I’m not gonna bury the lead on this one.
The big difference is nutrition.
Whether you want to build muscle or lose fat - your training should be the same. The real difference in whether you gain some muscle or burn some fat is how you adjust your food.
The Key To Losing vs. Gaining Weight
A calorie deficit will help you lose weight, while a calorie surplus will help you gain.
A 500 calorie per day deficit will help you shed the unwanted pounds at a rate of roughly 1lb of fat per week. Make sure to keep you protein intake high enough to maintain your lean muscle mass. 1-1.5g of protein per kilogram body weight should do the trick (1lb = 2.2kg).
To gain lean muscle while keeping fat gain to a minimum, stick to a 150-250cal surplus each day. The rate at which folks grow muscle is less predictable. Make sure your protein intake is 1-1.5g per pound of bodyweight and take in more carbs, especially post-workout.
From a programming perspective, your workouts will be almost identical. Lifting heavy things, even while in a deficit, will help you maintain your strength and lean muscle mass.
Muscle is calorically expensive to maintain. When you’re in a calorie deficit your body has no problem ditching the muscle to save fuel.
The big difference you’ll feel in training while on a deficit is your energy level. You may not have the same gusto to push an extra 5lbs or squeeze out extra reps. That’s ok. Your goal is to lose fat, not get bigger and stronger.
Remember: heavy is a relative term. There is no standard weight that is considered universally heavy for any lift. Keep working as hard as you can but cut yourself some slack if performance suffers a little bit while you cut weight.
The opposite is true while in a calorie surplus. You may find that having the extra fuel drives your performance. The carbs will also help you get a killer pump.
Short and Sweet
This isn’t a complicated concept, there is just way too much bad info out there.
Sure, there are more advanced techniques like circuit training or using complexes that can help drive up EPOC and keep you burning extra calories for longer. I use them plenty with clients trying to melt off the last few pounds of fat.
However, the simple truth is - if you’re eating more calories than you’re burning you won’t lose a pound. Weight loss hinges on nutrition, and you’ll never out-work a bad diet.
Get your calories right. Get the results.
That’s the only difference.
If you need more help overcoming the nutrition habits that are keeping you from your goals, contact me and I'll be happy to help.
Articles filled with actionable information to improve your approach to the 4 pillars of fitness.