Tone Up but Not Bulk Up

We all want to Blast that fat!; Define those muscles!; and Tone up those trouble spots! In actuality, we desire to gain muscle mass and lose body fat. These two entities – muscle and fat – must work in an indirect correlation to each other to give you that body you crave; meaning, you must gain muscle to lose body fat. Shocked? Well, I guarantee you will have a tight, cut and healthy shape without appearing bulky as you enhance your muscle size and diminish those fat stores.

Hit the weights. Muscle tissue only grows if a perceived resistance is forced upon it; namely, dumbbells, machines, balls, bands, own body weight, etc. When you add muscle tissue to the entire body, you burn more calories than fat even at rest. According to Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, Chief Science Officer of the American Council on Exercise, adding one pound of muscle will burn seven to 10 calories per day compared to fat’s measly two to three. By adding only three pounds of muscle, which will take you approximately  six weeks, you will burn an extra 27-30 calories per day. Imagine losing inches while you sleep, work at an office or sit on the couch watching tv. No marathon cardio sessions are necessary. In addition, one pound of muscle appears smaller than one pound of fat. So even though the scale may reflect an initial increase in weight based on added muscle mass, your clothes will fit better, and you will appear as if you have lost weight.

Do cardio the right way. As a beginner, going for a walk or peddling on the elliptical will provide benefits. But soon the dreaded plateau hits. Your body no longer responds to the same stimulus over and over again. You need to ramp up your intensity but here’s the catch: You must also not overtrain your body to prevent muscle loss. That’s why HIIT cardio is so effective. The premise of this type of cardio is to challenge your calorie burn but alternate with a rest phase immediately afterward to let the body recover. Example: sprinting for 45 seconds followed by slow jogging or walking for 15 seconds and repeating this sequence 10 times. Your body will utilize more oxygen, therefore, creating a higher calorie deficit in less time than low-intensity, long duration cardio. An Australian study reported that a group of females who followed a 20-minute HIIT program consisting of eight-second sprints followed by 12 seconds of rest lost six times more bodyfat than a group that followed a 40-minute cardio program performed at a constant intensity of 60% of maximum heart rate.

Eat clean. 80% of muscle gains and fat losses are due to proper nutrition. Our muscles need sufficient food to survive. Unfortunately, fat can remain on us even if we stop eating altogether. This is because our precious organs and bones need to be protected with a layer of fat. So our bodies use our muscles as energy before moving to our fat stores. Here is how we can play a little trick on ourselves to lose fat but sustain our muscle. We must provide our bodies will enough calories to maintain our calorie-burning muscle mass but increase our cardio and resistance-training to help burn fat calories and continue to develop our coveted “tone.” We become, in a sense, calorie-burning furnaces, that have enough nutrients and energy to promote more lean muscle and less body fat. Now, more calories does not mean a pint of ice cream every night. A study reported in the Journal of Nutrition showed that a high-protein diet combined with exercise enhanced weight and fat loss and improved blood fat levels. Researchers suggest that higher-protein diets help people better control their appetites and calorie intake. A proper macronutrient combination that works well for most people is high protein, moderate carbohydrates and low fat. However, your own nutrition profile ultimately depends on your goals, metabolism, body type and medical health.


  1. Ok I have a question. When you first start to diet and exercise is it normal to build muscle on top on fat? Is that even possible? If so how can you get rid of the fat layer and keep from looking bulky? I’m very short and tend to have thick calves and thighs I really want to look slim and toned and have been doing cardio weight exercises for about a month now but I still look thick and bulky; what am I doing wrong?


    1. Hi Mel,

      Great question! I know how frustrating it can be when you are changing your exercise and eating habits and don’t see the results you are looking for right away. When you weight-train, you will build muscle BUT this will: speed up your metabolism so you burn more calories and fat all day; your muscle may weigh the same as fat but it appears smaller; and you will cultivate the slim shape you want. So keep challenging yourself with those weights. Changing our bodies takes months of consistent effort so hang in there! Here are some suggestions and questions to consider to help speed up the process:

      1. Are you eating balanced meals every 2-3 hours and watching your excess sugar and sodium?
      2. Are you drinking enough water? Around a gallon per day?
      3. Could you up your cardio an extra 15-20 min per session?
      4. Are you upping your reps at times on your lower body exercises to around 15-20 and lowering your weight slightly to challenge your muscles differently?

      Let me know how this goes!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: