In this article you and I are going to get to the bottom of the question can you gain muscle without gaining fat ?
Whether you are set out on a quest to be the biggest, baddest body builder ever, or you are a female looking to get more “toned”.
Building muscle is a massive part of either of those situations.
Yet the issue is you, me, and everyone else in the world want to be able to gain muscle but not gain the accompanying fat that goes along with it.
Which begs the question of can you gain muscle without gaining fat?
Sit back, grab your favorite protein shake, and get ready for some education on just that.
My brief ask of you is to just be sure to read the entire article. No skimming back and forth.
I don’t care if the kids set the house on fire, finish reading the article first, deal?
Good, glad we have a deal.
Now let’s get to learning, shall we?
Can You Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat?
Why Is Gaining Muscle Important?
Before we dive into the question of can you gain muscle without gaining fat, I want to first talk about why you would want to gain muscle.
There are a few different scenarios that I will cover here below.
One of the best things you can do for your overall health is have lean muscle mass on your frame.
For starters, lean muscle mass can help boost your metabolism (especially as you age!).
Muscle mass requires more oxygen to get pumped to it. The more oxygen that has to be pumped to it, the harder your body has to work.
The harder your body has to work, the more calories your body has to burn.
Aka the more calories your body burns, the higher your metabolism is.
This is great for anyone looking to burn fat or just maintain a healthy bodyweight.
As well as mentioned above, one of the biggest declines in people as they age is their lean muscle mass.
Therefore if you can build and retain lean muscle mass, as you age, your metabolism will thank you. It might even write you send you a Christmas card!
Second, the more lean muscle mass you have, the better your bone density is.
Once again as you age your bone density starts to diminish, especially in females.
If you can do what you can to build and retain lean muscle mass, you will be certain to get two Christmas cards this year.
One from your metabolism and one from your bones!
Third, the more lean muscle mass you have the better your insulin sensitivity is.
One of the most common issues across the world is diabetes and insulin resistance.
Lifting weights and building lean muscle mass can help dramatically with lowering A1C levels and improving your insulin sensitivity (as told by one of my clients Sabrina here below!).
Lean, “Toned” Look
Above we named just a few of the important health benefits of building muscle.
I could go on for many more, but wanted to give you a simple idea of why lean muscle mass is so important to your body.
Now, when talking about can you gain muscle without gaining fat, you probably are wanting to know this for more than just health reasons.
Which hey, nothing wrong with that.
Whether you are a guy looking to get ripped up.
Or you are a girl chasing that lean, “toned”, defined look to your body.
Building muscle will be the foundation of either one of those scenarios and let me show you what I mean.
First let’s take a look at one of my online coaching clients Bremer.
Bremer came to me wanting to change his physique. As you can tell from the picture above, he did just that.
Bremer worked his a** off to achieve these results, yet point being, he was able to gain muscle without gaining fat and completely reshape what his body looks like.
As you can see in the beginning picture, he wasn’t “overweight” by any means.
He just did not have that lean, defined look most people want to have. He was what we call “skinny fat”.
We will talk about skinny fat a bit later in this article.
Next up we have one of my clients Stephanie.
Stephanie lifts very, very heavy weights.
She has spent a lot of time building lean muscle mass on her frame.
So, what’s the point here?
Unless you have the appropriate amount of lean muscle mass to your body, you will never get that “look” you are chasing.
That lean, defined, toned, aesthetic physique that you are going for.
Therefore whether you are a male or a female and your goal to obtain that “look”, one of your top priorities should be to gain muscle.
I wanted you to know and see the importance of why you should be concerning yourself with building muscle.
Now I want to quickly dive into nutrition for muscle building.
Can You Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat : Your Nutrition
When it comes to gaining muscle without gaining fat, I want to set some parameters first.
There are three basic things that can happen with your nutrition.
First, you can eat in a calorie deficit, which means you are eating less calories than your body burns.
This will have you lose weight.
Second, you can eat at your calorie maintenance, which means you will eat roughly the same amount of calories your body needs in order to maintain its weight.
Third, you can eat in a calorie surplus, which means you will be intaking enough calories for your body to gain weight.
In terms of gaining muscle, to optimize gaining muscle, you typically need to be in a calorie surplus.
This is because for your body to have enough calories coming in to build muscle, it needs to take care of all of its bodily functions first.
Hormones, sleep, digestion, reproductive systems, etc.
Aka all of the stuff for you to at least maintain where you are at.
Then, after all of that is taken care of, you can a lot the extra calories towards building muscle.
This is how you optimize muscle building.
Yet there are a few scenarios where that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, let’s chat about it a bit more in depth below.
Can You Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat : The Truth
There are going to be 3 main scenarios I am going to cover here when it comes to answering the question of can you gain muscle without gaining fat.
The first is going to be if you are completely new to following a strength training program.
The second is going to be if you have taken an extended period of time off from following a strength training program.
The third is going to be if you are more of a late intermediate to advanced lifter who has been working out for some time now.
If You Are Brand New To Following A Strength Training Routine
If you are brand new to following a real strength training program, you my friend, are going to be able to not only gain muscle without gaining fat.
But you will be able to gain muscle while losing body fat, and here is why.
When talking about gaining muscle, you need one very important thing.
That is a stress great enough on your body that your body has to respond and adapt to it.
This stress is essentially the strength training program. The adaptation is your body building stronger, more defined muscles.
You are putting your body through stress, so your body has to adapt in order to keep you alive and safe.
Your body doesn’t know you are lifting weights to build muscle, it just knows there is a stress being placed upon it and it has to respond accordingly.
Therefore you are going to build stronger, more defined muscles as a response.
When you are brand new, this stress is going to be great enough because of just that reason, it is brand new!
Your body has NOT seen or been exposed to this before.
It is going to have no other choice but to respond and gain muscle.
This is the beauty of being a beginner. If only we could all stay in the “newbie gains” phase forever!
Over time, your body will get used to it and you will become an intermediate to advanced lifter. You will then have to do something a bit different, but we will touch on that later in the article.
Yet for now, you my friend, will be able to go on with your muscle building journey without worrying about the potential of fat gain.
Some quick questions I want to cover.
How long are you considered a beginner for?
Everyone is different, but generally speaking the first 6-12 months of you following a real strength training program you are typically in the beginner stage.
This is why I always encourage people that if you are new to this, really take advantage of it, because this will be the time where you see and make the most progress.
Not that it is all downhill after that, it just becomes increasingly harder and takes much longer to see even half the amount of progress you will see in the first 6-12 months.
2. What Is A “Real Strength Training Program”
You have seen me mention it a few times already, “a real strength training program”.
What does that mean?
Well, if you want some in depth information on that, I did an entire video on it. You can check that out HERE after we are done here.
But what I want to make clear is there is a big difference in “exercising” and “Training”.
There is nothing wrong with “exercising” as it is certainly better than nothing.
It gets you up, gets you moving, etc.
Yet there is a massive difference between following a random YouTube video workout, randomly doing machines in the gym, or seeing someones instagram swipe workout and doing that.
As opposed to following a real training program.
There will also be a massive difference in the results you see.
I am telling you this not to rag on you, but to encourage you.
I have had tons of clients come to me who say they have been working out for years, and they have!
Yet they never actually followed a real program. Therefore that person may think they are an intermediate or advanced lifter, but in the context of this conversation, they are actually a beginner.
Therefore they will be able to achieve these newbie gains we talked about, and they will be able to gain muscle without gaining fat.
So if that is you, be excited for that!
3. What Should You Do With Your Nutrition!?
If you have fallen under this category, you will be able to do something called “body recomposition”.
This basically means you will be losing fat and building muscle at the same time.
I wrote an entire article where I go in depth on this, you can check that out HERE if you want.
Therefore in terms of your nutrition, if you have less than 10lbs you’d like to lose, you should be eating right around maintenance calories or a very slight calorie deficit in order to lose fat and build muscle at the same time.
If you have 10+lbs you’d like to lose, I would suggest going into a slight calorie deficit.
When you go too low in calories, you will not optimize muscle building, therefore you should either right at maintenance calories or a very slight deficit.
I have a totally free maintenance calorie calculator HERE.
As well as a totally free calorie deficit calculator HERE .
If You Have Taken An Extended Period Of Time Away From Strength Training
The next scenario when it comes to can you gain muscle without gaining fat is going to be if you have taken an extended period of time off from strength training.
Let’s say you used to be an athlete in high school and college, got out of college, got married, started a family, and bam 30lbs later you are reading this article looking to lose some fat and build some muscle.
Or let’s say you had an injury that sidelined you for a bit of time.
Whatever your specific scenario may be, if you have taken an extended period of time away from strength training, you will be able to once again not only gain muscle without gaining fat, but you will be able to gain muscle and burn fat at the same time.
For much of the same reasons as above.
Your body is going to get this new stimulus / stress put upon it and it will have to respond by building stronger, more defined muscles.
How long is “an extended period of time off”?
When talking about how long is an extended period of time off from strength training, generally speaking 6-12 months time frame, depending on your previous training history.
2. What To Do With Your Nutrition?!
If this is you, you will actually take the same approach as someone who is brand new to strength training.
Eat right around your maintenance calories or in a slight calorie deficit, crush your strength training workouts, and you will be able to not only gain muscle but also lose at at the same time.
Seriously, take advantage of it, you are lucky.
If You Are An Intermediate To Advanced Lifter
To answer the question of can you gain muscle without gaining fat, the first two scenarios the answer was yes, you could.
In the two scenarios above, you will build muscle at any calorie intake essentially because the stimulus and stress is so new to your body that your body will have no choice but to grow muscle.
I mentioned above that you need to take advantage of that time and enjoy it because it won’t last forever.
Us intermediate and advanced lifters know that by now, and if this is you, you are going to have to take a slightly different approach.
If this is you, you are going to have to go into a calorie surplus if you are looking to optimize gaining muscle.
You could try to eat around maintenance, but your progress would just be mind numbingly slow that you would get beyond frustrated.
Therefore to optimally gain muscle, a calorie surplus is required.
Now hear me out when I say this.
With a calorie surplus is going to come some fat gain.
That is just the way it is. You can’t really get around that.
But, what you can do, is minimize it as best you possibly can by following certain macros.
As well as making sure you don’t go too high in calories and essentially “Dreamer bulk” your way to building muscle.
“Dreamer bulk” is this idea of just eating everything in sight to build muscle, unfortunately speaking from experience, this is not the most effective way if you are looking to minimize fat gain.
Let’s touch on what I mean a bit more in depth here below.
Calories For Building Muscle For An Intermediate – Advanced Lifter
So now that we know in order to optimize muscle building you are going to need a calorie surplus, let’s talk about how to find that calorie surplus and the macros that go along with that.
( Macros = Macronutrients. Protein, carbs, and fats ).
To find your calorie surplus number you are going to need to find your maintenance calories.
If you need a free maintenance calorie calculator, HERE it is again.
Once you find that, you are going to add 2-300 calories to that.
** Note: Maintenance calories are a range. There is no one set in stone number. If the calculation gives you 2000 calories, think of your maintenance calories at 1800-2200, anywhere in between there.
You cannot perfectly estimate your maintenance calories, hence that is why it is all an estimation.
You will have to put it into action, track your progress, and see for yourself! **
So let’s say your maintenance calories are 2000. In order to go into a reasonable calorie surplus that would minimize fat gain, you would eat roughly 2300 calories.
As you can see off the bat, if your calorie maintenance is 2000, eating 2300 calories can really only gain but so much body fat.
Remember as well, as long as you are following a proper strength training program, your body is going to use those extra calories towards building muscle, not storing it as body fat.
If you weren’t working out, it would go to fat storage. Yet as long as you are following a proper workout routine and applying progressive overload your body is going to use those calories to build muscle.
Now, let’s talk about macros.
Once again, macros are just simply macronutrients. Protein, carbs, and fats.
There is a certain set up of macro nutrients you can use within your calorie surplus to minimize fat gain even more.
Let’s cover it below.
How To Calculate Macros For Muscle Gain
A calculator may be handy for you, so whip that bad boy out.
You are first going to need your total calories. Let’s use the example of 2300.
We will first start with protein.
The equation for protein is going to be
Take your goal body weight (in lbs) x 1
Therefore let’s say you want to weigh 150lbs, simply eat 150g of protein.
Now there can be some leeway there, for example if you hit 140 it isn’t the end of the world, but getting adequate protein is crucial in minimizing fat gain when building muscle as protein is the only macro nutrient that helps build and retain lean muscle mass.
As well as protein is almost damn near impossible to store as body fat.
Now, the next part is to find out how many calories you are intaking from protein. You will learn why this is important in a second.
For every 1 gram of protein, there is 4 calories.
Therefore if you eat 150g of protein, 150 x 4 = 600 calories from protein.
Next up let’s figure out our total daily fat intake.
This is where it is important to keep an eye on this. I mentioned above protein is almost damn near impossible to store as body fat.
Dietary fat on the other hand is easier to store as body fat, well, because it is already fat!
Especially in a calorie surplus.
Therefore paying attention to your overall dietary fat intake is key in minimizing fat gain.
The equation for how many dietary fat you should have per day is
Current body weight (in lbs) x .35-.4
So let’s say for example you currently weigh 145.
145 x .4 = 60g of fat.
Again, you can give yourself a range. Say from 55g of fat to 65g of fat per day.
Now, let’s get the total calories from fat.
For every 1g of fat, there are 9 calories.
Therefore 60 x 9 = 540 calories.
Now let’s add up what we have thus far.
Remember you had 600 calories from protein, and 540 calories from fat.
That is 1140 total calories.
Our daily calorie intake was 2300 calories.
In order to find our carb goal, we are going to take the remaining calories and put it towards carbs.
So 2300 – 1140 = 1160 calories.
For every 1g of carb there is 4 calories.
Therefore what we will do is take 1160 / 4 = 290.
Now, you know you have a carb goal of 290g per day.
Therefore this total calorie and macro breakdown would be
2300 calories per day
150g of protein per day
60g of fat per day
290g of carbs per day
In order to gain muscle while minimizing fat gain.
Quick Note On Protein
When it comes to gaining muscle, adequate protein is essential.
It is the only macronutrient that is going to build muscle. Without it, your body will not be able to recover from workouts and build muscle.
No matter what scenario you are, the general rule of thumb is trying to get around your goal body weight (in lbs) x 1 in protein.
If you need some extra help on getting more protein in your diet, I got you, just head HERE .
Can You Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat : Skinny Fat
When talking about the “skinny fat” physique, typically this individual would fall under one of the two scenarios where you will be able to lose fat and build muscle at the same time.
That is typically how people end up skinny fat. They either do not do enough strength training and never followed a real plan, or they don’t eat the adequate protein intake.
Therefore if you are skinny fat, I would eat right around maintenance calories, have adequate protein intake, and apply progressive overload, which we will talk about right here right now.
Can You Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat : Progressive Overload
I mentioned earlier that to lose fat all you need to do is be in a calorie deficit.
To lose weight, simply eat less calories than your body burns, and it will happen!
Unfortunately, building muscle is not like that. You can’t just eat more food and magically gain muscle (trust me, I wish!!!).
You need to have the proper stress on your body from a proper strength training program in order to build muscle.
That is how it happens.
You also need to be sure you are applying something called progressive overload.
I won’t go too in depth on progressive overload because it is a complex topic and I did an entire article on it HERE if you want to learn more.
Yet long story short, you need to make sure you are doing more over a period of time.
If you are lifting 100lbs for 10 reps, in 6 months, if you are still lifting 100lbs for 10 reps, good luck gaining any muscle.
This is not to say every time you go into the gym you have to do more weight or it has to be a personal record setting workout.
Of course you will have some bad days and that is normal.
But overall, you should be doing more over a period of time.
More reps, more weight, better form, more sets, etc.
That is how your body gains muscle, by continuously putting a stress great enough on it that your body has to respond.
As well as making sure you are pushing yourself close to failure.
The next greatest driver of muscle growth is something called mechanical tension.
Which basically means, you need to recruit most or all of your muscle fibers to work, and work hard, in order to gain muscle.
This is done by taking your sets close to failure.
I did an entire video on this if you want to dive more in depth HERE.
Can You Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat : Final Word
Welp, there you have it.
I told you you were going to get some education in this article and I hope you got just that.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop below I would be happy to help.
I also know this stuff can be incredibly overwhelming and a ton of information to take in all at once, so if you want me to take out all of the guesswork for you, feel free to head HERE to see if we may be a good fit for coaching.
Other than that, thank you for reading, hope you learned something, and chat soon.