Is it easier to lose weight or gain muscle?

Posted on 2019-08-29

As a personal trainer, it’s easier when someone wants to gain muscle. You have complete control over whether they do so, particularly if they can afford to have 4 to 5 personal training sessions with you a week. It’s also a lot easier diet-wise, as in order to “grow” in either fat or muscle, you need to be consuming more calories than your maintenance. For most people eating more is easier than eating less.

They can also usually afford to be in either a calorie-neutral diet position or a slight surplus depending on how overweight they were to begin with. Usually they’ll be increasing the amount of training they’re doing, thus increasing their calorie output, so you can give them guidelines along not eating any more than they were previously.

If they’re very slim to begin with it can be tough, and can often almost amount to force-feeding. If they’re already overweight, then they can usually get away with consuming their maintenance calories. “Maintenance” is the number of calories required for them to maintain that weight. To simplify it, think of the weight being shifted from fat to muscle but using fat stores for energy required to repair and build muscle.

Unsure about how building muscle works? Check out our previous article

Losing weight is much more a matter of the client’s resolve. A personal trainer can give all the guidance in the world, but if they are sneaking in calories when they’re not meant to be, then progress won’t come. Weight loss comes down to two simple factors: the thermodynamic equation of calories in vs calories out, and whether your hormone balance and overall health is in a position to get rid of fat stores.

Think of fat cells as the basement in your house where you keep all the rubbish you don’t want guests to see. You want to clear it out, but you can’t do so if you keep buying more useless stuff.

Well your body can’t store toxicity in your organs because they’re too important so it does so in your fat cells. If you are in a calorie deficit but unhealthy, your body will hold onto your fat stores and break down muscle tissue for energy instead when it runs out of sugars.

This will happen until your body eventually pulls the plug and backfires on you, incurring an injury or falling sick.

The same applies to sleep, as we explored in Sleep 1.0, Sleep 2.0 & Sleep 3.0. Your body needs sufficient sleep to reboot, recharge and recover. If you don’t provide it with enough of this you will be unable to function in a calorie deficit and have your stress hormones low enough to encourage it to tap into fat stores.

There are multiple other considerations that a personal trainer takes into account, such as simple-carbohydrate intake which affects insulin sensitivity (read our guide Introducing Insulin to learn more) and other nutrient deficiencies, but after all of this it comes down to calories.

Different people at different stages of fat loss and training frequency have a different calorie deficit. Some will be down at a drastic 30-35% negative energy, others a mere 20%. Initially this takes some trial and error from your personal trainer, as does the balance of carbs:fats:protein in your diet, but eventually they’ll have a fairly precise gauge of where you need to be and this is a science.

If a client is slack with the lifestyle and dietary guidelines set then they’re just simply not going to lose weight, certainly past a certain point. Many like to kid themselves that a little bit here and there won’t hurt, but when the rest of your day has been precisely calculated without this consideration, then it does. Unless a personal trainer lives with a client, it requires them to be accountable themselves.

Many look at those who are already in good shape and yet can be relaxed about their consumption and assume the same applies to them but it doesn’t. That person has oftfen spent a long period of time at a consistent weight and therefore their body has adapted to dealing with slight calorie surpluses and deficits and alters it’s metabolic rate accordingly.

This is why, as a personal trainer, achieving fat loss can be more difficult, but mainly just requires a different personality. Weight loss isn’t for those obsessed by movement and fixing people, it’s for those who like being a part of a client’s life and helping them manage the minute aspects that will achieve them success.