Muscle mass is good – that goes without saying. But put muscle mass and fat together – well, let’s just say they don’t make a good coupling. There’s no use pretending you’re just in the muscle-building game to gain strength, athleticism, and the ability to rip telephone directories in half. You want to be able to flaunt your new found strength too. The hard work you’ve put into your body deserves recognition, which is readily given when you have muscle that is lean, ripped and taut. Let a sliver of fat get in the way, no matter how thin the layer, and all of your efforts seem cloaked, muffled and wasted.
So the ideal for any training program – competition in mind or not – is to combine the twin goals of muscle-building and fat-burning in one fell swoop. Easily said, but not always so easy to achieve. Building muscle requires protein, but protein invariably comes wrapped, somewhat inconveniently, in fats, for most protein-rich foodstuffs. Red meat, fish, chicken, eggs – they’re all great protein sources, but not so great for fat-uptake, no matter how lean the cut.
Which is why most of us out there, looking to create a chiselled physique, turn to the tried-and-tested two-phased approach – that of bulking and cutting. The bulking phase gets all of your muscular-tissue nicely boosted up. Then, once you’re up-to-size, the cutting phase helps lock-down the definition of that newly-acquired mass. However, tried and tested bulk-and-cut maybe – but easy it certainly isn’t. Bulking teaches your stomach the joys of big globs of protein. Then cutting forces you to pull the plug brutally – all while you’re in the throes of a ferocious cardiovascular work-plan, so that you can shrink-wrap your muscle definition.
That sort of yoyo-ing, shifting your body from one extreme form of diet-exercise to its opposite, can cause problems. It can be difficult to adjust mentally, and physically too – your body doesn’t always take kindly to the sudden transition. Often, the cut can take away too much of the lean body mass, as well as the fat, which can be very frustrating. There are several approaches that can offer an alternative to traditional bulk-and-cut cycles; but perhaps one of the most appealing is the simultaneous muscle-build/ fat-burn.
To do this, you need to be prepared to blend the 2 phases into one. That means getting a little cleverer about your dietary and exercise timing within each day. And, somewhat controversially, you’ll need to make cardiovascular and high-intensity training (HIT) the cornerstone of your program. Controversial possibly, but necessary. Building in such an energy-intensive activity keeps fat on the move; the body simply doesn’t get a chance to lay down those fatty deposits, because it is trying to manage the extra energy expenditure.
However, the critical thing is to get the balance between cardio and HIT fine-tuned to your metabolism. If you are a high-metabolic guy, for whom fat readily drops off (lucky you), then just a 2-3 HIT sessions a week can do it. But if you’re in the difficult-to-shift category (which is most of us) you’re going to have to mix in the cardio a lot more, with a higher proportion of cardiovascular work to HIT. This needs to be accompanied by small bursts of food throughout the day, kept lean and mean.
So that helps you to nail the fat-shifting. All well and good, you’re thinking, but what about the muscle-bulking? This will need to be slotted into your week maybe three time, but timing is of the essence. You will need to get your free-weight sessions pinned to exactly the right point in the day – late afternoon/ early evening, no later than 6 hours before you hit the sack.
If you can get your weights session in, during that late afternoon window, you’ll find you will have had the whole day to go hard on the fat burning. Then, post the weights session, you will have enough time to go heavy on the protein (make sure to overfeed), setting up an overnight protein-build to bulk out your mass. The great thing is that by the morning, all of your body’s muscle-construction work should have been completed, and your body will then be receptive to another bout of fat annihilation.
So burning fat and building muscle needn’t be at war with each other. If you’re finding bulking and cutting just isn’t delivering for you, think about what a combined strategy can do. It may feel odd at first, but if you can master the discipline and scheduling, you’ll find yourself need that optimum rip 365 days a-year – something that even pros might find an interesting prospect.