How to Burn Fat and Build Muscle – Top Diet & Exercise Tips

Learning how to burn fat and build muscle in a healthy way will help set you on the path to getting that great body you’ve always desired. There are several ways you can achieve this and that’s through regular exercise, a healthy food plan, and the adding of certain fat burning foods into your diet for that magic formula. 

I spent years trying the hard way to sculpt and tone my body through exercise and diet, but truth be told I could never quite achieve what I wanted, which was to simply lose stomach fat and gain more muscle tone. I didn’t want miracles, but I did want to feel good in my own skin as I was never 100% happy, and infuriatingly, it seemed no matter how hard I tried something was still missing.

Making the RIGHT changes

layered salad jar

It seems the body can adapt and get used to the same old foods and exercises day in day out. At first you get great results, but then over time and as the body adapts things start to come to a standstill and you find you need to work harder and harder to get the same results.

This is so disheartening, especially when you’re putting a lot of your time, effort and money into these virtuous acts. Frustration sets in and sometimes this can cause you to give up completely, which of course only makes matters worse.

The thing is, it could just be as simple making a few tweaks and changes to your usual diet and exercise regime – shake things up so to speak. Doing this alone may be the missing piece of the puzzle that could get your body in fat torching mode again. Like they say, ‘a change is as good as a rest’ (at least, I think they do), and this is true for your body also.

Eating the Right Foods

Adding into your diet specific foods to help burn fat is a great place to start, and will also give you the physical and mental boost you need to make the changes you need to make. The more you can eat of high quality, antioxidant rich foods the better; but do remember to add them towards your daily calorie and fat count and not just as an added extra. They still contain calories, and calories always need to be burnt off in order to not be laid down as fat, it’s a simple equasion – ALL calories being put in need to be used for energy in some form.

Building Lean Muscle Mass

muscly woman

Another very important part to the puzzle of losing fat is to build more lean muscle. Muscle burns more calories than fat, and not just when you’re exercising but all the time. Therefore it makes sense to build good amounts of muscle mass through resistance and strength training to help to keep your body burning up calories more efficiently all day – EVERYDAY!

In order to do build this calorie burning muscle mass on your body, you will need to make sure you’re eating enough protein from various sources. The amino acids in protein, be they from plant or animal sources, are the actual building blocks of lean muscle tissue and therefore vital to your diet.

Plant Proteins

dried pulses

Since turning to the plant based diet for health reasons, I have found plant sources of protein to be more superior to animal mainly because they are less acid forming and more alkaline. As many plant foods are in fact lower on the alkalinity scale it makes sense that they may help lower chronic inflammation in the body, in turn lowering your chances of certain inflammatory diseases.  

And it’s got to be said, plant foods just seem to make you feel cleaner, lighter and healthier, with a clearer mind and so much more clarity. This has been my experience of eating highly plant based in the past two years, and the main reason why I will never go back, but of course it’s your prerogative if you want to try this for yourself.  

Different Proteins may work Differently for Everyone:-

When you start becoming conscious of your protein needs you may wish to experiment a bit, trying different sources and finding out for yourself just what your body thrives on. We are all different in this respect, and there are so many different protein sources out there both plant and animal based, but it’s always a good idea to vary where you obtain your protein from to help you be sure you’re getting the complete amino acid profile your body needs to synthesize muscle mass.

Varying your protein sources is an especially good idea if you are plant based or vegan, because some plant proteins are lower on certain amino acids than animal proteins. But don’t let this put you off the ‘cleaner’ proteins as once you understand you plant based amino acids then a little variation will make up for anything that’s missing, and plants are ultimately healthier.

DO I NEED PROTEIN POWDERS?

green smoothies

When it comes to protein powders it can be a bit of a minefield, as many people believe that just because they are doing a couple of hours of exercise a week that they will need extra protein. This is usually not the case, especially if that person already eats a diet high in animal proteins from meat and dairy products.

The time when you may need extra protein is when you are regularly lifting weights, or doing some other intensive exercise for more than an hour at a time. Or if you are following a plant based diet, as I am, then you will more than likely need a protein supplement if you are doing ANY exercise and even if you’re not.

I found this out the hard way when I started losing muscle mass at the beginning of my plant based eating regime. Not really knowing how it would affect my body at the time I just carried on with my usual exercises, but I noticed I was getting flabbier. I quickly realised that I wasn’t getting enough protein from my plant foods alone (not for an exerciser anyway) and as soon as I started taking a protein supplement everyday this quickly rectified itself.

Which type of Protein Powder should I use?

Most people need help with this question as there are just so many different powders out there that it can blow your mind. My advice (whether you are vegan OR a meat eater) is to stick with the cleaner plant based protein powders, as they will be less acid forming which may also help fasten your recovery time after sports. Most of the amazing blends available these days will ensure you get a full spectrum of amino acids – even with plants.

Benefits of Muscle Mass

girl doing bicep curls

There are just so many benefits to having ample amounts of lean muscle mass on your body instead of fat. I’m talking enough to make the aesthetic benefits look secondary in comparison – yes, honestly!

In fact, these other benefits are just astounding, and will make you realise just how important it is to take the time to add some muscle building exercise into your life for any person of any age or sex.

1. LOWER RISK OF INJURIES IN GENERAL 

When you build muscle mass in general it means you will have extra protection for all your major joints. This is a very good thing as it will keep your body more stable not only during exercise, but also doing any other everyday tasks, thus making you much less prone to injuries and sprains in general.

2. STRONGER CONNECTIVE TISSUE 

Your connective tissue and ligaments will also become stronger and less prone to injury. This will help protect your body from many age related joint problems AND make you much stronger in every day life.

3. STRONGER BONES 

Strength and resistance training will push your body into strengthening your bones as it adapts to all the extra stress put upon it meaning less chance of breakages.

Having stronger bones also gives protection against age related bone problems such as osteoporosis, which is something that is much more prevalent as you age and when loss of bone density accelerates. Do not under estimate the importance of this no matter what age you are right now as you need to start early for the best results.

4. INCREASED ENERGY AND VITALITY

woman jumping for joy

Now that your body is adapting to the higher demands being put upon it your endurance levels will increase, which will give you a lot more energy and stamina for every day life. It’s got to be said that this was the BIGGEST thing I noticed when I first got into proper fitness many years ago: suddenly I was always ready to jump up and go any time, anywhere, and it was a totally new experience to me.

Lack of energy is one of the major issues of modern life and is often due to a combination of many factors including lack of sleep, too many refined sugars and junk foods, and exposure to too the environmental toxins of every day life.

This is why it is vital you do as much as you can for your health now, and exercise just happens to be one of the major things you can do to help negate some of the constant damage being put upon your body. A highly plant based diet will work wonders for cleaning out your system and detoxifying your body along with lots of detoxifying foods.

5. DECREASED RISK OF DIABETES

stop diabetes sign

As exercise keeps your heart and muscles strong and your weight down then it stands to reason that all these things combined lesson your risk of diabetes. And those who keep themselves in shape physically are more likely to eat less sugar and junk foods, and even if they do they will burn them off as energy expenditure much more readily.

Exercise also helps to keep blood sugar under control in other ways too. After a hard exercise session your muscles will need to refuel with glycogen to replace what has been gobbled up for energy, which means that all excess sugars floating around in the bloodstream will literally be absorbed into the muscles. And as your muscles will carry on reglycogenating for the next 24 hours you will also be keeping your blood sugar under control in that time too.

6. LOWERING OF BLOOD PRESSURE 

Resistance training is by far one of the best ways to lower high blood pressure, due to the simple fact that making your heart stronger enables it to pump blood around the body with less effort, meaning less force on the arteries and therefore the lowering of blood pressure.

7. STRESS RELIEF 

walking on beach

Stress is without a doubt one of the biggest killers of our time and anything we can do to help negate the damage caused by it, or better still lower it in the first place, has got to be worth it right? When you resistance train or lift weights your body releases its own painkillers called opiates which act as anti-stress messengers. These opiates literally dissolve stress, frustration and irritation making you feel calm, relaxed and happy again.

This also applies for taking a brisk walk or run in the great outdoors, as the relaxing sights and sounds of nature coupled with breathing in deeply that healing fresh air will blow away any residues of stress in your system.

8. HAPPINESS 

As well as all the reasons above, it cannot be stressed enough the importance of resistance training when it comes to easing depression. A cascade of feel good hormones called endorphins will flood through your system, making you feel stronger and more balanced in body, mind and soul. It really is true what they say about a strong body equaling a strong mind.

Remember, when it comes to serious depressive illness then you will need a combination of a healthy diet, exercise, and of course you should always consult your doctor for any other possible treatments that may be recommended.

9. BETTER QUALITY SLEEP 

woman sleeping

This goes without saying: the more you tire your body out, the more deep REM and restful sleep you will be rewarded with. This one simple thing in itself can drastically improve your quality of life, and give you more focus, drive, energy, a stronger immune system, stronger mental strength and ability, and drastically your risk of anxiety and depression.

Sleep is also vital for healing the body after exercise, as continual training when you are tired (especially when coupled with a bad diet) can eventually lead to adrenal burnout and all sorts of other problems will then escalate from this. 

10. STRONGER IMMUNE SYSTEM 

When you exercise your body boosts its production of the cells that kill bacteria, which means over time and with consistent training your immune system will become stronger and stronger.

Just take caution that over training can have the opposite effect and actually knock your immune system temporarily. Be sure to build up incrementally so you don’t over do it as most of us have noticed getting a bad cold or sickness a few days after over doing it in the gym.

FITNESS TRACKERS:

climbing steps

Something that may help you on your fitness and health journey could be a fitness tracker. These will give you reminders to move, count your steps taken every day, measure your heart rate, and track your sleep to let you know if you’re getting enough of that good quality REM sleep that is so vital for health.

Creating Accountability

A fitness tracker will also create accountability by tracking every activity you do so you can see at a glance where you may need to make changes. These subsequent changes will eventually start to rewire the neural pathways in your brain which is a vital process in achieving long term success. 

You can sometimes use an app on your phone as a fitness tracker; or you could check out some of the amazing fitness tracker watches out there.

How to Burn Fat and Build Muscle – Top Diet & Exercise Tips

1. HITT

kettle bell training

HITT (high intensity interval training) is a fast all round fat burner, especially great for burning that hard to lose belly fat. This is because it combines high intensity cardio with resistance training for an all round body blast. Doing explosive movements of cardio then a round of resistance or weights, elevates the heart rate, burns higher amounts of calories and builds muscle.

HIIT can be done in shorter amounts of time than other training sessions (the average session lasting only 20 minutes), but the fat burning effects can carry on for hours, even days afterwards.

How to get your body into FAT BURNING mode!

When it come to burning fat it’s all about the intensity. Medium pace cardio such as jogging, swimming or cycling may help to keep your heart healthy, but they aren’t the best fat burners. Much higher intensity, shorter workouts with fast blasts of exercise will kick start the fat burning process much more effectively and flood your system with fat burning hormones.

man doing butterfly stroke

You can incorporate HIIT into your normal training routine whether it be swimming, cycling or jogging by going for 6-10 fast bursts of activity for 30-60 seconds. Start off slowly and build up as you become more accustomed to it. DO NOT push yourself to the complete max during the short bursts, but instead keep it just under maximum capacity.

Pushing yourself to the limit may not only compromise your immune system but will also put a massive strain on your whole body. It may even encourage fat storage as the body enters fight or flight mode.

Please check out this ‘build muscle and lose fat workout’ for some ideas on how to do HIIT training.

2. BOXERCISE

boxercise lesson

Another brilliant all round fat burner and cardio workout is boxing. A boxercise class (or a boxing session with a friend) can burn up to a whopping 800 CALORIES and uses all the major muscle groups, plus it’s a fantastic way to release pent up stress and frustrations.

Boxercise, or boxing in general, will give you more power and strength, better core stability, higher self-esteem, extra confidence in everyday life, plus your coordination will improve vastly, making it one of the best all round exercises out there.

Try sparring with a partner indoors by using an inexpensive sparring kit and take it in turns to really let those frustrations out. 

3. OUTDOORS

man running on beach

If you don’t have any time to exercise, or you cannot afford a gym membership or classes, then there are many things you can do in your own home for minimum or no outlay.

There are also so many exercises you can do outdoors, for instance, you should take advantage of your surrounding local areas as everywhere has something unique to offer. I live by the coast where there are lots of cliffs and steps so I can do an amazing workout just by running along the beach, climbing up and down the cliff-side steps and hills, and on a warm day even jump in the sea for a swim. I absolutely love it!

If you live in the country then obviously you have other great ways to exercise that you should most definitely be taking advantage of, and as with most outdoor exercise you have the added bonus of all that wonderful fresh air to make you feel alive and really clear your lungs out.

EXERCISES TO DO IN YOUR HOME:

4. KETTLEBELLS

kettles bells in gym

If, for whatever reason you can’t get outside then the home itself offers some great opportunities to exercise. You can invest in a kettlebell that is not only fantastic for toning and building muscle, but also happens to also be a MASSIVE fat burner. 

The best kettlebell to invest in should be made of cast iron, and not the cheaper vinyl versions which make your hands all sweaty and slippy (not a good thing considering you are going to be swinging that thing all over the place). Best of all, the cast iron kettle bell will be an investment that will literally last forever.

Which Kettlebells should I buy?

I would start no lower than a 6kg kettlebell for the average female, and 8kg for the average male. You will quickly build up to the next size so you may want to purchase a couple. You will also find you probably require a couple of different weights as some of the exercises are easier than others, so that is another sound reason to buy more than one.

A lot of kettlebells come with some instructions for exercises, but as there are so many you need to research the most effective ones. Check out this awesome video for a quick at home kettlebell workout from somebody who knows what they are talking about.

5. HULA HOOPING

A wonderfully cheap and easy belly fat burning exercise is hula hooping, and it just happens to give you a great toned stomach too! When I started hula hooping regularly, I got myself a seriously flatter stomach more quickly than anything else I had tried; but you do need to keep it up for long term results. 

For information and the best kind of weighted hula hoops to buy then please read more here about this belly fat blaster. If a toned stomach is your thing and the part of your body that you would like to work on the most, then you should read this.

6. USING THE STAIRS

stair climbing

This may seem too simple and easy to be true but boy is it effective. If you have stairs in your home then you can do a great fat burning workout by simply climbing up and down them for 10 minutes at a speed – just make sure it’s  fast enough to get you huffing and puffing.

This will work your thigh and buttock muscles, thus helping you to achieve those much sought after ‘buns of steel’. In fact, this along with squats really is one of the best exercises you can do for that particular area.

7. FITNESS DVD’S

There are numerous fitness DVD’s out there, and also lots of free tuition’s on YouTube from professionals if you need inspiration such as the ones I have already loaded onto this post. Using a fitness DVD will also give you a lot more incentive to keep going as you need to keep up in time with the instructor. They are also great fun to do with a friend which will help create accountability as it can sometimes be hard to find the inspiration to do these things alone at home.

Other home exercises:-

One of the best free, easy and super effective exercises is using a chair (or anything else of a similar height) and doing tricep dips to tone your arms. A good idea for the time restricted would be to use the side of your bath before you get in for a soak, which will also kill time whilst the water is running. These are great as no equipment is required and you use your own body weight to do the work.

Of course, it also costs nothing to get down on the floor and do some push ups and stomach work. You could always put some good tunes on in the background for the impetus to work twice as hard; this always seems to work great for me.

8. DANCING

couples jive dancing

Another fantastic exercise you can do either at home or a proper class is dancing such as Jazz, Tap, Hip-Hop, Swing, Ballroom and many more. Not only is a dance class a great place to socialise and make connections with other like-minded people, but you will also get into serious shape. Dancing is known also to improve depression, anxiety, confidence and low self-esteem.

Or, if you don’t fancy a class you can just pop on your favorite tunes at home and really go for it. Dance music is usually best, and the faster the better. Doing a couple of 10 minute blasts of this a day will keep you fit and your body in calorie burning mode. There has been a lot of research lately about how a couple of shorter blasts of exercise a day can be just as good (if not better) than hours at the gym, so this is welcomed information for those who say they have no time for keeping fit.

9. DIET

Diet is just an important part of fitness than anything else, so don’t underestimate this fact! Eating lots of antioxidant rich plant based foods will fasten your recovery times, strengthen your immune system, give you plenty of energy to train, and help you to build out the body you have always wanted.

Understanding macronutrients and correct food combining is a vital part of your healthy lifestyle, and to make this easier for you I have devised a budget friendly one week plant based diet plan so you can try this way of life the healthy way if you so wish to.

I hope you have found this post informative and that you can find an exercise you enjoy doing. I would love to know what you like to do to keep in shape; or even if you have any other suggestions I can add to this list. Please feel free to drop me a line below. Thanks for stopping by!

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Stefanie Taylor
Plant based eating is set to EXPLODE in 2019; not just for health reasons, but also to help keep our beautiful planet thriving. Having lived this healthful lifestyle for over 2 years, I can honestly say I feel pretty awesome for it and now feel the need to share the path to ultimate health with others.

That's why zestforever was born, to share my experiences, trials and errors, how I overcame them, and how to turn to this lifestyle in such a way that you will thrive too!

Good nutrition has helped me throughout my life, and in fact, got me through some pretty rough times. I have lived, breathed, studied, and tried and tested healthy foods, superfoods and diets for as long I can remember, but nothing has come close to giving me the health buzz that plant based eating has.

To expand my knowledge I have also studied and worked as a Sports Nutritional Advisor, and have also done courses in Nutritional Therapy and Clinical Weight Loss - all of which can tie in with the plant based diet. I am an avid exerciser and understand the plant based nutritional needs required for sports.

This website is not intended to treat or diagnose any medical diseases or illnesses. It's merely meant as a way of showing you how to boost your health through the eating of more nutritious plant foods in place of junk foods.

I am grateful for your support, and I hope that the tips and guides you find here will help to guide you on your own plant based journey.

18 thoughts on “How to Burn Fat and Build Muscle – Top Diet & Exercise Tips”

  1. Hi Stefanie,
    Thank you for the great information especially about the fat-burning foods. I did not know bananas speed up your metabolism and have eaten them sparingly because of the calories. I love avocados too and did not know they contain so many different vitamins and minerals. I love to exercise but the last two years I have had major problems with my elbows, do you know of any type of exercise that would strengthen elbows and help underarms?

    • Hi Dana,

      Yes it is great to know that all them scrummy foods on the list are actually proven fat burners. But I guess like with anything it’s all about moderation. Avocado is fantastic as I have eaten half a day for months and have lost about 7lbs weight along with eating a lot of the other fat burning foods. And I have done nothing else different.

      I am not a P.T. but know quite a lot about sport and would say to stop impact on joints and to tone your arms I would definitely try swimming as that targets that exact under arm area you are talking about.

  2. Hey! I really liked your suggestions for how to burn fat and build muscle. Your suggestions make it seem easy to incorporate some form of exercise into your day. I especially liked the hula hoop suggestion (believe it or not, I cannot hula hoop, but I bet that I could burn a lot of calories trying to learn).

    Are there any exercises that you have found particularly good for increasing energy??

    • Hi there,

      Yes hula hooping is great and definitely made a massive difference to my stomach after I had been doing it everyday for a about a month so I can’t recommend it enough! If you practice it you should be able to get the hang of it pretty quickly.

      As for  energy increasing exercises, I think personally I notice the most difference in my energy levels after a gym session or some kind of weight bearing exercise as it just seems to spark off the release of energy more than other more tiring long cardio exercises. BUT shorter bouts of intense cardio release energy, for example 10 mins of fast spinning on an exercise bike or running up and down the stairs. Also, going for a run on the beach always wakes me up as I think it has something to do with getting all that fresh pure oxygen into your lungs and body.  

  3. I agree that building muscle is the way to go. It’s not always easy for everyone to do – I think some bodies are just more predisposed to carry more muscle mass than others. However, whenever I go through periods of inactivity I can ALWAYS feel the atrophy and it’s just the worst feeling. thanks for all the great suggestions like hula hooping for fat burning!

    • Hi Penelope, Yes I agree that some of us have to work harder than others to do this as we are all made differently. Personally, my body works best with plant protein, hence why I eat mainly a plant based diet these days which is definitely helping me to get the body I want. Thanks for reading.

  4. Hey Stefanie,

    I enjoy reading this article of yours! I can see that you have shared some good ideas on different exercises for weight loss. I like using kettle bells. I do go to gym so they are convenient to use. Hula hooping seems to be a good idea too. I remember playing it all the time when I was a kid.

    Kien

    • Hi Kien, I am glad you enjoyed the article. I too love to do all these exercises as they are just so easy to do in the comfort of your own home, which is always a plus point for me. Yes I will check out your article and your ideas. Thanks

  5. I absolutely love this post, and I am a big believer in building muscle mass. I have been dealing with back problems for most of my adult life and I finally have an understanding of building a strong core to help with my back problems.

    The one thing I really took out of your article is plant-based protein. I have heard a lot about plant-based protein but have never really given it much thought. I always thought it was a fad that would pass. Well, it hasn’t gone away, so now I am thinking there is something to this. It just occurred to me when you talked about inflammation.

    Do you think that reducing my animal protein intake would help reduce inflammation which may be contributing to my back problems? Thanks for sharing this awesome article, I really got a lot out of it.

    • Hi Steve, wow, thanks for your great comments and I am so glad you found this information helpful. As you have back problems that means you will most definitely have inflammation (as you obviously already know) so a plant based diet, and more importantly plant proteins would be very beneficial to you to help keep your inflammation down. Please read my post about the plant based diet for more information

      Also, another great thing that may help with your inflammation would be turmeric which is one of the most powerful known antinflammatories. You should make this up yourself with all the other elements for absorption such as black pepper and fats.

      If you would like the recipe for this so you can try it for yourself then I have a whole post on it I have all my family on this awesome stuff nd they are all reaping amazing benefits.

  6. Hello Stefanie. Another very informative article. You are so right about your body gets used to your exercises and you need to change it up, my doctor had told me that same thing some years ago. From one of your previous articles I started adding more protein in my diet and it’s really helping. I do really need to get back to the working out after becoming an online affiliate marketer I spend hrs sitting at the computer and no exercise.
    At 50 years old I want to try to look and feel my best and your articles are helping me do so.
    Again thank you for another great article.
    David

    • Hi David, I’m really pleased you are getting such value from my articles. Yes, I know what you mean about affiliate marketing; it does have you sitting on your butt for most of the day lol. Probably the worst kind of job in that respect!

      The thing is, I make sure to fit my exercises in around doing this and it actually makes you MORE productive, trust me. A fit body not only boosts your physical endurance but your mental endurance too. You probably need to test this out for yourself to really see what I mean. I always say to everybody that I just wouldn’t be to do this job without being physically fit and healthy, I just wouldn’t have the mental stamina for it. Anyway, that’s food for though for you.

  7. You gave good advice. Not many personal trainers saying you NEED muscle mass to burn calories more efficiently. And I am glad you mentioned HIIT training because that is the most efficient way to lose fat, not cardio training!

    Also, counting calories from antioxidant-rich food may seem like overreacting, but they are also calories that count toward daily intake.

    As a fitness and weight loss instructor, I’m telling each person I’m giving advice basically exactly the same things you just wrote. And it makes me happy to see more fitness instructors are following a proper plan for weight loss! Keep up the good work!

    Dalibor

    • Hey there, I’m really happy you agree with my advice. It’s good for it to be reiterated by somebody else in the same field as some trainers I have met have literally had no idea about actual diet. I once had a PT tell me to go ahead and eat as much chocolate as I liked as I would be burning it off anyway. While you can obviously burn calories off through exercise, I still wouldn’t recommend somebody to just eat as much rubbish as they like for the fact that that rubbish still has to be assimilated by the body.

      Yes, every calorie counts! If I don’t watch what I eat (even from the healthiest of foods) then I gain weight; it’s a bit annoying, but it just forces me to be mindful.

      HITT and muscle building are definitely my go to fat burners out of all the exercises, but I do like to vary things up so I don’t get bored. I also think the body gets used to the same exercise regimes day in day out so a change can sometimes kick off the fat burning mode again.

  8. I totally agree that 2019 is gonna be the year for plant based eating! And once people start to feel the benefits of eating healthy food, they’re going to look for a workout to accompany it. And, I think you really covered a lot of information about why choosing a workout (and supplements) that helps burn fat and build muscle is so important. I look forward to reading your next article!

    • Hi Sienna, yes I have heard a lot of predictions of plant based eating and veganism really taking off and going mainstream this year, which is great news for me of course! It’s so important people understand the facts regarding this lifestyle as it needs to be gotten right if you want to stay healthy.

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