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.

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 Tue, 11/08/2011 - 09:29

Hi Satyajit,

Please take a look at some of my other articles here:

Let me know if you need anything else.


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Posted Wed, 11/09/2011 - 13:49
luis garcia

Hi Brad im 18 5'10" i weigh 170 and i just started a bulk i eat 6-7 meals a day but im a bit confused on the amount of carbs i need to be taking in to gain muscle. How much carbs should i take in?

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Posted Fri, 11/11/2011 - 10:20

Hi Luis,

A great rule of thumb that I use is to start with 2 grams of carbs for every pound of bodyweight. Keep track of your weight, strength and overall feeling. You can adjust from there: If you are still not making gains after 3 weeks or so, up the carbs about 40-50 grams. On the flip side, if you are gaining too much body fat, scale back 40-50 grams.

Keeping the carb adjustment small like this will most likely give you a better handle on what's working without going to extremes too soon.


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Posted Mon, 01/23/2012 - 15:18

Hi Brad,

I am 43 years old, 5'-11" and weigh approximately 200lbs. I have recently started back in the gym at work, and have been going 3-4 days per week as my schedule allows. My main goals are:
1. Lose 15-20 pounds
2. Get rid of the gut.
3. Build up my chest and upper body.

I recently ordered the Musclepharm Shred Matrix to help me with the weight loss. Any other tips you would suggest to help me reach my goals?


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Posted Tue, 01/31/2012 - 16:19

Hi Todd,

Cograts on the commitment! The best advice is to go steady with your progress. Doing something too fast too soon will not result in long-lasting gains (or losses).

What does your program and diet look like? Is that where you need some advice?


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Posted Wed, 02/01/2012 - 17:43

Hi Brad,
Right now my schedule is Monday- chest/ abs & 15-20 minutes of cardio , Tuesday - legs, Wednesday - shoulders/ abs & 15-20 minutes of
cardio, Thursday - back, Friday - arms/abs and 15-20 minutes of cardio. I occasionally work out on saturdays for anything i missed during the week. As for my diet, I'm mainly watching my portions while eating mostly chicken, fish, meats, eggs, veggies, salads, etc. Today I did a body composition test at work and it said my BMI was at 27.8. I put a target body fat % of 14, and it told me I need to lose approximately 15 pounds to achieve my goal. Am I on the right track?

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Posted Thu, 02/02/2012 - 13:00

I think so. To be honest, slow and steady wins the race. I know we live in a instant gratification society and we want everything to happen yesterday, but results worth waiting on and working for are better in the long term.


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Posted Mon, 02/06/2012 - 12:20

Hi, I'm 18 - 190 lbs and 5 10".
I've started to hit the gym hard lately, within the last 6 months, and I haven't really seen much improvements. I'm targeting my biceps/triceps the most, but I do have a spread out routine for the week targeting other muscle groups. But I'm having trouble losing weight, I'm trying to keep up with the amount of protein i take in as well as carbs. But I feel that if I continue to do this, I will gain weight. I'm probably 15-20 pounds overweight for my type of body, and would like to lose the weight first.. Any tips or ideas?


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Posted Tue, 02/28/2012 - 13:13

Hi Cory,
The first thing I would do is make sure you are performing the big moves in your program such as all kinds of bench pressing, all types of rows and chins, shoulder presses, squats, leg presses, deadlifts and dips. These moves will not only stimulate the body to grow stronger and larger, they will also burn the most calories, utilize protein and carbs and raise growth hormone and testosterone levels naturally.

Make sure you have a sound and balanced routine and stay consistent with your diet.


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Posted Mon, 02/20/2012 - 00:22

Hi Brad

I have found your articles very helpful thanks.

I'm just wondering whether I should add my calories used during workout to the amount I get from the Daily Calorie calculator?

ie I get 2700 calories from the calculator, and my workouts are usually between 400 & 500 calories. So, should I be eating 3100-3200 calories? Or is this included when you select the activity level?

And if so, is that 3100-3200 calories just to maintain my current weight or will that help me add weight?


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Posted Fri, 03/02/2012 - 16:06

Hi Darren. Calculators are mainly giving you info that includes energy for activity levels. The important thing is to have a starting line and adjust up or down after a few weeks to suit your goals.

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Posted Thu, 03/29/2012 - 19:23

Hi I'm 25 and I'm a beginner wieght lifter, I have some chest build up I do eat well diet and take protien shakes dailey, but my question is why does it take so long to bulk muscle up? Is their a quicker way to do it? I've been told creatine but it makes me tired afterwords. Any help?

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Posted Sun, 04/01/2012 - 15:19

I do varsity wrestling at my school and my weight class is 132 lbs. right now its in the middle of the off season. I am not wanting to go up a weight class because it is my senior year next year. I am wanting to stay at 132. But I have a hard time with trying to gain muscle but lose fat at the same time. Help?

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Posted Fri, 05/18/2012 - 13:45

I have been training with weights for the past 4-5 months with a goal to build muscle and it has worked,
cause I have put on some muscle compared to before. But in the process I have put on more fat also
mainly due to insufficient cardio and I seem to be hungry most of the time due to that burning sensation
In your muscle that u work out and thus I have also started eating a lot more than I used to earlier.
I would like to know now since it is high time time got rid of my stomach would u suggest
Doing high reps with reduced wt plus the cardio that I need !
Or should do heavy wt plus cardio and watch my diet ?
Currently for past 4 months I have been working 2 or 1 muscle group per day with heavy wts and I have
also been on protein shakes. Now my goal is to reduce my tummy with out losing wat ever little muscle I
was able to gain...
Thank you. :)

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Posted Sat, 06/16/2012 - 13:55
Robert Darnell

Im 14 and Im trying to train very hard for football at the end of summer.I work out 6 days a week and i didnt know what type of foods i should be eating if i want to lose fat and bulk up at the same time

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Posted Sun, 07/15/2012 - 17:39

Im a soccer player and im 15 years old i am pretty skinny and i want to gain muscle but i cant gain any fat since i play conpetitive soccer i can see my abs but i want to be more muscular and leaner i want to gain about 5 lbs of muscle and lose some i want to be around 10-9% bf right now i am at 12% how can do that would this article help me do this. This is my work out routine im doing right down to get the body i want .
Daily Workout Schedule:

Day 1 - Chest and Biceps
Exercise Sets Reps
Incline Smith Machine Press 4 10
Flat Bench Barbell Press 4 10
Chest Dips 3 10

Exercise Sets Reps
EZ Bar Curls 3 8-10
Concentration Curls 3 10
Reverse Barbell Curls 3 12
Workout Notes:
Use 3-1-3 timing on Incline Smith Machine Press
Tuesday - Rest Day

Day 2- Legs and Shoulders
Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 5 10
Leg Press 4 10-12
Stiff Leg Deadlifts 4 8-10
Seated Calf Raise 3 8-10
Standing Calf Raise 3 12-15
Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 4 8-10
Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 10
Rear Delt Machine 3 10
Dumbbell Shrugs 4 10-12
Try some deep squats with 3-2 rep timing (use lighter weight) for some variation. Use a drop set on the leg press machine to give the quads a shock. If your gym doesn't have a Rear Delt Machine substitute Reverse Dumbbell Flyes. Use 3-1-3 rep timing on the seated lat raises
Thursday - Rest Day

Day 3 - Back and Triceps
Exercise Sets Reps
Wide Grip Pullups 4 8-12
Lat Pull Downs 4 10
One Arm Dumbbell Row 4 10
T-Bar Rows 4 10
Exercise Sets Reps
Lying Tricep Extension 3 10
Rope Pulldowns 3 12
Reverse Single Arm Extension 3 12
3-1-3 rep timing on Lat pulldown machine
Weekend - Rest

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Posted Thu, 09/27/2012 - 01:38

Hi, i just joined a gym and i want to know whats the best way to lose body fat. Im 18, 6'1ft 260 pounds ( i got fat after high chool baseball season was over). What should i do to lose weight??? But also i want to grow muscle strenght in my shoulders and back?

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Posted Mon, 10/22/2012 - 14:05

Hi brad,
I am doing weight training at gym at 2 every weekday and 4 on a weekend before very gym session I do 20 min of cardio,
I am 98kg and i dot eat alot at all any advise on losing weight but at the same time bulking up

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Posted Tue, 11/06/2012 - 19:24

Is eating every 2 hours is good enough to build and maintain muscle

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Posted Sat, 11/10/2012 - 18:19

What is a good post workout meal at night?

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Posted Mon, 11/19/2012 - 21:47

Hey Steve what's a good energy drink or supplement b4 my workout

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Posted Mon, 04/22/2013 - 21:22

Brad should I follow this way of eating or the cycling through carbs? Not sure whether to go constant or to cycle in terms of gaining muscle but also leaning out. And if I cycle, can I go low, low, medium, low, low, medium, high? trying to figure this out.

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Posted Tue, 10/01/2013 - 10:21


I'm a fat bastard looking to get healthy. i don't mind putting in the hard work and time. how do i get the biggest most defined muscles? What do i eat? I weigh 250 and am 5'9!

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Posted Tue, 02/04/2014 - 04:58

hi im arianne im 25 years old 5'5 and 58kg i wanted to be 52kg and everyday going to the gym... how many calories will i burn everyday ?

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Posted Wed, 03/26/2014 - 13:50

How do I determine an accurate base calorie intake? I weighed 195LBS with a six pack, I am trying to add more muscle so, I added carbs back into my diet and I gained 15lbs but six pack is gone now but I feel a lot stronger and the weight I am pushing has gone up. bench 225 to 275, squats 225 to 295. How can I turn this fat to muscle.

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Posted Tue, 08/12/2014 - 00:51

I'm 33 yrs. old , 6' 2 and 168lbs .
I currently made the decision to start strength training , currently eating 3300 calories per day.
could you recommend a 4 day workout routine to gain muscle mass .
any help will be appreciated .

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Posted Thu, 04/16/2015 - 11:52

Hey Brad,

I know the importance of eating a meal after intense workouts, but I do not usually finish my workouts until 9:30 at night. I consume a whey protein shake post workout, but do not always eat a meal since it is so late already. I want to stay lean, but also dont want to miss out on gains due to lack of nutirients. What is your recomendation?