You want to build muscle, but you don’t want to gain fat in the process, right?
In order to build muscle you need to be consuming more calories in a day than your body burns, because building new muscle requires extra energy (calories).This is known as a calorie surplus.
Some of these excess calories will go towards the repair and growth of new muscle, which is exactly what we want. The problem is, that some of those calories will also spill over and be stored as fat, which is something we want to keep to an absolute minimum.
Your main goal when building muscle should always be to gain maximum muscle and minimum fat. Its lean muscle gains only we’re after.
If you want to build a noticeable amount of muscle as quickly as possible then you must accept the fact that some fat will be gained in the process. But don’t worry, by paying attention to a few key factors you can keep the fat gains to an almost unnoticeable level.
All the fitness models and pro bodybuilders you see in incredible shape all went through periods of holding some unwanted body fat… it’s just part of the process.
There are people who go to extremes and eat everything in sight in order to gain as muscle mass as possible. These people are the ‘dirty bulkers’ and probably don’t care much about their fat levels most of the year. I don’t like this approach to building muscle, it’s not necessary to gain unsightly fat. I like to stay lean all year round and manage this by paying attention to my diet and training.
If you can keep fat gains as low as possible on your lean bulking phase, it will be easy to remove with a short cut. The least fat you gain when bulking the easier, faster, and less chance of muscle loss during your cutting phase.
Below are some of my top tips for optimising for maximum gains in muscle while maintaining low body fat levels.
Top 5 tips
1: Get your Calories from Whole Healthy Foods
There’s a term thrown around a lot call ‘dirty bulking’ which means you eat as much as possible, without tracking calories or macronutrients. “Just get as much calorie dense junk food down your throat until you’re ready to burst”
Here’s the dirty truth about ‘dirty bulking’ – It’s the lazy, reckless and unhealthy way to build muscle that leads to massive gains in body fat that will take great time and effort to remove.
Drop the junk food and eat clean whole foods such as:
Protein: Chicken, eggs, turkey, fish, grass fed beef, whey protein isolate
Carbohydrates: oats, brown rice, whole wheat bread, brown pasta, sweet potatoes, fruits
Fats: Organic peanut butter, coconut oil, nuts, seeds
Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, peppers, asparagus
You should always try to eat whole natural foods. Eat crap… you’ll feel and look like crap!
2: Don’t go OverBoard With your Calorie Surplus
You need to consume a calorie surplus in order to support and grow new muscle. To find out how many calories more you need to eat a day you must work out your calorie maintenance level. I’ve already written a post that clearly shows you how to work this out. Read this post to find out more.
The body can only grow a limit amount of muscle after an intense workout, so you only need a surplus of 300 – 500 calories a day. Going any higher than this is likely to start a spill over and your body will store these extra calories as fat.
Since our goal is to keep fat levels to a minimum while gaining as much muscle as possible, keep the calorie surplus to the lower end at 300. So, if your work out that your daily calorie maintenance level is 3000, you will add 300 to consume a total of 3,300 calories per day.
If you’re a hardgainer with a high metabolism and struggle to gain weight then you can increase your calories by 500 per day.
Consume a sufficient amount of calories to maximize muscle gain
Avoid excessive calorie consumption to minimize fat gain
3: Track your Calories
We’ve established that it’s vital to keep your calorie surplus high enough for muscle growth, but not so high that it results in fat storage.
To make sure you’re on top of your daily calorie intake I recommend getting a calorie counter app. If you have an iPhone I recommend ‘MyFitnessPal’ to track calories. This is an amazing app that has a huge food database and barcode scanner feature that makes calorie tracking easy.
If you don’t have a smartphone or you’re a technophobe, a simple pad a pen to keep a daily journal will do the job.
You don’t have to be super accurate to the calorie, but you do need to have a good idea of your daily calorie intake.
Keep a track!
4: Workout for Growth
In order to stimulate muscle growth (protein synthesis) you must follow a good muscle building exercise program. If you fail to implement an effective workout plan you won’t properly activate the body’s muscle building response.
Failing to stimulate muscle growth through training will result in the extra calories you’re consuming turning to fat. If the calorie surplus is not needed to repair and grown muscle then it will have nowhere else to go but your fat stores.
An intense, effective workout routine is essential to stimulate growth and put your calorie surplus to use.
5: Include Some Cardio
Implementing a few short (10-20mins), high intensity cardio sessions a week is a great way to keep those unwanted fat gains under control.
After intense weight training, your body will continue to burn calories for up to 48 hours. This is what’s called ‘post-exercise oxygen consumption’ and occurs at a much higher level after intense weight training compared to other lower intensity forms of exercise.
To make the most of this elevated fat burning period, hit some high intensity cardio after lifting 2 – 3 times per week. This kind of cardio supports muscle growth while eliminating excess fat storage.