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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Losing Fat or Gaining Muscle: More or Less Calories?

I didn't intend to blog about this subject, but the response to my last post triggered my curiosity. Should I avoid muscle gain until I hit a healthy weight? Are losing fat and gaining muscle mutually exclusive endeavors? What role does metabolism play? Well, I am not a doctor or a dietitian. I just have a curiosity in what I am or should be doing.

The Mayo Clinic website has a nice succinct article concerning metabolism and weight loss. "Metabolism is the process by which the body converts food into energy." The calories not converted to energy are then stored as fat.

Basically 76-85% of our bodies' caloric requirements are fixed. Our bodies require calories to carry out all the normal functions such as respiration, digestion, and pumping blood. The calories we need for these things does not change much.

What does change is that 24-15%. I am not sure, but I think this means that if you are fairly inactive, putting a butt groove in the couch, popping open a beer, and scarfing down some pizza rolls will only account for 15% of your caloric needs. On the other hand, if you are an Olympic athlete learning to run with a gas mask, this number is closer to 24%. In other words, the more active you are, the more calories you burn (DUH!).

Of course, losing fat is all about creating a caloric deficit. However, there is a danger of losing muscle as well. When muscle is lost, your body requires less calories which messes with the whole deficit stuff.

From this article, I gather that the calories our muscles require are part of that 76-85%. This adds a valuable wrinkle to our equation. The more muscle mass, the more calories our bodies require. Therefore, more muscle + more activity = Higher metabolism.

So what is the wrinkle in our equation? Well it's not the metabolism equation, but the fat loss equation. According to another article I read, we need to have a calorie surplus in order to gain muscle. Now, it seems that if I want to increase my muscle, I need to eat more calories in order to do so.

Well, how in the world does the body know whether to convert the extra calories into fat or muscle? I used to joke that my fat was simply undeveloped muscle. How can I gain muscle and not fat? Shouldn't gaining muscle help me lose fat since the body then requires more energy?

Well, I have not come across any credible articles that address this issue, although I didn't search long or hard. My guess is that the surplus to gain muscle is not truly a surplus. I think that it is the energy your body requires in order to build muscle and therefore is not surplus.

Now the BIG question is, "Can the body build muscle while burning excess fat?" Can the body take the amino acids to build muscle leaving the organs and such to draw energy from our excess fat?

If you think this stuff is confusing you should read the definition of metabolism.

I suspect that our amazing bodies can both lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. I suspect that the trade off will be a slow gradual gain of muscle and a slow gradual loss of fat. Also, I suspect that there is probably a point at which too few calories will stop muscle gain and start muscle loss. Similar, I suspect that there is a point at which too many calories will stop fat loss and start fat gain.

Bottom line, the mayo clinic article recommends weight training while losing weight in order to gain calorie hungry muscle. I think it is quite obvious that if my goal is fitness, weight training is important for a whole host of reasons including fat loss. I think you can do both.

What do you think? Do you know of any article or studies on the subject of losing fat while gaining muscle?

Living Fit Is My #1 Job!

7 comments:

GuitarGuy said...

Very interesting article and I think you are doing fantastically well with your weight loss. If you are interested I have a website that has many articles on fitness with quite a few about losing fat and gaining muscle. They are by experts and I am sure they will help you with your questions.

Build Muscle Books

Check the free fitness downloads section too.

cmae said...

You are correct that our bodies can lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, and the Mayo Clinic's rec to weight train while trying to lose weight is spot on, obvy, since they're experts. Muscle tissue and adipose tissue are two different substances that are created and lost in different ways for different reasons. Just as our bodies can heal a wound and grow hair at the same time, our bodies are equipped to build muscle and use energy from fat at the same time. Weight training while maintaining a moderate caloric deficit, as long as we get the appropriate nutrition - as you said, amino acids for building muscle proteins, for example - will result in both a gain of muscle and a loss of fat.

(Thank you, Anatomy & Physiology I with Lab.)

Sheri said...

Another thing we should realize is that the reason we lose fat when we eat fewer calories is that our body needs more calories than we intake so in the absence of calories from food, our bodies will metabolize the fat. Therefore it can accurately predicted that if we are eating fewer calories, but also doing weight training, then our bodies will use the fat it metabolizes to help build muscle mass.

"The Captain" said...

I am going to weigh in tomorrow after being out of town for a week and half. Hopefully I can barely edge out out!!!!
Jeff

Half Man said...

Guitarguy- Thanks for your comments

CMAE- I've got to think that that is true. I hope I can track down a research article that deals with this.

Sheri- Certainly, taking in fewer calories than we use is the only way to lose weight. What I am not so certain about is the relationship between "burning" those fat cells and building muscle.

Captain- Bwahahaha! I did pretty darned good this week.

Anonymous said...

my experience is that if you are on a large deficit and you were working weight training previously for more than a few months, you will not gain a significant amount of muscle. but the first 3 months of my doing some serious weight training, lifting heavy twice a week, i did gain muscle while on a small deficit between 300-500 (mostly 300) and lost some fat. during this time i also had replaced muscle that i used to have. i think it all depends on our individual bodies & routines.

Gain Muscle Lean said...

Good work.
Thanks for share with me this information.
My name is Fred, I'm personal trainer.
The body and muscle is my life.

Fred