A woman exercising with a set of dumbbells

Should I lose weight before building muscle?

January 11. 2023

If you’ve ever gone on board a weight loss or fitness journey, you know how many decisions you need to make along the way. While we would love this route to be as simple as signing into a gym and eating fewer calories, there are many more factors to consider. A healthy diet that meets your needs, a proper workout routine, supplements, and pre and post-workouts. But out of all these things, the most asked question when trying to change body composition probably is: “should I lose weight before building muscle?” If you have asked that question, our weight loss clinic in Chicago can help you by shedding some light on that matter.

You have made up your mind: you will lead a healthier lifestyle and change your body. We bet you want to commit to it one hundred percent and do things right. Then, you need to know the best path to follow to reach your goals smoothly. The answer is straightforward for those with a clear objective: to lose body fat or gain muscle. Things get more complex for those aiming for both goals simultaneously. So, what is best for them? Should they start by losing fat or focus on building muscle mass?

Like many others, you may have tried searching the internet to answer your questions regarding this matter. And just like other new fitness enthusiasts, you were left with more doubts than answers. The world seems to be divided into two different opinions. The one from those who believe that the weight loss journey starts with burning body fat. And on the other hand, people who affirm that exercising to gain muscle is the way to go. The real problem is that those people are more than just random internet users sharing their opinions because this debate has also split healthcare and fitness professionals. Where you should start depends on your particular goals and your current weight and body fat percentage. There is no secret one-fit-all formula, but there is a perfect plan for you. Do you want to learn more about losing fat or gaining muscle? Continue reading.

Losing weight vs. Losing fat

Before explaining which approach better fits your particular case and answering your doubt regarding “before building muscle, should I lose weight?” we want to discuss a topic that often becomes an issue for most patients aiming to lose weight. Most people who start a weight loss journey do it with two specific figures on their minds: their current body weight and the one they want to reach. So, for instance, a person starting the journey at 250lbs aims to achieve their goal of losing weight and reaching 200lbs. That means that when someone says they want to lose weight, they are referring to reducing the number on the scale. Weight loss and building a healthy body are much more than the number on your weighing scale.

For instance, if you solely focus on the scale number, you are likely not paying attention to where the weight loss comes from. If that is the case, you could be losing muscle mass, something that your should try to avoid. What you really need is to burn body fat while preserving muscle. If you are worried this could be happening to you, there are ways to avoid losing muscle mass in a safe way. Lipo C injections, for example, can help you retain lean muscle tissue while boosting your body fat burning – which is essentially a win-win solution.

Do not aim for an arbitrary number on the scale. Focus your efforts on building healthy habits that lead to healthier body composition. Body recomposition is the process of cutting body fat while, at the same time, you build muscle. The faster way to achieve that is by committing to regular hypertrophy or strength training and sticking to a diet that provides a calorie deficit. Consuming meals rich in protein – which helps reduce body fat and gain muscle – is a vital part of this process. It can sound challenging, but it is not impossible. Many people have done it before, which means you can do it too. What can be discouraging in this process is what we were talking about: the number on the scale. When you lose fat while simultaneously gaining muscle mass, the number on the weighing scale probably won’t budge.

With all your attention on the scale, it can be frustrating when the number is not decreasing. But you must understand that that is absolutely normal when working towards a body recomposition. Your efforts are paying off, and everything is running right on schedule. What happens is that the weight you lose in reducing body fat, you gain in muscle – which is excellent! So if you are worried you are losing inches but not weight, don’t be. Now you know that is how this process works.

Jumping directly into body recomposition and gaining muscle while burning fat is not optimal for everyone; some people could benefit from starting fat loss. Others have to build muscle first. It all depends mainly on your current body fat percentage.

Should I lose weight before building muscle mass?

The primary goal of most patients trying to lose weight is typically fat loss, especially the ones suffering from obesity. We know most of you are eager to find out if you fall into this category. For those eager to gain muscle and reach that beach body, you may not be as excited about having to start by cutting down body fat. But we ask you not to be discouraged; you will see great results in the long run. If losing fat still sounds like something that does not thrill you, you can treat yourself with weight loss gifts to motivate yourself.

It is time to answer your question: “should I lose weight before building muscle?” In short, if you are not lean enough to bulk, then you should. Bulking is the technique used by bodybuilders to gain muscle. It is also a term commonly used to define the muscle mass-building phase. Do you fall into this category? If you have a high body fat percentage, the answer is – yes.

The ideal body fat percentage to start by cutting fat is:

  • Women: body fat percentage of 22% to higher
  • Men: body fat percentage of 15% or higher

If you are at any of those rates, you will want to cut that extra fat before bulking. When you start building muscle, you will, without any doubt, gain some weight. High percentages of body fat come with many health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood sugar levels. If you are already overweight or obese, this extra weight gained when bulking can enhance your risk of suffering from one of these diseases. The healthiest thing to do is to focus on reaching a healthy body fat percentage before training and eating to build muscle. If you’re struggling to achieve a calorie deficit, you can try incorporating supplements such as Phentermine for weight loss at this stage.

That does not mean people with high body fat percentage should stop training and weight lifting. Those exercises have a lot of health and weight loss benefits, such as increased metabolism, and you should focus on losing fat during this phase.

Benefits of losing fat before building muscle

Many of our patients ask us, “why should I lose weight before building muscle?” Besides taking good care of your health and making your weight loss journey more attainable, committing to lose body fat and leave muscle build for later comes with the following benefits:

Your muscles will look better if you are lean first

Your extra body fat hides your hard-earned muscles; it can even hide their shape. You do not want to spend long days at the gym and end up not being able to see the results fully. For instance, if you exercise to build arm muscle and have toned arms, those muscles will remain under body fat if you do not cut some weight first. On the other hand, if you get lean first, you can work towards a toned body and see better and faster results. Plus, you will be surprised to find out how much people lose weight to realize they already have a significant amount of muscle mass – it was just hidden.

You will feel more energized

When you start losing weight, an energy boost is probably one of the first side effects you notice. Sticking to a low-calorie diet and daily exercise makes your body use fat for fuel instead of dietary carbohydrates, making you feel more energized. The more energy you have, the more you will be able to work out without getting tired. If you need an energy boost at the first phase of your training journey – when that energy increase has not yet kicked in – you can use pre-workouts. Protein bars are an excellent snack that provides energy, and they can promote weight loss. However, be careful of how many protein bars a day you consume; most of these snacks are highly processed and packed with unnecessary calories.

You will reduce stress on the joints

If you are overweight or obese, it is likely you suffer from joint pain. The extra body weight causes joint stress. If you’re wondering, “why should I lose weight before building muscle?” imagine adding extra weight when training; that can not lead to anything good, and you can end up hurting yourself or suffering an injury if you are not careful. That is why we recommend always following an exercise routine planned by a professional. Reducing your body fat before building muscle is the best way to avoid getting hurt.

You will reach a hormonal balance

Your hormones have a crucial role when building muscle. Unfortunately, excess body fat can cause a hormonal imbalance. Losing that extra body fat and achieving a healthy weight will regulate your hormones, leading to a hormonal balance. That will prepare your body for gaining muscle smoothly and fast.

Better control over how much muscle you build

If your extra body fat is hiding your muscles, how will you see your progress? There is no way to know how close or far you are from your goal. And even if you are growing muscle, what happens if you surpass your goal? You probably have an ideal amount of muscle you want to gain and a body image in mind. Maybe you want to get a little bigger – by increasing your muscle mass- but not too much. Starting from a lean body is the only way to have full control over how much muscle you build and how you shape your body through diet and exercise.

Should you grow muscle mass before losing weight?

We have reached the second category; those who benefit from starting by building muscle mass. Who should bulk first and leave fat loss for later? The simple answer is those who are lean enough – but allows us to explain it further. To grow muscle, you must eat in a calorie surplus. That means that at least some fat gain is almost inevitable; it will happen, and it is better if you keep this in mind to prevent feeling discouraged along the road. It is a normal part of the process. Remember, it is worth it; you will have a healthier and stronger body and an improved lifestyle.

When you already count on a lean body, gaining some body fat will not present any risks to your health. Of course, we are talking of a small and controlled amount of weight, not gaining an extra and unhealthy amount of body fat. That happens to a lot of people when they start bulking. Resorting to a qualified trainer and a professional nutritionist is vital to avoid this from happening. You can book a consultation and use that opportunity to ask about pre-workout vs. energy drinks and which one suits you best. Often, both contain sugar – in large quantities – as one of their main ingredients. You want to enhance your muscle mass while staying healthy at the same time.

Losing fat first may sound tempting, but there are better approaches in some cases. If you are a woman and your body fat percentage is under 15% or men with less than 6% of body fat, you should start by bulking. Of course, always keep in mind that these are average numbers. If your body fat is below those rates and continues dropping, it can cause hormone imbalance. That leads to health problems such as a drop in energy, it can affect your mental clarity, and women can lose their menstrual cycles.

Pros of growing muscle before weight loss

Focusing on building muscle mass before losing body fat can be more frustrating than most people think. With weight loss, you start seeing results and changes in your body relatively fast. Instead, when growing muscle, especially if you are leaving weight loss for later, things move more slowly. Obtaining noticeable results can take time, and gaining muscle sometimes makes your body look like you are putting on weight. That makes some people feel disappointed and quit. The truth is that it takes time and effort, but the outcome will be very gratifying. To keep you motivated, here are a few benefits of starting to grow muscle:

Muscle helps you burn fat

Yes, you read that right. While your fat cells store energy, your body’s muscle cells consume it. Your body’s energetic requirements increase when you gain muscle mass through hypertrophy or strength training. That leads to an increased basal metabolic rate which helps your body burn fat faster. Once you achieve your weight goal – and count on a healthy percentage of muscle mass – body fat control is also more attainable.

Muscle enhances strength and stamina

During the first period of your weight training, the workouts can be hard on you. Slowly, you will notice how much strength and energy you gain due to your muscle growth. Boost your first workout sessions with carnitine vs. creatine to gain additional strength and endure through all the reps. And you will actually begin to enjoy exercising. That energy and stamina will also translate to any aspect of your life, not just the gym – climbing stairs, running, doing house chores, and playing at the park with your kids or dog, all without running out of breath.

Low blood sugar levels

Muscles work as carbohydrate storage. Growing muscle mass allows your body to store more glycogen or carbs in your muscles. That helps your body regulate blood sugar levels.

Final thoughts

Overall, it is not hard to determine if you should lose fat or gain muscle. It depends on your body composition and the goals you are trying to achieve. If you are overweight, it is best to start by cutting down on body fat. If you are skinny fat, you can start by gaining muscle. Remember, losing weight and leading a healthy lifestyle is much more than reducing the number on the scale.

If you still have doubts and wonder: “should I lose weight before building muscle?” you can schedule a call with us. Our team is happy to advise you about which step is best for you to follow first.

Nurse Walton


Nurse Walton

Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Chanay received her Practical Nurse licensure and went to work in clinical specialties such as Home Health, Assisted Living, Long-Term Care and Dialysis Centers. Through this work, she realized the importance of diet, nutrition and weight loss among her patients. This led her to open A Better Weigh, Inc. Medical Weight Loss Center in 2009.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *