If you want to build lean, defined muscles efficiently, personal trainer and strength coach Susan Niebergall says, "this is a two part equation. The first part of the equation is fat loss." You do this with nutrition and exercise. Focus on creating a sustainable calorie deficit by eating whole foods like lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. And also do strength training — creating more muscle mass burns more calories, which melts away fat, making you look leaner. If you're going to do a little cardio, stick to high-intensity interval workouts. Susan says, "Without the fat loss, you won't see the muscle you are building."
During and after losing fat, in order to build muscle, Susan says you need to do these six things:
- Strength train: The key here, Susan says, is "Lifting heavy weight." This will grow your muscles, making them look more toned and defined (not bulky).
- Progressive overload: If you stay in a weight range that feels easy or comfortable, you won't get stronger. CrossFit coach and competitor Dani Horan always says to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Gradually increase the amount you're lifting, and write down your workouts so you can set new goals and track your progress.
- All rep ranges: Mix up the amount of reps; do low reps with heavy weights and high reps with low weights. Also mix up the exercises you do, the equipment, the pace, the number of sets — always keep your body guessing.
- Calorie surplus: If your previous goals were to lose fat, you're used to eating in a calorie deficit. But you'll need to increase your calories if you want to build muscle. Just add a small amount of healthy food per week, track it, and see if it's helping you make progress.
- Protein: Protein is the building block of muscle and helps repair tissue. Aim for 0.7 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of ideal weight. If you're not getting enough, try increasing the portion sizes of the lean protein you're eating. Or try eating more protein before or after your workout. A study published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found it can boost physical performance, help with recovery, and increase lean body mass.
- Stay committed: You won't become buff overnight, so be patient. Just like losing fat, building muscle takes time. Stay committed to your plan and your goals, make adjustments when you need to, and you will see results.
An important thing to keep in mind is that registered dietitian Ashley Koff, RD, recommends foregoing your scale when you're assessing your results. Gaining muscle may mean that the numbers on the scale are going to increase. "When you're looking at body composition, you're not necessarily going to see results reflecting in the scale," she explains. Instead, use how your clothing fits or body measurements to track your progress.