How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle And Lose Fat? (Real Expectations)

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Are you looking to find out how long it takes to build muscle and lose fat?

You’re in the right place.

On average, you can build noticeable muscle in as little as 6-8 weeks with consistent training. Noticeable fat loss can take as long as 6-12 weeks on the slow range, or 4 weeks on a faster protocol.

This is assuming that you are optimizing everything you can for fast results.

After reading this post, you will learn:

  • What factors determine how quickly you can build muscle and lose weight
  • How to optimize the speed in which you see results
  • The best strategies to transform your body in 12 weeks

Let’s dive right in.

how-long-does-it-take-to-build-muscle-and-lose-fat

Disclaimer:

Although we are doctors and personal trainers, we are not your doctors. The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary activities are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read our full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning we may receive a commission if you use them.

Okay, let’s get started.

How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle And Lose Fat?

Men on average can build at least 10 pounds of muscle in the first year of consistent training. That equates to at least 0.25 lbs of muscle per week.

Women on average will be able to build at least 5 pounds of muscle in the first year.

If you are consistent, you will notice physical changes (i.e muscle definition) in as little as 6-8 weeks.

After your first year of training, muscle growth will slow down significantly.

What about fat loss?

When it comes to fat loss, you can expect to lose 0.5- 1% of your body weight per week.

This will usually come out to 1-2 lbs of fat per week.

While you are building muscle, you will be losing fat- but not at the most optimal rate.

That’s because muscle gain and fat loss tend to counteract each other.

Let me explain why.

Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle At The Same Time?

Gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time (aka body recomposition) is possible if you are a beginner, have a lot of fat to lose, or you can absolutely optimize everything in your life for great results.

Otherwise, doing both at the same time is very difficult.
Both of these two processes are antagonistic to one another and can lead to slow and mediocre results in both.

Here’s why:

Building muscle requires a caloric surplus (i.e consuming more calories than you burn).

As a result, gaining muscle (as quickly as possible) can also increase your fat mass, to a degree.

On the contrary, losing fat requires a caloric deficit (consuming fewer calories than you burn).

As a result, losing weight can cause you to lose some muscle.

It is much easier physically and mentally to focus on either building muscle or losing fat rather than trying to optimize for both.

body-recomposition

Should I Build Muscle Or Lose Fat First?

There is no right answer – but I prefer building muscle first as increased muscle mass can improve your metabolism and help you lose a small amount of fat.

Especially if you are “skinny fat.”

If you choose to lose fat first, you will likely lose some muscle mass also. This can make it harder to gain it back in the future.

If you have a very high body fat percentage, then losing fat first will be healthier for you in the long run.

If this is you- I have a post on how to lose fat while minimizing muscle loss.

What is skinny fat?

Skinny fat refers to someone who appears thin but carries very low levels of muscle (lean body mass) and has a high body fat percentage.

While you may have a “normal” BMI, being skinny fat can still increase your risk of the same metabolic abnormalities as someone who is overweight.

What Is The Fastest Way To Lose Weight And Gain Muscle?

The fastest way to gain muscle and lose fat is through a combination of strength training and dietary changes.

This includes doing large compound exercises, consuming a sufficient amount of protein, decreasing your caloric intake by a small margin, and getting enough rest and recovery.

Let’s go over each one in more detail.

1. Do large compound exercises

The best exercises for building muscle mass are compound exercises.

Compound simply means that you train multiple muscle groups at the same time.

These include:

  • Squatting variations,
  • Deadlift variations,
  • Pressing variations, and
  • Rowing variations

I go over the only compound exercises you need to do to build muscle here – or you check out my done-for-you strength training program here.


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2. Consume a sufficient amount of protein

The second thing you need to do is to consume a sufficient amount of protein.

Protein is the most important macronutrient to build and maintain muscle tissue.

You don’t have to worry about consuming it immediately post-workout either. The most important thing is that you are consuming it regularly, on a daily basis.

The best sources of protein include:

• Animal proteins (meat, fish, eggs)

• Soy protein (tofu, tempeh, edamame)

• Beans and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, split peas, kidney beans)

• Seeds (chia, flax, hemp)

• Protein powder supplements (whey protein, pea protein, brown rice protein etc.)

Do your best to consume approximately ~ 0.75 to 1 g of protein per pound of body weight per day.

Try to consume it regularly throughout the day and not all in one sitting.

Okay.

That takes care of the muscle building portion.

Now for the fat loss portion.

3. Eat at a slight calorie deficit

In order to lose fat, you must consume fewer calories than your body burns.

The issue is, muscle building usually requires extra calories.

The good news is, studies have shown that your body can potentially take fat mass from your body and convert it to the energy necessary for muscle growth.

With that said, you don’t want to drop your caloric intake by a large margin.

I recommend decreasing it by no more than 300-500 calories.

You can do this by reducing your portion sizes by a small margin while increasing your protein intake.

DO NOT reduce your calorie intake by a large amount.

Large caloric deficits will lead to fat loss AND muscle loss.

4. Optimize Rest & Recovery

Both fat loss and muscle gain require you to get a sufficient amount of sleep.

It is while you are sleeping that your body is in anabolism – the metabolic process necessary for muscle growth.

The opposite is also true.

If you do not sleep at least 7 hours a night, you are priming your body to store body fat, and burn muscle.

Sleep deprivation is a catabolic process- and releases stress hormones that increase fat retention.

Recovery from exercise is just as important as the exercise itself.

Here’s how to maximize recovery through nutrition and rest.

5. The Most Important Factor

Last but not least- none of this matters if you only do it for 2 weeks.

Consistency is, by and large, the most important thing in fitness. Bar none.

Even if your system isn’t optimal – just showing up will count for a lot.

You can have the perfect workout and the perfect diet, but it won’t matter if you don’t follow it.

how-to-build-muscle-and-lose-fat

What Factors Makes Muscle Gain Easier?

Gaining muscle is easier if you are:

On the flip side, muscle gain will be more difficult if you are:

  • Female
  • Older
  • Overweight or Obese
  • An Ectomorph body type
  • A Cardio fanatic

What Factors Make Fat Loss Easier?

It is easier to lose fat if you are:

  • Male
  • Young
  • Very Overweight
  • A Mesomorph body type
  • Muscular
  • Able to consistently follow your nutrition plan

On the flipside, fat loss will be more difficult if you are:

  • Female
  • Older
  • Very lean
  • An Endomorph body type
  • Unable to follow your chosen nutrition plan

How Many Times A Week Should I Workout To Gain Muscle?

To build muscle, you should do 3-4 resistance training sessions per week, of at least 30 minutes in duration.

That way, you can structure your workout to target all of the major muscle groups in the body with large compound exercises.

If you want to learn how to design a 3 or 4 day a week training schedule, check out my post on how many days a week you should train.

Is A 30 Minute Workout Enough To Build Muscle?

30 minutes is plenty of time to build muscle, provided that you are optimizing the stimulus, recovery, and adaptation curve.

This means focusing primarily on large compound exercises for the majority of your workout.

This will allow you to train as efficiently as possible by targeting several muscle groups at the same time.

The other great thing about 30 minute workouts is that you will give your body ample time to recover between workouts.

Lastly, to drive adaptations, you need to use the principle of progressive overload. In short, this means that you need to incrementally make your workouts more challenging over time.

You can do this with gradual increases in weight, sets, or reps.

Check out how I design my 30 minute strength training workouts.

Other Related Questions

Does Lifting Weights Burn Fat?

Lifting weights is a great way to build muscle and strength, and a modest way to burn fat.

The primary way that lifting weights can help you burn fat is because muscle mass can increase your metabolism.

Muscle tissue is metabolically active. This means that it uses more energy to exist than body fat does – even at rest. 

The more muscle size you have- the higher your metabolic rate.

In addition, lifting weights requires your body to produce force, which burns calories. One place that your body can get the energy that it needs is from fat breakdown.

With that said, it is not the most efficient method of burning fat. Your dietary changes will be the best and most reliable method of achieving fat loss.

does-lifting-weight-burn-fat?

What Exercise Burns Fat Fastest?

The best exercises to burn fat fastest are the ones that you can realistically do on a regular basis, over a long period of time.

The speed at which you burn the fat is not a function of the exercise you do. Rather, it is based on the intensity of your chosen activity, and your willingness to stick to it.

Consistency is everything for fat loss.

It doesn’t matter if your chosen form of exercise is:

  • walking
  • running
  • swimming
  • high intensity interval training
  • weight training
  • or calisthenics

Any, and all forms of activity will burn fat. Pick the one you enjoy the most and stick with it.

Where Does Fat Go When You Lose Weight?

For the most part, you lose fat through your breath.

When fat is broken down, it releases energy (which your body uses as fuel) and gets converted into carbon dioxide and water.

You then expel that carbon dioxide while breathing.

This also explains why you wake up lighter after a full night’s sleep. You simply are breathing out carbon dioxide with each breath.

You then lose a small percentage of it through bodily fluids – such as in your sweat or urine.

Where Do You Lose Fat First?

You will lose fat first in the places that you tend to gain it the fastest. This will be different for everyone and based on your genetics.

With that said, most people will lose belly fat LAST!

I go over this in a lot more detail in my post on Where Do You Lose Weight First?

How Long Does It Take To Lose Muscle Mass?

Anecdotal reports show that you can begin losing muscle mass as early as 1 week of complete inactivity- but noticeable losses probably take closer to 3 weeks.

This is most obvious during a weight loss phase with no exercise.

The rate at which you lose muscle mass depends on:

  • your age,
  • your level of lean muscle mass,
  • your training experience, and
  • what you do during the period of inactivity

In general, the younger you are, the more muscle you have. If you have been training for a long period of time, the muscle loss will occur slower.

Unfortunately, we also lose muscle as we age – approximately 3-8% of muscle mass is lost every 10 years after the age of 30. This is a process known as muscle atrophy.

A 30 Minute Workout Routine For Busy Professionals

Brittany and I have designed strength training programs for busy people like you to help improve muscle strength and size.

It’s called The WCT’s Strength Program – and it has a male and a female version.

It also includes a nutrition guide to help you improve your diet without actually having to “follow a diet.”

Final Words On How Long It Takes To Build Muscle & Lose Fat

So if your goal is to build muscle and lose fat – it is probably better to pick one and dedicate at least 6 weeks to it.

I recommend at least 6-8 weeks of a muscle building phase, followed by 6-8 weeks of a fat loss phase with the goal of muscle maintenance.

Now we want to hear from you.

Do you want to build muscle or lose fat first?

Or are you going to try and do both at the same time?

Comment below and let us know.

Related Articles

References

  1. Cava E, Yeat NC, Mittendorfer B. Preserving Healthy Muscle during Weight Loss. Adv Nutr. 2017;8(3):511-519. Published 2017 May 15. doi:10.3945/an.116.014506
  2. Donnelly JE, Sharp T, Houmard J, Carlson MG, Hill JO, Whatley JE, Israel RG. Muscle hypertrophy with large-scale weight loss and resistance training. Am J Clin Nutr. 1993 Oct;58(4):561-5. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/58.4.561. PMID: 8379514.
  3. Weiss EP, Jordan RC, Frese EM, Albert SG, Villareal DT. Effects of Weight Loss on Lean Mass, Strength, Bone, and Aerobic Capacity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017;49(1):206-217. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001074
  4. Meerman R, Brown A J. When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go? BMJ 2014; 349 :g7257 doi:10.1136/bmj.g7257
  5. Volpi E, Nazemi R, Fujita S. Muscle tissue changes with aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004;7(4):405-410. doi:10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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