4,500 calories. Every freaking day.
I wanted to build muscle and that’s what a magazine article said I should eat.
It didn’t go very well.
I quickly learned how painful it is to eat like cart-horse, and while I certainly gained weight, it was hard to know how much of it was muscle.
All I saw in the mirror was more and more belly fat, which made me seriously question the old bodybuilding saw that you have to “eat big to get big.”
Big and fat, maybe…
Well, many years have passed since then and now that I’m older, wiser, and much fitter, I finally understand how muscle growth is connected to both caloric intake and fat gain.
And here’s the bottom line:
You absolutely can build muscle while minimizing fat gain, and furthermore, you absolutely should.
As you’ll soon see, the traditional (gluttonous) method of bulking isn’t just exhausting, it’s downright counter-productive.
That is, you’ll build muscle more efficiently over the long term by focusing on making “lean gains” as opposed to gorging yourself silly.
This article is going to teach you why and show you how to actually do it.
So let’s get started.
- Do You Have to "Eat Big to Get Big?"
- How Caloric Intake Affects Muscle Growth
- How Many Calories Do You Need to Eat to Gain Muscle?
- What to Do When You’re Not Gaining Weight
- What About Building Muscle and Losing Fat at the Same Time?
- What About Supplements?
- The Bottom Line on Building Muscle Without Getting Fat
- What are your thoughts on building muscle without getting fat? Have anything else to add? Lemme know in the comments below!
Table of Contents
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“If you’re not gaining muscle fast enough, start drinking a gallon of milk per day.”
I read that in a magazine as well but lacked the intestinal fortitude to actually try it (literally–I would have shit myself).
The idea behind the advice is simple:
- If you’re not gaining muscle, you’re probably not eating enough.
- If you’re not eating enough, GOMAD (an additional 2,400 calories’ worth of milk per day) will take care of that.
Well, this misguided strategy has its heart in the right place but misses the forest for the trees.
The reality is the amount of food your body needs to build muscle effectively may or may not feel like a lot to you, depending on various things, including your appetite.
You don’t necessarily have to eat big to get big. You just have to eat enough.
(And you certainly don’t have to drain your local dairy farm.)
What is enough, you wonder?
Well, to find an answer, we have to explore how caloric intake affects muscle growth.
Notice that I said caloric intake affects muscle growth and not protein intake.
You see, your body burns a certain amount of energy every day, which can be measured in calories (one calorie is “the amount of energy required to heat 1 kg of water 1 degree Celsius at one atmosphere of pressure”).
This is known as your “total daily energy expenditure,” or TDEE.
Your body gets the energy it needs to stay alive from food, of course, and the relationship between how much energy you eat and burn is known as energy balance, and it greatly impacts both your body weight and muscle growth.
Namely, if you feed your body less energy than it burns, you’ve created an energy (or calorie) deficit that will result in weight loss if sustained for a period of time.
It will also impair your body’s ability to create muscle proteins, which slows down (or even halts) muscle growth.
The physiology in play is fairly complex, but the long story short is when you restrict your body’s energy intake, it shifts to an “energy conservation” mode wherein certain bodily functions are given priority over others.
Building bigger muscles isn’t vital for survival and requires quite a bit of energy, so it’s rather low on the list.
All this is why it’s commonly believed that you can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time (which isn’t exactly accurate, which we’ll talk more about soon).
This is also why women can lose their periods while restricting calories for fat loss. When in an energy-deprived state, their bodies can neglect the non-vital and energy-intensive process of menstruation.
So, when we want to build muscle as quickly as possible, what do we have to ensure regarding our caloric intake?
You got it–we have to ensure we’re not in a calorie deficit, and this is true regardless of our dietary protocol.
Regardless of the dietary protocol we follow–intermittent fasting, carb cycling, flexible dieting, or whatever else– if we’re a calorie deficit more often than not, we’re going to have a lot of trouble gaining muscle.
What does that mean in terms of actual caloric intake, though?
Keep reading to find out.
What’s the easiest way to ensure you’re eating more energy every day than you’re burning?
Shoveling wheelbarrows of food down your throat, right?
Well, that’s what many bulking programs prescribe. It’s virtually impossible to be in a calorie deficit when you’re eating 4,000+ calories per day.
In that way, grossly overeating can help you build muscle…for a time.
There are major problems with this approach, though.
A large calorie surplus is not better for building muscle than a slight one, but results in far more fat gain.
Eating 30% more energy than you expend every day isn’t better for building muscle than eating just 10% more, but you will gain quite a bit more fat.
And gaining too much fat too quickly does more than just ruin your “aesthetics”…
Gaining fat further accelerates fat storage and can slow down muscle growth.
The fatter you are, the easier it is to get and stay fatter. There are several reasons for this.
As body fat levels rise…
As you can see, excessive fat storage while bulking is a triple-whammy of fail: it hinders muscle growth, accelerates fat storage, and makes undoing the weight gain even harder.
Unfortunately, the handicaps of “dirty bulking” have caused many people to throw the baby out with the bath water and shun caloric surpluses altogether.
This is a mistake because the caloric surplus is an effective tool for optimizing muscle growth.
You just have to do it right, and here’s how that works:
1. Maintain a moderate calorie surplus of 5 to 10% when bulking.
This should allow you to gain 0.5 to 1 pound per week, which is your goal if you’re a man. Women should shoot for half.
If you’re new to weightlifting, you can easily double those numbers for your first couple of months, but you should see them settle into this range.
If you’re not sure how to determine your calorie intake, click here.
2. Don’t screw it all up with massive cheat meals or days.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make while bulking is egregious overeating.
A couple days of gorging per week while bulking is enough to cause you to gain fat at double or even triple the normal rate.
Don’t do this. Learn how to “cheat” intelligently instead.
3. If you’re a guy and you’re over 15% body fat, reduce this to about 10% before bulking. If you’re a girl and over 25% body fat, diet down to ~20% before bulking.
This is ideal for several reasons:
- It preserves insulin sensitivity and hormonal balance.
- It allows you to maintain a calorie surplus for many months before having to reduce body fat levels.
- It saves you from long, grueling cuts.
If you’re not sure what your body fat percentage is, read this article.
4. Once you reach 15 to 17% (men) or 25 to 27% (women) body fat, stop bulking and start reducing body fat levels.
Don’t “slow cut,” either.
Do everything you can to safely and healthily lose fat as quickly as possible.
5. Juggle your bulks and cuts like this until you’ve gained the size you want.
If you’re like most people, you’ll eventually reach a point where you’re happy with your overall muscle size and development.
The name of the game then becomes getting and staying lean while still training hard and progressing in your lifts and addressing weak points in your physique.
I mentioned above that you generally want to gain 0.5 to 1 pound per week (0.25 to 0.5 lbs per week for women) when bulking.
What should you do when you’re gaining less or no weight whatsoever, though?
I’ve yet to piece together a holistic explanation for why this is, but my experience working with thousands of people has verified it hundreds of times over.
If you’re gaining strength but not weight (and thus muscle), you’re not eating enough. It’s that simple.
By increasing your calorie intake you’ll eventually bring it into the range that is your body’s “sweet spot” for muscle growth.
Now, I don’t recommend you increase intake willy-nilly. Here’s how you do it right.
1. Keep your protein at 1 gram per pound of body weight.
2. Increase your daily calorie intake by 100 to 150 calories by increasing carbohydrate intake.
That is, add 25 to 35 grams of carbs to your daily intake.
3. If, after 7 to 10 days, your weight is still the same, repeat #2.
Increase daily carb intake repeatedly until you’re gaining weight at the desired rate.
It’s really that simple.
I should note, however, that some people (guys usually) need to eat downright hoggish amounts of food to gain weight steadily. I’m talking 160-pound guys having to eat 4,000+ calories per day just to gain 0.5 pounds per week (“hardgainers“).
In this case it’s not exactly feasible to reach their necessary calorie levels by increasing carbohydrate intake alone.
In such cases I recommend capping carbs at about 3 grams per pound and, if more calories are needed, start increasing fat intake instead.
Build muscle and lose fat…at the same time.
It sounds so simple, right? Why shouldn’t we be able to do it?
Well, some people say it’s a fool’s errand Others say you need to follow “special” forms of dieting and training. Others still say it takes steroids.
They’re all wrong.
Building muscle and losing fat simultaneously (or “body recomposition,” as it’s often called), isn’t beyond the power of us mere natties.
It’s doable, and it doesn’t require esoteric knowledge, fancy or newfangled methodologies, or drugs.
There’s a catch, though.
You may or may not be able to do it, depending on your body composition, training experience, and more.
The long story short is this:
- If you’re new to weightlifting, or to proper weightlifting–weightlifting that emphasizes heavy, compound training with the primary goal of getting stronger over time (progressive overload)–then you probably can recomp.
- If you’re an experienced natural weightlifter that has already gained a considerable amount of muscle, you probably can’t.
If you want to learn more about why this is and how to actually go about doing it, read this article.
I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s far less important than proper diet and training.
You see, supplements don’t build great physiques–dedication to proper training and nutrition does.
Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.
Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.
So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money…the right ones can help.
The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.
As a part of my work, it’s been my job to know what these substances are, and find products with them that I can use myself and recommend to others.
Finding high-quality, effective, and fairly priced products has always been a struggle, though.
That’s why I took matters into my own hands and decided to create my own supplements. And not just another line of “me too” supplements–the exact formulations I myself have always wanted and wished others would create.
I won’t go into a whole spiel here though. If you want to learn more about my supplement line, check this out.
For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you get the most out of your efforts to build muscle and lose fat.
Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements–the subject of hundreds of studies–and the consensus is very clear:
Supplementation with creatine helps…
You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.
If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.
In terms of specific products, I use my own, of course, which is called RECHARGE.
RECHARGE is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:
- 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
- 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
- 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid
You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.
That’s the main reason I created (and use) a whey protein supplement. (There’s also evidence that whey protein is particularly good for your post-workout nutrition.)
WHEY+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.
I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.
PHOENIX Fat Burner
And for the same reasons it’s also no surprise that fat burners are some of the most expensive supplements on the shelves and feature some of the loudest marketing claims, often making big promises of “scientifically proven” rapid fat loss.
The reality is most “fat burners” are junk but there are a handful of natural, safe substances that have been scientifically proven to accelerate fat loss. And that’s why I created PHOENIX.
PHOENIX’s caffeine-free formulation is helps you burn fat faster in three different ways:
- It dramatically increases metabolic speed.
- It amplifies the power of fat-burning chemicals produced by your body.
- It increases the feeling of fullness from food.
It accomplishes this through clinically effective dosages of several ingredients, including…
- Synephrine. This increases both basal metabolic rate and lipolysis, inhibits the activity of certain fat cell receptors that prevent fat mobilization, and increases the thermic effect of food (the “energy cost” of metabolizing food).
- Naringin. This stimulates the production of a hormone called adiponectin, which is involved in the breakdown of fat cells, and that it activates a type of receptor in fat cells that regulates fat mobilization (the PPARα receptor).
Through these mechanisms, naringin also works synergistically with synephrine and hesperidin to further accelerate the basal metabolic rate.
- Hesperidin. Like naringin, this also stimulates the production of adiponectin and activates the PPARa receptor. It also improves blood flow and reduces the inflammation of blood vessels.
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This inhibits the activity of a different enzyme also responsible for breaking down neurotransmitters that induce lipolysis. It has also been shown to reduce abdominal fat in particular.
- Forskolin. This increases blood plasma and intracellular levels of a molecule known as cAMP. When cAMP is high, it signifies a lack of ATP (the most basic form of cellular energy in the body) and thus initiates a process to make more ATP by burning through energy reserves (body fat).
- And more…
The bottom line is if you want to lose fat faster without pumping yourself full of stimulants or other potentially harmful chemicals…then you want to try PHOENIX.
There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.
Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.
Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.
Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,”which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.
Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.
The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.
And that’s why I made my own pre-workout supplement. It’s called PULSE and it contains 6 of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:
- Caffeine. Caffeine is good for more than the energy boost. It also increases muscle endurance and strength.
- Beta-Alanine. Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that reduces exercise-induced fatigue, improves anaerobic exercise capacity, and can accelerate muscle growth.
- Citrulline Malate. Citrulline is an amino acid that improves muscle endurance, relieves muscle soreness, and improves aerobic performance.
- Betaine. Betaine is a compound found in plants like beets that improves muscle endurance, increases strength, and increases human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 production in response to acute exercise.
- Ornithine. Ornithine is an amino acid found in high amounts in dairy and meat that reduces fatigue in prolonged exercise and promotes lipid oxidation (the burning of fat for energy as opposed to carbohydrate or glycogen).
- Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found primarily in tea that reduces the effects of mental and physical stress, increases the production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow, and improves alertness, focus, attention, memory, mental task performance, and mood.
And what you won’t find in PULSE is equally special:
- No artificial sweeteners or flavors..
- No artificial food dyes.
- No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.
The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like…if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver…then you want to try PULSE.
The method of “bulking” and “cutting” advocated by your average clueless bodybuilder doesn’t work.
It goes like this:
- Bulk (incorrectly) and gain some muscle and a bunch of fat.
- Cut (incorrectly) and lose (hopefully all) the fat and (likely all) the muscle you gained.
…putting you right back where you started.
It’s incredibly frustrating.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
Follow the advice in this article and you’ll have a very different experience.
You’ll gain a considerable amount of muscle when you bulk and a minimal amount of fat, and you’ll lose nothing (or close to nothing) but fat when you cut.
Thus, with each cycle of bulking and cutting, you’ll come out a little bigger, leaner, and stronger than the last.
Repeat this enough times and voila, you have the body of your dreams.
It really is that simple.
What are your thoughts on building muscle without getting fat? Have anything else to add? Lemme know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
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- Frecka JM, Mattes RD. Possible entrainment of ghrelin to habitual meal patterns in humans. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2008;294(3):G699-707. doi:10.1152/ajpgi.00448.2007
- Trabelsi K, Stannard SR, Ghlissi Z, et al. Effect of fed- versus fasted state resistance training during Ramadan on body composition and selected metabolic parameters in bodybuilders. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):23. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-23
- Cermak NM, van Loon LJC. The use of carbohydrates during exercise as an ergogenic aid. Sports Med. 2013;43(11):1139-1155. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0079-0
- Deldicque L, De Bock K, Maris M, et al. Increased p70s6k phosphorylation during intake of a protein-carbohydrate drink following resistance exercise in the fasted state. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010;108(4):791-800. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20187284. Accessed September 18, 2019.
- Harvie MN, Pegington M, Mattson MP, et al. The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2011;35(5):714-727. doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.171
- Ohkawara K, Cornier M-A, Kohrt WM, Melanson EL. Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013;21(2):336-343. doi:10.1002/oby.20032
- Ergogenic Effects of Yohimbine: Standardized Cycling… Ergogenic Effects of Yohimbine: Standardized Cycling Clinical Study. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273061682_Ergogenic_Effects_of_Yohimbine_Standardized_Cycling_Ergogenic_Effects_of_Yohimbine_Standardized_Cycling_Clinical_Study. Accessed September 18, 2019.
- Ostojic SM. Yohimbine: the effects on body composition and exercise performance in soccer players. Res Sports Med. 14(4):289-299. doi:10.1080/15438620600987106
- Wilkinson DJ, Hossain T, Hill DS, et al. Effects of leucine and its metabolite β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate on human skeletal muscle protein metabolism. J Physiol. 2013;591(11):2911-2923. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2013.253203
- Rowlands DS, Thomson JS. Effects of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate supplementation during resistance training on strength, body composition, and muscle damage in trained and untrained young men: a meta-analysis. J strength Cond Res. 2009;23(3):836-846. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a00c80
- Kimball SR, Jefferson LS. Signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis. J Nutr. 2006;136(1 Suppl):227S-31S. doi:10.1093/jn/136.1.227S
- Pitkanen HT, Nykanen T, Knuutinen J, et al. Free Amino Acid Pool and Muscle Protein. Sport Med. 2003;35(5):784-792. doi:10.1249/01.MSS.0000064934.51751.F9