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JENNILACEY SparkPoints: (81,972)
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5/27/13 11:31 A

Thank you for the response MOTIVATED@LAST. I've never fully understood why so many people say it's not possible to gain muscle on a calorie deficit. I do understand that the process is slower than it would be on a calorie surplus. I've also calorie cycled while building/cutting where I eat a few days a week at maintenance and never dip below -20% TDEE on non-training days.

For bodybuilders simultaneously trimming and bulking makes little sense since they will achieve much faster gains by doing a cutting cycle and then a bulking cycle (repeat). But I believe for those of us who are beginners/novices (keeping in mind beginners experience faster gains than experienced weight lifters) and seeking small gains while decreasing body fat it isn't an unachieveable goal. Considering my own experience, I would recommend that goal for anyone in their last 10-15 lbs. To take it off slow and work on body composition. I found it only took me about 4-5 months to lose 15 lbs and go from 24% body fat to 18% and virtually no visable muscle to where I'm at now. So I wouldn't consider the process incredibly slow. Maybe it depends on the individual since some body types gain muscle easier than others.

Edited by: JENNILACEY at: 5/27/2013 (11:49)
MOTIVATED@LAST Posts: 15,459
5/27/13 10:27 A


This is where it gets a little complicated. The body typically switches between anabolic (building) and catabolic (cutting) states several times per day. When you are running a large calorie deficit, most of the time will be spent in the catabolic state, so muscle wasting will exceed muscle gain.

With a more moderate calorie deficit, proportionately more time will be spent in the anabolic state, and you may see a small gain in genuine muscle mass over the long term.

So yes, you are right, it is POSSIBLE. But it will be a very slow process.

And this is a fairly complicated process to explain, which is why I prefer to settle for "DIFFICULT to gain muscle mass while running a calorie deficit" rather than "can't be done". And it's worth noting that bodybuilders tend to go for calorie cycling over a period of weeks to lose fat and gain muscle, as being much more efficient and effective than doing it simultaneously.


HCORNETTO SparkPoints: (18,405)
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Posts: 145
5/27/13 10:15 A


Essentially, my goal is to alter my body composition in such a way that I am no longer in the "average" range for Body Fat %, but rather, I'd like to fall into the ideal or athletic range. So essentially, I'd like to reduce fat and/or gain muscle to this end.

I've been told that building muscle can be effective in raising your overall metabolism and lowering your body fat percentage, which is why I'm curious about how I'd need to alter my caloric intake to be able to increase my muscle mass. On the same token, however, I do still have a bit of fat to lose, which is why I'm trying to research this information.

JENNILACEY SparkPoints: (81,972)
Fitness Minutes: (86,286)
Posts: 2,489
5/27/13 8:23 A

I'm not sure I agree with the previous posters. I've been on a calorie deficit for almost a year now and I didn't have a lot of muscle before. When I flexed, my biceps didn't even move... they were non-existent. Even when I was skinny before my pregnancies, I had very little muscle tone. Now my muscles are bigger and more defined than they have ever been in my entire life.

Beginners to strength training (particularly mesomorphs like myself) do experience muscle gain if they don't starve their bodies of calories and lose weight slowly.

Edited by: JENNILACEY at: 5/27/2013 (08:34)
MOTIVATED@LAST Posts: 15,459
5/26/13 9:09 P

I agree with Unident - the people saying you have gained muscle are oversimplifying.

It IS a common response for your muscles to retain water when you strength train. But this isn't muscle tissue in the sense of the red fibery stuff. This increase in water is classed as "lean mass", but it isn't true "muscle mass".

The article is pretty much correct, and the lack of change in the scale is due to the ongoing fat loss being temporarily masked by the increase in retained water.

It is difficult to add significan true muscle mass while running a calorie deficit to lose weight, as the body tends to burn protein for energy, rather than creating new muscle tissue. However, a lot of the gains from strength training actually come from improved muscles quality, rather than increased muscle mass - so even if you aren't adding muscle tissue, you should still be getting significant benefits from ST.


UNIDENT Posts: 33,498
5/26/13 2:55 P

The people posting about gaining muscle are the ones incorrect.

As the site points out, you just don't (normally) do that on a calorie restrictive diet. But you do gain water when you change your workout and a lot of people erroneously think this means you're gaining muscle.

Your either/or about ST on a calorie deficit is invalid. You do not gain new muscle mass, and you do not maintain what you have.

When you are on a calorie deficit plan and losing "weight" some of that weight is muscle. Up to 20% can supposedly come from muscle loss! When you ST, you reduce the percentage of muscle loss and ensure more of the weight you're losing is fat, not muscle. But you're still losing some muscle.

So you merely minimise muscle loss.

5/26/13 1:16 P

Muscle mass refers to an increase in the size of a muscle while increasing muscularity refers to improving strength and muscle function.Do you want to increase the size of your muscles i.e. get larger or do you want to simply increase your strength and muscle function? You can do the latter eating in a calorie deficit mode as long as your protein intake is adequate. When building size bodybuilders overeat dramatically then go into a calorie deficit mode to lean back down. You can increase muscle size while on a maintenance level diet but it is a slow process requiring the use of heavy weights.

Posting what your goal is will result in better answers.

HCORNETTO SparkPoints: (18,405)
Fitness Minutes: (29,674)
Posts: 145
5/26/13 12:47 P

I'm going to post this question here and hope that some of our resident experts can weigh in on this. If you are are looking to add muscle and lose fat, how should one balance their caloric intake?

Reading the following...

... suggests to me that in order to build new muscle mass, one needs a surplus of calories, however, elsewhere on the message boards, I've often seen people post things like:
Muscle is more dense than fat, so if you put on weight during exercise, it is probably new muscle and because it takes up less space, you will lose inches rather than pounds.

That sort of logic seems a bit contradictory to the above linked question and answer, which seems to indicate that you can maintain your muscle mass with reduced caloric intake, but not necessarily increase it.

So, my question is - which one of these is the case? When you strength train on a calorie deficit, are you building new muscle mass, or simply maintaining what you already have? (And if this is the case, is all the weight that you fail to lose simply additional water weight combined with fat loss as stated in the article, or is it a loss of fat and increase in muscle, as stated by conventional diet wisdom?) I'm trying to reconcile the concept of weight gain (or simply lack of loss), and where it comes from while on a calorie deficit if not from newly built muscle mass.

To be fair, the article does say that "you CAN design yourself a diet and exercise program that will allow you to add some muscle and lose some fat." But then goes on to say that usually a calorie surplus is needed to add muscle mass.

I know obviously that strength training is important either way, but I'm try to customize my own eating habits according to my goals, so any further information or insight on this topic would be greatly appreciated.

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