Many trainees have similar goals in mind when it comes to building their physiques: gain muscle without gaining body fat. On this road to physical improvement they will more often than not have a phase of bulking (gaining a combination of muscle and body fat) and a phase of cutting or leaning out (stripping away body fat and retaining as much muscle as possible in the process). This rollercoaster affect may go on for several phases for a desired outcome. The question is, does one significantly increase his/her lean muscle mass over time or do they simply end up where they started?
Can a trainee gain substantial muscle mass without the unwanted fat? Yes, but first let’s make a compelling argument in favor of this method. Benefits include: a leaner physique year-round, no yo-yo bodyweight changes, slow, but steady gains and no more bingeing and starving regarding phase-type dieting. Taken into consideration all of these benefits, how could you not at least give this a try?!
Outlined are several easy to use steps to gaining lean muscle mass while minimizing your propensity to gain body fat. Minor adjustments may be needed to cater this program for your body weight, metabolism and frequency of training.
Guide To Gaining Muscle While Minimizing Fat Gains
Step 1: Keep Protein in Check at All Times
Protein has to remain high on the priority list if you want to gain muscle mass. The more protein stays consistent the more potential for the ideal growth environment. And more muscle mass means more body fat burned. Keep protein intake at 1 to 1.25 grams per pound of bodyweight. This will give your body the adequate building blocks for those intense workouts. Sources include lean meats, turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, whey protein and low fat dairy products such as low-fat of skim milk, low-fat cottage cheese and Greek yogurt.
Step 2: The Correct Types of Carbs Are Your Friends
Essential for fueling those intense workouts, carbs are also protein-sparing – meaning they will let protein build muscle instead of being burned for energy. Carbs are important for many other functions as well such as the regulation of certain hormones, energy regulation and production, normal everyday bodily functions and recovery. When trying to build muscle the low carb fad diets just won’t cut it! The trick is to know how much and what types to eat.
A good place to start would be to establish an intake of 2 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight. Stay at this level for 4 to 6 weeks to watch for any significant long-term changes. If you see that you are gaining weight and notice you are as lean or leaner than before then do not change a thing. If you are losing weight and not getting pumps in the gym increase your intake to 2.25 or 2.5 (maybe even 3) grams per pound. If you see your abs disappearing and feel that you are getting that “softer” look then decrease carbs to 1.75 or 1.5 grams per pound.
Remember to stay at a certain level of carbs for 4 to 6 weeks before adjusting – it takes the body a few weeks to notice a change and react to it. Changing your intake too frequently will not allow you to make informed decisions regarding what your body needs. The best carb sources are from wild and brown rice, white potatoes and sweet potatoes, oatmeal (not instant), fruits and vegetables. Stay away from processed and refined carb sources.
Step 3: Reap the Benefits of Fat
No longer a dirty word among the health conscious, fats have a myriad of benefits for the bodybuilder wishing to gain quality muscle mass. Fats regulate testosterone levels, actually help burn body fat, aid energy levels and keep your metabolism churning. Keep fat around 30 to 35 % of your daily total calories. Excellent sources include eggs (yes, the yolks), avocado, olive oil, natural peanut butter, nuts and fatty fish.
One final note: You should be gaining no more than about one pound (sometimes less) per week. If lean muscle is your goal, then slow and steady will win the race. Huge fluctuations in bodyweight will never result in quality muscle gains.
Q&A With Brad Borland
Brad, I am a young hardgainer with a fast metabolism and find it hard to eat enough. Do you have any tips?
I had similar challenges when I was younger – the seemingly impossible task of gaining muscle (or any type of weight) while having a metabolism on overdrive! First of all, consider this “curse” to be a blessing. Later on, you will appreciate a fast metabolism as it will help you stay lean all year long. Second, the muscle gains you make will be slow and steady, but they will be hard-earned and more permanent over the long haul.
Buy in bulk and eat in bulk. Try eating nutrient-dense carbs and whole food proteins. Rice, potatoes, pastas, oatmeal, whole grain cereals and plenty of fruits and vegetables should make up your energy sources. Fish, red meats, chicken, turkey, whole eggs and milk should be the staples of your protein intake. Eating 5 to 6 meals per day consistently will help you gain significant muscle weight over time.
There are several trainers on the Internet that tell me I can gain muscle and lose fat with a Paleo diet, or by cycling my calories below and above maintenance. As a beginner, what are the risks of me trying these approaches?
As a beginner, I would shy away from any type of fad diet on the internet. A normal bodybuilding diet coupled with hard, consistent time in the gym is the only time-tested method for any beginner. The risk you run with trying fad diets early on in your bodybuilding career is that you are teaching your body a different method right out of the gate! How will it then become accustomed to a healthy nutrient-rich and calorically adequate bodybuilding diet? Before throwing curve balls learn how to pitch first.
I am afraid of getting fat. Some people have told me to eat 300 calories above maintenance, and some 500 or more. Will I get fat with either of these approaches? How much fat will I gain my eating more like this?
It all depends on your intensity levels in the gym (ie. your daily caloric expenditure). If you are keeping your workouts intense and working hard on a daily and weekly basis then 300-500 calories over maintenance will not result in fat gains. Just keep the excess calories bodybuilding friendly. Start with 300 extra calories for 6 to 8 weeks. Keep track of your results: Either have a body composition test done at your local gym or judge by how well you see your abs. If you are gaining weight with no body fat gain then you are on the right track. If you are not gaining weight at all, you may need to increase calories slightly to 400 or 500.
Should I eat more carbs and protein after I workout?
It all depends on your goals and time of day. If you are like most beginners, you probably are wanting to build as much muscle as possible and workout in the afternoon sometime. If that is the case – yes. After a grueling session with the iron your body needs nutrients to jumpstart recovery and growth processes. Without protein and carbs your body will scavenge muscle mass to provide fuel for recovery which will halt the building process for any new muscle tissue.
A good post-workout meal (within 30 minutes after training) would include around 30-40 grams of whey protein and 40-80 grams of carbs in the form of simple sugars. This fast digesting combination will rush the right nutrients into the muscle cells to kick-start muscle building and thwart off catabolism. Around 1 hour or so after that meal have a solid protein and complex carb meal.