Want to Burn Fat and Build Muscle? You Have to Know These Secrets First

We get it — it’s discouraging when your favorite jeans no longer button and that jacket you love can’t completely zip up. If losing a few pounds is on your to-do list, you’re not alone. Millions are dieting and exercising every day in hopes for that slim and svelte physique they had in their 20s. There’s just one problem, though — when you lose weight, you don’t just burn through fat — you also burn through muscle.

Before we delve into the secrets for saving your muscle while seeing that scale number go down, let’s first take a look at what needs to happen for both processes to occur.

What needs to happen to burn fat or build muscle?

A woman with tones abs and purple leggings at the gym.

Your current workout might get you your dream body. | Nikolas_jkd/iStoc /Getty Images Plus

Bayesian Bodybuilding reminds us building muscle requires an energy surplus. On the other hand, to burn fat, you need to lose energy. So, how is it possible for both processes to take place at the same time? It’s because your body directs certain calories toward muscle and certain calories toward fat — your energy storage is actually partitioned.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the ideal diet if you’re trying to lose flab and make serious gains.

Eat the right amount of protein

Lemon and Herb Chicken on a plate with salad and vegetables.

As they say, abs are made in the kitchen. | Bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images

Proper protein intake is the key to building muscle, and it will keep you satisfied for hours after eating, which can really help with fat loss. But Women’s Health says you need to make sure you’re not going protein crazy, as this can actually backfire.

Here’s an easy tip: Before you sit down for a meal, make sure a quarter of your plate is filled with healthy carbs, another quarter has high-quality protein, and the other half of your plate is veggies. If you find you’re getting too full from your protein before you touch the carbs and veggies, then you may be eating too much.

And cycle your carbs

Raw sweet potatoes on a wooden table.

You’ll have to carefully monitor your carb intake. | Zeleno/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re unfamiliar with carb cycling, it’s essentially a dietary technique that involves keeping your protein and fat intake consistent while changing up how many carbs you eat every day, Bodybuilding.com explains. Remember, carbs are what give you energy to complete your toughest workouts. You don’t want to ditch them completely.

To try out a week of carb cycling, aim to consume a lot of carbs for the first few days. In the middle of the week, cut down your intake, and then bump it back up toward the end of the week.

Intensify your workouts

Adult bodybuilder wearing leather gym protection belt.

You’ll need to challenge yourself to see big results. | Ozimician/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t be that person who sits on their phone between sets — it’s time to incorporate HIIT cardio and heavy weights into your workout. Steady-state cardio certainly burns calories, but the beauty of high-intensity interval training is it helps you build muscle, maintain the mass you already have, and combat stubborn fat.

And when it comes to lifting, Men’s Fitness recommends alternating between upper and lower body exercises (pull-ups right into squats, for example) with very little rest in between. This will keep your heart rate up while you’re building those muscles, which is exactly what you want.

And incorporate light cardio between weight sets

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Don’t forget to end your workout with some light cardio. | Halfpoint/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Working opposing muscle groups back to back is hard work, there’s no doubt about it. But to make your body work even harder to retain that muscle and burn through fat, you’ll want to add in 30 to 60 seconds of active recovery after you’ve finished a weight set. Bodybuilding.com says this could be anything from jumping rope, to step-ups, to box squats. This extra cardio on weight day will burn through your stored carbs and target body fat more effectively.

Sleep is key

Man sleeping in his bed.

Don’t let anything come between you and your beauty rest. | Tommaso79/iStock/Getty Images

Even with the best workout plan and optimum nutrition, you’ll never see the results you want without adequate sleep. Your muscles rebuild and repair themselves during your slumber, which makes them stronger. And you can seriously sabotage your fat loss by not getting enough rest, as this can affect the hormones that control your appetite. Aim to get a full eight hours or so a night.

Keep your scale far, far away

Young healthy girl on home scales.

Don’t stress the number on the scale. | Nensuria/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re married to your scale, it’s time for a divorce. It’s important to remember that scales don’t differentiate between fat and muscle — they just show you how much you weigh in total. Since muscle weighs more than fat, don’t be surprised if you see the scale number rising even if you’re lowering your body fat percentage. Try taking your measurements weekly and seeing how your clothes fit instead.