If you’re a long-time reader, you may remember a post in which I recounted how a YouTube commenter I nicknamed “Cliffy” kept insisting that kids get fat because their parents feed them too much, period. No amount of evidence or reason would budge Cliffy from this position. Cliffy was (according to Cliffy) a lean, muscular gym rat — and therefore knew everything there is to know about the biochemistry of body composition.
I didn’t mention it in that post, but in another series of exchanges, Cliffy also insisted I did not (contrary to what my mirror and scale were telling me) become both leaner and more muscular after I tightened up my diet and switched to Fred Hahn’s Slow Burn workout method. Cliffy explained that it’s physiologically impossible to gain muscle mass while losing fat mass, and in fact pretty much everyone who loses weight loses some muscle mass. He knew this because some body-building guru he worships said as much.
I tried telling him that I did indeed put on muscle even while losing weight, that my arms and chest and thighs had become noticeably thicker while my waist shrank, but Cliffy explained that I’m an idiot (and a fat, lazy old man) and only thought I’d gained muscle because the weight loss gave me more definition.
So I looked up a clinical study in which women lost body fat while gaining muscle mass and posted the reference. (YouTube won’t take links in comments.) Cliffy read the study and replied that it’s sometimes possible for people who’ve never worked out and are therefore “untrained” to gain muscle while losing weight, but not for anyone who’s been regularly lifting weights – which I had been. When I asked how being “untrained” makes the physiologically impossible become possible, he explained that I’m an idiot (and a fat, lazy old man) and must not have been “trained” even though I’d been lifting weights regularly before switching to Slow Burn.
I thought about Cliffy when Jimmy Moore posted the results of his nutritional ketosis experiment earlier this week. When Jimmy started losing weight again after cutting back on protein and adding more fat to his diet, I was happy he’d reversed the creeping weight gain that had baffled him, but I wondered if the lower protein intake would lead to muscle loss. That fear was put to rest when Jimmy and Christine visited us last week. His arms looked thicker than when I saw him in July, not thinner. But of course Cliffy would insist that was just better definition creating the illusion of extra muscle mass.
Wrong once again, Cliffy.
If haven’t read Jimmy’s post, here’s the quick summary: Two months ago he underwent a very accurate body-composition test called a DXA scan. He had another DXA scan on Monday before leaving for Australia. The test showed that during those two months, Jimmy shed just over 16 pounds of additional body fat while gaining just over six pounds of muscle. He gained two pounds of muscle in his arms alone. If that doesn’t sound like much, try this little thought experiment: picture a one-pound lean steak. That’s how much meat Jimmy put on each arm. So yes, his arms are definitely thicker, not just better defined.
Cliffy would jump in at this point to insist that Jimmy was clearly “untrained” until recently. Hogwash. Jimmy’s been lifting weights for at least a couple of years, maybe longer. I worked out with him on the low-carb cruise in May. He was impressively strong. “Untrained” muscles don’t push that much weight. He may have been training harder lately, but he wasn’t “untrained” in May.
One of the speakers on the same low-carb cruise was Dr. Jeff Volek, who has conducted much of his research on athletes. (It was Dr. Volek , along with Dr. Steve Phinney, who convinced Jimmy to try getting into nutritional ketosis to reverse his weight gain.) I mentioned Cliffy’s theories to Dr. Volek one night and asked if it’s physiologically impossible to get leaner and more muscular over the same time period. It’s not impossible at all, Dr. Volek replied; we’ve seen it happen over and over, even in athletes. (Here’s a study in which athletes lost fat and gained lean body mass.)
So the bottom line: don’t believe the myth that if you lose weight, you’re inevitably going to lose both muscle and fat. If you work out and eat right, you can actually gain muscle. I lost fat and gained muscle. Jimmy lost fat and gained muscle, despite eating less protein than he did previously. Athletes have lost fat while gaining muscle.
And Cliffy’s still an idiot, even if he’s not a fat, lazy old man.