Gaining muscle or “bulking” is a common goal for many gym goers, particularly men (though there has recently been a huge increase in women who bulk). Images of men with huge muscles are all around us and the desire to push yourself to your limit is a strong one.
Okay so the first myth that we are going to look at, is only a myth for some people. When you first start training it is entirely possible to both build muscle and burn fat. You may also find that if you are very overweight then you can build muscle and burn fat, as the stored energy (adipose tissue) from your fat can be used to fuel your training.
But for most people, particularly ones who have been training for a few months or years, it is almost impossible to build muscle while following a calorific deficit diet. To build muscle you require enough protein to fuel muscle protein synthesis – the process where damaged muscle fibres are repaired and replaced after exercise. You also need an increase in energy consumed to create more tissue (called a calorie surplus).
So, if you are looking to build muscle then you can’t simultaneously train to lose weight unless, 1) You are a brand-new gym goer (untrained). 2) You are overweight. 3) You are on steroids. So, if you don’t fit any of those descriptions you should choose one or the other, trying to get both will leave you getting nowhere.
This myth is really irritating because it wilfully ignores science in favour of instinct. Anyone who tells you that running catabolises muscle is someone who has not done a single second of research. They usually show you a photo of a marathon runner as an example of someone who has lost muscle mass through running.
But this is a bad example, a marathon runner is someone who benefits from being as light as possible, set Mo Farah up against Ronnie Coleman over a distance of 26 miles and you’ll understand why. Studies have shown that in untrained people (most January gym goers) cardio alone can actually increase muscle mass. A 2014 study found that aerobic exercise increased skeletal muscle hypertrophy by altering protein metabolism .
This does not mean that you should immediately start running, if your goal is building muscle then running can slow down progress – just not in the way that people think. Cardio and weights together is called concurrent training, and for fat loss it is incredible. It will burn more calories than either activity can alone, it creates fat burning synergy.
But strength and hypertrophy training does not receive the same benefits. Cardio can tire you out, reduce the amount of training volume that you can fit into your session, and increase cortisol production. So, adding cardio to your session is a bad idea, but you can still run! Just do it on a different day. That’s how rugby players can run around a rugby pitch without losing all their gains. Lift weights three to four times per week and run on your off days (if you want to). Running will not ruin your gains, just don’t try and combine it with resistance training.
As we mentioned earlier, if you want to build muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus. This is where you are consuming more calories than you are burning. A lot of lifters take this as a free pass to eat whatever they want for 12 weeks. Technically you can do this, but it is ill-advised. You’ll end up with a lot of excess body fat as well as the bigger muscles. Treating bulking with respect will lead to more muscle and you’ll accumulate less body fat.
Find out your current calorie target  and just eat a small amount more than that, make sure that your protein intake is sufficient and then train harder. You’ll see amazing results in just 12 weeks. If you want to learn more about eating to gain muscle, check out our course.
 Konopka, A., Harber, M. 2014. Skeletal muscle hypertrophy after aerobic exercise. Exercise & Sports Science Reviews 42(2): 53-61
 MACKENZIE, B. (1997) Nutrition [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/nutrit.htm [Accessed 30/3/2020]