Anabolic vs Catabolic states and weight loss

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

There seems to be a misconception in the weight loss community that it is simple to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. While it is possible with a strictly regimented diet and carefully programmed workouts, it is not simple or easy. It's actually two completely different physiological states.

Anabolic is a building state and catabolic is a breaking down state. Strength training causes an anabolic state in the body and cardio and cutting calories causes a catabolic state. You simply cannot be in both states at the same time. So, if you are lifting heavy weights trying to build muscle for strength and definition and then are also doing 4 days or more of cardio of 30 minutes or more you are actually working against yourself and tearing down all that hard work.

I don't want to confuse you though, if you are not concerned with weight loss or muscle gain and are simply looking for general health and fitness, this is perfectly fine. My concern is when I hear that someone is trying to build muscle while still doing large amounts of cardio. This is like building a house during the day and then having a wrecking ball come in overnight and break it all down.

My other concern is that when women are trying to lose weight they typically assume that they need to cut calories. This works, but it is also counteractive to building muscle. When you lose weight it is never all fat. It is always a mix of fat and muscle. If you are not giving your body adequate calories and doing cardio to lose weight and then trying to build muscle at the same time you need to know that it's not going to happen. The best case scenario is that strength training while cutting calories will help you maintain some muscle. But it's not the best way to go about things.

Let's use the building analogy again. Trying to build muscle while cutting calories is like trying to build a house with no bricks, plywood, or drywall. Another serious consequence of this is calcium depletion. In addition to building strong bones calcium plays an important role in muscle contraction. If you continue to work your muscles without giving yourself adequate fuel, your body will take the needed calcium from your bones.

We all know that building muscle revs up your metabolism and turns you into a fat burning machine. But you need to build the muscle first. If you are trying to build muscle you need to be eating at maintenance level calories at the very least, ideally a little bit above that to give your body something to work with. You are adding tissue to your body, it needs building supplies.

I hope this isn't confusing and please ask any questions you need to.

To sum up, there are a few different options for your training. If you are purely looking to burn fat without concern for building muscle, then you should cut calories and do cardio; but you should also do weights to maintain your current amount of lean muscle without expecting to put on any more muscle. If you want to put on lean muscle you need to eat at maintenance or above and limit your cardio. My best advice is to put on the lean muscle first and then get into a fat burning or "cutting" phase for a period of time. I say a "period of time" because you never want to maintain you calories lower than maintenance for too long because your metabolism will slow down to match that. It is best to switch between building and burning phases to keep the metabolism stoked.

Again, I hope I haven't confused any of you in my effort to clear up some misconceptions. I just want to share my trainer knowledge so we can all get lean and strong!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Thanks for the blog. I've currently dropped 20 pounds focusing solely on calorie reduction (500 per day) and light work outs. My long term goal would include dropping another 80-90 pounds so, skin elasticity is a concern. My plan is to switch between from catabolic to anabolic every time I lose 30 pounds. When I go anabolic, I'll do so for 4 weeks with a intense focus on strength training. The ideal is to slow down the weight loss to give my skin time to adjust, plus work in a little muscle building.
    2023 days ago
  • MAGPIE17
    Great clarification! Thanks, Dara!
    3665 days ago
    I thought of a question... lol. I'm planning on switching to building muscle in a month or two... so does this mean that I don't do cardio anymore? I really love my zumba classes and my yoga class and they really help me let go of stress... so it isn't just "cardio" to me. If I can still do cardio, how much is still okay? Because I really don't want to undo all the effort I'm going to put into building the muscle!
    3665 days ago
  • DITTY1013
    Interesting info here. Curious, how long would you recommend the alternating phases last? Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
    3666 days ago
    My fiance tells me about this all the time (he's all about lifting weights). Right now I am working on getting rid of the fat... but once I get closer to goal, I will be switching because I definitely want to build some muscle!
    3666 days ago
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