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Is “maingaining” or “gaintaining” better than lean bulking?

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 the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast.

And in this episode, I’ll be tackling the following . . .

  • “You should “maingain” instead of lean bulk.” 


0:00 – Want a free meal planning tool that figures out your calories, macros, and micros, and allows you to create custom meal plans for cutting, lean gaining, and maintaining in under 5 minutes? Go to and download the tool for free! 

3:09 – What is maingaining?

5:43 – Is maingaining better than lean bulking?

12:53 – How do you get the most out of maingaining?

14:40 – Who is maingaining for? 

Mentioned on the Show:

Want a free meal planning tool that figures out your calories, macros, and micros, and allows you to create custom meal plans for cutting, lean gaining, and maintaining in under 5 minutes? Go to and download the tool for free! 

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Hey there, and welcome to Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for another installment of my Says You series where I ask people on Instagram to share things they disagree with me on, and then I pick ones that are. Interesting to me or that I think will just make for good content and I address them here on the podcast.

And if you want to disagree with me on something, you can follow me over on Instagram at most for Life Fitness. And once a month or so, I will post in my feed. A says you post and ask for people to just share grist for my Says Youmill in the comments. And you can also email me if you would prefer to do that, mike muscle

And I don’t take any of these contentions personally. I am asking for people to tell me where they think I’m wrong, and in some cases I disagree. Uh, in some cases I halfway agree, and in some cases I actually agree with their position. Sometimes they’re referring to something that I’ve changed my position on, like reverse dieting, for example.

There was a time when I thought it made sense for most people under most circumstances to reverse diet out of a cut. Now, I don’t think it’s necessary. I think you can just go from cutting straight to your new maintenance calories without any. Negative effects like unwanted fat gain, for example. And so today’s episode is going to be about main gaining that you should main gain instead of lean bulk.

Before we get to it, how would you like a free meal planning tool that figures out your calories, your macros, even your micros, and then allows you to create 100% custom meal plans for cutting, lean, gaining, or maintaining? In under five minutes. Well, all you gotta do is go to buy plan b u y plan and download the tool.

And if I may say, this tool really is fantastic. My team and I spent over six months on this thing working with an Excel wizard, and inferior versions of this are often sold for 50, 60, even a hundred dollars. Or you have to download an app and pay every month or sign up for a weight loss service and pay every month, 10, 20, 40, 50, even $60 a month for what is essentially in this free tool.

So if you are struggling to improve your body composition, if you are struggling to lose fat or gain muscle, the right meal plan can change. Everything dieting can go from feeling like running in the sand in a sandstorm to riding a bike on a breezy day down a hill. So again, if you want my free meal planning tool, go to buy plan b y plan.

Enter your email address and you will get instant access. Okay, so what is main gaining or also referred to as gain maintaining? Well, it’s the idea that you can eat at maintenance and make slow, steady muscle gains while not putting on much or any body fat and proponents of main gaining prefer it over lean bulking because they say there’s less fat gain.

But the same muscle gain, and there are a couple of different ways of going about it. You can be very particular with your intake. You can track or you can weigh to make sure that your calories are where you want them to be, right around your total daily energy expenditure. Or you can take the more lax approach and just eat intuitively, so to speak.

Eat when you’re hungry and eat until you are satisfied, not even necessarily until you feel you are full, just until you feel satisfied. And of course, eating the same types of foods that you would eat if you were following a stricter meal plan. There’s gonna be a lot of lean protein in there. There’s going to be, hopefully, a good amount of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and relatively unprocessed foods.

And the idea is if you eat a lot of the good stuff, you can just listen to your body, so to speak, just listen to your appetite, and that will naturally. Keep your calories at maintenance, and I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but I will say the latter approach only works well. I’ve only seen it work well in people who have a lot of experience weighing and tracking, and who tend to eat the same foods.

Every meal every day. And so then it’s very easy for them to control their portions because their portions haven’t changed much probably in some time. But that approach usually does not work well if somebody wants to work in a lot of variety, if they want to be changing the foods they eat. Fairly often if they want to be introducing new foods that they have not weighed or tracked before or in a long time.

What usually happens is calories tend to come in high, not low, and of course then. You are not maintaining or maintaining or maintaining if you are consistently in a calorie surplus because you’re accidentally eating too much. In that case, you’re just lean bulking. But anyway, for the purpose of this podcast, let’s just assume that you have a way to figure out what your maintenance calories are and eat right around that target fairly consistently.

Is that better than lean bulking? The simple answer is no, it’s not main gaining, maintaining it is inferior to lean, gaining, or lean bulking if you want to optimize for muscle growth, if you want to maximize muscle building. And the reason for that is progress slows down a lot when you’re eating at maintenance calories versus lean bulking calories, particularly if you are an experienced weightlifter.

If you are brand new. Then your body is going to be hyper responsive and you can do great in a calorie deficit. So of course you can also do great at maintenance calories or lean bulking calories. But after your first year or so, when the honeymoon phase is over, progress slows down. After a couple of years, it really slows down.

And then the only way to make considerable progress in, let’s say three to six month blocks of time. Is lean bulking now, if you’re okay with making very slow progress, and if you’re okay with expanding your time horizon, so to speak, to maybe. 10, 12, 14, 16 months and looking at your progress over that period, then maintaining.

Maintaining, maintaining might be for you, but if you are still in the physique building phase, if you are still wanting to gain significant amounts of muscle, Or gain significant amounts of strength. Then you want to alternate between phases of lean, bulking and cutting. Now of course, you can insert maintenance phases at various points if you just want to, if you want to finish a lean bulk, for example.

And then you’re going into the holiday season and you don’t really want to cut, so you’re just going to eat maintenance calories and wait for all of the gluttony to end and then cut. That could be a reason to insert a maintenance phase. Or let’s say you just finished a cutting phase and you are liking what you see in the mirror, and you want to keep that for a bit before you get fluffy again, before you lean bulk.

Then of course you can maintain for 1, 2, 3 months, whatever you want. Many people, they will maintain throughout the summer. They’ll pick the few months out of the year where they want to go to the beach and they wanna show some skin and look good to maintain, and then they will lean bulk throughout the fall and winter, and then cut in the spring.

That is a rhythm that many people enjoy, for example. But what you need to know is the sales pitch for main gaining versus lean bulking only applies to people who are relatively new. It does not apply to men, for example, who have already gained their first 25 pounds or so of muscle, or women who have already gained their first 10 or 15 pounds of muscle.

For those people, the difference. In progress, in muscle gain, in strength gain between maintenance and lean bulking is striking. And if you don’t believe me, if you are an experienced weightlifter who has not done a lean bulking phase because you haven’t wanted to gain body fat, for example, I would recommend that you try it, especially if you tend to stay.

Lean, you are going to be surprised at how much more energy you have in your workouts, at how much faster you’re able to add weight to the bar and to the dumbbells and to the machines, and how much better you recover. It’s going to feel like you have found an extra gear or two or three in the gear box, and the primary reason that Lean bulking works so much better than main gaining for experienced weightlifters is.

No matter how accurately you calculate your total daily energy expenditure, and no matter how meticulously you plan out your food intake and weigh everything and track everything, you are never going to perfectly match calories in. And calories out there is always going to be a discrepancy. Some days your calories in are going to be a little bit higher than calories out, so a very slight surplus.

Sometimes it’s going to be a little bit lower, sometimes it’s going to be a lot higher, and by a lot, I mean a hundred plus calories higher. Again, even if you are very conscientious with how you eat, it’s going to happen over the course of 4, 6, 8 months that you eat. A bit more than you burned. Maybe your eating didn’t even change.

Maybe you just burned fewer calories that day and you didn’t realize it, and bring your intake down accordingly. And so now, let’s say you overate by a hundred, 150, 200 calories, and then some days you’re going to undereat by a hundred, 150, 200 calories, and. What I’ve found with many fitness folk, especially more experienced people and people who are pretty lean and they like to stay pretty lean and who are drawn to main gaining because of that, because they don’t want to put on a lot of body fat.

They tend to undereat more often than they overeat, and I understand because that habit helps keep you lean. If you’re not concerned so much with muscle building or strength gaining, you really just want to stay lean, maintain your muscle, have good workouts, then you do want to tend to. Undereat not overeat.

Because if you have the opposite habit, if you tend to overeat more than undereat, than your body fat levels do, they just creep upward over time. You just notice as the months go by that you have a little bit less definition. And a little bit less vascularity, and then you have to cut to get back to where you want to be.

And so then what happens to many people when they try to main gain is because they want to stay lean just as much, if not more. So then they want to gain muscle and strength. They tend to be in a calorie deficit more often than a calorie surplus. And as we become more resistance trained, as we get bigger and stronger, our body’s muscle building machinery becomes more and more sensitive to energy balance and to a calorie deficit in particular, to continue getting bigger or fitter.

And stronger when we’ve already gained a lot of muscle and strength. We need our body’s muscle building machinery. To use that metaphor again, we need it to be firing on all cylinders just to keep moving the needle. But if half of those cylinders are not firing, because we are in a calorie deficit, let’s say on average 3, 4, 5 days out of every week.

And the consequence of that is our body is not willing to flip the switch on those other cylinders. It is very hard to make progress. Now, how do you get this machinery to run it full capacity and give you everything it’s got? Well, you guessed it. A consistent calorie surplus. That is the key. And you know, there is an interesting phenomenon that many people experience and report.

I haven’t seen direct evidence of it in the scientific literature, but I’ve experienced it myself. And I’ve heard from many people who report that when they start Lean bulking, it takes a couple of weeks, usually two or three weeks, until they really start to feel the effects, until they really start to notice more energy in their training.

More strength, better sleep, better recovery. And then by continuing the lean bulk, they’re able to maintain that momentum. And then often at the end of a lean bulk, when they switch from lean bulking to cutting that momentum seems to carry on for the first two or three weeks where they don’t even really notice that they’re cutting.

Maybe they’re just a little bit hungry here and there, but they wouldn’t know it in the gym. And then, The aura fades and then they actually feel like they’re cutting. And so my point with that is it would seem that you can’t really reach the fifth or sixth gears, so to speak, unless you are lean bulking.

You just can’t do it when you’re maintaining. I’ve never experienced it. I’ve never spoken with anybody who has experienced it nearly to the same degree as when they’re lean. Bulking. Yes, there’s a big difference between cutting and maintaining, but. As you might see, if I have inspired you to do a lean bulking phase, I would say there’s just as much of a difference in terms of how you feel and how you train between maintaining and lean bulking as cutting and maintaining.

So then who is maintaining or maintaining for. Well, it is mostly for people who are very happy with their current physique and their current performance, and they mostly just want to maintain that appearance and maintain that performance, and they’re okay with very slow progress. It’s also for people who don’t want.

To have to cut. They just want to eat the same types of foods for long periods of time. They don’t want to weigh things or measure things. They just want to eyeball or eat intuitively or use portion control. Then main gaining is good for them as well. Because a proper lean bulk, which is about a 10% calorie surplus, a consistent 10% calorie surplus, that requires just as much conscientiousness as cutting.

You do want to make sure that you are around 10% over your daily. Energy expenditure. You don’t want to be 20% over one day, 5% over the next day, 15% under the next day, 15% over the next day. You do need to be consistent. And lastly, main gaining can work well for people who have a lot of weight to lose, but who are okay with a slower body recomposition type of transformation as opposed to stripping away a lot of fat.

Adding a bit of muscle and then focusing on adding a lot of muscle because if that person main gains in the way that I discussed previously, if they just tend to undereat, if they make that their tendency, not by a large amount, but just their tendency is to eat a bit. Fewer calories than they burn. So let’s say again, they’re in a slight deficit, 3, 4, 5 days out of the week and maybe a very slight surplus on the other days in time.

That can work really well for whittling away fat stores and adding muscle. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.

And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for, muscle f o r and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.

I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.

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