Your Go-To Guide To Gaining Muscle While Minimizing Fat Gains

There is no need to get fat! This guide and Q&A by Brad Borland shows you how to add muscle while adding minimal fat.

Gain muscle without getting fat.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.

Stay at a certain level of carbs  for 4 to 6 weeks before adjusting.

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.

Will adding muscle make me fat?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.

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About The Author
Brad has a Master's degree in Kinesiology and is a strength and conditioning specialist, military veteran, cancer survivor and Associate Editor at Muscle & Strength.

77 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Wed, 05/25/2011 - 14:37
Brad

Hi noni,

You can either take in a traditional post-workout recovery shake with some complex carbs or eat a moderate-sized solid meal of easily digestable protein such as fish, eggs or chicken and a moderate amount of complex carbs.

I hope this helped.

-Brad
www.WorkoutLab.net

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Posted Tue, 03/15/2011 - 11:48
Ethan

Hi,

Great article. I need some advice, you seem like a nice person.

I'm 19, 5'6, 176 lbs (about 25 lbs overweight). I have recently done A LOT of research about all there is to know about nutrition and eating healthy to live to be full of energy, cancer-free, and with a healthy heart. I am currently eating healthy. My normal eating habits are now low in cholesterol and low in sat fat, normal on protein, high in fiber, and high in calcium. I get my normal 56g of protein a day from low fat milk, black beans/soy (complete protein) beans, 100% whole wheat bread, whole grain cereal, oatmeal, and sometimes from lean chicken breasts and sardines. The milk has complete protein, and the whole grain bread and the black beans and oatmeal combined give me complete proteins.

I am eating healthy. I eat whole whole grain bread, whole grain non-sugary cereal (22 grams of whole grain per serving of cereal), low fat milk, oatmeal, lean chicken breasts, wild fish, legumes, and spinach.

Anyway: the point is: I am eating healthy.

I have done a ton of research on the internet on how to eat healthy,so I know a LOT about nutrition, but I don't know much about building muscle... and the thing is that I also did research on cutting weight and I know the theoretical way to do it and I tried but I could not do it.

I have a treadmill at home, and I was very serous about losing weight, so I ran on the treadmill for 30 minutes, 3 days in a row, but then my knees became tired and it's now been a week since I stopped and I can't do cardio because my knees are still tired! There is also a gym at my college.

So: I don't really know what I should do. It is taking wayyy too long for my knees to recover and I don't know what to do. Is there anything I could drink to help my legs get back to normal? Is there any supplement that will allow me to recover sooner and last longer? The only sugar I consume comes from the milk, so that is why I didn't drink anything sugary (simple carbs) before my cardio, but do you think I should do it? But the thing is that I am trying to cut weight, and the sugar will not help...

Any advice on how to get my legs to speed up their recovery?

And if I wanted to start bodybuilding, I know nutrition + rest + lots of protein and water + perseverance are some of the keys to succeed, but I feel my knowledge about bodybuilding is not enough at all. I have the nutrition part covered! I know all there is about eating healthy and how much protein I'd need to consume a day, but the actual work out part is that I don't understand. I read somewhere that you can only work out the same muscle like 2x a week, but if that is the case, then how can it possible grow if it's only been worked on 2x a week? .... I am confused, and I 'm not sure what my question is... I'm just confused. If you could enlighten me, that would be awesome.

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Posted Fri, 03/18/2011 - 15:54
Brad

Hi Ethan,

Wow! You aparently have a passion about healthy eating and a hunger for training!

First and foremost, I would consult your doctor if your knees are bothering you. Only they can give you an educating diagnosis regarding whatever is going on in those knees. That is the safe way to go.

You are correct, bodybuilding takes eating, training, and discipline (among a thousand other things) to be successful.

Are you asking specifically about a training program/diet plan?

-Brad

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Posted Fri, 02/25/2011 - 00:34
Sean

I mean the carb to fat ratio not bar to fat ratio haha.

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Posted Fri, 02/25/2011 - 00:34
Sean

Thank you for the quick reply! I have been reading many of you articles about manipulating the bar to fat ratio while holding protein steady but unsure about a couple things. Two last questions, under what circumstances would I need to raise my fat intake at the expense of carbs? Also, under what circumstances should i raise my fat intake holding the others steady, increasing total calorie eaten? Again, my goals are to gain muscle slow and steady, hopefully not aquiring too much adipose fat. Thank your for you help and I wish you all the best.

Sean

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Posted Fri, 02/25/2011 - 09:25
Brad

Hi Sean,

Normally, as you increase carbs, fats must go down and if you increase fats carbs go down. When would one need to do this? If someone is carb sensitive lowering carbs can eliminate a significant amount of calories from your diet. If your goal is to gain weight this is not good - so the fats will make up the calorie deficit.

Fats should normally make up around 20-30% of your total calories if you have no specific issues or sensitivities with certain macronutrients.

Also, increasing fats and lowering carbs can be beneficial if you find yourself gaining too much fat and need to "lean up" a little while attempting to put on solid muscle mass.

I hope this helped.
-Brad

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Posted Wed, 02/23/2011 - 23:37
Sean

Hi Brad,
I just spent the last 20 minutes thoroughly reading you article. Your advice of how to adjust carbs based on weight change and gym results is very informative. I do have a couple questions for you though.

First, my stats. 24yr 5'9.5" 170 looking to get to 175 before summer.

I calculated my caloric needs based on 175lbs, with 1.25 grams protein/lb, 2 grams carbs/lb and fats at 30% and 35% of my diet. My results were as follows:
1.25, 2, 30% = 3250 calories 1.25, 2, 35% = 3500 calories
219 grams protein = 27% cals 219 grams protein = 25% cals
350 grams carbs = 43% cals 350 grams carbs = 40% cals
108 grams fats = 30% cals 136 grams fats = 35% cals

My question to you is, at the webpage https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/how-to-create-a-bodybuilding-... Doug says that the optimal split between calories is 30% protein, 50% carbs and 20% fats. What would you say are the pros and cons of your approach versus his? I am torn as to which to pick. I've seen all types of opinions of what the caloric split should be but I respect M&S advice the most! Thank you in advance for you response, keep up the great work.

PS. If it matters I am currently using these two routines in the gym,
https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/power-muscle-burn-5-day-power... and
https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/frankoman-2-day-intermediate-...

~Sean~

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Posted Thu, 02/24/2011 - 11:21
Brad

Hi Sean,

You have certainly done your homework.

I would honestly have to say you will just have to pic one and stick with it for a significant period of time, say 4-8 weeks. Every individual's body will react differently to several diet/eating plans.

You may be the type that is carb sensitive so you may need to increase your fats a bit. Or you may have such a fast metabolism that your carb intake needs to be high.

The trick is to pick a plan and stick with it. Conversely you will never hear me say or write that one way is better than the other or that my methods are the best around. I only write from personal experience with myself and othe rindividuals I have trained.

-Brad

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Posted Tue, 02/15/2011 - 11:35
chris

Hi,

I've just started using the gym, with the aim to get a stronger upper body. Can you recommend any workout schedules which I could perform simultaneously as this diet? I want to increase my chest, arms and back strength and have started to bench bars and dumbbells but I'm not sure how many exercises I should do in a session etc. I've heard the best results will come from training muscle groups individually, i.e chest one day, arms the next, back the next, legs and abs the next. Is this correct?

Thanks

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Posted Thu, 02/17/2011 - 14:30
Brad

Hi chris,

Please check out:

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/series/10-bodypart-training-s...

and let me know what you think.

-Brad
www.WorkoutLab.net

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Posted Tue, 01/04/2011 - 10:54
Mike F

Hey,
I'm 33yr 6', and about 240lbs. I workout 5days/week, eat 5-6 small meals a day, eat about 200-250gr of protean/day (hard for me to eat more cause I am not a big eater and I use a protean shake 2/day,) and I have execise induced asthma. I am trying to get to 200lbs, but I seem to plateau very fast. Been working out for 3months and I have been stuck at 240lbs (started at 290lbs.) I lowered my calories to about 1500-1800, keep my carbs low cause I gain weight fast from them (wether good or bad carbs,) do my best to keep my protean intake up (cost of food and shakes can be rough,) and use vitamins (CLA, green tea, multi-vitamin). I'm trying to gain abit more size on my arms and on my chest(to get rid of my man boobs) and abit more on my upper/mid back. I mainly want to lean out more but I have not been able too. One personal trainer tells me do low weight w/15-20reps and another tells me do heavy weight w/6-10 reps.

I don't know what to do. Do you have any ideas that could help me out?

Mike F

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Posted Tue, 01/04/2011 - 14:27
Brad

Hi Mike,

Take a look at my article here and let me know what you think:

http://workoutlab.net/index/building-muscle-and-burning-fat-simultaneous...

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Posted Mon, 12/20/2010 - 02:12
Faust

can you give me an example of carbs in the form of simple sugars?

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Posted Mon, 12/20/2010 - 10:52
bradb

Faust,

No problem: sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade, white bread with jelly, white potato without the skin even candy without fat such as gummy bears.

Hope this helps,
Brad

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Posted Thu, 12/16/2010 - 10:54
Xtofancy

I read ur article and its nice. My shoulder is ok, my arms big, but my chest doesn't match. Wat can i do, how much egg, fruits and vegetable do i need per day. Thanks

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Posted Thu, 12/16/2010 - 12:24
Bradb

Hi Xtofancy,

Check out some of my other articles: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/authors/brad-borland.html

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Posted Mon, 12/13/2010 - 21:48
JEFF MOORE

i am 40 years old,6'2 and weigh 260.as i have gotten older gained alot of weight.should be at around 200#,i am totally out of shape and feel horrible.any tips to help me get on track ? i have the weight lifting gear at home.i have 0 energy or stamina. please help. i've gotta get healthy again.
jeff

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Posted Wed, 12/15/2010 - 09:40
Bradb

Hi Jeff,

Please take a minute to look through my articles at my author profile here:

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/authors/brad-borland.html

Let me know some more detail: time available to train, days per week, current diet and training, etc.

Thanks,
Brad

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Posted Tue, 02/14/2012 - 11:10
Shiv

Hi Jeff,

Change your diet : Eat salad, sereal, eggs but not yellow part,Beans, have vegetables and fruits,fish. Try to avoid red meat
Workout : first prepare yourself by strech. Sterch helps you to make you vital and boost your will power for workout. try to do some basic workout and then do more accordingly.

I would recommend you to eat a lot of salad,Beans, friuts, some eggs, protien powder with fat free milk and plenty of water diet. You will loss weight in few days.

Do RAJA yoga it will make you more vital and healthy.

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Posted Sun, 11/21/2010 - 12:51
bradb

Thanks Steve!

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Posted Sat, 11/20/2010 - 06:02
gary

i train at 7am four days a week i eat oat-meal with whey and a spoon of honey at 5 45am ,would you say thats ok,i train from 7 10am intill 9 30am then i have a whey shake with a banana

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Posted Mon, 11/22/2010 - 13:13
bradb

Hi Gary, that is perfect. Be sure to have enough simple sugars for your postworkout meal due to the lengthy training session.

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Posted Mon, 11/22/2010 - 16:29
gary

you say more sugers like more honey with my oats ???

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Posted Tue, 02/15/2011 - 21:16
gary

you say to make sure i eat enough simple sugars after my workouts (for excample like what)
i live over 1 hour away from the gym so i have 2scopes of high protein with in ten min after
with a banana ,then when i get home 2 hours later i have chicken & brown rice
pls can you advice me thanks (my deit is really good as i live in japan and eat lots of fish,vegs and green tea
,thanks

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Posted Thu, 02/17/2011 - 14:33
Brad

Yes, exactly! You are on the right track.

Good luck.
-Brad
www.WorkoutLab.net

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Posted Sat, 10/16/2010 - 01:34
mamuch

hi

i'm starting gym at 6:30am mon-wed-friday and im 18 eigh 58kg and looking to gain weight. what should i eat and is that a good time for me to go gym?

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 10/18/2010 - 19:04
Steven

Hi Mamuch,

For more information on specific foods check out this article:

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/how-to-create-a-bodybuilding-...