I’ve written and recorded a lot of evidence-based content over the years on just about everything you can imagine related to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy.
I’ve also worked with thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances and helped them get into the best shape of their lives.
That doesn’t mean you should blindly swallow everything I say, though, because let’s face it—nobody is always right about everything. And especially in fields like diet and exercise, which are constantly evolving thanks to the efforts of honest and hardworking researchers and thought leaders.
This is why I’m always happy to hear from people who disagree with me, especially when they have good arguments and evidence to back up their assertions.
Sometimes I can’t get on board with their positions, but sometimes I end up learning something, and either way, I always appreciate the discussion.
That gave me the idea for this series of podcast episodes: publicly addressing things people disagree with me on and sharing my perspective.
Think of it like a spicier version of a Q&A.
So, here’s what I’m doing:
Every couple of weeks, I’m asking my Instagram followers what they disagree with me on, and then picking a few of the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast.
And in this episode, I’ll be tackling the following . . .
4:30 – Even if something works on average for a population it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.
18:29 – You can’t get big legs squatting just once a week.
29:40 – Most people can’t gain 50/50 on a lean bulk. That may work for a beginner but not an intermediate.
Mentioned on The Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello and welcome to Muscle for Life. I’m your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. Now, I’ve written and recorded a lot of evidence-based stuff over the years on just about. Everything you can imagine relating to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy. I’ve also worked with thousands and thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances and helped them get into the best shape of their life.
But that does not mean you should just blindly swallow everything I say, because let’s face it, nobody. Always write about everything, and especially in fields like diet and exercise, which are always evolving thanks to the efforts of honest and hardworking researchers and thought leaders. And that’s why I’m always happy to hear from people who disagree with me, especially when they have good arguments and evidence to.
Their assertions. Sometimes I can’t quite get on board with their positions, but sometimes I end up learning something and either way, I always appreciate the discussion and that gave me the idea for this series of podcast episodes, which I call says You, where I publicly address things that people disagree with.
And I share my perspective. It’s kind of like a spicier q and A. So what I do is every couple of weeks I ask people who follow me on Instagram at Muscle Life Fitness, please follow me what they disagree with me on, and then I pick a few of the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast.
So if there’s something that you disagree with me on, and it could be related to diet, exercise. Supplementation business, lifestyle. I don’t care anything. Go follow me on Instagram at Muscle for Life Fitness and look for my saysyou story that I put up every couple of weeks where I solicit content for these episodes.
Or just shoot me an email, [email protected]. Alright, so here is what I’ll be tackling in today’s episode. The first comes from Sam underscore Rossman from Instagram, and he says, even if something works on average for a population, it doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone. And then I have, you can’t get big legs squatting just once per week from Eli Ja, J H A L L, also from Instagram.
And then I have, most people can’t. 50 50 on lean bulk, meaning they can’t gain about 50% of their weight from muscle and 50% of their weight from fat. This is from Killer dot Roman on Instagram, and he adds that. That may work for a beginner but not an intermediate. Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world, bigger, leaner, stronger.
Thinner, leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the Shredded Chef. Now, these books have sold well over 1 million copies and have helped thousands of people build their best body ever, and you can find them on all major online retailers like Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Cobo, and Google Play, as well as.
In Select Barnes and Noble stores. And I should also mention that you can get any of the audiobooks 100% free when you sign up for an Audible account. And this is a great way to make those pockets of downtime, like commuting, meal prepping, and cleaning more interesting, entertaining, and productive. And so if you want to take Audible up on this offer, and if you want to get one of my audiobooks for free, just go to www.buy Legion.
That’s b u y legion.com/audible. Sign up for your account. So again, if you appreciate my work and if you wanna see more of it, and if you wanna learn time proven and evidence-based strategies for losing fat, building muscle, and getting healthy, and strategies that work for anyone and everyone, regardless of age or circumstances, please do consider picking up one of my best selling books, bigger, leaner, stronger for Men, thinner, leaner, stronger for Women, and the Shredded Chef for my favorite fitness friendly recipe.
Okay, let’s start at the top with Sam Rothman’s position on what works for the average for a population. Doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone. And I actually don’t disagree here, so I’m not sure why he threw this one at me, why he gave this one to me, but I’m guessing I did say something or write something at some point that prompted it.
So let’s talk about it. I. That average just means typical. It’s a measure of the central tendency of a population. So to say that something works on average is not to say that it always works for everyone under any and all circumstances, but only that it works more often. The not that it works for most people under most circumstances.
So if you think of a bell curve, right, we’re talking about the big middle portion, anywhere from maybe 60 to 70% of the curve, the area under the curve that said, the larger. Middle portion of the curve doesn’t represent all of the area under the curve, doesn’t represent all of the people. So if we’re talking about response to a training program, for example, what we’d find is that most people respond similarly, but that’d be in the middle of the curve.
But some people respond really well. Some people respond much better than average. Those would be people out to the right as the curve tapers off, you know? Tail, and then we’d find that some people respond exceptionally poorly, they respond a lot worse than average, and those people would be on the left side of the curve as it goes down and as the tail flattens out.
So for example, when I say that the number one most important thing for natural weightlifters, To do if they want to get big, is to get really strong. When I say that, most people can build a great physique by just getting stronger on a few key lifts, by getting a strong squat, a strong dead lift, a strong bench press, an overhead press, and maybe you could throw in a barbell row or maybe a pull-up an additional pulling exercise on top of the deadlift.
That doesn’t mean that that’s gonna work great for everyone. It just means that. Most people, it’s gonna work pretty well. And then for a minority of people, it’s gonna work really well. Those people are gonna get jacked really quickly. But then there will be a minority of people who do not do so well with that advice, whose anatomy and proportions and biomechanics don’t lend themselves well to some of those exercises or maybe all of those exercises.
And in that case, those people would be better off finding alternatives, finding exercises that do work. With their body. And if you wanna learn more about that, if you wanna learn some simple and evidence-based criteria for knowing whether an exercise is working well for you or not, check out the last interview I did with Mike Isra, I s r A E t E l.
You can find it in the podcast feed of course, or you can go over to legion athletics.com and just search for is Relle and it’ll come up. Anyway, coming back to this exercises point, we have a non-negotiable. Principle here we have a non-negotiable aspect of fitness, which is that as a natural weightlifter, we do have to focus on getting stronger.
We have to focus on progressively overloading our muscles with more weight over time, adding weight to the bar over time, adding weight to the dumbbells Over time, if we want to continue getting bigger, that is the only reliable way to do it. As a natural weightlifter, we can’t just manipulate training variables like volume, frequency, intensity, and expect to continue gaining.
If the programming, whatever we’re doing, the combination of those different elements of programming doesn’t result in more weight on the bar or in the dumbbells over time doesn’t result in an increase in our whole body’s strength. Now, the exercises that we use, To accomplish that, that is completely negotiable.
Now, I recommend the exercises that I recommend. I recommend a lot of barbell exercises and dumbbell exercises, mostly free weight exercises, some machines, because both scientific research and anecdotal evidence, and there’s a lot of both now, shows that for most people, those exercises are the most effective way to accomplish the.
And so that’s why I built my bigger, leaner, stronger program, which is meant for people who are relatively new to proper weightlifting around those exercises beyond bigger leaners, stronger, which is meant for intermediates and advanced weightlifters expands on those exercises. There are exercises. That are in B L s, that are not in bls, but the foundation of BBL l s is essentially the same as BLS because again, most people are going to do best by focusing on their squats and their deadlifts and their bench presses and overhead presses, and working to get very strong on those exercises.
And then adding body building work, isolation exercises, accessory exercises, or secondary exercises, different terms for. In addition to that core of heavy strength training, this point of individual variation in response to, well, just about anything applies to dieting as well. For example, most people, the average person is gonna do well.
Let’s say with weight loss, right? They wanna lose weight. They’re gonna do well by just focusing on eating a high protein diet and using flexible dieting that allows ’em to control their calories and control their macros and still get a lot of nutritious foods and allow for some indulgences. And I’ve worked with tens of thousands of people over the years now and, uh, interacted with tens of thousands.
It’s probably over a couple hundred thousand now over the years, and I can say that most people do very well with that simple approach again, which is what is in my books, and it’s because I know that most people are gonna do well at that. But some people though prefer to use other strategies. Some people do better.
Better results with an intermittent fasting diet because they’re not hungry in the morning, for example, and they like to skip breakfast so they can eat fewer larger meals. Some people find that that enhances their dietary compliance. They just enjoy it more, and so they get better results. Some people do better with low carb dieting or even very low carb dieting like keto.
It’s rare, but , it’s out there. Some people do better. Than the standard protocol that I share in bigger, leaner, stronger, for example, with calorie cycling, which is something I talk about and beyond. Bigger, leaner, stronger, and something that you don’t have to do but is worth trying at some point. If you have had success with flexible dieting and want to see if you can tweak it even further to better suit your needs, or if you have not had success with the basic.
Method that I share in bigger than or stronger, for example, which is just working out your average daily energy expenditure and then working out how many calories you should be eating on average every day based on that, and then breaking that down into a pretty balanced diet. You know, 40% or so of those calories coming from protein, about the same from carbs in the remaining 20 or 30% from fat.
If that approach just hasn’t worked well. Maybe, for example, you are very active on some days and then not nearly as active on other days. Or maybe on some days you are far more hungry than you are on other days. That can be tied to activity levels. Then calorie cycling may work better for you. You may get better results with it because it allows you to tailor your caloric intake more specifically to your activity levels on a day-to-day basis than the.
More simple protocol that I share in bigger, lean or stronger. And so anyway, I could go on and on. We could talk about supplementation. Take something like creatine, for example, which is the most researched molecule in all of sports nutrition, which has a lot of evidence for efficacy, but which doesn’t work.
For everyone. Some people are just non-responders. Some people don’t notice any difference in strength or recovery or muscle gain with creatine, and in some people, although it may be benefiting their performance and their physique, they can’t do it because it upsets their stomach no matter what form they try, or it makes them nauseous.
My wife gets nauseous from creatine regardless of the form. She just can’t have creatine and so. Key takeaway here, something to think with that applies to fitness and really any other activity, any other arena that you are involved in is when you want to accomplish something, it makes sense to first assume that you are going to be in the middle of the bell curve, that you are going to be like most people, and therefore what has worked well.
For most people will probably also work well for you. So all you have to do is find out what most people did to accomplish the goal that you want to accomplish, and then try those things and see how they work for you. Now, what you wouldn’t want to do is to assume without good evidence that you aren’t.
Outlier that you are not in the middle of the curve, that you are on the far right end or the far left end of the curve. So if we’re talking about training, you wouldn’t want to assume that you are going to respond exceptionally well to training and therefore you don’t need to bother with the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press, you can just do a bunch of isolation exercises and do a bunch of volume, which you may see people doing who are big and who are strong.
Who are very high responders to training. And on the flip side, you wouldn’t want to assume without good evidence that you’re not going to respond well to your training, and that you should start with a diet and training program that’s meant for a quote unquote hard gainer, for example. Now, if you were to follow my advice and start with the things that are working well for most people, which are always just gonna be the fundamentals, they’re gonna be simple actions that.
Relatively easy to understand and relatively straightforward to do. If you find that some or many of those things are not working for you, then you want to have a process in place to figure out why, and you want to see what you need to change to get the results that you want. So to give another fitness example, it’s no secret that I think that the deadlift is probably the best single exercise you can do.
If I could do just one exercise, For the rest of my life, that’s all I can do in my workouts. One exercise, it would be the deadlift. Most people are going to do really well with that exercise. It’s gonna help them build a lot of whole body strength and a lot of whole body size, and just with the plain old conventional deadlift.
Simple. Grab the bar, pick it up, , put it down, done. Some people though don’t do well with the exercise, particularly the conventional deadlifts. Some people find it very uncomfortable, some people find it painful or they just don’t like it. Now, many people, and I know this, just having spoken with so many people over the years, they’ll run into problems.
Let’s say the conventional deadlift, and they will correctly observe that it doesn’t seem to be working well for them. They can’t get into a groove with it and do well with it and make progress with it like most people, and so they’ll just abandon it instead of finding a variation. For example, that can work for them.
And the two best variations to try if the conventional deadlift isn’t working well for you are the sumo deadlift and the hex bar or the trap bar deadlift. I promise you that if the conventional deadlift is uncomfortable or painful or doesn’t feel right and it’s not a mobility problem, for example, then one of those two variations will work for you.
You will be able to comfortably do one. The other or both, and be able to then reap the benefits of regular deadlifting, but in bigger lean or stronger. For example, I have the conventional deadlift as the focus there because I know that that exercise works well for most people and I don’t want to add.
Too many moving parts to the program because I don’t know if you remember when you were new to all of this. There is a lot of information to take in in the beginning, and the more things you have to think with, the more daunting it all becomes. The more conditional, well if this then that, but if that, then this components in the program, in the diet, in the training, the more likely somebody is.
Fail. So to wrap up here, it is true that things that work for most people may not work for you, but you should always assume coming into something that what is working for most people will also work for you. And just keep that in mind. In my work, I’m trying to share. Reasonable, well thought out advice that will give really good results.
More often than not, it’ll give really good results for most people under most circumstances, and then also give people the know-how that’s required to make reasonable and sensible amendments to advice and to programs and tips in case it doesn’t work as well for them as most people.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world. Bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the shredded.
All right. Let’s move on to the next one, which is you can’t get big legs squatting just once per week. From Eli Joel j Hall, j h a l l, from Instagram. And before talking about specific exercises, let’s quickly just talk about how much volume is needed to get big legs. So if you’re. To weightlifting, to proper weightlifting.
If you’re a guy who has yet to gain his first 20 pounds of muscle or so, or if you’re a woman who has yet to gain her first 10 pounds of muscle or so, research shows that you don’t need to do more than maybe nine to 12 hard sets. Per major muscle group per week, and that would apply to your legs as much as any other muscle group.
Research shows that that amount of volume is going to elicit more or less a maximum response in terms of muscle gain. You can do more, but you’re not gonna gain. More muscle, at least not any more to speak of. You are going to spend more time in the gym. You are going to burn more calories, but you are not going to gain more muscle and probably won’t gain more strength either, unless maybe doing more volume means that you are doing certain exercises more.
So maybe you are now squatting. Twice a week or maybe even three times per week, and therefore you are going to get better at squatting faster, which will result in faster strength gain than squatting just one time per week. For example, if squatting once per week is a slower process of getting good at the exercise.
That said, keep in mind. That within a couple of months, three or four months of squatting, even just once per week, you’re going to acquire most of the skill in the exercise that you will ever have unless you are going to become a very competitive strength athlete. But if you’re just a lifestyle bodybuilder or kind of an everyday gym goer, you are not going to be all that much better at the exercise at year three or five than.
Month six. And that’s because of the squat just isn’t very athletically challenging. It is not a very difficult movement. It’s something we’ve been doing for a long time. And yeah, loading it with weight of course adds a new element of difficulty, but it only takes a couple of months, again, for most of us to not master it, but to get pretty good at it.
And the same thing goes. The deadlift even more. So that’s an even easier exercise to learn as well as the bench press and overhead press, not difficult exercises to learn. And so anyway, coming back to this weekly volume target for maximizing muscle gain in the beginning, you don’t have to work. All that hard in the scheme of things, right?
Nine to 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week, and so let’s talk about the legs in particular. Research also shows that you can do up to about 10 hard sets for an individual muscle group in an individual training session before you reach the point of diminishing returns before further volume doesn’t stimulate muscle growth nearly as effect.
So it’s the first nine or 10 sets or so of your workout that are most conducive to muscle gain. And as you go beyond that threshold, the amount of additional muscle gain stimulated by that training session falls off a cliff. And by the way, these numbers are for natural weightlifters. If you’re on drugs, things change, but I’m assuming you’re not on drugs.
And so when we overlay those two pieces of information on each other, what do we learn? We learn that we could do if we were. To proper training. We could do just one quote unquote leg session, one leg workout per week, and do very well. And we also could do one chest workout, one back workout, one arms workout.
We could follow a body part split in the beginning and do quite well, and that is true. I think there are slightly better ways of programming novices, but a body part split can work well so long as it has them squatting and deadlifting and bench pressing and overhead pressing and progressively overloading their muscles.
Now, the argument that I’m addressing here is that you can’t get big legs squatting just once per week. Now, there’s a subjective element to this. What are big legs? But if we’re talking your average guy in the gym banging weights, what would he consider big legs? I would say that by his standard you can get pretty big legs just doing nine to 12 hard sets per Major MU group per week, especially if you are a higher than average responder.
For example, I’ve seen quite a few guys over the years use Bigger, leaners Stronger, which again provides about 12 hard sets for your legs cuz you’re doing nine hard sets of direct leg training. As well as three hard sets on the deadlift, which also very much involves the lower body. So I’ve seen guys get pretty big just with bigger leaners, stronger with no additional volume.
I’ve seen guys gain upward of probably about 30 pounds of total muscle with bigger leaners, stronger, and of course a lot of that was in their legs. That said, there are also many guys over the years who have been very happy with their BLS results, their whole body results, including their legs, but who wanted more?
Who wanted more muscle everywhere, including their legs? And for them, the primary change they need to make to continue gaining more muscle, and let’s just focus on the legs here, to keep getting bigger legs, is they have to do more volume. That’s the big change. That’s the biggest change. They need to go from nine to 12 hard sets per week for their legs to probably 15 to 16 hard sets per week to continue getting bigger and stronger.
And that’s why, for example, in beyond bigger, leaner, stronger, you do 16 hard sets for your legs every. Well, actually you do more because I’ve been thinking with just quads and hamstrings. I’ve been excluding calves in my numbers here. So for example, in BLS you also do some calf work in addition to the nine to 12 hard sets for your upper legs.
And in b l s you do some additional calf work as well, but you get the point and big calves are like totally 2000 anyway. This is 2021. And if you are still training calves, you might just be a racist. Let that sink in, sweetie. Anyway, when the amount of weekly volume that you need to do for, let’s say your legs, to continue getting bigger, goes from that nine to 12 to let’s say 14 to 16 hard sets per week.
You now want to do at least. Two lower body sessions per week. You don’t want to do all 14, 15, or 16 hard sets in one workout because as I explained earlier, that is going to be less effective than doing two workouts where you do, let’s say eight to 12 hard sets in one session, and then the remaining hard sets that you need to do in the next session.
That doesn’t mean that you have to squat more than once per week. In beyond bigger lean or stronger. For example, you are squatting once per week and you are doing 12 hard sets for your lower body. In that squat workout, you’re starting with squats and then moving on to some other exercises, and you are doing four hard sets of deadlifts on another day for a total of 16 hard sets.
For your upper legs in particular, of course, that’s also volume for your calves indirectly and at least in the case of deadlifting and squatting. And you are also doing some additional calf work, as I mentioned earlier. And with that set up, you can get big legs by anyone’s standards and you can gain more or less all of the muscle and most of the strength that is available to you genetically, that you are capable of gaining.
In your lifetime with that program, with that setup, just squatting once per week. Now if you want to see how strong you can possibly get on the squat, then it makes sense to squat more than once per week with beyond bier stronger. For example, my best squat ever was 365 for, I got two or three a, one RM of high 300 s, low 400 s, and that’s pretty.
By anyone’s standards for a natural weight lifter. For example, if you can hit the 3 45 benchmark, three plates on the bench, this would be for guys, by the way, three plates on the bench, 3 15, 1 rm, four plates on the squat, 4 0 5, 1 rm, and five plates on the deadlift. 4 95 1 rm. You’ve done very. Well, that is going to be the ceiling of strength for most guys who get into natural weightlifting.
They’re not going to be able to exceed those numbers by much, if at all. There are some people, the high responders, who certainly can, but most guys are going to. Top out around 3, 4, 5. And similarly, most guys are gonna top out around 40 to 45 pounds of total muscle gain. Like that is all the muscle they can gain regardless of what they do.
And for women, the equivalence are less clear because there’s less research on women and especially female strength. But I think it is fair to say that most women should be able to reach the high 100 s onem on the bench, maybe low 200 s, and then mid 200 s to maybe higher 200 s onem on the squat and the deadlift.
And then as far as muscle gain goes, your average woman should be able to gain about 25 pounds or so of muscle in her lifetime. Many women don’t want to gain that much though many women I’ve worked with over the years have gained about 15 pounds in the right places on their body and then gotten their body fat percentage to a round 20%, and then been very happy.
With what they see in the mirror, and then have wanted to just maintain that look soon away. Coming back to squat strength, while you can get strong on the squat squatting just once per week. I mean, look at Jim Winkler’s 5 31 program, for example. Squat is once per week. A lot of people get really strong in it, but if you want to reach elite level, Strength on the squat, you are going to benefit from squatting more often, and that’s why very popular strength programs like Starting Strength and Strong Lifts and the Texas Method and most other high level power lifting programs have you squatting multiple times per week.
Keep in mind though, those programs are not designed to give you. Legs, though they are geared toward making you as strong as you possibly can get on a few key exercises, including the squat, and of course you get big legs along the way. That’s a byproduct. But those are not hypertrophy programs. Those are programs that are made to get you very strong.
To allow you to load a lot of weight on the bar. Okay, I think I have belabored that point enough. . Let’s move on to the next one, which comes from Killer dot Roman from Instagram, and he says most people can’t gain 50 50 on a lean bulk. So he is talking about 50% of the weight from muscle and then 50% from fat.
He says that that may work for a beginner but not an intermediate weightlifter. So let’s start with some context here In the first. Of good weightlifting, and I mentioned this earlier on the podcast, but in case you skipped forward to this point, I’m gonna say it again. Most men can gain around 20 pounds of muscle.
Some are gonna be 15, some may be 25, but 20 is going to be the average and that’s gonna. Likely happen whether they consciously lean bulk or not. If they’re in a deficit, for example, they will gain muscle and fat at the same time. The muscle gain will be a bit slower than if they were not in a deficit.
But in my experience, many guys getting into this, they may start with a cut, but it usually doesn’t last for more than a few months. And then they transition to maintenance or a lean bulk, and the first couple of months in a deficit are not going to impair the first year’s muscle growth very much.
However, if somebody were in a deficit for six months, eight months, maybe their entire first year, because they have a lot of weight to lose, that is going to impair. Muscle gain to some degree, they’re still gonna gain a fair amount of muscle and they’re gonna lose a lot of fat and they’re gonna be super happy.
But they would’ve gained more muscle if they didn’t have to be in a deficit for most of the year or all of the year. So that can impact the total muscle gain. Something to keep in mind that is separate from how well they respond to training. Sometimes you can have a high respond. Who has to be in a deficit for his first year, let’s say, because he has a lot of fat to lose, and he may then only gain 15 pounds of muscle and think he’s a low responder when actually he’s not.
But anyway, after that first year, it gets a lot harder. To continue gaining muscle. For example, your average guy can gain about half of the amount of muscle that he gained in his first year. In his second year. So for most people it’s 10 or 15 pounds for most guys. And by the way, for women listening, you can just cut these numbers in half.
Most women can gain 10 to 15 pounds of muscle in their first year, and then maybe five to eight pounds, maybe 10 pounds in their second. And so forth. Now, another key difference between being a novice your first year and being an intermediate and beyond year two and beyond weightlifter is recomp.
Gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time becomes less and less viable. You can do it very well in the first year. You can maybe do it a little bit in the second year, and by the end of the second year, can’t recomp effectively anymore. If you. To continue gaining muscle, you have to make sure that you are consistently in a calorie surplus.
You have to make sure that you are consistently eating more calories than you’re burning, because if you are not, if you are consistently eating fewer calories than you’re burning, even if it’s slightly. Fewer your body’s muscle building machinery, so to speak, just isn’t able to make the cut. It needs an excessive energy when you are an intermediate and beyond weightlifter to be able to repair muscle tissue effectively enough and create new muscle tissue effectively enough.
To move the needle, and specifically what I recommend is eating about 110% of your average T D E E, your total daily energy expenditure. So for example, if you burn on average, make it real simple, 2000 calories per day, you want to eat on average, about 2,200 calories per day. And that simple approach works well for most people.
If activity levels are really high on some days, because let’s say your job involves physical activity or you do endurance training in addition to your weightlifting, and maybe you’re like going on a long bike ride one day and then you’re doing maybe just a weightlifting workout on the next day, or maybe the next day is no training whatsoever, that’s a rest day.
It can be helpful to get a bit more specific with your calorie intake on a day-to-day basis. So you may eat 3000 calories on that very active day and then eat only 2000 calories on the following day when you are not very active. Maybe you just go for a walk or something like that, but most people don’t need to get that granular.
Most people can just calculate their average daily energy expenditure and then exceed that by about 10% and do that every day regardless of the variations in their activity levels because they are not large enough to cause problem. And they can do quite well with that approach. Now, for most intermediate weightlifters that approach, that 110% of T D E E approach with a good amount of, let’s say three to maybe six hours of high quality resistance training each week, and maybe a little bit of additional cardio, maybe not, will result in most people in a ratio of muscle def facting of about one to.
Will result in about as much muscle gain as fat gain while lean bulking. Now some people are high responders and some people are able to gain more muscle than fat with fat approach. Some people are less than, average responders are lower or low responders and they tend to gain a bit more fat than muscle.
But most people are going to gain just about as much fat and muscle when they’re lean bulking, and that’s not based on any research that I know of, but most leading experts, most thought leaders in the fitness, in the evidence-based fitness space would agree. That’s generally how it works, and I’ve seen it in many people over the years.
And where it changes though is when you get close to your genetic potential. Total muscularity when you’ve gained, let’s say 80% or more of all of the muscle that is genetically available to you, at which point further muscle gain becomes very slow. I’m talking like maybe a pound per year. So when that’s the case, eating in a healthy, in a significant but not reckless, not egregious calorie surplus, like 110% of your tde E.
For that person, for that advanced weightlifter who’s trying to get as big as they possibly can, they’re almost certainly going to end up gaining more fat than muscle when they’re lean bulking, simply because the muscle gain is so damn slow. And so that person has two options. They can. Do it anyway and just accept that that’s reality.
And if they’ve gotten that far, they know how to cut properly. They know how to lose fat and not muscle, and they know how to get the most out of their lean bulking phases. They know how to make sure that they last long enough. For example, they know that you don’t want to lean bulk for just two or three months.
You want to lean bulk for 4, 5, 6 plus months out of each year. If you are an advanced weightlifter, trying to gain the last little bits of muscle that you can, because a couple of months is not long enough. You wanna spend as much of the year in a calorie surplus as you possibly can. And then of course, eventually you have to cut because you.
Too fat and you can continue gaining muscle when you are fat. If you’re a guy, like over 20% potty fat, for example. But the downside is that’s probably not the look that you want. You probably are going to need to diet back to about 10% body fat at some point to have abs and vascularity and what you wanna see in the mirror.
And when you get too far beyond about 15% body fat, it becomes quite a grind. It becomes a slog. It can. A lot of time can take a long cutting phase that you have to take several diet breaks in just to go from the 20 plus percent back down to where you want to be. And for women, the equivalent numbers would be anything beyond 30% body fat becomes, hmm.
Inadvisable, I recommend that women end their lean bulking phases somewhere between maybe 25 and 27% body fat. Now, another option that you have, if I’m speaking to you, if you are the advanced weightlifter who is really trying to see what you can do with your physique and gain every last ounce of muscle.
Can is you can shrink the surplus a little bit. You can go from a 110% surplus to a 105% surplus. So eating 105% of your average total daily energy expenditure instead of 110%, and research shows that that may be better for advanced weightlifters. That may help them. Gain less fat and just as much muscle when lean bulking as with a 110% surplus.
But there is a downside in that. Now we’re talking about a pretty small surplus. There is not a big margin for error here. So for example, simple math, you are burning 2000 calories per day. So now you’re aiming to eat 2,100 calories per day. And if you miss that by, let’s say 30 calories, so you eat. 2070 calories for the day, and you just happen to move a bit more that day.
So your energy expenditure is bumped up a bit. So let’s say you burn 2100 calories that day. Well, now you’re actually in a slight deficit, and that’s not enough to notice anything. Even if you do that consistently, right, you’re not gonna notice anything in the mirror or on the scale. It’s just too small of a deficit.
I mean, a pound of fat contains about 3,500 calories, but unfortunately, that small deficit. Is enough to impair muscle growth when we compare it to being in the slight surplus. And so you gotta watch out if you’re gonna do that. You have to really make sure that you are accurately estimating your daily calorie expenditure.
And if it is fluctuating a lot day to day, you probably are going to want to cycle your calories, and then you also need to make sure that you. A handle on how many calories you’re eating. You don’t necessarily have to weigh and measure everything, but you probably are going to have to eat more or less the same meals every day in the same portions if you don’t want to have to weigh and measure everything because again, you don’t have much wiggle room.
Now, in case you’re wondering which of those two options I recommend, or which of those two, I personally. I when lean bulk, you know, I haven’t lean bulked in a while because I haven’t wanted to, but I always have chosen the slightly larger surplus because in my experience it doesn’t make that big of a difference in terms of fat gain.
And it does make a difference though in terms of just. Ensuring that I’m in at least a slight surplus. So it allows me to go from, let’s say, an average, and of course this is not my number, but just to keep the math simple, it would allow me to go from 2000 calories burned to 2,100 calories burned, or even 2,150 calories burned and still maintain a slight surplus.
So when I’m lean bulking, I. Air on the side of not moving too much and eating maybe a little bit more than I need to because I’m there to primarily get bigger and get stronger. Not to try to maintain leanness. Of course, I wanna stay lean for as long as I can, but I also expect to be gaining fat. That is a good.
So that’s what I like to do. Alright, well that’s it for my answer to that one, and that’s it for this episode. Thanks as always for joining me today. I hope you found this helpful and definitely tune in next week to hear 30 of the best sources of. Plant protein for building muscle. That’s a monologue that is coming on Monday.
And then on Wednesday I have an interview with Jordan Sciat on the good, bad, and Ugly of body positivity. And then Thursday I have another installment of Best of Muscle for Life Coming where you’re gonna hear highlights from some of the most popular episodes I have recorded over the years. And then Friday there’s gonna be another q and a episode where I’m gonna be talking about lying versus seat.
Hamstring curling, which is better. Weight loss medications and isometric training. All right. Well, that’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, please do leave a quick review on iTunes or. Wherever you’re listening to me from in whichever app you’re listening to me in, because that not only convinces people that they should check out the show, it also increases search visibility and thus it helps more people find their way to me and learn how to get fitter, leaner, stronger.
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That is the best way to get ahold of me, Mike, at muscle life.com. And that’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.