Bulking is dead. Gone are the days of getting fat to build muscle. Not only is getting fat not necessary, it is also not desirable, healthy or even really effective. If you are an athlete, you only want to gain good weight that is usable, functional muscle. If you are training to for aesthetic reasons, then you don’t want to cover-up your hard-earned muscle with a layer of fat. You don’t have to get fat to gain muscle. Here is how you can make lean gains.
|Not as fun as burgers and pizza, but perfect for lean mass gains|
Have realistic expectations
While weight gain can happen rather quickly, muscle gain is a slow process – especially if you are past the beginner phase. Also, it will take time for you to find your optimal calorie level and you may over or under-shoot this while you are learning how your body works. Forget the fantasy land of the ebook adds that promise a 40lb gain in a month. If you get impatient, you may up your calories too much and this will cause you to gain fat.
Precision Nutrition (the world’s largest online coaching company) provides the following guidelines for muscle gain rates:
- Excellent: 1-2 pounds of lean mass every 2-4 weeks
- Average: 1 pound every 4 weeks
- Slow: Less than 1 pound every 4 weeks
Accept a small amount of fat gain
Now, this post was not at all designed to get you to think that you will not gain an ounce of fat when trying to gain muscle. Most people will gain some fat when they gain muscle. However, by following the advice in these posts any fat you gain will be very minimal. Some people are so afraid of gaining even an ounce of fat that they never eat enough to gain even an ounce of muscle.
If you are not currently lean, then get lean before you start gaining lean mass. This will make your body more anabolic, improve your health and insulin sensitivity and have you starting in a great spot! For more details, see my previous post on “Should I Bulk or Cut First?”. Also, if you need to get lean, check tons of free information on this blog on Fat loss or check out my book, Athletic Training for Fat Loss.
Many people use muscle gain as an excuse for loading up on junk food. They justify their binges by telling themselves they need the calories. However, the old saying, “a calorie is a calorie” is only true in a food incinerator. In the human body, how much you eat and what you eat are both important. Unless you truly need over 5000 calories a day, you can get those calories from foods with only one ingredient. This will not only help you make virtually all of the weight gained to be muscle, but those whole, natural foods will give your body the resources it needs to train hard and build muscle. I know this is not fun or easy, but that is why you rarely see people who have a decent amount of muscle and are lean.
You need carbs to train hard and gain muscle. However, too many carbs can make you fat. The most important thing with carbs is to eat whole, unprocessed carbs. However, once you are doing that, you can further reduce the risk of gaining fat by cycling carbs and calories. See my previous post on
Carb & Calorie Cycling 101 for Lean Muscle Gains for more details.
Keep a food log and measurement log
To make this whole thing work, you will have to keep track of your body composition and food intake. Keep a daily food log with an app, a website or an old-school notebook. Also, about every 2 weeks, do your scale weight and some girth measurements (note: if you have access to more high-tech body composition measurement tools, feel free to use them). See my post on Food Logging for Improved Body Composition for more details as well as my post on
Slightly exceed calories
Increase your calories about 200-400 above maintenance. If this does not result in any gains, go up a bit more. While this process takes longer, it allows you to find the optimal amount of calories you need and prevents you from getting fat.
Get sufficient protein
Shoot for around 1g per pound, but feel free to experiment with slightly higher or lower levels. Once you have this, get the remainder of your calories from good carbs and healthy fats. Click HERE details on superfoods to add.
Up your fish oil
Fish oil contains those famous omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. While these fats have amazing health benefits, they also help you build lean muscle and burn fat. Try to get more wild salmon in your diet and consider a high-quality fish oil supplement.
Eat your veggies
In the world of nutrition for mass gain, veggies are often forgotten. However, lack of quality vegetables will make it harder for your body to keep its pH ideal. This will result in an unfavourable hormonal environment for muscle gain. This is especially important if you are natural. See this previous post on eating vegetables for more details.
Stay tuned for part 2 as I’ll go through what to do with the training side of things and provide you with a complete sample training program…
Antonio, J, et. al (eds.). Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press; 2008.
Berardi, J., Andrews, R. The essentials of sport and exercise nutrition: Precision Nutrition certification manual, 2nd ed. Precision Nutrition, 2012.
Smith-Ryan, AE. & Antonio, J. (eds.). Sports Nutrition & Performance Enhancing Supplements. New York: Linus Publications; 2013.