Ask LH: What's The Right Combination Of Diet And Exercise?

Hey Lifehacker, I've recently started going to the gym, but I'm finding it difficult trying to find a good workout/diet combination. What's the best combination for someone aiming to get rid of a bit of fat and putting on some muscle? Thanks, Future Fit.

Photo: Shutterstock

Dear FF,

So you want to go from bloated to buff, eh? Join the club. A recent global obesity study found that Australasians have the fastest growing waistlines in the world. Since 1980, obesity rates have leapt from 16 per cent to a whopping 29 per cent, while more than half of all Aussies are at least slightly overweight.

Unfortunately, combining weight loss and muscle growth into a single exercise regime is surprisingly complex. Body fat and muscle mass are two very different beasts — fat is comprised of triglyceride molecules that enter your stomach and intestines when you eat food, while muscle mass is made up of chains of amino acids containing nitrogen.

See also: The Best Fitness-Tracking Apps For Every Type Of Exercise

You can't convert fat directly into muscle, no matter how hard you exercise. In fact, it's possible to be obese and muscular at the same time, as thousands of professional weightlifters and "strong man" contestants have demonstrated.

What you need is a strict fitness regime that combines healthy protein consumption with regular weight training. To begin with, you want to maintain a negative energy balance to reduce the excess fat on your body. This is achieved by consuming less energy than you’re using and will require you to count your daily kilojoules. There are plenty of fitness apps and gadgets that can help you to keep track and remain healthy — read our fitness bands roundup for some suggestions.

See also: Focus More On Your Brain And Less On Your Diet To Lose Weight

Reducing your energy intake will help you to lose weight but is obviously less effective at putting on lean muscle mass. Building muscle requires regular resistance training combined with the consumption of protein-rich foods that exceed your total energy expenditure. You're probably better off concentrating on inducing fat loss first.

Once you're down to your optimal wight, you can start getting serious about the weights training and increase your portion sizes to consume more calories each day. (You can still focus on resistance-type exercise such as lifting weights, but you probably won't see significant muscle gains during the "negative energy" phase.)

See also: What To Eat After Exercise For The Best Recovery

It goes without saying that this is just general advice to give you something to think about. The reality is, you will need to speak to your GP and undergo a full health assessment to know where you stand. Also consider hiring a professional trainer and/or nutritionist who will be able to tailor a fitness regime to suit your specific needs.

If any readers have additional tips for losing weight and building muscle, let FF know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.


    As a beginner for general purpose fitness check out lee lebrada's 12 week lean body challenge; then once your on the bandwagon check out jim stoppanis fitness plans.

    Takes the thinking out of it :) Nutrition plans, workout plans, calendars. It will change your life :) it's worked wonders for myself and several friends

    I have been pretty successful in managing to lose weight whilst simultaneously gaining muscle through eating less carbs throughout the day and more protein / good fats. I work out every couple of days and use carbs mainly for energy prior to workouts but still try to limit the amount I have throughout the day, it can be done but it can be a difficult balance and you just have to find what works for you.

    Work out what your Maintenance Calories are which will keep you at your current weight. Then you want to shave 3500 calories off that over a 7 day period to lose 500g per week (approx). You can spread those out over the whole week. Most people starting simply drop their cals by 500 per day for sake of ease.

    Log all your food in a tracking app; I can recommend (its not got a tracking app but you can access it through the web).

    As for exercise; mix cardio with weight training. You will build some lean muscle mass if you stick with it but a calorie restricted diet often means you wont put on a huge amount. But you will end up more muscular. Muscle burns more calores as well so the more you build the more overall calories you may burn.

    All in all its about eating good healthy food, and eating less of it than you need to maintain your current weight. Exercise will help you burn calories but also make you strong and improve your overall health.

      This is spot on what I did last year and I lost a good 15kgs. I used to work out the calories I needed, and I used MyFitnessPal to track calories, but I am sure calorieking works just as well.

      I can't recommend weight lifting enough. Even when the scales weren't showing any difference, my body was looking and feeling better. I really have to get back into the swing of things now that I think of it (new job, less time, more stress).

        Calorieking is good as it contains a lot more Aussie foods than I've found most others do. But they all do the same thing :)

          Good to know! When I first started using MFP I had to add a lot of my own foods. Done now, so it's fine, but damn I wish I knew that about CC before!

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now