To recap, when your goal is to build muscle or lose fat, it’s generally more effective to target one goal at a time rather than attempt to do both simultaneously.
Now that you have a general understanding of proper dieting and training from my free KFX Workout & Nutrition Manual, the next commonly asked questions are:
- Should I build muscle or lose fat first? (when to build muscle and when to lose fat)
- How long should I lose fat or build muscle before switching stages?
If you’re asking these questions, you’re obviously interested in both building muscle AND losing body fat but can’t decide which stage to start with. The answer for the majority of people is to start by losing fat. But there’re a few factors to take into account.
If you’re not interested in gaining muscle, you’d lose fat first since losing fat is your main goal. And vice versa, if you’re already lean or skinny and not interested in losing fat, you’d simply gain muscle since building muscle is your main goal.
The main question you need to ask yourself when choosing whether to build muscle or burn fat first is:
What’s Your Body Fat Percentage?
There’s one factor that decides whether you should be focusing on muscle growth first.
This also happens to be the same factor that will determine when it’s time to stop focusing on muscle growth and start focusing on losing whatever small amount of fat you may have gained along the way.
And that factor is… your body fat percentage.
Here’s the truth: The more body fat you have, the more likely you are to store excess calories in the form of fat instead of muscle.
Why? Because the fatter you are, the worse your calorie partitioning will be.
In other words, the more body fat you have when you try to “bulk”, the fatter you get. The consequences are having to go through a much longer and strenuous “cutting” phase and looking like crap the majority of the year. Not fun.
Therefore, creating a caloric surplus when you’re already “fat” is NOT recommended.
Bottom Line: Bulking (increasing caloric intake to build muscle) when you are already in a “fat state” is NOT the way to go unless you want to look even fatter.
Ideal Body Fat to Start Building Muscle
The ideal body fat percentage to begin the muscle building stage is when you’ve already achieved a “lean” physique.
How do you define lean?
Well, you certainly don’t have to be as shredded as Bruce Lee (although being leaner is better to a certain point). Here are the ranges that are considered ideal:
Ideal Starting Body Fat Percentages to Build Muscle
- Men: 8-12% body fat
- Women: 17-21% body fat
Starting out at these levels of body fat will put you at an advantage right off the bat, and we want every single advantage we can get.
So, if you currently fall somewhere within these recommended ranges of “leanness”, you’re all set to make muscle growth your sole focus.
Bottom Line: Building muscle when your body fat is above the recommended ranges of “leanness” can still work but will likely yield below average results. Instead, if you’re currently fatter than these ranges, the best thing you can do right now is take some time and lose some of that fat first.
But I Don’t Know My Body Fat Percentage
No worries, I hear you.
The majority of people haven’t the slightest clue of their true body fat percentage. Since conventional methods such as random website calculators, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), and digital body fat scales are crap for the most part, the typical person won’t be able to tell if they are within the body fat ranges listed above.
You know those skin fold calipers that measure the thickness of certain pinched areas of fat on your body? They’re actually decent. The problem is that it must be performed by someone who knows what they’re doing (ideally, someone who has done it numerous times for others) to get anything remotely accurate.
The truth is, unless you let someone kill you, dissect you and then weigh everything out, you’re never going to get a perfectly accurate measurement of your body fat percentage.
Luckily for us though, we don’t actually need it to be that accurate. We just need it to be accurate enough. And for that, there’s one remaining option left to use that is probably the best option of them all.
And that is by simply getting yourself familiar with what various body fat percentages legitimately look like, and then using a combination of what you see in the mirror and what you see in your own progress pictures to take your best unbiased guess as to where you stand.
To help you do this, here are a couple of decent starting points with pictures of what different body fat percentages look like on men and women.
Now strip your clothes off, get in front of a mirror and objectively compare your physique to the images above.
Bottom Line: If your physique is similar to the model with your ideal starting body fat percentage (Men: 8-12%; Women: 17-21%), then begin the muscle growth stage. If not, continue losing fat until you’re within the ideal range. And always ask yourself, “Do I look like I should be focusing on building muscle or losing fat right now?”
When to Build Muscle and When to Lose Fat
Whichever path you choose, ensure your diet and workout routine is optimized to prevent you from gaining excess body fat while bulking and losing muscle mass while cutting.
But now that you know how lean you should be to start building muscle, at what point do you switch your focus from building more muscle to losing that small amount of fat you’ve gained?
Because this is how things are going to work. You’re going to build muscle, things are going to go amazingly well, you’re going to get the best results you’ve ever gotten in your life, and you’re going to do the best job possible keeping fat gains to an absolute minimum. But… you know some small amount of fat will still be gained along the way.
Lucky for you, I’ve created the solution. If you want to make sure you maximize muscle growth while avoiding excess body fat, I’d highly recommend checking out my new program. I call it KFX: Muscle Growth Experience and it’s designed entirely for this purpose. I’ll be releasing it within the next month so in the meantime, stay subscribed to my KFX newsletter for the latest updates and free fitness and nutrition tips.