Eating to Build More Muscle

4 Tips to Gain Lean Mass, Not Fat

For most of us, winter can be the perfect time of year to try to put on some extra muscle mass. Without the need to show off a six-pack for at least a few more months, the colder weather is the perfect time to eat more, train hard and put on more lean muscle than you had last year. Come summer, you’ll be ready to diet down and show off your new, hard-earned gains.

But getting quality lean-muscle gains can be a challenge if you’re not sure how to go about it – you can’t just eat anything! If you’re not careful, you could end up packing on too much fat and not enough lean muscle.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are four tips to help you have a cleaner better, mass-gaining season!

4 Ways To Eat For Lean Muscle Gains

TIP #1: Eat the Right Balance of Macros

When it comes to adding mass, it doesn’t mean you need to eat 24/7. You may just need a macronutrient adjustment. Remember, protein makes muscle, and carbs give us energy to fuel workouts. If you are eating too few protein calories, and far too many carbs, you will put on less muscle, and store those extra carb calories in fat. You are far less likely to eat too much protein and store it as fat. In fact, the intestines absorb about 90% of all protein that gets digested. If your body’s need for protein happens to be lower at time of ingestion, the body will simply slow down digestion until it is needed. Unlike carbs – especially the simple ones, that will spike insulin and either shuttle those carbs to your muscles to be stored as glycogen, or in fat if your glycogen stores are full!

EAT THIS: At least 1 to 1.5 g of protein per pound of bodyweight,; 1. 5 to 2 g of carbohydrates per pound; 0.5 g of fat per pound.

4 Ways To Eat For Lean Muscle Gains

TIP #2: Eat Fewer Calories

You might think you need to eat a lot of calories, to pack on muscle but this is not exactly true. Your body type and your activity level should determine your calorie intake. Calorie increases of just 500 calories per day are enough to gain weight. In total your calories should be anywhere between 15 to 20 times your current weight to add mass.

TRY THIS: Start slowly, increasing by 100 to 200 calories a day from your base calorie intake.

4 Ways To Eat For Lean Muscle Gains

TIP #3: Get Most of Your Calories From Natural Whole Foods

Yes, it’s true that you need to eat more calories. But those calories shouldn’t come from food that is low in quality. You are what you eat. Higher-quality foods will give you higher-quality results. Resist the urge to eat junk food to bulk up your calories, and instead eat whole foods closest to their natural state. Choose carb sources such as potatoes, brown rice, whole grains, starchy vegetables and greens. For proteins choose lean cuts of meat, poultry, whole eggs and non-fat dairy and pick healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Eating healthy foods will ensure better digestion, less insulin spiking and better blood glucose management.

TIP #4: Use Cyclic Bulking

One way to add lean mass without putting on excess fat is to use the diet technique of cyclic bulking, where you alternate between high-calorie bulk phases, and low-calorie cutting phases. The traditional approach of cyclic bulking was 2-weeks of bulk, followed by 2-weeks of a cut. This method was thought to lead to fewer gains in fat mass, and more gains in lean mass. Research has shown that those who used bulk/cut techniques not only experienced lean mass gains but also experienced positive changes in anabolic hormones including testosterone, insulin and IGF-1.

Interested in performing a bulk/cut cycle? For bulking take your bodyweight and multiply it by 10 to 12 to give you your base maintenance calories, than add 1200 to 1600 calories depending on your activity level and body type. For the cutting or low calorie phase take your bodyweight times 8 to 10 to give you your calories. You may want to use longer periods of a bulk/cut phase, instead of the short 2-week phase. Just remember, being on either a bulk or cut diet for too long can have repercussions as well, including fluctuations in metabolism and hormones needed for both weight gain or weight loss.


Forbes GB, et al. Hormonal Response to Overfeeding. AJCN. 1989. 494: 608-611.

Jebb, et al. Changes in Macronutrient Balance During Over- and Underfeeding Assessed by 12-Day Continuous Whole-Body Calorimetry. AJCN. 1996. 64: 259-266.

Ten Have GA, Engelen MP, Luiking YC, Deutz NE. Absorption kinetics of amino acids, peptides, and intact proteins. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007. 17 Suppl: S23-36.


Eating to Build More Muscle

Lauren Jacobsen

Lauren is a biochemist with a background in sports nutrition and supplement formulation. Lauren has over 15 years of experience as a trainer, consultant to the supplement industry and nutrition expert. She is also the TV show host of "Body Fuel," a former competitive athlete and regular contributor to various fitness publications.

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