How to Burn Fat and Build Muscle (Cutting and Bulking)

A Beginner's Guide to Cutting + Bulking building muscle and burning fat BCAAs

For a long time before I really got into working out, I was a lost puppy dog, walking aimlessly through the gym, and ended up on the stationary bike for 30 minutes, then I would use the isolated muscle machines. It was fine. Keyword: fine. I had no idea what I was doing, and while I’m sure going to the gym and doing something was better than not going to the gym at all, I really don’t think I was doing my best.

Now that I know a little bit more about fitness and health, I’ve started gaining muscle rapidly, and burning fat simultaneously. As we will discuss in this article, burning fat and gaining muscle simultaneously is incredibly counterproductive, and does not work very well. I will be beginning to follow a strict workout routine in a few weeks, that will entirely optimize my workouts and help me to reach my fitness goals.

I figured this would be a good time to discuss the nitty gritty details about burning fat and building muscle, since many people do not know exactly how it all works (I know I didn’t).

How To Build Muscle/Burn Fat

Before you even think about stepping foot in that gym (or at home, if you are working out at home), you need to prepare your body to build muscle. You need to fuel your body with the proper nutrients required to build lean muscle mass, and hopefully burn body fat.

First of all, it is important to note that if you are trying to build muscle, you need to be in a caloric surplus. Basically, this means that you are consuming more calories than you are burning. I know this sounds crazy, because we’ve been programmed to believe that we need to burn more calories and eat less calories in order to get into shape, but building muscle is very different than burning fat.

Caloric Deficit – Cutting

Maybe you’ve heard of the term “cutting” – Many fitness accounts will post that they are current in a “cut” phase of their fitness journey, and essentially what this means is they are cutting calories. They are currently in a caloric deficit, which means they are consuming less calories than they are burning. A good rule of thumb is if you want to lose 1 pound a week, you need to have approximately a 400 calorie deficit each day. So, if you burn 3,000 calories in a day – you should consume 2,600 calories or less.

While it is not impossible to build muscle while in a cut, it is not the most effective way to do so. Typically, when you are in a cut, you spend most of your time doing cardio for physical activity, and will do “maintenance work” on your muscles. What this means is you will continuing lifting weights, but will not increase reps or weight amount. If you are in a caloric deficit, you body may begin to lose muscle mass (which we definitely don’t want to happen). You work long and hard for your muscle mass, and don’t want to lose it during a cut phase.

What we do want, is to burn fat. Cardio has been proven to blast body fat, and increase heart health. A person that is “fit” and does a lot of cardio, actually burns more fat at rest than somebody who does not do much cardio. Get your cardio in everyday, at least 30 minutes a day, and eat less calories than you burn. Also, do light muscle building sessions to maintain the muscles that you have worked so hard to obtain.

Caloric Surplus – Bulking

So, we just learned about cutting, and with everything – there is a counterpart. The opposite of cutting is bulking, which means you are in a caloric surplus. You will consume more calories than you burn, because in order to make muscle, your body needs those extra calories.

It is important to note that just because you need those extra calories, doesn’t mean you should hit up your closest McDonald’s. You still need to fuel your body with nutrients and powerful foods! Since you are eating more calories than you are burning, it can be possible to gain fat during a bulk phase – eating clean is the best way to limit fat gain.

You will need to eat lots of protein to gain muscle, its just fact. You need to eat approximately 1.5g of protein per pound of body weight everyday. If you struggle to eat this much protein in a day, you can always fall back on protein shakes. These are super popular in the fitness world, and can really help you gain muscle mass. Having a protein shake after a workout (within 30 minutes of your workout) is ideal for muscle growth and recovery.

Best Protein Powders and Supplements for Muscle Growth

There are plenty of protein powders out there that do the trick – VEGA protein is an all-natural vegan protein powder company, that offers a variety of flavours such as Vanilla, Berry, Chocolate, and more!

If you do not follow a plant-based diet, there are a lot more options for you! Before I went vegan, I used Six Star Whey Protein in the triple chocolate flavour because it was absolutely delicious, and it was relatively inexpensive at War-Mart.

If you aren’t into protein powders, protein bars are another fabulous option for you. I was really into these bars for a while and was trying all of the different brands I could get my hands on. VEGA makes some really good protein bars, I know I keep singing their praises but oh my goodness, can you blame me? The peanut butter chocolate one is pretty much the greatest protein bar I’ve ever had.

Other protein bars that I recommend trying are Clif Builders Bars, and RXBars. Also, there’s vegan protein cookies that are taking over social media these days and I’m here for it! I have yet to try them, but they look so freaking delicious! I’m not vouching for the health benefits of these bars, because honestly I have to believe that a protein cookie probably isn’t the most healthy for you, but it would be nice for a treat once in a while. You can check them out here: Lenny and Larry’s Complete Cookie.

BCAAs for Muscle Recovery

I recently jumped on the BCAA bandwagon, and I’m really advocating for the benefits now! I don’t believe there are a ton of plant-based BCAA brands, however I use the Scivation XTEND BCAA’s in the Strawberry Kiwi flavour. I have read mixed reviews about this brand being vegan-friendly, and from what I understand they cannot declare “vegan-friendly” because some of their powders contain traces of animal byproducts.

The reviews on this product are through the roof, so I decided to give it a try, and I will never go back now. First of all, it takes phenomenal. Second of all, it works!

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs are branch chain amino acids. In english, this just means nutrients that essential for muscle growth. I’m not going to go into the scientific background of BCAAs because frankly, I cannot do it justice. If you are interested in learning more about the science side of BCAAs, check out this article on BodyBuilding.com. That website has a lot of really information articles of health and wellness, actually.

Basically, BCAAs promote muscle recovery and growth, and increase energy during workouts, and increases protein synthesis (your body’s way of creating new muscle growth). The XTEND brand does a great job of increasing muscle growth, and actually contains 0 calories per serving. If you following an intermittent fasting lifestyle (see my article on this here), you can actually consume this brand of BCAAs during your fast!

What Are Your Fitness Goals?

What are your goals for your fitness journey? Are you hoping to burn fat, or build muscle? Whether you decide to cut or bulk will be determined by your fitness goals. If you are currently overweight, I recommend starting with a cut to burn fat and drop some weight before you begin putting on muscle. As I previously said, you will need to do muscle building activities at a low level to maintain your current muscle, but do not go overboard here. Once you have reached your fat burning goal, you can begin a bulk phase. Typically you will be in each phase for several weeks (could be up to 10 weeks).

Are you currently in a cut or bulk phase? Are you going to start doing one or the other now? Let us know what your fitness goals are, in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “How to Burn Fat and Build Muscle (Cutting and Bulking)

  1. Great article! I’m totally that person wandering aimlessly at the gym and just end up doing treadmill for an hour. I’d love to learn more about toning and building muscle! Excited to read through some of your other articles. 🙂

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