Gain Strength And Lose Weight
Is it even possible to gain strength and lose weight at the same time? We hear it all the time from athletes walking in the door, “I want to gain strength but I really need to lose some weight in the process.” This question is all encompassing. The question is asked by everybody. People from the age of 50+ all the way down to athletes trying to remake the olympics.
Let’s start by defining what it means to gain strength. Strength is a display of a higher rate of force. Strength is moving things faster; strength is moving heavier implements than one couldn’t move before. Ultimately, strength is moving heavier implements faster. This means to get stronger while simultaneously losing weight, the goal needs to be the loss of fat mass.
The body needs to lose adipose tissue while maintaining lean muscle mass to be able to apply a large amount of force against other objects. A wrestler needs to still be able to apply force against another opponent. An olympic weightlifter and a powerlifter need to still be able to apply force against the barbell. Shot putters and discus throwers need to still be able to apply force against the implement. See the trend here?
Let’s investigate, over four different aspects, whether or not it is possible to lose weight and gain strength in tandem!
Aspect 1: Very Obese
If an athlete is walking around at 30-35%+ body fat, they are very capable of losing a vast amount of fat mass and increase their strength exponentially. Typically what ends up happening is that very obese individuals work at a very low rate. They’re volume is not going to be tremendously high when they first start training, exercising and getting into resistance based training.
It is pretty simple right off the bat for their bodies to repartition calories and to recover from their training session because they have such an excess amount of calories stored on their body. It is very easy for an individual who is significantly overweight, suffering from severe obesity to increase their strength while losing fat mass.
One of the other aspects is that very obese individuals tend to be individuals who haven’t taken up exercise in their past. Now if they have taken up exercise, it tends to be lame attempts that never amount to sustained effort for the necessary amount of time to make legitimate transformations.
This leads into the next case study.
Aspect 2: Newbies
Say a 13 year old comes into the gym, walks into Garage Strength, never exercised before, just hitting puberty, and we can definitely tag them as newbies. They’ve never done any form of resistance training.
In the first 8 to 12 weeks that a newbie starts to do resistance training, a lot of their strength gains are coming from neurological patterning. The newbies are starting to coordinate and recruit muscles more effectively. Their rate of coordination is increasing. Kids who were wobbly all over the place, almost dropping dumbbells on their head, in 8 to 10 weeks they’re starting to dumbbell bench 10 to 15 lbs. more than when they first came in simply from the neurological adaptations.
However, while the neurological adaptations are occurring, the newbies are adding a little bit of muscle mass from the work in the gym, and, in turn, are losing some weight. Newbies in the first 8 to 12 weeks will see a dramatic increase in strength with weight loss, maintaining that trajectory for another 8 to 10 weeks of gaining strength and losing weight. Then, right after 20 weeks, that will plateau because the newbie is now closer to a fully trained individual.
Aspect 3: Anabolics
It is important to understand when talking about muscle protein synthesis that the body is constantly doing a seesaw of protein degradation with muscle protein synthesis. The body is never fully in either protein degradation or muscle protein synthesis. It is always a balancing act. The goal is to have a little bit higher rate of muscle protein synthesis so that the body can stay anabolic for a longer period of time.
Now when someone is on steroids, their body will increase their lean muscle mass and they’ll stay in muscle protein synthesis much longer than having protein degradation. This is a key factor behind the positive of anabolic steroids--a lot of these drugs have been created for people who are suffering from sarcopenia and other severe muscle wasting diseases. Think of nandrolone. It’s a drug that is super effective for people with severe arthritis. But it also happens to be incredibly effective for people who want to gain lean muscle mass.
This might be obvious, but it needs to be said. Clearly the anabolics is also going to help individuals increase their strength and maintain or lose that fat mass.
Aspect 4: Technique | Nutrient Timing+Sleep
People who tend to focus quite a bit on technique can increase their strength dramatically while losing their fat mass. In the sports of olympic weightlifting, wrestling, MMA, powerlifting and any other power based or combat sports it can be relatively easy to gain strength.
Think about an olympic weightlifter who’s best snatch is 78 kilos that needs to cut 2-3 kilos to be at their competition weight. They make that cut over the span of 6-8 weeks, the whole time focusing on their technical movement, their neurological adaptations become more effective and the athlete becomes more precise in their movement. Next thing, they have leaned out for the competition and hit a huge PR because they gained strength from coordination aspects.
To do this they have to focus on nutrient timing and optimizing their sleep. Now what does this mean? Let’s think about nutrient timing for sports like olympic weightlifting or wrestling. The athletes need to have a decent amount of energy when going into their training. They need to make sure that glycogen storage is really high in type 2 muscle fibers. Having optimal nutrient timing means to be consuming a lot of fast acting carbs right around training, maybe 30 minutes out. With the fast acting carbs in the bloodstream, the glucose turns into glycogen and the athlete can put out more power during the training session to improve technique.
On top of that, if the athlete is getting a lot of sleep, they will lose more weight. People getting 4, 5, or 6 hours of sleep will struggle losing weight. People who can get 9 to 10 hours of sleep will find the weight loss with strength gains easier. They will feel more recovered, needing more sleep because they don’t have the calories they typically take in and, in turn, they will be able to display and put out a lot more strength because of what is being done with technique.
Understand that nutrient timing with carbohydrates (and protein and fiber), figuring out the optimal sleep timing protocol and which will continuously help the athlete improve technique. And in a skill based sport, it is 100% crucial to have all of this dialed in to lose weight and gain strength.
Gaining strength and losing weight is easy for obese individuals, newbies and athletes utizliing anabolics. For well trained athletes, people who have been involved in the process of resistance training for a long time, not using anabolics, need to hone in on a technique during training. In addition to honing in on technique, well trained athletes need to focus on nutrient timing, feeding at the best times to promote ideal energy stores during training and competing. Well trained athletes also need to make sure that they sleep soundly for 9 to 10 hours. This means turning away from the screens (computer, phone and television) and going to bed at a time that allows for ample sleep to promote strength gains.
Do this and find that gaining strength and losing weight is more than possible!
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.