While a common workout goal of many men is to develop a muscular body, leanness plays a large part in the equation. Simply put: If you aren’t lean, you won’t see muscle definition. Most would rather err on the smaller side and have good muscle definition than work on getting “huge.” This preference leaves men questioning which approach is best: building muscle first and then working on becoming lean, or vice versa.
Since building muscle requires a hypercaloric state and losing body fat requires a hypocaloric state, it’s unlikely you’ll accomplish both processes at once. To see results you’ll need to pick the right type of training cycle.
Here are some things to consider when building muscle mass and picking the appropriate training cycle.
Consider how much body fat you want
The first thing you need to think about when determining which training cycle you’ll use is how much body fat you are comfortable sporting around. If you don’t mind carrying around a little extra weight while building muscle mass, you might be very comfortable with just diving right into a muscle-gaining program at the outset.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself frequently checking the mirror with disgust when you can pinch more than an inch or two on your waist, you’ll likely prefer getting lean first and then building muscle mass.
Consider how fast you want to build muscle
Building muscle mass takes calories. There is no way around this — you simply cannot build tissue of any sort without energy. And when there is more energy supplied than what is actually needed to build that muscle, the body also starts building — you guessed it — body fat.
Therefore, the best way to prevent extra body fat when building muscle mass is to limit the extra calories consumed.
Here’s the kicker, though: If you’re only eating 100 to 200 calories more than is required on a daily basis to stop any fat loss from accumulating, you won’t likely get very far. You’ll be lucky to gain a pound a month — and if this is the case, you’re going to be on one long muscle-gaining cycle. Some may be OK with this, but most want to see immediate changes.
Add to the fact that the body might speed up its metabolism to accommodate these extra calories and you might not see any weight gain at all — you’ll simply look the same as you do now.
Obviously, the more calories you eat, the better the chances of maximizing the muscle you’ll build. Everyone has a limit as to how much muscle they can physiologically build in a month’s time (for most men this is around one to three pounds with the rate slowing the larger you get), so if you want to max that out, you need to eat enough. You think you’re going to gain three pounds eating a measly 100 extra calories a day? That’s not going to happen; it takes about 2,500 to 3,500 calories a day to build a pound of body tissue, depending on whether this is fat or muscle mass.
Consider the p-ratio
The final factor to consider is the influence the P-ratio has on the type of weight you gain. Generally speaking, those who start leaner when trying to gain muscle mass have a tendency to put on weight that is leaner as well. Likewise, those who have a higher body fat percentage will add more mass in the form of body fat instead of muscle.
From this perspective, it helps to be leaner when trying to build muscle. So, how lean do you have to be? Generally, somewhere in the neighborhood of 8% to 15% works, which shouldn’t be hard — particularly if you’ve been going to the gym on a regular basis and practicing self-control over your dietary habits.
Do take note, however, that those who are leaner (with about 4% to 7% body fat) will gain more fat initially. At this point, their body is very lean and the body will be fighting to stay that way. So, when given extra calories, they’ll likely gain a couple of pounds of fat first to bring body fat levels up to a healthier range.
The end result
The best approach is to become as lean as you are comfortable with. Once this has been established, begin a moderate bulking period. Aim to eat 300 to 500 calories per day above your normal intake. Shoot for about a half to one pound per week of weight gain. If you aren’t gaining, increase your caloric intake; if you’re gaining too quickly, decrease your intake.
Add in a small dose of cardio as well, not only to maintain decent cardiovascular conditioning, but also because cardio helps with nutrient partitioning (directing the extra calories toward muscle tissue) and with creating a better overall environment for adding lean muscle mass.
Don’t go crazy with the cardio, though, since it’s obviously burning off the calories that could have been used to build muscle tissue.
If you are contemplating in which direction to go with your workout, consider these factors and lay out a solid 6- to 12-month plan that incorporates both “bulking” and “cutting” phases. By the end, you’ll have made good progress — so long as you stick with your goals and focus on achieving one at a time.