How to Add Lean Muscle Mass Without Adding Fat
Trying to add muscular size while limiting your fat gains is a difficult feat to accomplish, and there isn’t a one size fits all plan for achieving that objective. Although there are various body types such as ectomorphs, mesomorphs, endomorphs, and combinations of the three, having the right combination of nutrition, cardio, and weight training can lead to increases in muscularity with minimal to no fat gain regardless of your body type.
Eat More But Don’t Overdo it.
Gaining size requires an increase in caloric intake, but eating excessively will lead to the wrong type of size. Therefore, when it comes to increasing calories slow and steady wins the race. Aim for a conservative amount of weight gain such as 1lb-2lbs per month. This may sound like an extremely low monthly target, but let us look at it from a long-term perspective. If an individual gains 1lb- 2lbs per month for a year, that individual has gained somewhere between 12lbs-24lbs over the past 12 months. Realistically, gaining 12lbs of pure muscle in a year is an incredible accomplishment for a seasoned lifter. New lifters tend to grow at a faster rate for various reasons, but I’m not going to get into that in this article.
How many extra calories do you need to eat to gain an additional 1lb-2lbs a month? This depends on the individual’s specific body type. I recommend starting by increasing calories by increments of about 125 calories per day above one’s daily caloric expenditure (Basal Metabolic Rate + Activity Level) and adjusting this number every two weeks depending on the rate and type weight gain you experience. 125 calories is the magic number because a surplus of 125 calories per day for 4 weeks adds up to an excess of 3500 calories setting the pace for a gain of about one pound per month. If weight gain is too slow add another 125 calories per day, while if weight gain is too fast, drop calories by 125.
Keep Your Cardio
Bulking or gaining weight is not an excuse to let your cardiovascular fitness go to the wayside. There are a plethora of health benefits associated with cardiovascular exercise including fat expenditure so I recommend keeping cardio apart of your regular exercise routine. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise per week, or 60 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise per week performed in sessions lasting at least 10 minutes and no more than 601. With that being mentioned, I recommend doing no less cardio exercise than the ACSM guidelines. Whether you do moderate or intense cardio sessions is up to you, but I suggest trying both and seeing how your body reacts. However, cardiovascular exercise will stress the importance of eating more calories than your daily caloric expenditure to successfully add mass.
Attack the Weights
Whether you add volume through more sets or reps, or add intensity by upping the weight, progressive overload is a key component to adding lean mass during the bulking stage. Progressive overload is the concept of gradually increasing the demands of the body during exercise in order to increase strength and muscle mass2. Basically, gaining more muscle requires the muscle to be stressed more than its used to and with extra the calories you’re consuming, this is the perfect time to increase the demands you’re placing upon your muscles. So hit the weights hard and watch those muscles grow.
My Last Words on Lean Bulking
Everyone’s caloric requirements, weight training routines, and cardio sessions may be different, but the key to add lean muscle mass is knowing your body, paying close attention to the changes it undergoes, and adjusting your program accordingly based upon those changes during your lean bulk.
1^American College of Sports Medicine., Thompson, W. R., Gordon, N. F., & Pescatello, L. S. (2010). ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
2^ “ Fitness: The Complete Guide;” International Sports Sciences Association; 2007