Fitness pal ratios to lose fat..gain muscle

Answered on April 21, 2015
Created May 17, 2014 at 10:20 PM

hi, I've been 90% paleo for over a year now and have recently started weight training but am having trouble losing the fat in my abdomen/thighs. I do 20-30 interval cardio , then weights. I sometimes use fitness pal and am wondering what ratios I'd need to shed fat, I workout 3x week. I'm a woman, 5'4" and 135lbs.



on May 18, 2014
at 02:46 PM

considering everything I read on body recomposition, losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time only happens when you are a beginner in terms of physical activity. It's not impossible (as I said, "unlikely", not impossible). It seems to be related to hormones and whatnot (a person would be either in catabolic or anabolic state, that's why muscle gain happens with some fat gain at the same time, and fat loss is accompanied by some muscle loss, although the proportion of this can be managed with diet and type of physical activity - your body is either building tissue or destroying it.)

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on May 18, 2014
at 02:22 PM

@TamesBM That's not entirely true. see:


And what you meant to say there is "To lose fat" not "To lose weight" - that's a key difference, as you wouldn't want to lose lean muscle mass.

There are plenty of anecdotal n=1 stories here where the scale says they're gaining weight, but their waist shrinks as they both lose fat and gain muscle.

Indeed, it's true that you'd have a caloric deficit to burn off fat, but hormones and muscle mass have a huge effect on this. High cortisol, insulin, and estrogen do prevent fat loss (usually caused by lack of sleep, too many carbs - or eating around the carbs i.e. many smaller meals instead of one or two large meals) Fat itself will attempt to defend its tissues by secreting hormones making it difficult to lose.

However, in females, hip, thigh, fat is usually due to higher estrogen receptors there, and won't easily go away - this is evolutionarily advantageous as it serves as an energy source for fertility in order to allow healthy pregnancies. Modern culture via advertising seems to push ultra skinny shapeless females as the norm, though this is not the case.

High insulin and cortisol will drive belly fat, and in cases of very high cortisol, there'll also be fat deposits on the back. These will not easily go away with just exercise, weight lifting, or dieting; the core issue with the high cortisol/insulin must first be dealt with.

Speaking of cortisol and adrenals, these are also related to your thyroid. If you're under high stress or consume too few carbs (Zero Carb or Very Low Carb can cause your thyroid to produce rT3 instead of T3), your thyroid won't function as well, producing far less T3, T4, slowing down your metabolism. This too has a very large effect on your energy levels, sleep requirements, and ability to burn fat stores.

If you're exposed to halogens (i.e. chlorinated water, bromides, flame retardants, etc., bleached white flour, orange/lime flavored soda) they displace iodine and prevent your thyroid from working properly.

If you're under high stress, or are otherwise inflamed due to other issues such as infections, or eating a species inappropriate diet (i.e. The Standard American Diet) you'll also carry around far more water than normal, making you appear fatter than you are. This is your body adapting to a stressful situation by storing more water (and indeed even fat stores) than needed in case of emergency. This is also a survival mechanism since under high periods of stress you wouldn't be able to readily find sources of water or food (of course this isn't true in modern life, but was in the paleolithic.) The only way to tell your genes that these stores aren't necessary is to get rid of the stressor.

What you eat can easily cause inflammation. For example if you haven't tried the proverbial 30 day elimination and reintroduction diet (doesn't apply to grains, soy, or crap-in-a-bag food-like-products, you shouldn't ever reintroduce those), you might be consuming things that negatively affect your health, and consequently cause inflammation and cause you to carry extra weight.

Stuff like dairy can do this in lots of people, especially if it's not raw fermented dairy because of the hormones in it. Eggs can cause reactions in some folks, nightshades in others, nuts in others, and yet others are perfectly fine with no reaction at all to these foods.

Xeno-obesogens/xeno-estrogens such as phthalates, BPA, items with "BPA-free" plasticizers can cause it in others, even air pollution can be problematic, etc.

Drinking lots of alcohol can also prevent fat loss. Worse yet, it seems here in the USA, ingredients in alcoholic beverages aren't listed for some reason - who knows what might be in them? Certainly you can expect gluten in most beers, but it turns out even wine can contain gluten, especially the traditionally made stuff as the barrels they're stored in are sealed with a paste made from wheat flour and some can leak into the wine itself.

It can be very difficult to eliminate all these problems, and you'd need to get rid of most of them before you'll see change.

As you gain muscle, you'll need to eat more, except that instead of storing that food as fat, you'd store it in muscle (of course this requires that you need enough protein to do this, and no extra, and indeed keeping to low carbs - but not zero carbs, and getting the balance from both internal and external fat.)

You'd also want to time your carbs to nights and especially after workouts. (i.e. carb night/refeeds), you'd want a higher protein breakfast with no carbs at all - (if you chose to do breakfast instead of IF) as a carby breakfast generally tends to cause you to eat more carbs throughout the day and be more hungry than otherwise.

In terms of burning fat while building muscle, you can do two separate phases: a lean out vs bulk up cycle if you're a body builder, alternating between expressing AMPk and mTOR, but you could also do carb cycling and IF and get nearly the same effect, hence the link above to fitocracy as a contrast to these:

As a basic starting point, how do you know how much to eat? I don't like calorie counting, I prefer instead to eat a small amount of carbs daily, something like 50g-100g from starchy paleo friendly veggies (i.e. sweet potato, white rice, carrots, parsnips, even white potatoes.) but to get most of my calories from fat and protein by getting 3 palm sized chunks of meat a day. (The palm sized meat is a good hack because your hand won't gain much fat and it's relative to your lean body mass.)

Otherwise, you could do this: find out your Basal Metabolic Rate. This tells you how much energy your body consumes over a 24h period, if you were unconscious and in bed. You'd multiply this by your activity levels to get how many calories you'd need per day. You'd then take this number and break it up into how many grams of fat, protein, and carbs you'd need. If you're overweight, you'd maybe subtract say 100cals from the fat side so you'd burn from your own fat stores, but you'd never want zero fat as eating fat primes your cells to burn fat. (Your mitochondria, if you've been eating a SAD diet are used to burning only carbs, this has to change in order for you to lose fat - they need to be adapted to burning ketones, FFAs and triglycerides instead of glucose)

So, you'd go here:


then find out your daily calorie needs by activity level and multiply your BMR by the factors listed here:


Now we'll need to figure out how much protein to eat. Again, you can skip this by the 3x palm sized chunks of meat I mentioned before.

Figure out your ideal weight in pounds. i.e. whatever you weigh now, substract how much you're overweight. You can look those up on BMI charts based on your height, sex, age and height, i.e. http://www.medindia.net/doctors/clinical_cal/lean-body-weight.asp

(Now, there's a slight problem there as BMI sucks. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime would have been considered super obese, though he had very little fat on his body, so we'll ignore that flaw.)

Multiply your ideal weight in pounds by 0.8g-1.2g depending on whether you want to be very lean to gain lots of muscles (of course if you want to gain lots of muscle, you'll need to work out accordingly.) This is the number of grams of protein you need to eat per day.

Now I don't suggest you get this from protein powder, but rather from meat. Meat is 25% protein (beef)-33% protein (lean chicken breast). So multiply the number of grams of protein by 3 or 4 to get how many grams of meat you should eat per day. Or again, 3x palm sized chunks of meat. :)

Subtract the number of protein calories from your Daily caloric needs (multiply grams by 4 and subtract). The rest will be carbs and fat.

If you need to lose a lot of fat, you'd want to eat between 50g of carbs to 100g of carbs, if you're lean, between 150g-200g. Multiply grams by 4 and subtract. The rest is how much fat you should eat in calories. Subtract maybe 200 calories from what's left - this is what you'll get from your own fat stores. Divide this number by 9 to get grams of fat you should eat.

Phew! What a pain in the ass!

The easier way? Eat 3 palms of meat a day, a medium-large sweet potato, and the rest as good quality fats (avocado, grassfed butter/ghee, bacon, EVOO, EVCO, red palm oil, etc.) and tons of leafy green veggies. Why go through the above PITA if you don't have it? Keep it simple, and you'll lose fat and won't even be hungry as the good fat sources will prevent hunger, and the small amount of carbs will prevent high cortisol/stress and the protein will be adequate for your body's repair needs. Throw in some organ meats and bone broth, and you'll be a rock star...

What if you want to go faster?

One of the more beneficial things to do is to use Intermittent Fasting. The easiest way to do this is by skipping breakfast, and eat dinner such that the distance between dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow is 16 hours. More than this tends to signal cortisol. When you do this, you shouldn't also go very low carb as it will signal cortisol. There are reports that women don't do well with IF, but some do and some don't. So experiment. The huge benefit beyond easy fat loss is autophagy - this allows our cells to clean up broken proteins, allow our immune system to go after viruses and bacteria, and do general repairs. It can also cause apoptosis in marginal and pre-cancerous cells, so it's something that we should all probably do once in a while if not weekly.

Going faster than this by restricting calories, working out harder with lots of cardio is going to backfire as it becomes a huge stressor and instead of losing fat, you'll start to hold on to it.

On to tracking results:

Fat loss is not linear. It behaves very strangely, and tends to go away in spurts, and is related to how much water we hold on to as well:


And to add more fuel to the fire, your weight will fluctuate by ~5lbs throughout the day, even if you dial in all the parameters (fat:protein:carb ratios, stress and sleep levels, meal timing, no snacking, drinking clean water and avoiding inflammatory foods) at most you'd lose maybe a pound to a pound and a half or so a week. So you won't notice changes it if you're weighing yourself daily.

Fat loss monitor scales that use electrical impedance and tell you your percentage of fat, water, muscle, bone as well as your weight could help, but sadly they're off by as much as 20%. Probably the most accurate would be a DEXA scan, but you wouldn't want these daily, as they're very expensive and they use X-rays, which as we all know, are a form of ionizing radiation - something to avoid if possible.

So what can you do? First, ignore the scale and get a tape measure. Your waist will in time shrink - so maybe measure once a week or once a month. Log this instead of scale weight.

Second, if you want, get a fat loss monitor scale and graph its results. It will vary daily, but if you use it once a week and graph the results, you'll be able to see the trends which will let you get rid of the water weight fluctuations.

You should only use it at the same time of day, preferably in the morning, after, um, having eliminated, but before having any breakfast so as to eliminate weighing the contents of your digestive tract (although it won't be fully empty anyway).

Some of the more expensive fat loss monitors have a bluetooth or USB export function that you can use to send the results to a computer, phone/tablet and thus record your results over time. Or you could keep a log by hand.

Thirdly, you could take a picture of yourself in a mirror once a month (or even longer) to serve as an indicator of progress. Even then, the results won't easily be apparent.

Yes, I realize I've nearly written a book here, but even so, I feel I'll be posting the same response again and again, as there's tons of folks that don't understand how this stuff really works, and they get frustrated when it moves very slowly and imagine they're not making progress and then give up too early.

If anything, this answer, as long as it is, isn't even the whole story, it's just scratching the surface, and should be expanded and in the FAQ. So I intend to answer similar questions by pointing to this answer instead, and maybe over time edit it and clean it up. :) In this way, laziness is a virtue.



on May 18, 2014
at 02:46 PM

considering everything I read on body recomposition, losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time only happens when you are a beginner in terms of physical activity. It's not impossible (as I said, "unlikely", not impossible). It seems to be related to hormones and whatnot (a person would be either in catabolic or anabolic state, that's why muscle gain happens with some fat gain at the same time, and fat loss is accompanied by some muscle loss, although the proportion of this can be managed with diet and type of physical activity - your body is either building tissue or destroying it.)

Medium avatar

on April 21, 2015
at 06:55 AM

Gaining muscle and fat have different processes to follow, exactly like that you've do different fitness exercising to lose weight and to lose fat. Losing weight is easier but losing fat is tough. You've to be extremely determined to lose fat and gain muscle. Fatness within body can be reducable by taking essential steps, among all I prefer running or walking regularly. Both these processes are highly effective to lose belly fatness. I'm personally an example of losing fatness of my belly. I just got some extra fatness and through walking reguarly about 1 hour helped me reduce my fatness.

However, you must walk reguarly at morning or anytime you want but a certain time you need to walk. While I was walking I used a tracking app TotalCoaching. It significantly helped me track my every step & how long I walked, how many steps yet remaining etc. So it's an useful app for fitness tracking. Though you may use it or not, but running about 1 hour each day is an excellent way to reduce fatness & gain muscle naturally.

Medium avatar

on May 18, 2014
at 03:27 PM

I think you're my hero. Ty for the read, I enjoyed it very much. I've got some ideas on where to go with this.


on May 18, 2014
at 11:41 AM

To lose weight you need to create a caloric deficit. And it's very unlikely that you'll shed fat and gain muscle at the same time, because gaining muscle requires caloric surplus which is the opposite situation. On top of that you may consider hormonal issues, which may make it harder to get results in certain areas of the body (e.g. I rapidly notice my hips getting slimmer when on diet, but my thighs change very little). That also means that the issue is more complicated, there may be water retention for some reason (related to cortisol, oestrogen and whatnot, which also may affect the thickness of fatty tissue). To fix that you may need to look deeper into your diet and lifestyle. Considering only the caloric aspect of the diet, I'd suggest to alternate periods of muscle gain with those of fat loss for better results.

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