The twin goals of building muscle and burning fat are usually tied to workout routines. After all, what you do in the gym or outdoors goes a long way toward transforming your body into a lean, fat-burning machine.
But training regimens usually account for two hours or less of your 24-hour day. What you do during the other 22-plus hours has as much if not more impact. Here are seven ways to build muscle and burn fat—inside and outside the gym.
Pete Williams is a NASM-certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.
1. Bring the intensity
Don’t be the person in the gym who checks your phone between every set, breaking any intensity you could have established. Instead, work in a focused, continuous manner that stimulates muscle growth and fat burning. Leave the phone at home or in a locker. Instead of resting between three sets of the same exercise, consider alternating an upper body pull (such as pull-ups) with an upper body push (push-ups) or a lower-body push (squats). That way you keep yourself moving. There’s a reason CrossFit’s philosophy of performing AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of a workout circuit in the allotted time is so challenging—and effective.
2. Eat every three hours
Eating small meals more often regulates blood sugar, promotes muscle mass, and eliminates mood swings and overeating. The key is to plan ahead to make sure you have something healthy on hand at work or on-the-go so that you’re fueled every three hours. Ideally every meal will have a combination of carbs, protein, and fat. But if you’re on the go, at least aim for something healthy such as nuts, seeds, dried fruit, energy bars, or a ready-to-drink protein beverage.
3. Hop on the wagon
There’s nothing wrong with an occasional drink. But if you want to build muscle and burn fat, knock it off for 30 days to see dramatic results. Alcohol disrupts REM sleeps, packs on empty calories, increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and decreases protein synthesis for muscle fiber repair. Alcohol also diminishes water soluble vitamins required for hormones to do their work and decreases the body’s ability to recover. After 30 days without alcohol, you’ll likely see such dramatic results you’ll go longer. You can go 30 days, can’t you?
4. Get faster
Sprinters have the leanest, most powerful bodies. Yet we never equate the qualities we want—more muscle, a leaner body—with speed and explosive power. When you get faster, you improve your muscle size and power, the efficiency of your nervous system, and even your flexibility. To get faster, head to a track or soccer field and alternate 400-meter runs (at 80 percent effort) with 400-meter walks. Do a light half-mile run before and after four intervals. Already a runner? Lengthen the intervals to a half-mile or go by time (3 minutes on, 3 minutes off).
5. Mix up your workouts
Your body is a phenomenal compensator, adapting to the most punishing of workouts quickly. That’s why it’s important to mix things up, not only in the weight room but outside as well. If you’re a gym rat, take things outside at least once a week. Head to your local park and do a routine of pushups, dips, Burpees, and pull-ups. If you’re near a beach, do the routine in the sand for an added degree of difficulty. You’ll challenge your body from different angles, break the monotony of the gym, and breathe some fresh air.
6. Become a waterman
Swimmers, surfers, and stand-up paddleboarders often have the most chiseled physiques and that’s no coincidence. Water sports challenge your body in three planes of motion and usually involve high-intensity interval training. Even a leisurely swim or stand-up paddle can be tough if not done often. If you never learned to swim properly—meaning you can’t swim at least 200 yards in open water that’s at least eight feet deep—it’s time to learn.
7. Sleep it off
It’s difficult to build muscle and burn fat without adequate sleep—seven hours a night, preferably eight. Sleep is when most of your hormones, such as growth hormone and testosterone, are released. Fatigue, on the other hand, undermines your ability to eat right and train hard, thus raising your level of body fat. When you’re exhausted, your brain doesn’t know whether it’s sleep-deprived or starving for glucose, so it naturally craves sugar, which is what causes late-night cravings when you’re tired. Without adequate sleep, you’re sabotaging your efforts to build muscle and burn fat.