Nutrition Adjustments During a Build Phase

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A building phase is a phase we use with clients who are looking to build muscle or maybe they just need to get away from fat loss dieting for some time. If you want to read more, click HERE.

But the ultimate goal is to improve your physique.

A big reason people shy away from building phases is that they think that in order to look their best they need to see the scale always moving down and if they see/hear any amount of fat gain they run the opposite way.

What you end up having is people who limit how good they can look because they are always trying to stay lean.

But most of this stems from a fear of gaining body fat.

So in this blog, I want to go over how you can make adjustments during your building phase so you can maximize muscle growth, but also limit fat gain.

Once you read this you will have the tools and knowledge to know if you are heading in the right direction and if things slow down you will know what and if you should make an adjustment or stay the course.

More on building

When it comes to fat loss, it’s pretty straightforward for adjustments, if your weight isn’t trending down over time then you need to decrease calories or increase activity. Read HERE for more info on adjustments for fat loss.

BUT for building, you have two issues.

  1. Weight going up too fast. This will lead to unnecessary fat gain. to limit fat gain during builds, we have people aim for .15-.5% of bodyweight gain per week. For example a 170lb person would aim for .25 to .85lbs per week.
  2. Weight not going up over time. This will all but ensure your not gaining as much muscle as you could.

When dieting for fat loss, weight going down too fast is a concern, but for most people, this really doesnt happen often nor is it really a concern. But for building, you can be going too fast, but also too slow.

Day to day of undesired weight change.

Let’s say you have your calories and macros set up for your building phase. Or maybe you dont want to track and you just want to go off of body weight.

You have one day where your weight is either DOWN big time or UP big time.

You think, “this doesnt make sense, I followed my macros to a T, how could I have gained/lost weight?”

**Before we move on, I do want to point out that it’s important to take your bodyweight at least 2-3x per week.

We have all clients weigh in at least 2-3x per week, first thing in the morning, post bathroom, pre food, and drink.

This sets us up for the most consistent results from day to day and it shows you how your body weight (water weight usually) can fluctuate from day to day.

So let’s say it spikes up one day, should you make any adjustments?


You did not gain fat that quickly or lose muscle that quickly. It just doesnt happen like that, fortunately, and unfortunately.

There can be a large fluctuation in water weight from one day to the next.

This seems to be the case even more so when building. Probably because you are eating more food than during a fat loss diet.

Chances are you might be a little more stressed, maybe you didn’t go to the bathroom, maybe you ate a little more food than normal yesterday, maybe you ate later at night, maybe you had saltier foods than normal and you drank a little extra water because of it.

All of these things could be playing a role in your daily weight fluctuations.

You should stay the course. Any change because you saw weight change from one day to the next is an overreaction.

With online clients, we take the average weight for the week and match it up with previous weekly average weights.

For example:

Mon: 230

Wed: 226

Fri: 226

Average for the week= 227.3

We are looking for TRENDS over time, not what happens from day to day.

Week to week of undesired weight change.

Now lets say you didn’t gain weight/lost a little weight from one week to the next.

OR you gained more than .15-.5% of weight per week.

There are two scenarios that could be at play here:

  1. You are only weighing in one time per week and comparing the two weighs in (remember there can be a large variation from one weigh in to the next). As I stated earlier, you need to be taking your weight multiple times per week to get a better idea of what is actually going on. If you weigh in Wednesday one week and your weight is 230 and then you weigh in Monday the next and your weight is 232, you CANNOT assume you gained 2lbs of body fat.

Yes your bodyweight is up two pounds, BUT there is a lot that could be going on.

Any change at this point is an overreaction.

Just to reiterate this again, you need to be taking your weight multiple times per week, especially if you are prone to overreacting to what the scale says.

The other scenario…

2. Let’s say you do take your weight 2-3x per week, but the average is up more than the percent you set OR its the same/down from the week before, most people would assume they are stuck and need to make changes, but just like there is day to day fluctuations, there can be week to week fluctuations that don’t tell us the big picture.

At this point, you need to be honest with yourself, how adherent were you? If it’s up, did you grab a few extra bites throughout the week? Did you not track as diligently as you have been? If it’s down, did you skip a few meals here and there?

If that’s the case, you need to fix those first before making adjustments to your calories or activity.
Let’s say you were actually adherent…do you make any changes?

If it’s over the percent weight gain….NO

If it’s the same or slightly up more than you want, stay the course. Muscle is tough to come by, so taking calories away would be an overaction here at this point.

If it’s the same….NO..well MAYBE but see below.

Adding in calories if it stays the same is a bit of an overreaction, but you can make a case to add calories. I still wouldn’t make any changes to a client’s plan at this point though.

Just like fat loss isn’t linear, weight gain really shouldn’t be either. If anything, you are going to see more ups and downs from week to week in a building phase than you will in a fat loss phase weight-wise. This is why we need to zoom further out and look at trends over longer periods of time.

If you arent super worried about staying lean (which you shouldn’t anyway), then adding calories in is a good idea. But one week of weight not going up is ok.

I would caution on being patient.

What if it’s lower though?

You can make the case to add in extra calories since muscle is tough to come by, we want to do everything possible to help this process. Adding in more food will certainly help this process.

One other thing you can do is decrease your overall activity. If you are at 10k steps, dropping to 8-9k may be an easy way to help you get more into a calorie surplus.

But again, not seeing the exact rate of gain you want from one week to the next doesnt mean you aren’t in a surplus.

We have to look at trends over a longer period of time in a build.

Summary: Not seeing the change you want from one week to the next in a build is ok, you probably dont need to make any changes at this point.

2-3 weeks of undesired weight change.

Let’s say now its 2-3 weeks in a row where either your average weight:

-Still is going up over the desired percent weight gain per week.
-Staying the same
-Is going down.

Do you make any adjustments now?

Again, first, you need to look at adherence. Anything under 90% adherence to the plan means you need to work on that first.

But let’s say you are adherent…do you make changes now?

Going up over the desired weight gain per week…MAYBE to YES

Maybe because again worst case you just cut off the extra body fat in a later fat loss phase, remember fat loss is easier than muscle gain.

Yes, because we do want to limit fat gain.

In this case, you could either:

  • Increase steps by 1-2k if you are fairly low. This will allow you to maintain your current caloric amount.
  • Decrease calories by 100-200 per day.

Staying the same,… MAYBE to YES

Maybe because sometimes there are 2-3 weeks where average weight stays the same and then all of a sudden it goes up 2-3lbs in one week. The opposite of the weight loss “whoosh effect”.

Again this is why we want to look at trends over time, and not from day to day and week to week.

In this case you could either:

  • Increase calories by 100-250 per day. Through carbohydrates/fats.
  • Decrease steps by 1-2k, especially if you dont want to add in more food than you already have.

Going down….YES

If it goes down 2-3 weeks in a row you need to make an adjustment. The point of a build is to build muscle and we can safely say that if your weight goes down 2-3 weeks in a row then you need to increase cals.

In this case, you would either:

  • Increase calories by 150-300 per day. Through carbohydrates/fats.
  • Decrease steps by 1-3k.
  • Combo of both. If so, aim for lower end of each.

I would aim for an increase in calories first or a combo of both.

Summary: If you see 2-3 weeks with no change, then you need to start looking at changes, ESPECIALLY if your weight is trending down.

4-5 weeks with undesired weight change.

Now let’s say you have 4-5 weeks and things arent heading in the right direction. At this point, you will NEED to make an adjustment.

Weight going up over desired percent weight gain per week:

  • Increase steps by 1-2k if you are fairly low. This will allow you to maintain your current caloirc amount. This is recommended first.
  • Decrease calories by 100-200 per day.

If you have been seeing average weight going up too quickly for 4-5 weeks, you probably need to decrease your calories.

Weight staying the same

  • Increase calories by 100-250 per day. Through carbohydrates/fats.
  • Decrease steps by 1-2k, especially if you dont want to add in more food than you already have.

I would push towards adding in calories.

Weight going down

Here you MUST eat more. The entire point of a build is to see weight gain. If weight is going down you are certainly under-eating.

You need to add in 200-300 calories per day.

There you have it, the adjustments you need to make in a build.

The biggest difference between adjustments for fat loss and a build is that you need to be more patient with your changes and you need to be more patient in general with weight change.

You must look at trends over a longer period of time rather than a week to week basis.

If you need more guidance and structure this is exactly what we do in our building phase program with clients. Fill out the link HERE and let’s get to work.

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