37 Mind-Blowing Tips: How to Get Ripped, Burn Fat, and Build Muscle (w/ pics and links)
This blog post is my ULTIMATE guide on how to burn fat and build muscle. It’s just for busy guys who want the best, most actionable tips to build muscle and burn fat in as little time as possible.
I added as many links and references are possible. Please share on social media with all of your friends.
Here’s my 37 most mind-blowing tips on how to burn fat and build muscle:
1). Focus on Strength Training
If you want learn how to burn fat and build muscle, you have to strength train, there's no way around it. You can do whatever type of strength training you want:
Bodyweight training: pushups, pullups, dips, bodyweight squats, handstand pushups, etc.
- Circuit training
It doesn’t really matter what form of resistance training you choose. The point is that you have to use the progressive overload principle (link to my article here) where you increase the weight, lower the rest interval, or increase reps as you get stronger. Strength training has so many benefits, no matter what your goal. Here's a short list:
Strength training helps you build muscle (duh!) which helps you burn more calories, meaning you can eat more without gaining fat because your muscle is burning those calories. (Don’t go crazy with this though)
Strength training helps you burn fat and maintain muscle mass. When you eat less, your body burns fat and muscle. Engaging in strength training and eating adequate amounts of protein is the best way to maintain muscle mass while in a caloric deficit. Strength training strengthens your bones, improves your balance, and has a ton of other benefits. Read this article to see how I’m currently doing it.
Sprints and high intensity intervals are a great way to burn fat AND prevent muscle loss. You can either do sprints outside at a track, or on a treadmill. There are a lot of benefits to HIIT and sprints. There are tons of ways to do them, but here are my favorite ways (how to get ripped in 10 minutes or less). There’s also bodyweight intervals. If you plan on doing link to bike intervals, read this, it’s the best way to do interval training.
3). Slow Cardio Too
Slow cardio gets bashed for being useless, burning muscle, and causing injury but that’s not 100% accurate. I think it’s more used by people who make money selling high-intensity workouts. Here’s the thing, high intensity isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re overweight. Slow cardio on an incline treadmill in a fasted state is a tried and true staple of burning fat. The reason is that your body oxidizes fat when you move at a certain pace for a certain duration. Click here to see which cardio is best for you.
4). Plan Your Meals
This is a gangster tip. But before this , you need to calculate your daily caloric needs. If you want to build muscle, you should eat about 10% more than your Total Daily Energy Expenditure to build muscle with minimal fat gain. If you want to lose weight, you can eat at about a 25% deficit. Once you have your meals planned out, you can make a meal plan based on your favorite foods. I created this really helpful spreadsheet that calculates your food for you.
5). Eat Adequate Protein
Want to build muscle? Eat enough protein. Want to burn fat? Eat enough protein. Muscle, skin, and other organs are built by protein. So if you want to build muscle, you need to eat enough protein. Now, if you’re looking to burn fat, you also need to eat enough protein for three reasons:
Protein has a higher “thermic effect” than fat or carbs. That means your body burns up to 25% percent of the calories it from protein just via digestion. In other words, if you eat 100 calories of protein, your body burns 25% of those calories just digesting the protein. Protein is known to help curb hunger. Eating enough protein in a caloric deficit helps retain muscle (I mentioned this above)
Now exactly how much protein is enough? Studies say you need to eat .82 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (check out this article for the science) but you can round up to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight just to be safe
6). Sleep More
Sleep is when your body releases anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone, which has both muscle building AND fat burning properties. Sleep is when your body repairs muscle, so if you’re lifting heavy weights, you NEED to shoot for 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Also, inadequate sleep has been linked with overeating and hunger. Here’s an article saying the less you sleep, the more you eat.
7). Drink More Water
Water is critical to building muscle. Your body is about 70% to 80% water, and that includes your muscles. Like sleep, numerous studies have mentioned a connection between water consumption and losing fat. One possible reason is that water helps you feel full. You should shoot for 3-4 liters per day. Just carry a big bottle with you. Here are even more benefits of drinking water
Oh yeah, ice water has been proved to burn calories too since your body has to work hard to warm it up.
8). Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is all the rage these days. There are 3 main types:
Leangains (Martin Berkhan)
Warrior Diet (Ori H)
Eat Stop Eat (Brad Pilon)
I’m not going to go into the details of intermittent fasting here, but I’ll say this, I’ve been doing it for over a year and I love it, but its’ NOT magic. Calories and macronutrients are still the most important factors if you want to build muscle and burn fat. But here’s a great summary of intermittent fasting (the LeanGains variation) and here is a guy that got amazing results using intermitting fasting.
9). Focus on Progressive Overload
If you want to build muscle, you have to keep challenging your body. The progressive overload principle means that as you get stronger, you have to increase the weight, or reduce the time that you rest in between sets , or perform more repetitions of the exercise. It’s really simple, your body doesn’t like being told what it can’t do, so if you challenge it, it will come back stronger. That means you have to up the ante and lift more weight or do more reps than you have in the past.
10). Decrease Rest Intervals
This is related to the prior point, but I wanted to separate it out because it can be used for cardio exercise as well. If you’re sprinting or doing bodyweight intervals, you would usually rest 60 to 90 seconds in between sets. As you get better you can reduce your rest intervals. The same goes if you’re doing circuit training.
11). Follow a Proven Workout Plan:
There’s no shortage of good workout programs. If you’re into barbell weight lifting, you should check out Starting Strength and then graduate to Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1. Here’s a GREAT calculator that helps you build your strength training routines. Otherwise, you can stick to bodyweight workouts, I listed a great one that I use here. You can do dumbbell workouts as well from home or a kettlebell workout.
12). Try Reverse Pyramid Training
Reverse pyramid training is one of my FAVORITE ways to workout. Essentially, you start with your hardest, heaviest set first (after a thorough warm up). Then you taper the weight down 10% and shoot for 1-2 more reps. Then taper the weight down 10% again and shoot for another 1-2 more reps It’s not for beginners, but it’s incredibly effective whether you’re trying to build muscle or burn fat. Here’s where I explain my current routine. You should also read this tremendous article that compares reverse pyramid training to straight sets and a “traditional” pyramid structure. And this article by Greg explains the power and effectiveness of reverse pyramid training
13). Lift Weights Explosively, Lower Them Slowly
One of the best ways to get stronger WITHOUT increasing the weight you use or the reps you perform is to focus on eccentric training. That basically means that you take 3-4 seconds to lower the weight, this is called the eccentric part of the movement. When you lift it, you want to explode up. So for example, when you bench press, you want to take 3-4 seconds to lower the weight, but explode it up in 1 second. This forces you to pay attention to your form, builds explosive strength, and increases the overall “time under tension” which is a known factor to building muscle. Read this article I wrote called the #1 Tip to Skyrocket Your Gains
14). Use Impeccable Form
This kind of goes hand in hand with my previous point. Yes, you do need to progressively increase the weight if you want to get stronger. Yes you should be doing more reps if you want to get stronger. But don’t do it at the expense of your form. One of my favorite sayings is “start light, do it right”. The last thing you want to do is to lift too much weight and end up dropping the weight on yourself. Or sprint for too long and end up pulling a hamstring. Do NOT grind out your reps. If you’re lifting weights, you should be able to do 4-6 repetitions with proper form, lowering the weight in 3-4 seconds and raising it in 1 second. As far as form is concerned, check out this article I wrote about the top weightlifting mistakes and how to avoid them
15). Focus On Compound Movements
If you’re trying to build muscle and burn fat, you want to work as many muscle groups as possible. That means you’ll have to ditch the calf raises, bicep curls, and pec deck. You’ll need to replace them with big, multi-joint, compound movements like squats, bench presses, overhead presses, deadlifts, rows (all variations), pullups, pushups, and dips. These movements work multiple muscle groups, which cause you to burn more calories, trigger more anabolic hormones, and stimulate more muscle growth. Here’s an article I wrote about the benefits of multi-joint movements (link to my article)
16). Start with Full Body Workouts if You're a Beginner
Full body workouts are better for beginners because they tend to use compound movements (squats, bench press, deadlifts, overhead press, rows, pushups, pullups, and dips). They give you the biggest bang for your buck and stimulate the most muscle growth in the least amount of time. Popular full body programs like Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5 x 5, Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, and reverse pyramid training are usually done in 3 days per week so you have to spend less time in the gym to build muscle. If you’re trying to burn fat, full body workouts trigger the most calorie burn and often incorporate things like kettlebell swings, burpees, jump rope, mountain climbers, and other bodyweight exercises.
17). Eat Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are some of the best things you can eat if you want to burn fat. They have lots of fiber, micronutrients, and water content, all of which helps you feel fuller, for longer. Not to mention the other health benefits they provide like lower your risk of cancer, fighting free radicals in your body, and phytochemicals that fight and lower bad estrogens that lower your testosterone levels. Good examples of cruciferous vegetables include broccoli (my favorite), kale, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage. The great thing is that these are all very low calorie so you can eat lots of them and still feel full, all while staying within your caloric limits for the day.
18). Eat Lots of Fiber
If you’re on a diet to burn fat, you need to make sure that you eat enough fiber, especially if you’re cutting carbs. A good number to shoot for is 25 to 40 grams of fiber per day. If you eat carbs like oatmeal and sweet potatoes, you’ll be getting good amounts of fiber. Cruciferous vegetables are another great way to get enough fiber. Obviously, fiber helps you feel fuller and keeps your digestive system intact.
19). Cycle Your Carbs Based on Days You Lift Weights
Carb cycling is one of the smartest dietary strategies I’ve ever heard of. I learned about it in this article on the Scrawny to Brawny blog. The premise is that when you lift heavy weights, your body needs more glycogen to fuel the muscle contractions. Since your body turns carbs into glycogen, you need to be eating more carbs. Carb cycling is when you eat more carbs on weight lifting days and less carbs on rest or cardio days. This way you have enough glycogen to lift heavy in the gym and to ensure that your hormone levels are high. So you don’t need to skip carbs, just eat them on weight lifting days and eat less on rest days .
20). Incorporate Bodyweight Exercises Into Your Routine
Bodyweight exercises are great because they can be done anywhere, incorporate multiple muscle groups, and force your body to work through space, causing more neuro-muscular stimulation. They’re also good to do to test your relative strength (your strength in relation to your bodyweight) In this article, Jason talks about the secret benefit of bodyweight exercises . Elliott Hulse also talks about the benefits of bodyweight exercises on YouTube.
21). Manage Stress Levels (and use it to your advantage)
Stress is good. It is the stimulus for a muscle growth and adaptation. Your muscles grow from stress. As long as you sleep enough and eat enough, your body will burn fat and build muscle. It’s chronic stress that is bad for you. It causes your body to release the stress hormone cortisol that, overtime, wreaks havoc on your body. You can read this article about cortisol and muscle-building or this article on weight loss on stress. At the end of the day, make sure that you relax, take long walks, meditate, spend time with friends and family, breathe deeply, and otherwise try to manage your stress.
22). Use Caffeine as a PreWorkout and Potential Fat Burner
Coffee is a great drink to help build muscle and burn fat. This article from Precision Nutrition talks about how coffee (decaf) helps curbs hunger. This one talks about how caffeine may help blunt pain and fatigue related to workouts. There’s also some evidence that drinking coffee before a workout can help make you stronger in the gym.
23). Eat Lots of Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is a great source of protein; 24 grams per cup. It’s cheap. It has lots of calcium and vitamin D. People don’t like the sourness of it, but it’s very versatile and you can add all sorts of things to it: dates, honey, chocolate covered almonds, blueberries, chia seeds, peanut butter, cereal, etc. I wrote this article about the amazing benefits of greek yogurt.
24). Take a Multi-Vitamin
If you’re lifting heavy weights to build muscle or burn fat, you need to make sure that you are getting enough macros, water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Real food should be your preferred source of all of these (even above protein shakes) but it’s not always possible, especially if you’re on a diet with the intention of burning fat. In that case, taking a multi-vitamin and multi-mineral might be a good idea. Here’s a good article by Mike Matthews about whether you should take a multi-vitamin or not.
25). Use Creatine
About creatine, world-renowned nutritionist Alan Aragon stated “ the only legal stuff that really works is creatine…? Creatine works as a fuel source. Your body uses glycogen (stored glucose, mainly from carbs) to fuel aerobic activities. When you perform anaerobic activity like weight lifting, jumping, sprinting, etc. your body uses a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Your body stores way more glucose than it does ATP, so supplementing with creatine has been proven effective to help you get stronger and lift more weight in the gym because it gives allows your body to produce more ATP.
26). Train Fasted
I know this is just anecdotal, but I noticed that I almost always lift more weight, or perform more repetitions when I train fasted. I have friends who noticed the same thing. I will drink lots of water and black coffee before hand and then take about 10 grams of branch chained amino acids (it’s supposed to help prevent muscle loss). This article from Greatist explains the benefits in detail, but it’s purported to help burn more fat. At the end of the day though, fat loss and muscle building is about calories in vs. calories out, so don’t think that just because you train in a fasted state you’ll automatically lose weight. If you are generally under your caloric needs, you will lose weight, training fasted may give you a little boost. As for building muscle and getting stronger, I noticed that I lift more when I’m fasted.
27). Deload Every 3 to 6 Weeks
Deloading is when you take a planned break from working out. It gives your joints, ligaments, and tendons a chance to recover fully. This is a good idea if you lift very heavy and is planned into Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. Others like Mark Rippetoe believe that a deload should be done when necessary, but Wendler plans it into his training protocol. So does Tony Gentilecore. The premise is that you get stronger when you recover, and lifting weights over and over again without a planned break doesn’t give your body the time it needs to fully recover.
28). Get Comfortable Gaining Fat or Losing Strength
Now this is a tough pill for most guys to swallow, but unless you’re a rank novice, it’s very hard to build muscle and burn fat at the same time. If you’ve never worked out before, then yes. That’s why you see people talk about “cutting” and “bulking”. If you’re trying to build muscle, you need to eat more. A side effect of that is that you will get stronger, build muscle, and gain some fat. Now you can minimize fat gain by being really strict about how many extra calories you consume (10% above your TDEE is a good goal) and doing HIIT and sprints, but you need to make sure you still are in a caloric surplus to build muscle. If you want to cut fat, you will eat less, which will cause you to lose fat and some muscle. You can reduce muscle loss by eating enough protein, lifting heavy, and taking branch chain amino acids prior to working out (if you train fasted).
29). Choose One Goal:
This article shows that while burning fat and building muscle at the same time IS technically possible, it’s not that easy. So you should choose one goal; either to burn fat or build muscle and build your workout and diet around that.
30). Use a Digital Scale and Measuring Cups
Some guys swear that they can’t lose weight no matter how little they eat. Others swear that they can’t gain muscle no matter how much they eat. Like I mentioned earlier, you need to track what you eat if you want to build muscle or burn fat. So here’s what you need to do, buy a digital scale and measuring cups and start weighing out your food. I understand that it seems mundane, but it’s the only way to know how much you’re really eating. Of course, this means that you should have a meal plan and know how many grams of protein, carbs, and fat you should be eating per day to hit your goals.
31). Eat the Same Foods Over and Over
The key to building muscle or burning fat is to plan what you eat. Here’s what to do; calculate your daily caloric needs. Then make a list of your favorite foods. Then calculate how much of each food you can eat. For me it’s Greek yogurt w/ chocolate covered almonds, Steak w/ rice and asparagus, Salmon w/spinach and capers, Grilled chicken w/sweet potatoes and broccoli, Buffalo chicken salad, and French toast. That way I hit my macros eating some of my favorite foods. I don’t feel deprived at all because I’m eating things that I love.
By planning what you’re going to eat, you’re in control of the process. See how effective this can be?
32). Calculate Your Caloric Needs
This is simple, figure out your basal metabolic rate (how many calories you need just to survive if you were in a coma) then multiply that by an activity multiplier factor (this accounts how much weekly activity you do). Then eat 25% less than that if you want to burn fat, or 10% above that if you want to build muscle. This is my FAVORITE calculator for that.
33). Play a Lot
Jason Ferruggia talks about the importance of getting out and having fun, whether it’s martial arts, basketball, surfing, biking, hiking, whatever. It’s good for relieving stress and helping with recovering from your intense workouts. link to Jason Ferruggia's articles
34). Use an App to Track What You Eat
35). Cook in Bulk
I love this article called How to Get Ripped in 2 Evenings a Week. Long story short, cook your food in bulk ahead of time, pack it in Tupperware, and you’re good to go.
36). Spike Up Calories Occasionally
Cheat days. Carb cycling. Diet breaks, what do they all have in common? They give your body the chance to eat more calories, allowing your body to reset leptin levels, increase thyroid hormone output, and increased energy expenditure. Bottom line is if you’re eating under your TDEE calorie amount, you need to occasionally eat more calories. It can be in the form of a cheat day or carb cycling. I like the LeanGains method of eating 20% below your TDEE on rest days and 20% above your TDEE on lifting days. It’s easy to do, allows you to eat your favorite junk foods, and helps you still have a social life. You can read this article on the importance of a refeed day
37). Visualize Yourself Getting Stronger
If you’ve ever read the book PsychoCybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, you’ll know the power of visualization. Essentially, visualizing your goals or desired-outcome can help you achieve it. Your mind will help you achieve the desired goal. It sounds new-age, but there’s a reason that elite Olympic athletes use these techniques. Read this article at Business Insider for proof. And read this one from Psychology Today. Of course, there’s no substitute for having a plan and executing it. But visualizing your end-goals helps you stay motivated, helps you think of more creative ways of dealing with obstacles, and helps you refine your plan so that you can achieve your goal. So you have to imagine yourself as being bigger, stronger, leaner, hitting your numbers on a certain lift, etc. It all starts in the mind.