Myth Destroyer, Can You Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat?

February 19th 2020

Is it impossible to gain muscle without fat?

Must the two go hand in hand?

One of the most common questions I get is whether or not it is possible to gain muscle without building fat.

After all, beginners are usually advised to start a strength program on a bulk, but what if you already have some fat and are trying to lose it?

What happens if you try a strength program on a cut? 

What steps should you take in order to develop the best physique if you have a little bit of fat?

All of these questions will be answered in today’s article.

And to answer the main question, yes, it is possible to gain muscle without gaining fat. However, you need to eat a slight caloric surplus. To learn more about how this is possible read on.

To start off, let me explain the relationship between muscle and fat and why it is advised that beginners who are just starting a strength program should be on a bulk.

Is it impossible to gain muscle without fat?

You can gain muscle without fat by eating at a very slight caloric surplus. This is usually referred to as lean bulking or reverse dieting. 

Relationship between gaining muscle and fat

Muscle and fat are two entirely different components of the body.

Fat is a visceral layer underneath your skin, while muscle is underneath fat and is what we want to increase in order to build a better physique and to get stronger.

When you eat food, the food is first broken down into its most simplest form, and then it is distributed throughout the body for different purposes.

Some of the food is stored in your energy reserve as glycogen in the pancreas and the muscle cells.

Some of the food is used up during your basic metabolism in order to keep your body functioning at its optimal body temperature.

Some of the food is used as building blocks for building more muscle, stronger bones, wound repair, etc.

And finally, some of the food is stored as fat.

As you can see, food has a variety of functions in the body. It has both a positive role in building muscle and a negative role in building fat.

In addition, how much muscle or fat you build depends on how many calories you are taking in.

All humans have a baseline level of how many calories they need.

If you go beyond this level (also known as a caloric surplus), you will maximize the amount of muscle you are building, but also the amount of fat that is being stored.

If you eat at your caloric maintenance, you can build SOME muscle, and won’t gain very much fat.

If you eat below this level (caloric deficit), your body will actually burn muscle and burn fat in order to use it as energy. Meaning, you lose weight.

The reason why most programs suggest that beginners start on a bulk is because while on a bulk, you are on a caloric surplus, which maximizes the amount of muscle you build while on the program.

This will make you both stronger and develop bigger muscles much faster which is what every beginner wants.

But at the same time, you will also be building fat which will actually “hide” your muscles and may make you feel like you aren’t building a better physique.

However, after you build the muscle while on a bulk, you can also go on a cut where you eat at a caloric deficit, and slowly burn off all the fat that you gained while retaining as much muscle as possible.

This is why you hear bodybuilders usually cycle between a bulking season where they eat anything they want and a cutting season where they have a strict diet of only chicken, rice, and broccoli.

Now that you know of the relationship between muscle, fat, and the importance of the number of calories you are taking in, how is it possible to build muscle without gaining fat?

Is it possible to gain muscle without gaining fat?

The answer is yes.

However, in order to do so, you must eat at a slight caloric surplus. You must only eat at around ~200 calories above your maintenance level.

At 200 calories above maintenance, most of these calories will be used for building muscle, and hardly any will be stored as fat.

This is known as lean bulking.

Once you go above 200 calories, that is when more and more of the calories will be stored as fat.

Why would anyone want to lean bulk?

Those who are more focused on developing a nice physique all year round rather than those who are trying to cycle between being fat and being shredded.

Check out this video that compares the pros and cons of a cyclical diet vs lean bulking:

Lean bulking also offers plenty of other benefits such as getting stronger while maintaining your 6-pack.

You no longer have to weigh your options of being strong or having a nice physique while you are on a lean bulk.

So now that you know of the option of lean bulking, should you do it as a beginner?

Should beginners worry about gaining muscle without gaining fat?

Gaining muscle without gaining fat is everyone’s dream, but it is something that is difficult to maintain in the long run.

It requires a lot of planning, meal prep, and self-discipline in order to pull off a lean bulk in the long run.

These are the reasons why I would not suggest beginners start on a lean bulk.

Those who are just starting out in the gym already have a lot on their plates.

You have to concentrate on getting to the gym, what exercises to perform, how to perform the exercises with correct form, and you must push yourself near your maximum capacity.

If you were to try and lean bulk at the same time on top of all these other things you must learn, it will surely overwhelm you.

So, heed my advice, and rather than lean bulking, just bulk.

Bulking is a lot easier; you don’t have to count calories or meal prep, you just eat a lot more than you normally would.

Doing so will maximize the amount of muscle you gain, and you will become stronger over time.

Once you get the hang of going to the gym and performing exercises with proper form, then you can start focusing on learning how to lean bulk.

These are the steps that I suggest beginners take in order to get stronger and develop an aesthetic physique.

There are stages that you must learn and go through for yourself before you can advance to the next level.

So, the first level for beginners is to focus on your program and perform your lifts.

The next level for more advanced lifters looking to drastically change their physique is to focus on diet.

And let me tell you this, maintaining a diet is 10 times harder than simply going to the gym.

To give you a brief overview of what the next level is like, maintaining a diet focuses on counting macros of every food you eat, it involves using a food scale in order to calculate how many calories each food is, and in order to be successful, it requires preparing meals ahead of time so you may be eating the same thing over and over again.

This might sound impossible, or insane, but there is some wiggle room once you get more advanced and develop a sense of what you can and can’t eat.

But this is way too overwhelming for a beginner, and beginners should just focus on going to the gym and performing their exercises.

Do this consistently for a year, and see how you feel about your program and physique.

If you choose to alter your physique, and going to the gym and performing the lifts with proper form is easy for you, only then should you look into lean bulking.

Takeaways for beginners that are hesitant to bulk while strength training

Even after all that is said, there will still be some of you that are hesitant to remain on a bulk while you are on a program.

Here is just some advice from me that can help you overcome these feelings.

If you are currently overweight, strength training will help you lose weight.

It might not burn as much fat as running, but it is a lot easier for your joints, and at the same time, you will also be building muscle and getting stronger.

Also, remember that while on a bulk, you are maximizing the amount of muscle you are building.

You can rest easy knowing that all your efforts in the gym are going to pay off.

You will see faster progress and strength gain in all your lifts.

If you were on a lean bulk, it is a lot harder to progress in strength and you will reach plateaus a lot quicker.

The tradeoff for a good physique is being strong.

So, as a beginner, focus on your lifts and on becoming stronger.

Focus on your goals of how much weight you want to be able to lift.

Then, once you’ve accomplished your short-term goal, then you can rest easy knowing that the moment you go on a cut, you will have a nice physique.

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