I’m trying to look better, why would I do a weight gain/muscle gain phase?
When people hear weight gain phase , they automatically assume they are going to pack on the pounds and will look like jabba the hutt.
Not to mention weight gain goes against social norms. There is a lot of pressure to be smaller. So there is a negative association when someone hears weight gain.
It’s completely understandable why someone would be scared to gain weight.
However, you spend so much time trying to lose weight and lean out that you are hurting your chances of ever being satisfied with your look in the long run and you are not allowing your body to build muscle, which gives you that toned look.
In this article, I make my case for why you should take at least a few dedicated phases to build muscle and gain weight.
Even if you are someone who doesn’t want to pack on muscle or if your ultimate goal is to be lean and toned a dedicated weight/muscle gain phase is for you.
Why Do I Want More Muscle?
First, lets go over why you want more muscle.
When people say they want to be tone, what they actually mean is that they want less body fat and more muscle. Even if you dont think you want more muscle, you DO. Muscle is what gives your body that good shape and gets you that tone look.
I get you dont want to be bulky, which, if you dont want to get that muscular, you wont.
BUT its important you add muscle to your frame if you dont want that “skinny fat look”
Not to mention more muscle has many other benefits such as:
- More powerful
- Less injury prone
- Healthier (to a point)
- Enhances aesthetics
If you take one thing away from this article, its that more muscle is good, no scratch that, GREAT.
The bad news?
The body does not view muscle as a necessity. It ranks low on the priority list. So you have to go out of your way to build it.
You can’t just lift weights and expect to build muscle.
In order to put our body in the best state to build muscle we need:
- The right training (enough volume and progressive overload)
- Adequate sleep
- Enough nutrients (protein and carbs in particular)
- Limit high stress
- Avoid excessive amounts of cardio
Why Always Trying to Lean Out is Hurting Your Long Term Progress.
As I have mentioned in a previous article, being in a calorie deficit is a hard requirement for losing weight. Without being in a calorie deficit you wont lose weight. If you want more info about what a calorie deficit is, read this.
Being in a calorie deficit is a stressor on the body, and a stressful one at that. A calorie deficit also requires less food.
So right out of the gate we are already crossing off two important factors for building muscle when trying to lose weight: enough nutrients, and limiting high stress.
In order to get into a calorie deficit we also likely need to increase our cardio. Which takes resources away from building muscle.
The longer you are in a calorie deficit the more likely your sleep can be negatively affected. Another mark against building muscle.
The longer you are in a calorie deficit the more your body will try to save energy wherever possible, so thats why when you are losing weight you find yourself getting more tired than normal (read article on NEAT). So you are less motivated to lift weights, which lifting weights is a requirement for building and maintaining muscle.
Speaking of, your training performance goes down the drain when you are in a calorie deficit for too long as well. It becomes tougher to progress in your workouts. *Remember, progressive overload is a requirement for building muscle.
So the longer you are focused on leaning out and losing weight, the tougher it is to build muscle. Your body is stressed, sleep goes down the drain, your training performance suffers, you arent providing enough nutrients to the body, and youre doing more cardio.
Muscle is what gives your body that shape and helps avoid that “skinny fat” look.
Luckily muscle is fairly easy to maintain. So when you are in a calorie deficit the goal is to maintain your current muscle mass.
If you are trying to always eat less, do more high intensity cardio, and do more cardio in general, this is why you are never satisfied with your look and why your body never changes.
What About Losing Fat and Building Muscle at the Same Time? Couldnt I Just Do That?
This is an option. BUT its only for a select group of people.
People who can build muscle and lose fat at the same time:
- New to weight training (0-12 months)
- High body fat levels
- If you have been training sub-optimally
- You are coming back from an extended break from training
*If you arent one of those people, unfortunately, the holy grail of fat loss and muscle gain at the same time isn’t possible.
In saying that, you can try the approach where you focus on maintaining weight and slowly building muscle. But your progress will be so slow that you wont notice much difference and the longer you do this approach the less your gains will be over time.
However, there is a TON of benefit from periodically running maintenance phases. Read here.
Cant I Just Stay Lean and Build Muscle?
Unfortunately this isn’t very likely either. Remember earlier when we talked about the state you need to be in to build muscle?
When you are super lean (think under 10% for guys, under 17% for females) you are in a higher stressed state AND in order to maintain that leanness you wont be bringing in enough nutrients/calories to build muscle.
So again if you try this approach you will be maintaining your current muscle mass. You can only get so lean.
With online clients we focus on aiming for a .25 to .5% bodyweight increase per week so there is mostly muscle gain rather than fat gain.
The higher your percentage per week is the more likely the weight gain is fat compared to muscle.
You must be ok with a small amount of fat gain, but it will be hardly noticeable. Also fat is MUCH EASIER to lose than muscle is to gain. So it’s a temporary trade off.
If a client is super concerned about fat gain then we focus on the lower end of that range. IF you are ok with a small amount of fat gain then focus on the higher end.
With online clients we aim to be in a weight/muscle gain phase for about 8-12 weeks at a time.
A good rule of thumb is to start at a 250 calorie surplus over your maintenance levels. But with this, we track their bodyweight and adjust from there.
For example, if they are only gaining .1% of bodyweight then we will increase calories to get it to the .25 or .5%.
Start on the lower end and then adjust from there. When in a gaining phase it is always better to start on the lower end and then increase if need be, rather than starting too high and then having to go down.
There are a few other benefits from running a weight/muscle gain phase from time to time:
- Your training performance is amazing. You will be hitting rep and weight PRs like not other.
- You can enjoy food more. This is the most underrated factor of running a weight/muscle gain phase. You enjoy food more so then when its time to lean out again you will be in a good state mentally. If you constantly try to diet you can develop some nasty side effects mentally and physically (read here about cravings).
If your body isn’t changing its time to change your mindset and focus on building some muscle.
If you need more structure and accountability for setting up a muscle gain phase then apply for online coaching here.