One of the most sought after goals in any realm of fitness is this:
How do I gain muscle without gaining a bunch of fat? For us womenfolk, the term “bulking” is daunting- and suggests that one must gain a bunch of weight, eat all the time, and be a beefy, fluffy blob to actually gain muscle. And a lot of us like to throw that term around-maybe jokingly or not that we’re only chubby because we’re “bulking.” lol.
Now, there’s many people who say it is impossible to gain muscle and get lean at the same time. I’ve seen some crazy, impressive stuff though, so I can’t really argue either way. I WILL say that for most people, it’s just not that simple- OR easy.
Muscle growth occurs when you are FUELING your body and LIFTING heavy! This means that you can not be in a caloric deficit to make significant gains. You also better not be thinking about going low carb… because protein + carbs are what build muscles.
A good way to approach this is to figure out your maintenance calories. The amount you can sustain your weight, eat normally, and continue your current workouts. Here is a TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator.
Let’s say you want to increase muscle in your legs. On Leg Day, consider eating 10% or so more calories than your maintenance. Extra calories=extra fuel and energy for leg gains. Those exercises during that Leg workout need to be INTENSE. Think heavy, to failure, with plenty of rest in between. You’ll want to increase strength and size over time, but do not fear “getting big,” for it takes a long time for women to really gain so much muscle that they feel too muscular. Also consider a second Leg day in a week, with different (higher) rep ranges and lower weight.
*(side note: for someone who is obese or carrying a lot of extra weight, they really don’t need to “bulk” with extra calories. Ideally, they need to cut fat first and get to a healthier starting point).
Now, be aware: some weight gain is likely. However, I’m not talking like 2-5 pounds a week- that would mean you are eating far too much. (Thus, you look “bulky”).
To minimize extra fat storage, it should be more like 1-2 pounds a month. That should hardly make a difference in your appearance or the way your clothes fit. And it will depend on the person. (I know some guys are eating 700+ calories extra on training days, and over 4000 calories a day to gain muscle)
You may have to experiment to find how much is fueling your workouts to get you stronger without excess weight gain.
Rest days, or lower intensity workouts (like cardio) are good for going back to maintenance calories, with lower carbs than training days. You want to look at the overall weekly totals to make sure that you’re still eating enough to not be in a deficit.
Once you’ve worked on really gaining muscle for several weeks, or even months (it takes TIME!), the extra muscle gains will actually help you as you start cutting down again. More muscle on your body= greater potential for your body to stay lean. Then all the definition reveals itself that you worked so hard for!
I love these kind of comparisons. Muscle growth gives you shape, and a smaller waist. It creates curves in the right places, even if it means your stupid scale shows a higher number.