Hey there, hypothetical reader friend. Remember this article?
You know whut? I missed one. What a mighty dickhead I am. I missed the biggest reason why you’re not gaining muscle. I just forgot to squeeze it in there.
These are the kinds of screw-ups that hold me from moving up the Google rankings…
Anyway, for no reason other than that I had nothing cool to do, I’m telling it to you now:
The biggest mistake keeping you from gaining muscle is your fear of gaining fat. You’re not making progress because you’re too focused on staying lean.
You Can’t Build Muscle And Lose Fat At The Same Time (In Most Cases)
Stop trying to pull off body recomposition aka lose fat and build muscle simultaneously. It’s only possible if you fall into one of these three categories:
If you’re not one of those, stop wasting your time trying to recomp. It’s the most inefficient way to gain muscle. You end up spinning your wheels in a situation where neither your training nor nutrition is optimized for either fat loss or muscle gain.
Steve Hall, a natural bodybuilder and a coach, posted this on Instagram:
That’s his progress from 2017 to 2021. One of the three keys to these changes, according to him, was:
Gradual muscle gain requires a consistent calorie surplus. And this should go without saying. That’s why I’m going to say it: It entails some fat gain.
So stop being fat-phobic. Accept that fat that comes along with muscle. Like I did:
I weigh 222 pounds on the left at the end of my gaining phase. With quite a bit of fat that came from eating at a calorie surplus. However, it ensured more muscle once I leaned out.
Do the same because losing fat is easier than gaining muscle. For two reasons:
- While muscle gain almost always comes with some fat gain, fat loss almost never comes with muscle loss unless you screw up your nutrition and/or training big time.
- Muscle gain is a slow process while fat loss is much faster. Don’t make the former even slower than it already is by not eating enough.
So embrace calorie surplus. Embrace fat gain. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time gaining muscle if you’re afraid to gain fat.
With that, comes calorie surplus recommendations.
Calorie Surplus Size And Weight Gain Rate
Obviously, you shouldn’t eat in a calorie surplus if you already weigh as much as that ridiculously looking Smart car. Your current body composition can affect the proportion of muscle to fat gained.
Optimal starting points fall into:
If you’re outside of these ranges, sorry but you need to sort that out first (I wrote a full set of fundamentals to lose fat). But if you’re lean enough, go ahead and add calorie surplus.
How big? That’s where I’m not much of a use to you. About as useful as that ugly Smart car on the F-1 racetrack would be.
You see, the magnitude of calorie surplus differs from individual to individual. Massively. The best advice I can give you comes from a recent study by Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon:
If you’re a beginner lifter, you will need a higher surplus because you’re a gajillion miles away from your genetic potential and you can shoot for a faster monthly weight gain rate.
If you’re intermediate or advanced, you will need to scale it back and stick to a slower rate:
Commit To A Muscle Gain Phase Long Term
Those who are fat-phobic often think that everyone who gains muscle faster than they are on drugs. No. They’re bigger because they’re not jumping back and forth between calorie maintenance and deficit.
People who have Steve Hall-like physiques are those who commit to muscle gain phases and don’t putter out once they see a bit of fat creeping on.
Commit to at least 6 months of muscle gaining phase (probably closer to 9 months). Then stick with it while following two rules:
- Don’t gain weight faster than the recommended rates for your training status. You can’t rush muscle growth. (You’ll gain more weight during the first 1-2 weeks due to increased water weight. It’s normal.)
- Don’t ever lose sight of your beloved abs. If that occurs, you’re getting cuddly and your muscle gaining phase is over. Start cutting.
- Unless you’re an overweight beginner, detrained, or on drugs, eating at a calorie surplus is necessary to optimize muscle growth.
- Before starting a muscle gain phase, ensure you’re lean enough—10-15% for males and 16-26% for females.
- Stick to realistic muscle gain rates and adjust calorie surplus depending on monthly results.
- Commit to the gaining phase and stop it when you’re about to lose your abs. Or when eating meals the size of a truck wheel gets gross. This will happen. At my heaviest weight, I’ve been chewing up the world’s food resources at a pace of ~4,600 caloric units per day. Food leaking from your ears is no fun. Trust me.
Let’s end on a positive note: If you choose to stay ultra-lean year-round, you probably (meaning most definitely) won’t make great gains.
Was it positive? I’m not sure anymore. My sarcasm is off today. Bye.
Originally published by me on Medium on August 29, 2021