Lose Fat or Gain Muscle First?


Although I take my own nutrition very seriously, I don’t normally get involved in the weight loss field – it’s just not my area of specialization (‘dammit Jim, I’m a grappler, not a nutritionist…’).
But once in a while I can’t resist, so here’s a recent exchange I had with a loyal reader:

Q: “Hey, I have a question.  I am six feet tall and I barely weigh 180 pounds, but my body fat is like 30% body fat.  I would like to fight MMA as a middleweight (which is 185lbs)  but my question is should I first lose body fat and then put on more muscle mass, or just gain more weight.”

A: I am always worried about giving specific fitness and nutrition advice unless I know someone personally.

Partially this is because I’m NOT a nutritionist, and NOT a doctor.  And coming up with definitive answers is really difficult because different people start at such incredibly different baselines when it comes to fitness and knowledge about fitness.

That being said, here’s some very general advice…

I think that your overall goal – to reduce your body fat percentage before competing in MMA – is exactly correct.  By and large, weight from bodyfat doesn’t help you punch, kick, or throw.  (It may help you when you’re on top if you’re grappling, but having it be ‘good weight’ as opposed to ‘bad weight’ is still a much, much better solution!)

Opinions vary on whether one should: A) bulk up first (i.e. put on muscle and fat) and then cut down, or B) lean out first (reduce body fat) and then bulk up while stay lean.

But regardless of which option you go for, the single-most important thing is to get your DIET under control first.

And you need to find a way to make sustainable changes to your diet.  Going on a crash diet and losing a bunch of weight isn’t healthy, and also means you’d be losing both fat and muscle.

Think about making one major change a week, for example:

  • week one – no more soda, only water and non-sweetened teas,
  • week two – tripling your fresh vegetable intake (yes, I really do mean triple),
  • week three – ensuring adequate daily protein,
  • week four – eating five small meals a day instead of two or three monster meals,
  • etc.

Cleaning up your diet WILL be a major struggle, but trust me, it’s the single best thing you can do for your grappling, your MMA career and your general health.

If you clean up your diet your weight may go up or down – it depends on how much muscle you gain while you’re losing fat – but the important thing is that your body composition (% body fat) should improve.

Eventually you’ll also regular weight training and cardio sessions to your routine, and then you’ll get you into killer shape.  Good luck with your transformation.