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Can you build muscle in a calorie deficit?

By: Dan Carpenter

Can you build muscle on a calorie deficit with enough protein?

 

Although it may be possible to build some muscle in a calorie deficit, this is not optimal for maximal muscle growth. It is possible to derive the necessary energy needed to build muscle mass from the body’s energy reserves, such as body fat (1).

 

To do so, you must provide the body with a muscle-building stimulus through progressive resistance training and eat adequate amounts of protein >2g/kg body mass (2&3).

 

Is needing to be in a calorie surplus to build muscle a myth?

 

A calorie surplus isn’t necessarily needed to build muscle, as the body can derive energy from stored fat reserves, however, a calorie surplus is required to maximise muscle growth.

 

Can you build muscle on maintenance calories?

 

You can build muscle on maintenance calories if the energy required for muscle growth comes from stored energy (like fat). A “lean gain” or “body re-comp” is when you build muscle mass whilst losing or maintaining body fat. This is usually achieved by engaging in progressive resistance training, eating at, or close to, maintenance calories which includes adequate protein levels (>2g protein/1kg bodyweight). This method of building muscle is slow, which may become discouraging and demotivating for some. 

 

Can beginners gain muscle on a deficit?

 

Beginners are more able to gain muscle in a deficit compared to experienced lifters, especially if they have high amounts of body fat, undergo a novel resistance training stimulus and eat high amounts of protein in their diet (>2.5g/kg) (4). The reason for this may be due to the higher relative potential for muscle growth in beginners compared to experienced lifters. Of course, there is individual variance. Gaining muscle in a calorie deficit is very slow and will eventually stop as you reach low levels of body fat.  

 

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