(The following article is an excerpt from my new book, Superior Muscle Growth.)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
Your goal is to gain muscle. Nice, lean, awesome-looking muscle. So, you come up with the perfect workout program, set up the perfect diet, and then proceed to put them both into action to the best of your ability. Awesome!
But then, as time starts to go by, you begin to notice something. You might be gaining some muscle, but there’s something else that seems to be happening as well.
Oh No, You’re Getting Fatter!
Not “super fat” or anything. Just slowly and gradually gaining body fat along with the small amounts of muscle you’re building. You’re not happy about it, but you continue on with what you’re doing anyway.
As more time passes, you’re noticing something else. You’re still kinda building some muscle (although it’s much less than you had hoped, and it’s happening much slower than you had hoped), but yet the amount of fat you continue to gain along with it is increasing by the week.
And it’s ruining everything!
Your abs – assuming you actually had visible abs when you started – are fading away or have already been covered under a layer of new body fat. You can’t even fully enjoy the new muscle you’ve gained (or even the old muscle you already had) because that too is being hidden under a new layer of fat. Maybe even multiple layers.
So although you might be building muscle, you’re just gaining too much body fat along with it.
And the longer you continue, the worse it all gets and the closer to “super fat” you become. Now instead of looking muscular, lean, defined, toned, ripped, sexy, awesome and just better overall, the opposite is happening. You’re certainly getting “bigger,” but you’re looking softer. And fatter. And just worse, period.
In fact, many people notice that they’re gaining more fat than muscle. HA!
I’ve Been There, Done That
Does this scenario sound a little too familiar? Have you been there before? I certainly have. I’ve soooo been there and done that. It seems the majority of the people trying to build muscle have been there too.
Hell, most are still there and will remain there for the foreseeable future.
And if your scenario goes anything like mine always did, these less-than-ideal “bulking” results would then be followed up by trying to “cut” and lose this unwanted new body fat only to end up losing some, or most, or maybe even all of the new muscle you’ve built right along with it.
So maybe you start out semi-lean. You then proceed to build a lackluster amount of muscle slower than you could have while simultaneously gaining more body fat than you should have right along with it.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, in an attempt to then lose this ugly new fat, you lose the lackluster amount of muscle too… thus ending up right back where you started. You’re essentially just spinning your wheels and repeating the same shitty process over and over again.
Some poor bastards (like me, for example) may actually end up in an even worse position than they started out in by becoming even more “skinny-fat” after each cycle of failure.
Ah yes, the memories.
And as horrible as this type of scenario is, and as much as people will try to avoid it, it still happens ALL THE TIME.
So I guess the obvious question is… why?
Why Do We Gain Fat When Trying To Gain Muscle?
There are two reasons:
- The first one is your fault. It’s because you went about building muscle in a way that was just not as effective as it could/should have been (or possibly was just flat out ineffective, period). Maybe your workout routine was suboptimal. Maybe your diet failed to provide what your body needed in the amounts that were truly needed. Maybe you just failed to do things as well as you could (and should) have done them.
- The second one isn’t your fault at all. It’s reality’s fault. Let me explain…
At this point I’m going to assume that you already know the basics of what’s required for a person to successfully gain muscle. On the diet side, one of those requirements is a caloric surplus.
A caloric surplus is of course what exists when you consume more calories than your body needs to maintain its current state. So, for example, if 2500 calories is your maintenance level, consuming less than 2500 calories would put you into a deficit (which is the sole requirement of fat loss) and consuming more than 2500 calories would put you into a surplus (which again is one of the dietary requirements of building muscle). Additional details here: Calories In vs Calories Out
Why is this surplus required? Because your body simply needs some amount of additional calories to synthesize new muscle tissue as well as support the recovery and training performance needed to make progressive overload happen.
And it’s this fact that presents us with a huge problem.
Calorie Partitioning: Where Can The Surplus Go?
In addition to being needed for muscle growth to happen, a caloric surplus is also the only thing needed for body fat to be gained.
You see, when a caloric surplus is present and you’re taking in an excess of calories, a little something called calorie partitioning comes into play.
Calorie partitioning (also called “nutrient partitioning”) refers to where these extra calories and nutrients will go (or how they will be “partitioned” in your body) when you consume them. It also refers to where they will come from when you’re in a deficit and consuming less of them (meaning, your body can potentially burn stored body fat or muscle tissue for energy).
Now obviously, in a surplus, we want every single calorie we eat to go toward muscle growth only, but it turns out there are actually three places for them to go:
- Toward new muscle.
This is what we want.
- Toward new body fat.
This is what no one wants, but it’s what every fat person got. As I’ve explained before, this is how every fat person in the history of mankind ended up getting fat. They consumed too many calories and a “surplus” existed. Taaadaaa! Combine this with the fact that A) there was no muscle-growth-signaling workout program in place, and B) the surplus in these cases was often both excessive and long lasting, and you get a common scenario where most/all of the extra unused (surplus) calories consumed were stored as fat.
- Toward a combination of both.
This is another one we don’t want, but it’s something most of us are quite familiar with getting. For every X pounds of muscle we gain, it seems Y pounds of fat always come along with it. (The exact amounts for X and Y will vary significantly for reasons I’ll explain shortly.)
So that’s why gaining fat while trying to build muscle is not only a possibility, but an extremely common reality. The caloric surplus we need to consume can just as easily go toward muscle growth (yay), fat storage (boo), or both (boo again).
If only there was a way to partition ALL of our surplus calories toward muscle growth and ensure NONE of them go toward fat storage. If only there was a way to build muscle WITHOUT gaining any body fat whatsoever in the process.
That would certainly be awesome.
But the question is, can it actually be done?
Can You Build Muscle Without Gaining ANY Fat?
Well, that’s going to depend on your answers to the following questions:
- Do you have amazing genetics?
- Do you have drugs/steroids?
- Do you have amazing genetics and drugs/steroids?
- Are you a complete beginner to weight training that maybe also happens to be fairly fat (in which case, building muscle while simultaneously losing fat is a short-term possibility) and/or in your teens (in which case, puberty is your friend and hormones are in your favor)?
- Are you regaining lost muscle? Did you previously lift consistently and build a decent amount of muscle at some point in your life, then stop lifting and lose most/all of that muscle, and are now starting to lift again, thus putting you in a position for the legitimate magic of “muscle memory” to come into play? (In which case, again, simultaneous fat loss and muscle growth is a short-term possibility.)
Did you answer YES to any of those questions? If so, congrats. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to build some muscle without gaining any fat at all. Although, this will mostly only be a temporary, short-term thing. After that, you’ll be human just like the rest of us.
Speaking of the rest of us…
Did you answer NO to all of those questions? If so, then please allow me to welcome you to the reality of muscle growth for the majority of the population…
You will need to accept some small amount of fat gains in order to gain muscle.
Go ahead and read that again.
Not what you wanted to hear, is it? I know the feeling. But it’s the truth. And trust me… it’s what you need to hear.
Why? So you understand what your real goal needs to be. It’s NOT “building muscle without gaining a single drop of fat whatsoever” or “building muscle while remaining exactly as lean as you currently are” or “building muscle while getting even leaner than you currently are.”
That would all be fantastic, but unfortunately, unless you happen to be one of the exceptions listed above, it’s just not going to happen. Sorry.
And attempting to make it happen anyway – as many people often do – will just lead to you wasting a lot of time and effort, getting absolutely nowhere, and never building any muscle at all.
That’s why our goal here is something slightly different…
Maximize Muscle Gains, Minimize Fat Gains
You can’t avoid it completely, but you sure as hell can minimize it significantly. And for us, that’s a goal of equal importance.
Say it with me… maximize muscle gains, minimize fat gains. THAT’S our true goal here.
So what does this mean exactly? I’ll tell you. It means that one of the biggest keys to reaching our muscle building goals will be our ability to improve our calorie partitioning in the right direction.
Because the worse our calorie partitioning is, the more fat and less muscle we’re going to gain.
But the better our calorie partitioning is? That means the better our ratio of muscle to fat gains will be. Which means we’re building more muscle (and doing it better/faster) with the least amount of body fat possible coming with it.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
And that brings us to our next big question: what factors affect calorie partitioning?
The Stuff You Can’t Control
First, the bad news. It turns out that three of the biggest factors influencing our calorie partitioning and overall ability to build muscle are things we have no control over.
In this case, I’m using “genetics” as a blanket term to cover a variety of factors. For example:
- Testosterone levels.
- Cortisol levels.
- Thyroid levels.
- Insulin sensitivity.
- Muscle fiber types.
- Muscle belly lengths.
- Bone structure.
- Joint size.
- Tendon insertion points.
- Recovery capabilities.
- Volume tolerance.
- Work capacity.
- And more.
And unfortunately, short of using those wonderful drugs/steroids I mentioned earlier, you can’t change or improve your genetics.
And even more unfortunately, genetics are going to play a hugely significant role in how your body handles those extra calories in a surplus.
With all else being equal (same diet, some workout, same effort and consistency), someone with above-average genetics will automatically partition more of their surplus calories toward muscle and less toward body fat, while someone with below-average genetics will automatically go in the opposite direction (more fat, less muscle). Someone with average genetics can expect something in between.
This, of course, is yet another reason why people with amazing genetics have it so much easier when it comes to both building muscle and losing fat compared to someone with awful genetics.
It’s also why the people we jealously refer to as “genetic freaks” are often surprisingly lean and muscular long before they ever picked up a weight or cared about their diet. That’s just part of what makes having awesome genetics so damn awesome.
And why having bad genetics is… uh… hmmm… what’s the complete opposite of awesome?
Age is yet another factor we can’t change (although again, various drugs can be used to make our hormonal profile unnaturally “younger”).
And once again, it’s a factor that’s also going to play a fairly meaningful role.
With all else being equal just like before, the muscle to fat gain ratio will generally be better for someone younger than it will be for someone older. Which is why a 25-year-old version of you will do better than a 35-year-old version of you, and a 35-year-old version of you will do better than a 45-year-old version of you. And a 15-year-old version of you will put every other version to shame.
Just one of the many reasons why getting older sucks.
Another factor that is out of our control is our gender. Although yet again, the magic of drugs can certainly get you pretty far as evidenced by people who are transgender and of course the various “manly” looking female bodybuilders that most women are scared to death of looking like (even though it’s completely impossible without taking the same insane amount of drugs every single one of those female bodybuilders purposely took to look that way).
But taking that out of the equation, men are just going to be capable of building much more muscle AND doing it much better and faster than women because guys are just hormonally (especially in terms of testosterone levels) and structurally better suited for it.
What’s the exact difference? I don’t think anyone knows that for sure (and individual variance will play a role as well). But, the estimate I’ve seen most often is double. Double the total amount that can be built in a person’s lifetime, and double the speed at which it gets built.
For this reason, the average guy is generally going to be better at putting surplus calories toward muscle growth rather than fat storage than the average girl because the guy is just physiologically better at building muscle.
The Stuff You Can Control
Now that I’ve depressed the shit out of most of the people reading this, it’s time for some good news.
And that is, there are quite a few key factors that you CAN control that will GREATLY influence calorie partitioning, your ratio of muscle to fat gains, and your overall ability to make muscle growth happen.
- Your body fat percentage.
- Your rate of weight gain.
- Your calorie intake and the size of your surplus.
- Your protein, fat and carb intake.
- Your approach to providing those calories and nutrients (aka “calorie cycling”).
- Your nutrient timing.
- Your meal frequency, eating style, food choices and diet organization.
- Your weight training program.
- Your cardio program.
- Your supplementation.
- Your lifestyle.
- Your tracking.
- Your ability to take action, be consistent and put forth the required effort.
So, while those uncontrollable factors are always going to be there in the background putting some sort of natural limit on your progress, the key to achieving superior muscle growth is going to be optimizing every single one of these controllable factors to the best of your ability.
Optimizing them how, exactly?
Well, it’s time for some more good news and bad news.
The bad news is that showing you exactly how to strategically adjust every single one of these controllable factors to your advantage so that A) calorie partitioning is improved to the highest degree possible, B) lean muscle gains are maximized as high as possible, and C) body fat gains are minimized as low as possible… is the kind of thing that would require like, an entire book.
But the good news is, I just spent the last year writing that book.
I call it Superior Muscle Growth.
And as I mentioned back at the beginning of this article, everything you just read is one small excerpt from that book.
So what is Superior Muscle Growth? It’s a lot of things. It’s a book. It’s workouts. It’s a diet. But above all else, it’s a system of adjustments designed from top to bottom with one very specific goal in mind: allowing you to maximize lean muscle and minimize body fat to the best of your ability.
If that’s something you’d like to do, I HIGHLY recommend it: Superior Muscle Growth