“Starting an off season fat is like putting icing and decorations on a burnt cake. It will still look awful. If you’re too fat to gain you need to tidy up before decorating.”
One of the first things I ask a prospective client who reaches out is to identify his or her goal, with the most common answer being “to build muscle and to lose fat”.
I then explain how while in the long-run both are achievable, in the short-term one needs to focus on either one or the other, since each requires two distinct approaches. In fact, building muscle requires being in a (gradual and controlled) calorie surplus while losing fat requires being in a (gradual and controlled) calorie deficit. Naturally, it’s either going to be a surplus or a deficit.
Once this is fully understood and appreciated, the next step is determining the sequence of which goal to chase first i.e. either building muscle or burning fat. While this decision may be influenced by personal taste or circumstances, experience and knowledge shows us how for one to be able to deserve and maximise the effects of a “lean bulk” (a period focusing on building lean muscle), he or she should be already relatively lean… and by relatively lean I mean having a visible six pack, or anything below 10-12% body fat.
The reason for this is threefold;
i) whilst a proper lean bulk will lead to gains in muscle size, it is inevitable that one will also experience some increase in body fat, albeit within reasonable limits. Thus, from an aesthetical point of view this can spell disaster because if one is already fat, trying to lean bulk will make him/her look even more fat, rather than more muscly.
ii) at a body fat % above the 10-12% level, insulin sensitivity (a hormonal function which plays a crucial role in determining nutrient partitioning between your muscle and body fat stores) decreases. In other words, the higher the body fat %, the less efficient the body becomes at growing muscle and burning fat.
iii) chasing fat loss will inevitably lead to some degree of atrophy (or muscle loss) which can to some extent be minimized if a shredding phase is conducted gradually, over a longer period of time. Thus, the higher the level of body fat % grows, the longer and harder is the road to shredding that fat back down before one can uncover any remaining lean muscle.
The bottomline is therefore one and simple – before going on a lean bulk or deciding you want to grow muscle, you should first drop body fat down to at least 10 to 12% and clean up your abs.
To fitness with love,