The Lost Art of Lean Bulking: How To Gain Muscle Without Fat

June 21, 2016 | 188 Comments

lean bulking diet

Updated 08/07/2015: I just updated the article below to include more detailed information on how to structure your calorie surplus while lean bulking plus included more information for women as well..

So lately I’ve been getting a bunch of emails and they look something like this:

  • “Hey Keith, what’s the best way for me to gain muscle without fat. I want to pack on the size but I don’t want my six-pack to disappear.”
  • “Dude I need help gaining muscle but I don’t want to get fat. Is there any way to gain muscle mass without any fat?”
  • “I’m not really looking to lose weight anymore, but how do you build muscle without getting fat?”
  • “Neglected and lonely housewife. Looking for company. Interested?”

So if you’ve ever wondered what the best way to build muscle with minimal fat is, then this is the article for you.

And my best tip for responding to sex messages on the internet? Don’t respond to sex messages on the internet.

Stay safe.

A note to beginners

If you’re a complete beginner who has never weight trained before, then you have no business reading this article.

Read this article instead.

Beginners can get away with eating more calories since they have never been exposed to weight training, thus any extra calories will primarily be used to build muscle.

Whereas on the other hand, intermediate and advanced trainees need to be more careful. They tend store any excess calories as fat since they’ve already gone through the initial “beginners growth spurt.”

Structuring your diet for maximum muscle and minimal fat

Gaining muscle with minimal fat is a relatively simple process.

You simply need to eat more on your training days, and less on your off days.

That’s it, in the simplest explanation possible.

By increasing your caloric intake on training days, you’re ensuring that the excess calories are used to build new muscle tissue.

And by eating less on off days, you’re ensuring that you don’t gain any weight.

Make sense? Cool.

Let’s get into more detail.

Calculating your calories for training days and off days

If you already know your maintenance intake then great, use that.

But if you don’t then here is a crap shoot formula that you can use.

I call it a crap shoot because there are simply too many variables to say any formula is 100% accurate. No matter how complex a formula may seem, in the end, it’s just a formula.

Formula to estimate maintenance intake: 15 kcals x bodyweight in pounds.

Women can start a bit lower and a 14x multiplier.

Like I said, the above formula is a crap shoot but it’s a good starting point.

For example, if you’re a stripper and doing your thing on a pole all night, then you’re going to need more calories than some who’s um…not a stripper.

But if you’re sitting at a cubicle for most of the day, then you’re obviously not going to need that many calories.

Basically the more active you are, the more calories you need.

For lean bulking, here’s what your calorie intake is going to look like:

Training day intake: maintenance intake + approx. 500 calories

Off day intake: maintenance intake + approx. 100 calories 

Why approx. 500 calories  more on training days?

On training days, I want you to eat approximately 500 more calories than your maintenance intake.

I say approximately because it depends on a handful of factors including sex, age, activity levels.

Older guys and women typically need less calories to build muscle. If this is you and you’re only going to the gym and not doing much else, then use a 500 calorie surplus.

But if you’re more active…for example, if you go to college and walk around a lot between classes or have a hard labor job like construction, then you’re probably going to need more than a 500 calorie surplus.

In cases like these, make sure to bump up your calorie surplus anywhere from 700-1000+.

Why approx. 100 calories more on off days? Why not just eat at maintenance levels?

So why do I still want you to eat 100 calories more on off days instead of just staying at maintenance levels?

Because it’s dangerous.

To maximize protein synthesis, you need to be in at least a slight calorie surplus. I have no problem with someone staying at maintenance levels while lean bulking on off days but by doing so you’re being too risky and have a higher chance of being in a deficit than anything else.

This is why you should still aim to be in a slight surplus (i.e. about 100 calories) to reduce any risk.

And no, you won’t get super fat. 100 calories isn’t very much but it’s enough to ensure you’re not in a deficit.

But also remember, if you’re more active on off days, you need to eat more to compensate for whatever extra activity you do.

For example, if you go for a hike on off days, be sure to eat a few extra hundred calories to compensate for the calories burned during the hike.

How should you train?

There is no right or wrong way to train, although most people respond best to hitting each muscle twice per week.

This can easily be done with a 4 day upper/lower body split which has been shown to be incredibly effective with people.

The Titan Series (my intermediate workout series) in Superhero Shredding 2.0 has exactly that.

What’s wrong with traditional bulking?

There are 2 problems with traditional bulking:

1) You get fat as fuck (aka you look like crap)

2) Gaining excess body fat is unhealthy

From a psychological point of view, traditional bulking is 100x easier than losing weight.

You don’t have hunger pangs, you always have energy in the gym, and you can go out to eat stress-free.

This is why people get so excited to bulk. They see it as an excuse to eat whatever they want and rationalize any fat gain with the need to bulk.

Don’t be like most people.

Stay lean and gain muscle.

Patience my friend. Lean bulking takes time. A lot of time.

Remember, the whole point of lean bulking is to gain muscle with minimal fat.

And when you’re not gaining a lot of fat like most people, you’re going to think that you’re not progressing.

If you’re like most intermediate trainers, you shouldn’t expect to gain more than 1 pound of muscle per month.

Sounds pretty shitty, huh?

But what were you expecting?

Everyone has a genetic muscular limit and the more muscle you continue to gain, the slower the gains will come.

And the “1 pound per month” refers to pure 100% lean muscle tissue. If you add 1 pound of muscle, especially if it’s to your arms or shoulders…the differences in your physique are going to be pretty massive.

Bulking foods
These are one pound steaks. Imagine these being added to your physique. Oh yeah…


Basically here’s lean bulking in a nutshell:

  • Traditional bulking for non-beginners is unnecessary, sloppy, and unhealthy.
  • Eat approx. 500 more calories on your training days depending on your sex, gender, and activity levels.
  • Eat approx. 100 more calories on off days depending on your activity levels.
  • Train each muscle group 2x per week with a well-structured program.
  • Don’t expect to gain more than 1 pound of muscle per month (yeah, muscle growth is painfully slow once you past the newbie stages)

Have a question on lean bulking.  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

188 Comments - Leave Your Thoughts

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  1. Hey mate,

    Ive been really confused! My height is 5’10 , I currently weigh 164lbs with roughly 18.5 – 19% body fat, I work out hard 4 – 5 days a week, getting married in a couple of months so I really don’t want to put on unnecessary fat, I would ideally like to build muscle and shred up a fair bit. I like the concept of lean bulking but I think that would add a few inches to the waist and fat on my face. Do you have any suggestions that could help me out?

  2. Hey Keith,

    I’m 5’7” and 134lbs,my main goal is to build a visible six pack and stay lean without looking big.i have been working out for a long time, my six pack is starting to show I can see it when im far away from the mirror but when I get close to the mirror its gone but recently I think I have hit a wall where my body show no changes after 3month of hard working,i have been working out 5day a week switching between pull day,push day,leg day and of course rest day,for my diet I have been eating chicken breast and eggs for everyday but I don’t think have consume more than 2000calorie a day because I mostly eat when it is meal time,even with calorie deficit my body weight didn’t change at all so I assume its not a problem.I wonder what went wrong is it because my diet?I have do some cardio in rest day too, but this few month my body show no changes,please help me
    sorry for the long paragraph and English is not my first language so sorry about that

    1. I’d focus on gaining muscle first. Like i said, building muscle and losing fat at the same time doesnt always work so well

  3. Hi there,

    I’m 22, 5’8 135lbs and have super super skinny limbs but quite a fatty midsection! I’ve been losing weight for a long time but now I’m realising I’m towards the lower length of my weight range but still nowhere near skinny. Do you think I keep cutting or should I try a lean bulk and hope I “carry the fat” better with some muscle? I’m worried that if I have some fat now and I put on weight I’ll just look even fatter. Thanks!

  4. Hey , great information!
    So my case is that I am26, 5 7. naturally very skinny and thin boned , but due to excessive junk food and beer in the past year I gained weight everywhere and obviously the most in the belly (55 to 70 kg now) .
    The good thing is I look little bigger .
    To become that 55 2 years ago, I had done lots of cardio to decrease weight then but I started looking very small , people thought I’m sick.
    I’ve been going to the gym for past month now eating healthy .
    What do you suggest for me first

  5. Hello Keith!
    Right now I am 5’11, 173 lb. I was trying to lean bulk in the winter without tracking calories, but then went back to tracking and realized that I’ve been eating a lot more than expected over the last few weeks. Should I continue with a lean bulk with more disciplined tracking, or switch into a cut to correct the damage? My bf has gone up from 12% to about 13.5%, I am hoping to add some LBM then cut before the summer to get down between 9-10%.

    1. you still gained muscle if you ate in a surplus and trained properly, the only neg thing is you might have gained some fat. As long as you’re comfortable with the slight fat gain, then just go straight into lean bulking, no need to do a cut

  6. Hi!
    I’m a female, 5 ft. around 123-124 pounds. I’m not sure about my body fat %. I’ve been working out for a while now but realized I’ve been under eating. I realized I haven’t been seeing a lot of muscle growth and it’s probably because I didn’t realize I was eating so little. I want to do lean bulking but should I still try and lose fat first? I don’t have a lot of fat, I kind of just struggle with my midsection/tummy area after having a kid but it’s not too bad. I strength train and I really want to start building muscle without eating too shitty. What do you advise me doing?

    1. if you are fine with your bf%, then just make an effort to start eating more on the days you train. Of course your workout matters too and you need to make sure you’re getting stronger.

  7. Hello!
    I’ve been bulking for about 2 months now and realizing I should cut a little because my body fat % has been higher than needed from the start, how do I cut without losing the muscles I’ve grown? Thank you!

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