Most guys, when they think about getting in shape, automatically think about bodybuilding. But for many, a bodybuilding lifestyle/physique is incompatible with their goals and what they are willing to give up for success. Will bodybuilding burn fat? Or are there better alternatives for new lifters?
If you are new to the gym and a little overweight, then following a bodybuilding diet and training program can help you to burn fat. But bodybuilding is a tough endeavour that is more about building muscle than burning fat. If your goal is to build the physique of a bodybuilder then bodybuilding is a great choice. If you are just looking for fat loss then there are better alternatives.
In this article, I will be taking a look at whether bodybuilding is good for fat loss or not, and why bodybuilding may not be the right choice for you.
Short answer, YES! But so would marathon running, training for MMA, and cycling the Tour De France. Just because a form of training will burn fat, does not mean that 1) Fat burning is the stated aim, and 2) It is the best method for you.
Most bodybuilders go through cut and bulk cycles. They bulk up by eating more calories than they burn, using this extra fuel to build more muscle and train harder in the gym. They then go through what is known as a cut, this is where they look to remove as much fat as possible while preserving muscle mass.
During a cut, a bodybuilder is able to burn a lot of fat. Through a combination of lower-intensity weight training, low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio, and mostly through a calorie-controlled diet. You could certainly emulate this cut, but without the bulk, could you really call this process bodybuilding?
What you have to remember is that bodybuilding comes in two varieties: Natural bodybuilding and Regular bodybuilding. Natural bodybuilders (supposedly) train and diet for bodybuilding without the use of any performance-enhancing drugs (known as PEDs).
The fact that many “natural” bodybuilders use just as many PEDs (if not more) than professional bodybuilders is a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that there are bodybuilders who train without PEDs and can be considered natural. They would burn fat the way described above. Calorie restriction, performing LISS cardio, and lower-intensity weight lifting to maintain muscle.
But most bodybuilders, basically any of the bodybuilders that you have actually heard of, use PEDs to assist in their fat-burning. Drugs such as clenbuterol, ephedrine, and trenbolone are taken to massively increase the metabolism and help increase the calorie deficit required for fat loss.
I’m not telling you this to have a go at bodybuilders, but to help place their incredible results in context. You can burn fat incredibly well with PEDs, and it is possible to burn that same fat without PEDs. But it is difficult. There are other ways to go about it.
If you want to follow a bodybuilding program then go ahead. I’m not saying that it is a bad way to get results. I just think that you’re using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Fat loss is a simple process, even if it is hard to achieve. The number of calories you consume should be lower than the number of calories you expend.
If you are consuming 2000 calories per day and burning 3000 calories then you will have a 1000 calorie deficit.
Think of your body as a bank, calories are currency, and body fat is stored cash. If you are overweight then you will have a lot of stored fat (savings). Every day you earn money (calories in) and spend money on rent, bills, etc (calories out). If you spend more money than you earn, you will have to dip into your savings. If you spend less than you earn, your savings will grow.
Finding a training program and diet that allows you to consistently burn more calories than you consume will allow your stored fat levels to drop.
This can be anything really. A regular resistance workout with an emphasis on diet will provide excellent results, and is probably a better fit for most gym-goers than bodybuilding which is more of a commitment.
There is an argument that when it comes to fat loss, it isn’t so much about what exercises you are performing. It’s more about your diet. Personally, I think such arguments about which is more important are redundant. You can certainly burn fat with just exercise alone. Increasing calories burned while keeping calories consumed the same will still create a calorie deficit. You can also burn fat through diet alone.
But for best results, you want a combination of the two. A reduction in calories consumed and an increase in calories burned through exercise and non-exercise activities (walking, cleaning, climbing stairs, mowing the lawn). Neither is more important than the other when it comes to fat loss, they’re both crucial.
The point of this article is NOT to put you off pursuing bodybuilding as a training style for fat loss. Bodybuilding works. But it is not the only option, and it is often not the best option for a regular person who just wants to look good with their shirt off.
Follow a bodybuilding program because you love bodybuilding, its the only way you’ll get something out of it. Bodybuilding is similar to being an athlete, its something that takes over your life. Bodybuilders chase perfection, symmetry, and massive muscles. The fact that bodybuilding also happens to burn fat is incidental.
This is the same as my article on whether bodybuilding makes you stronger. It does, but it is not the reason why people take up bodybuilding, it is just a side-effect of the pursuit of aesthetics and symmetry.
What I love about bodybuilding (as an observer) is how it can inspire people to completely transform their lives. You see this with many forms of training (CrossFit, running clubs, HIIT) and all of them attract devotion and repulsion in different people.
But so long as you are exercising well, staying healthy, and following a sensible diet, I don’t mind how you do it. Many bodybuilders are doing fantastic work, and a small minority are putting their health at risk. Same as any form of training.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.