How to Lose Fat while Gaining Muscle?

Emily R Pappas, M.S.

Spoiler Alert: YOU CAN’T!

Female athletes often ask how they can simultaneously lose fat and build muscle.

The bottom line? YOU CAN’T.

It is physiologically impossible to do both at the same time.


For your body to ADD MASS (muscle) it needs to be in a ENERGY SURPLUS.

To REMOVE MASS (ideally fat), it must be in a ENERGY DEFICIT.


Training for Success- Why you need to LIFT to put on muscle!

Remember, how you train determines what type of mass your body builds.

If you want to grow muscle, you have to make your body NEED it through

  • higher volume training

  • moderate to high intensity

Along with a nutrition plan that focuses on your

  • Caloric intake

  • Macronutrient ratio

  • And timing

Here’s the catch: When you train with higher volumes & intensities it causes STRESS to your muscles.  

What you eat helps your body RECOVER from this stress and directs growth toward the type of mass you want to gain.

Forget what the Instagram models say. You can’t have it all at once.

So what’s your first goal? To gain muscle- or to loose fat?

If you are looking to GAIN MUSCLE…. GRAB A BARBELL.

Give your body a reason to gain muscle! Then, adjust your diet to help PROMOTE muscle growth by eating MORE carbs and fats.  Carbs and fats give your body the ENERGY it needs to put on muscle.

You can’t gain muscle while in a caloric deficit. Trying will get you a lot of stress…and not a lot of result. You can’t put on muscle mass if you aren’t eating enough fuel to ENERGIZE that process. It’s science.

Remember… is the STIMULUS, your DIET helps your body RESPOND to that stimulus!


“Lean Gains?”

Ok, so what about the LEAN GAINS everyone keeps talking about?


Muscle gain inherently comes with a bit of fat gain.

Why? Because you need to be in a CALORIC SURPLUS to add MUSCLE.  

Lifting is the stimulus that signals your body to use extra calories to fuel muscle growth. But with any caloric surplus, it is likely some of those calories will be stored for later in the form of fat.

Here’s the good news: You CAN limit fat storage while optimizing muscle growth.


Before you introduce a caloric surplus, make sure your body fat levels are <25%.

For some of you, this means first introducing a caloric deficit.  A caloric deficit is when you are eating slightly less calories (energy) than your body needs. When lacking outside fuel, your body will turn to stored energy (aka FAT or muscle…) to help fuel your everyday activities.

How can female athletes make sure their bodies turn to FAT and not muscle for energy when in deficit?  

This is critical: If you are in an energy deficit, you must KEEP LIFTING.  Lifting triggers your body to build muscle and, more importantly, keep it there.  

By continuing to stimulate muscle use, you signal you body to turn to FAT CELLS instead of muscle for extra energy.

(Stay tuned for a post dedicated to fat loss, coming soon!)

Want help with fueling for your goals?

Fill out a FREE nutrition consult with Coach Emily Pappas, M.S.