Losing fat while building muscle is a hard line to balance.
Building muscle requires taking in adequate amounts of protein so your muscle tissue can repair and grow, but it also requires eating protein-dense, low-calorie foods so you can keep your fat percentage low.
It's also important not to lose fat and muscle at the same time, or you'll be working against yourself. To keep this from happening, I have rounded up four things you need to do to stay both thin and trim.
1. Eat/drink a pre-workout snack before working out.
If you go to the gym and work out without any fuel to burn off, then your body will resort to burning off muscle and fat. When we're trying to keep our muscles from thinning, we need to make sure this doesn't happen.
Drinking a pre-workout shake gives your body the energy it needs for your upcoming workout. If you're not a fan of pre-workout shakes, try eating a low-calorie protein bar.
Bars such as these Soul Sprout plant-based nut bars or these Luna Bars will give your body just what it needs to burn fat during your workout. (And if you're working out with little ones nearby, have them try these Z Bars so they can learn good workout habits at a young age!)
2. Use weights.
In order to build muscle, it is imperative to use weights. If you're new to weight lifting, start small and gradually lift heavier -- no need to kill yourself the first time you walk into the weight room.
Try doing lunges with dumbbells and your squats on the Smith machine with 10-20 pound weights. Use free weights to work out your arms by doing bicep curls and tricep extensions.
If you're unsure of how to incorporate weights into your routine, ask someone from your gym to help you out (most people at the gym aren't actually as intimidating as they look, so don't be shy!), or hire a personal trainer for a day.
Using weights burns more calories, thus burning more fat.
3. Do 20 minutes of intense cardio.
The best way we can burn fat is by doing cardio such as running or biking. I say “intense” cardio because it is easy to go for a light jog or a fast walk and consider it cardio.
However, if we are not pushing ourselves, we won't be burning nearly as much fat as we could be. Intense cardio means it should be difficult to have a conversation while working out.
You should be sweating, and you should be able to feel the burn. Do this for around 20 minutes in addition to your weighted workout. If you do cardio for too long, you could end up burning away valuable muscle.
If you don't do enough cardio, you could be building muscle without burning off enough fat to keep you trim. For me personally, I like to do a quick three-mile run in addition to whatever muscle group I am working out that day.
4. Drink a post-workout protein shake.
It's important to drink a post-workout shake so protein can be delivered to your muscles. This will begin healing the micro tears, which are very small tears in the muscle tissue caused by intense contraction of the muscle during workouts.
Try to drink your shake within 30 minutes of finishing your workout, while your body's anabolic window is open and therefore your body will best be able to utilize that protein.
Making shakes is easy, you just need a shaker bottle, water or milk and some protein powder. Or, if you're like me, you can drink a pre-made one such as these Vega Protein+Shakes. The chocolate ones are my favorite!
I do these four things every day, and I have managed to keep my body fat below 16 percent (I'm a girl!), my muscle percentage at 44 percent and my BMI at 18 -- without going on any special diets.
Staying fit doesn't have to be difficult. You just have to put forth the effort and those results will come. Best of luck!