glutamine has been found to be beneficial to people of any lifestyle. Many doctors are giving it to cancer patients to help improve their health. When it comes to physical fitness, glutamine helps minimize muscle fiber breakdown, as well as assisting in speedy recovery.

Optional Supplements

Thermogenics
Reality check: There are no magic pills that will give you washboard abs in a week or two. There are however, some high-quality thermogenics that act as a catalyst in helping one to reduce body fat. One thing to keep in mind when searching for the right thermogenic, is to take all the advertising hype with a grain of salt. This is particularly true when it comes to timelines. In almost every advertisement you will see people who claim to have lost tremendous amounts of bodyfat in a short time - sometimes within a month or less. Read the fine print at the bottom of each advertisement. It will usually say, "Results not typical." Nevertheless, thermogenics will help speed up your fat loss. A realistic example might be that if during a given period, by utilizing proper diet and exercise, you could lose 4% bodyfat, during the same timeframe, you would probably lose around 6% bodyfat by adding thermogenics to your regimen. This is not an exact formula, rather an example of what realistic results you could expect. If you have high blood pressure and cannot take products with ephedra, there are stimulant-free thermogenics out there. Caution: Read the warning labels completely before using. If you have any type of thyroid problems, you cannot take thermogenics.

Creatine
Creatine is naturally found in red meats, and as a supplement, it has been proven time and again to work in helping one to gain muscle mass. There are also no major side effects to using creatine. However, it is by no means mandatory to take creatine, especially if one is on a budget. There is much debate as to whether or not it is more effective to take creatine with some type of sugary beverage, like grape juice. Actual scientific data is inconclusive. Bottom line: if it fits into your budget, creatine will definitely help you gain muscle size. If it is not within your budget, there is no need to panic, or to feel that your goals are unattainable without it.

Summary

As with anything else pertaining to bodybuilding, there is no one right or wrong answer. The techniques and guidelines given here are exactly that. They are to guide you and to give you an idea of what strategies might work for you. They are not, by any means, set in stone. The important basics to remember are:

1) Weight train to increase muscle mass and metabolism.

2) Use cardio to help eliminate accumulated bodyfat.

3) Use common sense when developing an eating strategy, and DO NOT use crash diets.

4) Pick good supplements that work for you.

5) Stay hydrated, and drink plenty of water.

6) Be realistic with goals, and don't get discouraged if you fall short some days. Just start up fresh the next day, and don't beat yourself up.

Above all, be PATIENT when it comes to results. You may not get that elusive six-pack or 20" guns in 30 days or less, like the people in the advertisements claim. However, if you continue to pursue your dreams with strict determination, they will become reality!