If you are looking to improve your overall body shape, you probably want to gain muscle and lose fat, but is it possible to maximise that shape change and gain muscle at the same time?

Muscle gain and fat loss

Traditionally building muscle has gone hand in hand with increasing calorie intake; the intense, weight-bearing workouts which will tone those abs and sculpt those biceps require more food, not less. 

And yet, weight loss is achieved by consuming fewer calories than you use each day – about 3500 calories for each pound you want to use. So, if you are looking to boost your body confidence with curves that come from muscle not fat, is it possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time? 

Before you start any process to change the muscle and fat balance of your body, you need to understand what your starting point is. A body composition scale like the Tanita BC-401 will not just tell you your weight, but also how much fat and muscle you have. Regular use of the scale will show you how your fat and muscle measurements are changing over time. 

Next, it is important to understand the impact that building muscle will have on your body. As well as making you look toned and healthy, increasing your muscle will increase your basal metabolic rate, or the rate at which you use calories so you will need to make sure you are consuming enough calories to fuel your exercise. 

Tips to gain muscle while losing fat

  • Increase your activity, especially activity which includes strength training such as HITT

Aim for at least twice a week .

  • Don’t do crash diets

Be patient and remember you are looking to improve your body composition long term with a healthy metabolism, rather than lose a few lbs short term.

  • Add some weights

3 sets of 8 reps is a great rule of thumb. Select weights heavy enough so that by the third set you are feeling a lot of fatigue but that you can still complete the set with good technique. Then, give yourself time to rest and recover – this is when your muscles will actually grow!


  • Mix it up to burn fat and add muscle

Make sure you don’t get stuck in the habit of always doing the same workout. If you are a gym fan, add in some outdoor cardio such as running or cycling and if you usually work out on your own look for a body pump class to do with friends.

  • Add protein to every meal

Most people are used to eating a large amount of protein after their workout, however it’s important to eat protein spaced out throughout the day. Try to eat at least 25 to 35 grams of protein with each meal.

You are not just making changes which will boost your health and confidence in the short term, working to change your body composition like this will make sure you are healthy and look great as you get older, so stick with it and let us know how you are getting on. 

Should I lose fat before building muscle?

It is easy to think that you should lose some weight before you start to build muscle, but when you restrict your calorie intake to lose weight you are likely to lose fat AND muscle at the same time. This is not ideal, as it will also lower your basal metabolism rate.

Hence if you are looking to improve your body composition for long term health, don’t embark on a weight loss programme first.

What should I eat to gain muscle and lose fat?

Your muscle likes to have constant attention to maintain or increase in mass. Muscle cells need protein and exercise to develop and if you start to restrict the amount of protein you take in through your diet, you might start to lose weight but you will be losing muscle as well. 

If you are eating to gain muscle and lose fat you need to focus on lean protein sources like these:

  • Non-fat Greek yoghurt - a delicious addition to breakfasts with fruit or granola and at 10% protein with bone-strengthening calcium, it is a nutritional powerhouse.
  • Shellfish – prawns are low fat and about 25% protein, but make sure you avoid fatty dressings or sauces if you are adding prawns to salad or pasta. Other shellfish such as scallops, mussels and crab, also provide protein with very little fat.
  • Chicken breast – also about 25% protein, chicken breast is a go-to protein source for busy people as it is easy to prepare, or buy pre-cooked for an easy lunch.
  • Almonds – these make a great snack and they are about 20% protein, so a fantastic alternative to crisps or biscuits if you are feeling peckish between meals.

Read our recent blog about plant-based protein sources for some other great lean protein sources. Remember to boost your fibre intake as well as this has been shown to reduce belly fat.