Gain Muscle, Not Fat
Building muscle requires a calorific surplus. You go to the gym, lift heavy to stimulate muscle growth and eat like a starving horse. Those extra calories go toward fueling the repair process and building more muscle. It’s a slow and arduous process as you are sure to know.
Unless you are some kind of genetic mutant who can build muscle out of nothing, this means that as your muscles grow, so do your fat stores. Initially, you feel all “swole” but then, a few months down the line, you realise your six-pack is now a beer keg and you need to lose some fat.
Losing fat and getting lean means eating less, training more and, probably, cranking up the cardio. Naturally, this causes fat loss but also, because of the calorie deficit you are under, you end up losing some of your precious muscle too.
If you really make a mess of your “ripped” phase, you might end up losing much of the muscle you gained and even losing some of your previously developed muscle mass.
So, how do you gain muscle and not fat? How do you get big and lean? Follow these THREE rules and you’ll be golden!
Increase your calorific intake slightly – around 250 calories a day above maintenance initially. That way, you have enough energy to repair and build muscle but not so much that you’ll gain lots of fat. If you aren’t gaining weight, add another 250 calories a day. You should be looking to gain around 0.5 pounds (225 grams) per week. This might not sound like much but go and grab a half pound steak and imagine that strapped around your arms. Half a pound of muscle per week is pretty good progress! On the flip side, if you notice your waist measurement creeping up, dial back the calories a little bit as you’re gaining fat faster than you are gaining muscle.
Take your extra calories, preferably in liquid form and in a 1:2 carb/protein ratio, straight after your workout. This is when your body is best able to make use of additional calories. Think of this rule as unbreakable; get your post-workout feed on as soon as you finish your last set. Calories ingested at this time are going to be shunted into your muscles and away from your fat stores.
Reduce your calorie intake to maintenance on non-training days. If you aren’t working out, you don’t need a calorie surplus. For a start, you won’t have burned the 500 plus calories your workout uses and you won’t have “earned” that 250 – 500 calorie post-workout bonus either. Eating less on non-training days can save you from gaining anything up to a pound of fat a week. As before, grab a pound of butter and imagine that smeared all over your six-pack. Unless you are some kind of nut, you KNOW that’s not going to be attractive.
And don’t fall into the whole “I’m not fat, I’m bulking” mindset. It is NOT okay to scarf down fast food and donuts because you are trying to get huge! You need to eat clean if you want to gain muscle and not fat. Clean means lots of lean protein, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats and not Pop Tarts, candy bars and other sugary junk. There is an old saying in nutrition; you are what you eat. If you want to look awesome, then you gotta eat awesome. If you eat junk – well, you get the idea.
On training days, increase your carb intake, on rest days reduce carbs and increase protein. Protein has a high thermogenic effect which simply means that eating protein uses more energy than eating carbs. You need carbs for energy on training days but on the days when you spend most your time sat on your butt at your desk, you should limit your carb intake and focus more on protein. Makes sense really doesn’t it?
So, what about cardio? Another good question. Don’t try and do too much cardio when your main aim is building muscle. For starters, it uses valuable energy that would be better put to use increasing muscle size and recovering from your workouts. If you feel you need to do lots of cardio to control fat gain you probably need to eat a little less not do more mindless stationary cycling. If you really want to do cardio, do some sprints, some sparring or pad work, swing a sledgehammer or kettlebell – real man’s cardio that will preserve, rather than destroy your muscle mass. Twenty minutes, two or three times a week should be sufficient.
Bonus tip: Supplement wisely
Smart supplementation can help make gaining muscle and not fat considerably easier. If you have got your diet and training dialled in, consider adding these supplements to your diet plan…
- BCAAs – branch chained amino acids, BCAAs for short, are partially responsible for muscle growth and contain virtually no calories, which means they are ideal for when you want to gain muscle but not fat. Take doses of five grams in place of protein to reduce your calorie intake without derailing your muscle building efforts.
- Creatine – the king of lean gain supplements, creatine has been around for over 20 years which means it really does work. Five grams of creatine per day will help you gain muscle and build strength but it’s free from calories and won’t lead to fat gain. Stacked with BCAAs, creatine is ideally used before and/or after workouts.
- Fat burners – use a fat burner on non-training days to enhance fat loss in conjunction with eating a little less and reducing your carb intake. There are lots of different brands to choose from including products with and without stimulants.
- Whey protein isolate – WPI is the purest form of protein and contains the least amount of carbs and fat. Getting your protein from WPI means you won’t consume any calories that might otherwise contribute to fat gain. Using a whey protein supplement is also a very precise way to control your protein intake and make sure you are getting the required one gram per pound of bodyweight minimum.
So that’s how to gain muscle but not (much) fat. You’ll need to exercise your patience along with your muscles, but it’ll be worth it. While your muscle gains will be slower than your buddy who is on a junk-food fueled bulking frenzy, no one will mistake you for an out of shape sumo wrestler and you won’t have to diet like a mad man to get beach ready. In fact, when summer rolls around again, you might not even have to diet at all!